Love Infection

Dressing for a FaceTime date – and how I tested the world of virtual dating.

My outfit was carefully planned. Cute, but relaxed. Special occasion but not too showy. I really wanted to avoid looking as if I had tried too hard. My favourite lilac t-shirt paired with a sheer black glittery long-sleeve shirt.

The good thing about FaceTime dates is that your lower body is unobserved, so I was free to wear what I’ve been rocking since the lockdown started – leggings. My wavy hair was tamed by hairclips that matched the hue of my top. My makeup, I convinced myself, made me look awake and fresh.

I’m no stranger to dating apps, but, as a hopeless romantic, I’ve never truly believed in finding love online. Whenever I find myself on Tinder or Bumble, it’s always for ‘research purposes’, or at least that’s what I like to tell myself.

Now, as the lockdown stretches to more than two months, the process of swiping left or right through the seemingly endless catalogue of potential lovers offered by dating apps has become weirdly addictive. At every “yep” or “nope” my mind keeps wondering, what if Mr. Right hides behind that curly-haired blondie holding a puppy? I won’t lie: every match, “super like” and received message seems the perfect way to escape from lockdown loneliness.

I’m not alone in my quest for finding my virtual beau. As the pandemic was striking in full force in late March, there was a reported 84% increase in calls on Bumble. And March 29 was the busiest day in the history of Tinder, with more than 3 billion people engaging with the app.

In response to the growing number of people looking for love, companionship or entertainment, dating platforms have taken measures to make things a little easier for singles during the pandemic. Hinge has created an online date feature that allows matches to schedule videocalls, and Match has launched a “Dating while distancing hotline”, a free service for daters to chat with experts about their concerns regarding digital dating. Tinder has made its Passport feature temporarily free, allowing users to virtually travel the world in their search for love. Gay dating mecca Grindr has taken a different approach, providing entertainment that goes beyond dating, encouraging people to share stories such as weird hook-up adventures or uplifting content.

If you’re lucky enough to find your match in a sea of pretty faces, let me tell you that virtual dates are not the same as going for a drink or a fancy dinner. It’s actually less pressured to see a pixelated face on screen – a less stressful means of breaking the ice while still feeling like a real date.

My other favourite activity during the lockdown has been watching movies on Netflix Party, a Google Chrome extension that allows you to watch films with other people online while being able to chat and comment. So, during the dates with my blonde-haired English, I shared films, played games, exchanged playlists and spoke through to 3 in the morning.

Our mutual enjoyment in each other’s company was truly wondrous. From the first time we heard each other’s voices, my online beau and I agreed that even listening to each other’s grocery list would be enjoyable. That’s how much we enjoyed each other’s company – or maybe that’s how starved for human contact we were.

I remember our first encounter vividly – my first virtual date ever. I obsessed over the details. Was the light right? Was my makeup patchy? Was the camera angle unflattering?

Was I nervous? Definitely. The thought of him not being what I expected never crossed my mind. Just as with dates in real life, all my insecure self thought was about whether my appearance was good enough.

But unexpectedly, the calls that followed immediately became less planned, more raw, more real. I quickly became comfortable with the ghostly presence of a stranger in my life. And I didn’t care if my hair was less than perfect or if I was not wearing makeup.

Cut to the ending. Sad to say, my digital love story was all too short. My pixelated guy, living in the suburbs of Cambridge, England, disappeared overnight.

Will this mean that when lockdown is over, we will be a generation of digital lovers? Let’s see what happens. My blonde boy has promised me a beer, so I’m waiting for the pubs to open again.

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