The pandemic reminded us we are human beings, not just faces to be swiped on. We now have the space to imagine how a relationship fits into a good life. However, there’s an emerging technology that will alter our dating habits once again. Will we be able to hold on to our humanity?
The book Sum: Tales From The Afterlives, describes an imaginary afterlife where cities are empty except for the people you know. You see your grandparents on the park bench, and your high school friends on the bus, but otherwise the streets are empty, the trains, normally sardine-stuffed, are also empty. You regrettably miss all of the strangers you could have met.
Enormous life events, such as the covid19 pandemic, have a way of bringing up unfamiliar emotions. For singles, these emotions included longing, yearning, desire, and regret. Singles desired a companion, and some felt a strange regret for not prioritizing it before. Emotion can be a strong fuel for actionable change, and change indeed took place. Rooftop romances led to unlikely pairings, lockdown caused premature cohabitating, and we saw a spike in divorce (and babies). For the first time in a long time, people realized the importance of relationships and it became priority number one.
Fast forward to June 2022. We made it through the worst part of the health crisis, and cities and countries are opening their streets and establishments, some completely removing vaccine card and mask mandates. This is nothing less than exciting news. The big question on my mind is, what will dating look like in a post-pandemic world?
Swapping Physical Chemistry for Emotional Intelligence
In our pre-pandemic world, people were caught up in a whirlwind of everyday life. Continually in motion, we looked for ways to entertain and distract ourselves socially and romantically. We accepted societal norms and rode along with whatever life gave us.
Occasionally something big happens, a friend or family member dies, your heart gets broken, or in this case, a worldwide pandemic occurs, and, as Philosopher Sam Harris puts it, “you have a moment to reflect on the whole spectacle of what is otherwise normal.” When the pandemic hit pause on our love lives, we had a moment to breathe after a period of multi-dating, and we began to question the status quo. Was it beneficial to have a singles catalog in our pocket? Was it beneficial to go on three back-to-back dates in one night? I believe the collective answer was no. We realized the insidious effect of “the paradox of choice" and how it had permeated every fiber of our dating culture. Pre-pandemic we had more opportunities to date new people, but interactions lacked rich intimacy. Meaningful social interaction is our optimal state, or as Therapist Terry Real says, “Connection is a panacea.” Singles grew tired of being another face to swipe on in an endless carousel of profiles and craved rich connection.
If connection is a “panacea” then isolation is a seed for mental and physical health disorders. Covid19 lockdowns hit singles the hardest who suffered from extreme isolation, in some cases not seeing another human being for months, triggering depression and anxiety. This shed light on another pandemic that had existed in the United States way before mandatory lockdowns and spawned a digital conversation across the world wide web. The silver lining was that we were finally destigmatizing mental health issues.
A second silver lining was that mental and emotional health became non-negotiables for singles. People pushed superficial desires aside and prioritized qualities such as “self-awareness” and “emotional intelligence.” Ambiance Matchmaking Founder Leslie Wardman says now, more than ever, self-growth and personal development were sitting at the top of the 'desired partner traits' pile. "Singles want someone who has done the work and is continuing to prioritize self-development," said Wardman. "It's as important as being physically in shape.”
It’s now obvious that a thriving relationship is more than skin-deep, and there’s more to a relationship than physical chemistry. We rekindled a connection to ourselves and began asking the big questions, “Who am I?” “What do I need in a relationship?” “What do I long for in terms of physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual connection with a partner?”
Indoor Dates Are Out, The Great Outdoors Is In
People not only grasped the value of connection to ourselves and others but also to Mother Nature. Huge metropolises completely shut down its streets, stores, and even parks and beaches, forcing people inside their homes for extended periods of lockdown. This caused people to realize the important interconnectivity between human beings and our environment. Without sunshine, walking through dense forests, or sticking our toes in the sea, we lose that part of ourselves that says, “I’m alive.” This awakening spurred two post-pandemic dating trends.
Being outdoors and active is higher than ever on singles' wish lists. Ambiance Matchmaking Director Romy Devack says, "Nine out of 10 people I've spoken to want to meet someone who is active and that they can enjoy hikes with or go on a ski trip together. This is taking precedent over the once-popular 'indoor date'," she said. "This has a lot to do with people being stuck inside for the past couple of years as well as having the ability to work remotely and enjoy a healthy life balance.”
Off-the-grid living and “van life” are also becoming popular lifestyle choices. Ambiance Matchmaking Director Sena Eicher says, “Singles are increasingly wanting to live off the grid or in a more sustainable way. They want to enjoy a more bucolic life with their plus one.”
The Rise Of Interracial Coupling
While the pandemic shook the entire country, disassembling entire cities and economies, it formed new ones. Young crowds that once created the vibrant nightlife of major metropolitans migrated to form new communities. Wall Street’s finest up and moved to nearby states such as Connecticut to work the markets remotely. In a recent chat with a friend in NYC, she asked, “Where have all of the men gone?”
