Finding love during a pandemic: What online dating taught us
When physical meetings were curtailed during the circuit breaker, online dating became a natural “safe distancing” for some couples. 4 young adults shared with us their experiences of getting to know someone virtually and the lessons they learnt.
Spoiler alert: When they finally got to meet face to face, Gwyneth, Shanwen and Nat continued to build on their relationships, but Tracie (not her real name) decided to pull the plug on hers.
Why did you decide to look for love during the circuit breaker?
Shanwen: I had already been using dating apps on and off, but I had more time to look for someone during the circuit breaker since I couldn’t go out. It was also convenient.
I thought that even if nothing came out of it, it would be okay. I would just take it as a chance to meet new friends.
Tracie: After returning from studying in the UK, I was serving my stay-home notice (SHN) and got pretty bored. A bunch of my friends were using Coffee Meets Bagel and had enjoyed considerable success, so I decided to give it a shot.
I started using the app before the circuit breaker was introduced so I assumed that I could still meet up with people after I was done with my SHN.
With hindsight, it was probably not the best idea because we entered the circuit breaker shortly after I began talking to this guy. I also had to study for my final exams at that time.
Gwyneth: Before the circuit breaker, my friend downloaded Coffee Meets Bagel, and I decided to join her. I wasn’t very serious about it as it was my first time using a dating app so I didn’t know what to expect.
But my friends came over to my house and they were playing around with the app and actually swiped someone. We happened to hit it off so we met up in real life.
I thought he was a pretty decent guy, so I wanted to give this a shot. But the circuit breaker happened, so most of the time spent getting to know one another was done via virtual means.
How was the experience of getting to know someone during the circuit breaker?
Shanwen: Initially, it felt quite intimidating as I had never met someone on Zoom for the first time. But he was friendly, so it made it easier for me to feel at ease and slowly open up to get to know him.
We didn’t really talk about anything substantial and got to know each other mostly through texts. It was more about seeing if we had chemistry with each other and whether we had common topics to talk about.
Gwyneth: I feed off the energy of the person as well as the situation or ambience or vibe of the place we’re in, so I definitely find it easier to communicate in real life. We’re better conversationalists face to face because he isn’t good at texting.
I feel like if we hadn’t met up at the beginning, it would have been harder to maintain the relationship virtually. On dating apps, it’s very common to ghost people if you’re not interested. I was very scared that the relationship would fail if we didn’t maintain close contact for 2.5 months.
Tracie: We would meet over Zoom and Netflix Party. It was functional – we still got to talk and get to know each other – but I felt that it was a lot less organic than meeting in real life. I generally find Zoom meetings a lot more awkward than real-life meetings, so I wasn’t thrilled with the arrangement.
I didn’t really feel the spark over Zoom, but I kept telling myself that it might be different in real life so I held out and decided to wait and see how our first meeting would go. After all, he was a nice guy and we clicked decently well.
What helped (or didn’t help)?
Tracie: One good thing about Zoom is that you can cut the small talk and go straight to the real topics relatively quickly, but that also meant that it felt like too much too soon.
I quickly learnt about his family, his past relationships and his personality. We also texted on a daily basis, so I knew what was happening in his daily life. But even after two months of chatting, I still didn’t feel like I knew him very well.
Hanging out in real life lets you build a fuller understanding of the other person. You get to observe how they respond to situations, how they interact with other people… and that in turn builds familiarity.
Physical proximity helps to build a closeness that you just can’t achieve over a call or video. For me, that was what was lacking in our relationship.
Gwyneth: There was a lot of effort on both our parts to keep to our commitment of video calling every night and doing activities together. We decided on video calls because we were better at talking when we saw each other’s faces.
We used Netflix Party to watch shows together. We also downloaded the Happy Couple app, which asks you to complete around five to six questions every day – that allowed us to get to know each other more. We also started studying the Bible and exercising together online.
That helped our relationship because we discussed a lot of deeper issues, and I got to better understand what he’s interested in and his perspectives on certain things.
On the contrary, I felt that the circuit breaker was very good for the relationship. I’m very thankful for the experience.
