Love in the time of coronavirus? Around the world, dating finds a way
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[March 19, 2020]
By Katie Paul, Inti Landauro and Ellen Francis
SAN FRANCISCO/MADRID/BEIRUT (Reuters) - The
night after Spain's government ordered a nationwide lockdown to stem the
spread of coronavirus, 30-year-old Marcos got up the nerve to ask the
woman he'd been messaging on Tinder for three days to visit him at home.
To his surprise, she accepted. Arriving in a taxi, wearing gloves and
refusing to take the elevator, she hooked up with Marcos in his
apartment before insisting he call her a cab before dawn to go home.
"First time ever a girl accepts to come to my apartment for the first
date," said the salesman, who Reuters agreed to identify by his first
name. "I guess it will be my last pickup before this all ends."
As governments invoke emergency powers to combat the coronavirus
pandemic, and social distancing measures preclude meeting people in
bars, cafes or restaurants, love - or at least lust - is still finding a
way via dating apps.
While some users like Marcos are meeting in person, many are romancing
online because of the public health risks, often using in-app video
"It used to be more 'hey looking for a hookup' and now it's like, 'hey
maybe after coronavirus'," said one Grindr user in Beirut in his 20s,
who asked not to be identified because the app has been banned in
There has been no meaningful change in the number of people downloading
dating apps in the United States or globally, according to analytics
firm Sensor Tower.
Bumble, a leading app, said usage had stayed steady and in line with
seasonal trends, while Match Group's OkCupid said it had seen an
increase in usage among younger daters in big cities like New York
"What we're seeing on OkCupid is a real desire to connect. As more and
more folks are working from home, cancelling all social plans, not
traveling, some are already feeling lonely and a bit isolated," said
OkCupid marketing chief Melissa Hobley.
"In many cities, coronavirus has become one of the top icebreakers in
messages to matches."
There are early signs that dating apps are, however, struggling to
attract new users in countries that have moved into national lockdowns,
which could become increasingly common around the world.
Installs of Match Group's Tinder were down 37% in Spain and 41% in Italy
last week versus the previous week, according to Sensor Tower.
Health concerns about daters making the leap from virtual contact to
physical hookups have prompted Grindr and Tinder to issue health
warnings advising users to practice safe hygiene and wash their hands.
A Facebook spokeswoman said Facebook Dating was planning notifications
too, although it had not started showing them yet.
OK Cupid stressed that people should not meet up in person during the
coronavirus outbreak, and both it and Bumble were nudging people towards
It appears some users are listening.
Nick, a 33-year-old creative director in New York, said he believes the
experience of coronavirus is heightened for gay men with "muscle memory"
of the AIDS pandemic.
"The temptation to spend time on these location-based hookup apps is
great, but your responsibility to not meet up with strangers has never
been greater," he said.
[to top of second column]
Melissa Hobley, chief marketing officer of dating app OkCupid, walks
in a park in downtown Manhattan in New York City, U.S., March 17,
2020. REUTERS/Michelle Nichols
Disease experts say young people with robust immune systems are
least likely to die of the disease. But they have asked those in
their 20s to 40s, who can still pass on the virus to others, to
alter their behaviors for the good of the public.
'WILLING TO RISK IT'
Nonetheless Kelsey, 29, from Connecticut, said most people she found
on Tinder and Hinge still seemed open to liaisons. One man she
chatted with recently wanted to meet, but his family forbade him
from leaving the house. Another readily agreed.
"My only reason for being on [the apps] is for hook-ups, and that
hasn't changed for me. If they're willing to risk it, so am I," she
Kartika, an Indonesian student at a Hong Kong university, said she
was "active as usual" through the coronavirus outbreak, with one or
two hook-ups a week.
Stashed under her dorm bed were 500 masks that her anxious parents
had sent her, all unused. "I'm just not that worried. Most young
people don't get it," the 19-year-old said.
Seb, in his 30s, did not visit his family in China's central city of
Wuhan, ground zero of the coronavirus epidemic, fearing stigma at
work in Shanghai. But he did trust his new paramour, whom he met on
Aloha, a gay dating app, even though the man was in his second day
of post-travel quarantine.
"As a young healthy fellow, I didn't think I'd die even if I had
caught the virus," said Seb, declining to give his full name.
NO END-OF-DATE KISS
Keith Jones, 47, was apprehensive when he went out on a first date
with a woman he met on the Hinge app to a Mexican restaurant in
Syracuse in upstate New York.
"Normally, you'd hug someone to say hello, but we both hesitated,"
said Jones said, adding that they were careful not to drink from the
same glass or share a plate, but did split a flourless chocolate
torte for dessert.
There was no end-of-date kiss, Jones said, although he does have
plans to see the woman again soon.
Jones said he expects the online dating world to change
dramatically. "We are all well-versed on STDs," Jones said. "Now, a
sniffle or cough is a lot more frightening than it was a few months
For Kellyn Bechtold, 33, a man she matched with on Bumble and met
for the first time last week during a trip to Malaga, Spain is now
her roommate. The two hit it off on a date, sharing potato chips and
kisses. A week later, she was holed up in his apartment, breaking
isolation only for a last grocery run as the military patrolled the
streets to enforce lockdown orders.
"I met this person like a week ago," Bechtold said in a phone
interview. "We're doing what people do after they've been dating for
six months or a year."
(Reporting by Micelle Nichols, Helen Coster, Benjamin Kellerman and
Lauren Young in New York; Ryan Woo in Beijing; Inti Landauro and
Paola Luelmo in Madrid; Ellen Francis in Beirut; Ezgi Erkoyun in
Istanbul; Katie Paul and Elizabeth Culliford in San Francisco;
Editing by Leela de Kretser and Pravin Char)
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