Teens cough theatrically while their crushes spring away from them, retreating into their hoodies like turtles into their shells. Men and women walk up to each other on the street, stretch their arms out for hugs and their faces forward for kisses, only to jump back at the last moment and bump their feet together instead. A man walks down the street in a full hazmat suit, hand in hand with a coughing woman in shorts and a T-shirt while TikTok’s most ubiquitous new earworm—”It’s Corona Time”—honks and drones in the background. His caption: “When your girlfriend has coronavirus but you still love her.” Intimacy and social distancing do not mix.
As concerns about Covid-19 grow, many people’s minds have turned to romance. In China, where many have been on continuous quarantine lockdown for weeks, residents are sharing photos of stores emptied of condoms—hey, there’s not much else to do. In the United States, where would-be lovers are still free to leave their homes, citizens are more focused on whether dating during a pandemic is medically advisable. Stories about concerned and confused daters are everywhere, and people’s reactions to the outbreak range from seeking a hookup for the end of the world (and saying so in their dating app profiles) to instantly unmatching with people once they find out that their prospective mate has been on a plane recently.
Even the dating apps themselves have been swept up into the Covid-19 discussion. Tinder will interrupt your swiping to remind you that, while they want you to “continue to have fun,” you should also remember to carry hand sanitizer and maintain social distance. Queer-focused app Lex has also been reminding people to wash their hands and suggesting ways to keep busy and connected while quarantined. OkCupid has gone so far as to include a question about coronavirus—“Does coronavirus affect your dating life?”—as part of their users’ dating profiles. “We are always dropping in culturally, politically, and socially relevant questions for our daters to respond to,” says Michael Kaye, OkCupid’s global communications manager. “These questions help us match people on what matters to them.” Whether it’s desirable to be paired according to your infection anxiety level is up for debate, but OkCupid has found that coronavirus concerns definitely matter to people deciding whether or not to bring a new person into their lives or bedrooms.
The caution is appropriate. A typical date breaks just about all of the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 prevention rules. They’re public, and most restaurant tables aren’t 6 feet across. It’s likely you’ll touch hands, which is something people all over the world are trying to avoid. WHO officials have shared alternative greetings like waving, bumping elbows, and bowing. Then there’s kissing. The French government has officially warned its citizens against kissing each other on the cheeks, and Spain has instructed worshippers not to kiss statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, so you know this is serious business.
Considering coronavirus is carried in saliva and sputum, kissing is just about the most efficient way to transmit the disease imaginable, short of spitting directly into your date’s mouth. (We won’t yuck your yums, but maybe don’t do that until Covid-19 is under control.) “You could date someone new and make that connection high intensity, but you should then break many of your other normal contacts, especially those that end up reaching the elderly and infirm,” says Robert Glass, who has researched social disease transmission at Sandia National Laboratories, which investigates scientific solutions to national security threats. “Responsible individuals will choose to forgo dating entirely or shift it to online interaction instead.”
Still, activity on dating apps is holding steady, and is actually expected to increase as more people quarantine themselves. The upswing in usage is typical of any event that keeps people holed up inside, and is sort of the digital equivalent of the Chinese run on condoms. People aren’t going to stop looking for love because of coronavirus—the strictures of coronavirus preparation have left them with little else to do. The apps obviously see this as a good thing: Some hope that their platforms will become a way for people to stay connected and meet new people without ever leaving their homes, especially if they (like Bumble) offer voice and video calls through the app. In some cases, preparations are also being made to field any questions users might have about Covid-19 safety and refer people to WHO and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.