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How COVID-19 changed online dating in Saskatchewan

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WATCH: Public health restrictions have limited or prevented usual dating activities. A researcher says the apps are reporting more users and longer, more meaningful conversations. Two users say dating is both better and worse – Feb 14, 2021

Public health restrictions meant this Valentine’s Day looked very different from last year. Provincial COVID-19 guidelines restrict capacity within restaurants, have placed a curfew on bars and prevent people from visiting residences that aren’t their own.

The lack of opportunities to meet new people has prompted many to go looking for love and companionship by downloading dating apps, which are reporting more users and say their clients are having deeper conversations.

Popular apps like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge have seen “about [a] 15 to 25 per cent increase in their downloads and their use,” Brandon Sparks said.

Read more: Could the coronavirus fundamentally change the way we date?

He’s a PhD student at the University of Saskatchewan studying psychology. His research has included looking at the effects dating apps can have on mental health. Last year, he found links between dating app use and anxiety and depression among several hundred University of Saskatchewan students.

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He also says most apps are reporting that users have started dating differently.

Match Group, which owns Tinder, Hinge, Match, OK Cupid and Plenty of Fish, among other apps and sites, reports 44 per cent of its users say they have conversations that are more meaningful.

Bumble, which presents itself as a “woman-first social network,” reports a similar trend.

“What we’ve seen since the beginning of the pandemic is a lot of our users are more engaged and interested in getting to know the potential matches,” Bumble vice-president for strategy, Priti Joshi, said, speaking to Global News over Zoom from Austin, Texas.

She also said more users, which she refers to as “daters,” are completing their online profiles by uploading more photos and filling in their biographies.

As further evidence, she recounted what one dater told the company, saying that user had noticed a “seismic tonal shift” in the way her conversations were going.

“She was connecting with people who were more open from the get-go, who were comfortable being a little bit more vulnerable,” Joshi said.

All these trends, combined with an 80 per cent increase in video calls since the pandemic started, indicate Bumble users are “really interested in getting to know their potential matches and really want to be able to do that in a face-to-face manner” while maintaining physical distance, Joshi said.

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Read more: Grindr, LGBTQ2 social networking app, removes ‘ethnicity filter’ amid racism complaints

Overall, she said the data and feedback points to a dating scene that is energized and optimistic.

But a Saskatoon dater described it as “lethargic.”

“It’s a bit of a disaster right now,” Harrison Brooks said.

Brooks is a 26-year-old bartender who has used a variety of dating apps, on and off, for years.

He said he goes on fewer dates now because there are fewer things to do and because he is cautious about who he meets. And he says his online conversations do last longer but mostly because he wants to make sure his potential dates are taking proper precautions during the global health crisis.

Speaking over Zoom, he told Global News he’d often go on a date with someone after a day or two of good conversation before the pandemic, saying he has better conversations when meeting someone face-to-face.

He said spending more time talking on dating apps now has occasionally led to him having more meaningful conversations but mostly just leads to the dialogue fizzling out. With little to do besides talk, the talking doesn’t always last that long.

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Sparks said that result is typical. He told Global News some people get more critical when they have more potential partners, something he called a “rejection mindset.”

Read more: We know ghosting is hurtful — so why do we keep doing it?

Sarah Hnatuk, a 28-year-old social worker, had a different experience on the apps lately, though she attributes that to having a real-world connection to someone prior to COVID-19.

She’s used dating apps before the pandemic but never really enjoyed them or expected very much. Speaking over Zoom, she said she likes how convenient they are and how direct they can be – if you match with someone else there is clearly interest. But she said she felt most people used them for one-night stands and so she avoided them, preferring to meet people at concerts or comedy shows.

She was single when the pandemic came to Saskatchewan and stopped dating altogether last February, worried about the inherent risk meeting new people poses when COVID-19 is rampant in the population.

Isolation and boredom prompted her to rejoin. Then she saw the profile of someone she knew.

They had met a few times at some shows around town. They agreed to meet for a drink.

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“I had always had a crush on him, he had always had a crush on me. It’s just this cute little thing,” she said.

That was in November and they’ve been together ever since, though not without challenges. Health concerns forced her to ask a big question very early on – if he was willing to form a bubble and lock down together.

She said she remembers saying something like “it has to be like you and me against the world,” she said, “which is kind of scary when someone says that to you on their second date.”

Hnatuk said meeting during the pandemic actually made their relationship stronger and helped them cope.

Since then, she said they’ve had further talks “that would probably be coming five, six, seven months into the relationship.”

“I feel like we have had a longer relationship than we have because we are spending like a lot of time together… he’s just very, very supportive and so if I am struggling, I can talk to him.”

Click to play video: 'Pandemic’s impact on dating' Pandemic’s impact on dating
Pandemic’s impact on dating – Feb 15, 2021

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