Shanwen: Some people just want to talk to you for fun, so getting to know each other online for the first two months helped in seeing if the other party is really interested and serious about you because it requires effort to talk for so long.
Texting allowed me to have more time to think about my responses, but it also added to the uncertainty because he took quite a while to respond as well. At some point, I thought he wasn’t interested anymore.
But each time I felt uncertain and prayed about it, somehow God would give me a sign that he was still keen, like when he initiated to play games together.
From texting, we progressed to watching Netflix Party to eventually meeting each other for the first time – virtually.
We played Robotics Investigator when we first met and he made a horse sound. That gave me an impression that he was extroverted, which is true. Because when you meet someone for the first time, you won’t make such a ridiculous sound. Through games, I realised that you can tell someone’s personality.
Nat (Shanwen’s boyfriend): There was an agenda for me to introduce Robotics Investigator, as I wanted us to get to know each other through specific questions. We found out about one another’s family, behaviour and emotional response to certain situations in a casual and lighthearted way. It helped to have games where we could get to know each other intentionally.
What was it like to finally meet in real life?
Tracie: The first meeting went well and he was very sweet, but it soon became apparent that we had different ideas of how fast the relationship should progress. He felt like he knew me very well, but I had my reservations.
Gradually, I realised that we were moving at different paces emotionally as well. He was falling pretty fast, but I was having a hard time viewing him in a romantic light.
I decided to end things because I felt like it wouldn’t be fair to string him along while I waited for myself to develop deeper romantic feelings for him.
Gwyneth: I missed his company a lot even though we talked every day. It was really different spending time together in real life. So when I finally got to meet him, I was really happy.
We officially got together after the circuit breaker, and it’s still going well.
Shanwen: I didn’t just meet him – it was a meeting with his friends from cell group too. The introvert in me wasn’t ready, but it turned out fine and it felt good to finally be able to meet in person.
The interaction feels more real when you see the person in real life. There’s also more pressure because you don’t have time to think about your responses. You have to give an immediate response.
But it’s easier to get to know someone face to face and see how the person reacts. Because through texts, you cannot really tell what the person is feeling.
After a few meet-ups, we established that we were keen to continue knowing each other. So we set a timeline of four months before deciding if we were going to get together, which we eventually did.
What did you learn from this experience? Do you have any tips you can share?
Gwyneth: Dating during the circuit breaker made me realise that if we want the relationship to work, we both have to put in the effort. Because when two people fight for it, it becomes a lot easier.
Having the same faith also helps a lot. It unites you in the worst circumstances and encourages you no matter how tough things get. It gave us hope in this relationship as we both trusted that God would bring us where He wants us to go.
The most important thing at the end of the day is to prioritise one another and communicate well. When you are willing to put in the effort to maintain the relationship, a lot of things can be resolved.
Shanwen: I learnt to be clear on what I was looking for in a partner. I knew that I wanted to find someone who was serious about God, so we talked about church and our faith at an early stage. (Once that was discussed) I continued to talk to him for months.
Nat (Shanwen’s boyfriend): It was timely that we had that one to two months to text online before actually meeting because we were still in a safe space in the comfort of our own homes.
We cannot be too hasty because there’s so much we can mask as a person online. Realistically speaking, you’ll have to be more careful because some people match just for the flings and one-night-stands.
So take it slow and don’t be too emotionally invested too fast.
Tracie: I’m grateful for this experience because it’s made me clearer about what I want in a partner and how to approach a new relationship.
I’m touched by all the effort he put into our relationship (if you can call it that). But I’m sorry that I could not reciprocate his feelings. I also regret that I had not been clearer about how I felt earlier on in our relationship.
I would advise anyone thinking of trying out online dating to manage their expectations. It’s very hard to develop feelings for someone without first meeting them (at least in my experience), so try to do that before putting labels on your relationship.
Also, communication is key. It helps to check in with them and make sure you’re on the same page.
THINK + TALK
- Do you have clear idea of what you’re looking for in a potential life partner?
- When it comes to dating, are you able to take it slow or do you find yourself getting emotionally invested too quickly?
- How do you think you can be more careful in getting to know someone whether online or offline?