Others lost their 9-5 jobs completely due to downsizing and layoffs. The pain is real for people who lose their jobs, but behind it is this bigger picture: It’s driving people into the world of entrepreneurship. For many, this was the push they needed toward finally launching a passion project or “side hustle.” Entrepreneurship hit an all-time high with nearly 5.4 million new businesses registered in 2021. Not only is this a 23 percent year-over-year increase, but it is also the highest number of newborn companies there’s ever been in a single calendar year in more than 15 years.
With a huge increase in remote work and newfound ventures, people had a breakthrough realization: “I don’t need to be in an office anymore.” While some accrued large Home Depot bills building home offices, others took advantage of the freedom and flocked to welcoming countries abroad. This ex-pat migration led to many nations offering digital nomad and startup visas in the hopes of seeing a financial uptick after seeing their economies decimated by the pandemic.
This resettling is creating new dating pools across the world and a “dating without borders” mentality is fueling interracial couples. While some Americans are moving abroad, others are moving to the US increasing interracial couples within its borders. According to the Census Bureau, the foreign-born US population was on the decline through mid-2002 but then rebounded dramatically. The immigration population - especially Asian and Hispanic groups - hit a record 46.2 million in November 2021. This is the largest number of immigrants ever recorded in any government survey or census going back to 1850.
According to the Pew Research Center, interracial marriage rates have gone up over time. These shifts can be attributed to the removal of laws criminalizing interracial marriage in many states (can you believe these laws even existed?) as well as cultural shifts that make interracial marriage more acceptable and the growing racial and ethnic diversity of modern societies. While online dating further contributed to this increase - creating a sort of cross-pollination of social circles that didn’t exist previously - we believe this trend to continue post-pandemic due to the explosion of remote workers reimagining their life abroad.
The Fall Of 2D Dating & A New Fictional Universe
If we’re prioritizing mental health and emotional intelligence, reconnecting with Mother Earth, and crossing borders to expand our cultural horizons, then it seems we are well on our way to reshaping our humanity for good… right? Well, that’s up for debate. There’s an emerging technology that has the potential to disrupt humanity as we know it.
As VR technology becomes more sophisticated (and if Zuckerberg has his way), 2D dates via Zoom and FaceTime will turn into 3D dates in the metaverse. This type of technology dissolves the gap between the physical and digital selves, creating immersive experiences that heighten both realism and emotional connection. Carnegie Mellon University researchers recently developed a VR headset attachment that sends ultrasound waves to the mouth, allowing people to feel sensations on the lips. Fingertips are another haptic hotspot, where it’s easiest for developers to send signals of feeling, allowing you to touch your date’s hand as if she was sitting across the table from you. The metaverse is no longer a mere futuristic concept to bring up when talking about Ready Player One. It’s become a tangible place we can all interact with and visit, right now, today.
“Several agencies and marketing firms have already invested in VR headsets like Meta’s Oculus, indicating that, one day, the metaverse could be the industry’s new Zoom,” said Alyssa Meyers from Marketing Brew. Bret Starr, founder and CEO of The Starr Conspiracy told Marketing Brew, “Now, probably 10% of our agency is in the metaverse at any given time doing anything from meetings to trivia nights to baby showers, activities they used to do via Zoom.”
Creatives have also taken to the VR world. Best-selling authors are promoting their books by offering tours through the cities featured in their books. Author J.F. Penn said, “I want to create a companion walking tour of my books through London for my Brooke and Daniel crime thrillers and through Bath for my Mapwalker fantasy trilogy. Walk the physical streets with AR glasses and I’ll be there with you explaining the history of the area and how it inspired my novels.”
While coworking and publishing are taking off in the metaverse, companies are rushing to create spaces in the virtual world where people (or, um, avatars) can meet and date, including Tinder and its parent company match.com. With the metaverse offering different “worlds,” just imagine being able to explore an enchanted forest or hike Mount Everest with your date. To me personally, this sounds fun and exciting, however, the whole “Who is this avatar in real life?” question is too daunting to keep me from ever wandering the VR streets in search of a soulmate. Or maybe the Black Mirror's Striking Vipors episode swayed me away from the fictional universe too soon. Sign me for a walking book tour or a coworking day with my floating head teammates, but I don’t think I’m cut out for avatar dating quite yet.
The pandemic locked us inside for long, unhealthy periods. People struggled with isolation, depression, and anxiety, and turned to dating apps and matchmakers to quench their need for human connection and relationships. Now that the pandemic is nearing its end and life is returning to ‘normalcy,’ will people want to sit at home living inside their VR headset? Will the metaverse threaten to disrupt our humanity? Or will people realize the important interconnectivity between human beings and the real world? Because without sunshine, walking through dense forests, sticking our toes in the sea, we lose that part of ourselves that says, “I’m alive.”