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COVID-19 x Dating, According To Behavioral Science

Behavioral scientist's perspective on dating and an epidemic

Before becoming an entrepreneur, I was an Infectious Diseases Specialist. In the US, we are experiencing an increase in cases, beginning to assemble a disease containment model for COVID-19, and deciphering misinformation which results in panic in our daily living and our financial markets. ANY mortality is terrible. This disease is shortening the lives of those that have chronic illness. Does the knowledge of this fact change our dating behavior? 

When it comes to dating and the desire to find love, people are more apt to take risks.

Let’s look at the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Despite knowing risk about unprotected sex, we currently see a rise in STD cases for 15 to 24-year-olds who account for 50% of new cases. If we didn’t see behavior change at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic or reduction in STD rates now, would we see differences for COVID-19?  According to Michael Kaye, OkCupid’s Global Communications Manager, “We also recently asked our daters if they’re still willing to go out on dates and saw a massive spike in responses around the world. We found that 88% of respondents around the world on OkCupid are still dating (92% in the United States)”. As Justyna Kedra, Founder of WE Rule, explained: “To be honest I didn’t even think about Coronavirus until someone asked me ‘we should finally go on a date but are you corona-free?’”.

What will people do? What’s the future of dating look like?

When you calculate acquiring COVID-19 and its recovery and if it has a larger impact in your life, it will change your approach. “As a single mom, I don’t want the additional risk. I have been seeing someone for a couple of months, but he is still going to work and I’m not comfortable with his exposure level. It was not very serious in any case, though he is nice and our time together was pleasant. If I were to get sick, I don’t know who would take care of my kiddo”. SG, San Francisco.

I also think the desire for love will outpace an epidemic.

We are coping with unknown factors about the virus and constant quarantine worldwide. Italy’s disease containment strategy is similar to NYC’S TB strategy, prison or fine for those that are non-compliant. In the midst of US quarantine, I predict a greater use of video and communication in dating apps. I don’t expect people to take known risk if they don’t have to, but I also think the desire for love will outpace an epidemic.

Dating activities also mimic the world’s general concern. When we have concerns about an epidemic coupled with media coverage and misinformation in the public, people will at first have fear and the need to quell that fear.  According to Michael Kaye, OkCupid’s Global Communications Manager, “There was actually a 188% increase in coronavirus mentions on OkCupid profiles between January and February, and a 71% increase in coronavirus mentions between January and March”. 

Renowned serial entrepreneur, TV personality, and Co-Founder of Loko, Vivek Jain, reports that “We have seen a 62%  increase in both new users, and engagement from existing users, since the fears from Covid19 reached mainstream media.  Because we are video-based, we give singles who are apprehensive about going out in public during these times an avenue to make a connection with others while being in the comforts of their own home”. Similarly, Say Allo’s CEO, Zackary Lewis shared that they have experienced a 350% increase in video date sessions and 20% of new profiles have used the word “coronavirus” in their profile. 

There’s also been roughly 15 million new conversations among OkCupid daters in March.

Unlike HIV/AIDS that can be tracked through a sexual partner notification, the coronavirus is harder to contain. The tracking of disease begins with everyone you’ve encountered, the frequency of coughing, and everywhere that person went. Will this slow down dating activities? “The interesting thing though is that even for those who are not dating IRL and are instead staying home binging Netflix, they’re still matching with people online. In fact, there have been about 50 million new conversations started among daters over the past month, and we’ve seen a 7% increase in new conversations over the last 5 days. There’s also been roughly 15 million new conversations among OkCupid daters in March (i.e. daters who have not spoken previously). explains Kaye.

I do hope that Neil Degrasse Tyson is right that now we reached a period where this is a social experiment on will people listen to scientists. Perhaps dating apps can create segmented populations. We can design categories based on risk tolerance and create games or prompts during quarantine periods. But, what do I know? I’m just a scientist.

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