Think Virtual Dating Always Sucks? Think Again

Sure, Zoom calls lack ambiance. But they're an antidote to a sometimes impersonal culture of hookups and expectations.

By Christy Carley February 12, 2021

Haley* matched with Kellen* on the last Monday of March 2020—almost a week into Washington’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order. By that weekend, they had dreamed up a first date: “We would meet at Shelter Lounge in Ballard and get a drink or some snacks,” Haley says. From there, they would hit up Mox Boarding House (a bar meets board game library) across the street, and finish up with dessert at Salt and Straw a few blocks away.  

About ten months have passed since their initial scheming, and the date still hasn’t happened. Instead, the two twenty-something Seattleites decided to move their conversation from the dating app Coffee Meets Bagel to a video call via Discord—a chatting platform originally popular among gamers that has evolved during Covid times to appeal to a wider audience.

“I think that was the most vulnerable thing I did at that point,” Haley says. Her apartment seemed like an oddly intimate place to meet an almost-stranger. But the conversation flowed naturally. For a month, this was how they dated.  Through their in-app conversations, Haley and Kellen established a common interest in podcasts—in particular, This Podcast Will Kill You,” hosted by a couple of grad students who share their love of epidemics by exploring a different disease each episode (to be fair, they got their start in 2018). That connection, and the podcast's themed "quarantini" recipes, inspired the couple's first video date: Haley poured herself the Live and Let Liver (gin-based, hepatitis-C-inspired), while Kellen chose Burning Love (tequila-based, gonorrhea-inspired). They located neutral backgrounds in their apartments and logged on.

The popularity of remote dating, like remote everything else, spiked during the pandemic. Seattle Dating App founder Ben Mussi responded to the onset of Covid-19 by creating a “Safer Dating Pledge” that users could sign—a series of bullet points including promises such as: “I WILL try remote dating,” “I WILL stay six feet away from others” and “I WILL NOT be lonely.” Mussi doesn’t have data to show when matches from the app decided to meet in person (if at all), but he did notice that the average number of messages exchanged between matches more than doubled when the pandemic set in.  

Hamilton Viewpoint is a sweet meetup spot, especially after weeks of virtual dating.

Like most dates, Zoom meetups have their flaws. For starters, there’s the lack of ambiance (swap mood light for blue light). Not only is the “accidental” brushing of hands out of the question, but for many video dates, so is other crucial body language, like eye contactever waffled between looking at the camera and at your colleagues? One Bellevue woman who tried dating on Zoom says it was “almost like a job interview. There was really no room for any tenderness…to be shown through the computer screen.”  

But virtual dates have perks, too. James*, a Capitol Hill resident, found them “kind of refreshing.” Free of distractions (menus, views, other people) and expectations (Who pays the bill? Will we go home together?), James says virtual dating let him focus on getting to know the person on the screen. He dated his current partner for three weeks before meeting her in person. Experiences like these seem to hint at a departure from hookup culture and a kind of return to old-fashioned courtingNot to suggest that casual sex is on a complete hiatusmore than one public health agency has recommended masking up before a roll in the hay with someone outside your podStill, taking it slow (or, you know, sexting) is the safer option.  

In early May, Kellen and Haley decided to meet for a picnic at Hamilton Viewpoint in West Seattle. Haley backed her Subaru Forester into the parking lot and laid out a picnic blanket in the trunk. Sunset views gave way to dreamy stargazing. Eventually, park security kicked them out, which Haley recalls fondly: “I was like, ‘we’re on to something.’” In time, the two combined quarantine pods, visiting each other’s apartments and going on hikes. But Haley is still holding out for their post-pandemic date night at Mox“When we’re able to go, without wearing masks, it’s gonna be one of the best dates I’ve been on.” 

*Editor's note: Sources with asterisks by their names agreed to share their stories on the condition of remaining anonymous. It's an article about dating. We're cool with it.

Filed under
Show Comments