One of the many things we took for granted, before lockdown changed life as we know it irrevocably, was dating.
Whether you were an avid fan of online dating, an app super-swiper or preferred meeting your potential matches out in the real world, the pandemic has completely changed how we meet somebody new.
While many singles opted to press pause on their love lives these past few months, instead opting to focus on themselves or their loved ones, many others just changed up the way they went about looking for love.
Last month dating app Bumble reported seeing a 42% increase of users choosing to make in-app video calls since mid-March, while Hinge found 64% of its users had been on a virtual date during lockdown. Both apps have reported seeing a definitive shift in the 'super-swiping' culture of pre-lockdown, with trends like 'slow dating' and 'pre-dates' now emerging.
'Video chatting has introduced a whole new stage to the dating flow,' Hinge’s director of relationship science, Logan Ury told The Times. 'It gives people the chance for a vibe check with the person they’re talking to — "Do I enjoy this conversation, do they make me laugh?"'
Now that some of the more draconian lockdown measures have been eased – and meeting up with groups of six people outside is encouraged and single person households are now being allowed to sleep over at another person's house – dating in real life seems to be back on the agenda.
Although getting up close and personal on a date with a stranger is a no-no, meaning picnic dates, walks and bike rides look set to become the new norm.
The rules around dating and sex are still pretty clear – social distancing measures must still be in place, unless you form a 'support bubble' with one other person who also lives alone – meaning the government's previous ban on sex with someone outside your household has been lifted, but realistically only if you're in an existing couple.
And sex with someone who's not in your one-person support bubble? Still not allowed in the UK, but a recent study recommended that those who do engage in sexual activity 'wear a face mask', 'shower before and after sexual intercourse,' and 'clean up the physical space with soap or alcohol wipes;' so this could be the reality of dating for many of us in the future.
Despite the recent relaxation to the rules, many daters will still choose to stay safe and date virtually after months of living in isolation. In fact, according to a Bumble spokesperson 'more than 1 in 3 of our users are nervous about meeting in real life,' due to the lack of understanding in what is acceptable and safe in the new world of dating.
To help with with this, the female-focused dating app has introduced three new badges that users can add to their profiles, to skip the potentially awkward conversation about how they're comfortable dating in the current climate; virtual, socially-distanced and socially-distanced with masks.
Since launching their 'Virtual Dating' badge in early May, the app has seen nearly one million users add the feature to their dating profile – and a new study from Hinge Labs found that 61% of the UK daters surveyed said they would continue to use video or phone calls to get to know someone before meeting them once social distancing ends.
Whatever happens, it looks like getting to know someone online, at least initially, is the way to go for the time being. If you've never signed up to a dating app or website before, and find the whole process a little daunting, we've rounded up the best online dating platforms, depending on what you're looking for.
Best online dating websites and apps
BEST FOR: Seeking a relationship and fun-filled dating
Hinge is a more relationship-oriented dating app, compared to its competitors, with a focus on being 'designed to be deleted,' once you've found your perfect match, rather than going round the dating ferris wheel repeatedly.
Users are usually in their 20s and 30s and can use the conversation-starter question and answer format to get their personality across, without having to construct a lengthy bio.
How much does it cost? It’s free.
BEST FOR: Women-first dating
Bumble was designed to give women back the control when it comes to dating, putting an end to unsolicited pictures and online harassment. A conversation can only be started by the woman once a match has been made, with a 48 hour time limit. If no conversation has been started within than time frame then the connection disappears forever. Same goes for a reply from the recipient – if a woman messages her match within the initial time frame and doesn't get a response 48 hour after that's sent, the connection will again disappear.
Great if you don't want a feed full of reminders of people you're not interested in/ haven't messaged you back, not so great if you're not logged onto the app frequently. Bumble also has popular Bumble BFF and Bumble Bizz features for making friends and business connections.
How much does it cost? It’s free.
Plenty of Fish
BEST FOR: Casual dating and relationships
Plenty of Fish works by asking users to take a special POF Relationship Chemistry Predictor test, which measures self-confidence, family-orientation, self-control, social dependency and easygoingness. You’re then matched to those most compatible to you. A great starting point for people who have not tried online dating before and want to try it for free.
How much does it cost? It’s free.
BEST FOR: Easy to navigate and date a wide demographic at your own pace.
For those nervous about dating, this site puts the control in your fingertips allowing you access to thousands of profiles and the ability to chat to potential dates at the rate which works for you. It is well known and therefore attracts a wide demographic, allowing you to widen your dating pool or limit it with their advanced matching facility.
How much does it cost? £12.99 per month for a 6-month membership.
My Single Friend
BEST FOR: Getting your friends to do the work for you
Created by TV presenter Sarah Beeny, the site works by members getting friends to describe them and put them forward on the site. Perfect for those who find it hard to sell themselves and find the process of having to brag about in their online profile cringeworthy. It has a more chatty style than other sites and a potential match being described by their friends can give you greater insight.
How much does it cost? £13 per month.
BEST FOR: Daters over 40, looking for a lasting commitment
eHarmony takes the process of looking for lasting love seriously, making them one of the best online dating sites around. With a patented eHarmony Compatibility Matching System at their disposal, they’ve taken 35 years of research to come up with a Relationship Questionnaire and pride themselves on matching users with people who are actually compatible with them.
How much does it cost? £9.95 per month.
BEST FOR: Selective daters who want to meet their intellectual match
EliteSingles is a dating site aiming to create a mature dating pool for educated professionals, who are seeking their intellectual equal, looking for romance and fun-filled adventures, but are unwilling to budge when it comes to their partner's educational values and career goals. Offers a unique specificity that competitor sites lack.
How much does it cost? £29.95 a month when you subscribe for 12 months
BEST FOR: Busy daters who don't have time for traditional dating
Lovestruck is built for time-poor professionals who don't really have time to date. It helps put you in touch with people in your area, whether that's where you work or live, to save you precious commuting time to and from dates. Perfect for those looking for love in between their busy schedules.
How much does it cost? From £16 per month.
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