COVID-19 Explainer: Online dating can bring comfort during pandemic | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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COVID-19 Explainer: Online dating can bring comfort during pandemic

March 21, 2020 - 1:00 AM

Rachella Valdez is a self-described "big extravert." She quickly becomes bored with no social interaction.

Her job in sponsorship marketing has been brought to a standstill by the COVID-19 pandemic. And she lives alone. Because any sort of gathering is frowned upon in these unprecedented times of social distancing, Valdez rarely leaves her Toronto apartment except to walk her dog.

Experts say people who live alone will be among the hardest hit by the emotional effects of the coronavirus. Stress and uncertainty only compound the loneliness of isolation.

And so like many singles, the 30-year-old Valdez has been spending more time scrolling her dating apps. And romancing online in the time of coronavirus has become about more than just love or lust. It's also a source of comfort.

"I can't see anybody. I can't really talk to anybody. I'm so bored," she said, with a discouraged sigh. "It's just hard to meet people in general. And then, when this happens, this whole pandemic, you get crazy if you don't get to talk to people.

"I talk to my friends and my co-workers a lot obvously. But I like to actually speak to somebody new, or someone that you don't know. So right now for me, I like it."

Ramona Pringle, the director of the Faculty of Communication & Design's Creative Innovation Studio at Ryerson University, isn't surprised that singles are seeking refuge in dating apps.

"We are innately social, communal creatures," Pringle told The Canadian Press in a phone interview. "We take for granted how many interactions we have throughout the day — from co-workers passing by, just a nod, a glance, we have so many subtleties beyond the full conversations that we have.

"When you pass someone on the street, when you are checking out with your groceries, we have interactions with people on micro levels all the time."

COVID-19 has upended the dating scene. On Friday, the hashtag #CoronaVirusPickupLines was trending on Twitter, prompting much hilarity.

Under a picture of Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant in the movie "Notting Hill," @AndstuffL posted: "I'm just a girl, standing 6 feet away from a boy. Asking him to maybe move back another foot. Thanks."

@IsaacJCrane1 posted: "Can't spell quarantine without U,R,A,Q,T."

Pringle, who's also an associate professor at Ryerson and a tech columnist for CBC and CBC Radio, said dating apps will take on a new role amid COVID-19. Imagine self-isolation, she said, without today's tech connectivity.

"I think in some ways we should be profoundly grateful that we've got these tools," she said. "(And dating apps) are certainly not going to be for one-night hookups, they're going to be satisfying this need for human contact," she said. "We need to be leaning into the ways that we can be there for our communities digitally, I think it's so, so, so important."

Valdez has matched with about a half dozen men on Hinge since social distancing started. She's spoken to three, the conversations ranging from creepy to constructive.

"One guy who was really annoying, he asked if I wanted 'quarantine cuddles.' I was like, 'No, I'm OK,'" she said.

Another guy was "encouraging."

"I said 'I'm really, really, really bored. I don't know what to do," Valdez said. "And he was giving me tips, like 'You should meditate to help with anxiety and workout more than you think you need, and it's a chance for you to eat healthier.' And I was like, OK, that's true."

Some of the conversation has been: Are you working right now? How are you paying the rent?

"Because everyone I think is just really worried," said Valdez.

Social distancing hasn't stopped Andrew McColl from getting some virtual action. If anything, the 36-year-old says his online love life has been heating up since COVID-19 shut down the dating scene.

McColl says his phone has been flooded with messages from Tinder matches and ex-girlfriends craving human connection.

"Everyone's just inside and bored," says McColl. "(The messages are) a lot of 'I wish we could do this right now or that.'"

Pringle has spent a good chunk of her career studying online connections, and said they can be "profound." She spoke about the Netflix hit "Love is Blind."

"We made so much fun of them being in their pods," she said. "And here we are. In some ways, that show couldn't have come around at a better time because I think a lot of people are going to be in that (similar) circumstance."

A decade ago, Pringle immersed herself in "World of Warcraft" — a multi-player online role-playing game released in 2004 — studying the community of players, and the relationships formed.

"People who lived in different states or different provinces would talk about helping each other's kids write their college admission papers, and mourning deaths with each other and celebrating births with each other," she said "These were very, very real bonds."

There are obvious parallels with online dating, of the need for shared experience and connection.

"I think there's a huge population (of single people) who are feeling that in a very existential way right now," Pringle said. "Everyone's challenges are brand new. We're all newbies in this. Everyone is dealing with something, and that's really, really profound."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2020.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2020
The Canadian Press

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