woman using laptop in dark room

We’re all doing our best to adjust to the “new norm” - from socially distanced visits with friends, to masks required in public places, to maybe even a job search after being laid off. A lot has changed, and the world of dating is no exception. First dates as video calls have become standard practice for safety. But their longevity is unknown… Now that most people have had some experience with them, who prefers them moving forward, even after coronavirus is not such a threat?

I ran an internal poll of 100 DateSpot members and other singles - spanning early 20s to late 60s - on whether they prefer a first date to be virtual or in person. The results were surprising.

Now, let’s look at the gender difference. We all know more women are going to be pro-video calls, right? To name a few possible reasons: 1) Generally speaking, men are more interested in the possibility of sex on a first date. 2) Men care more about a partner’s body (particularly the difference between an “average” and “fit” body more than women), and the full figure is rarely assessed by laptop or phone. 3) Women have a higher need to feel safe, which distanced by video technology provides.

Well, our poll data surprised even us. The gender difference is...wait for it...nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Specifically, 47% of women say they prefer virtual first dates, compared to 51% of men. So actually, if anything, men like them more.  40% of women and 42% of men say they want to meet in person. And 14% of women and 8% of men are on the fence. So the only statistically significant gender difference is just that men have stronger opinions on the topic. Maybe this is indicative of men being more decisive in general (or trying to appear so) versus women who take things more contextually? That is beyond the scope of this research.

Some of the reasons why women were not as into video calls as we expected were that they didn’t know if they would look as good on camera, and some said matter-of-factly “I’m not camera-friendly.” One voiced the concern that someone might be a creep and take screenshots. Others just thought they were more traditional on the matter and prefer just keeping a safe social distance during an in-person date.

Let’s take a broader look at both sides of the first date format debate.

On one side, the “video call camp” is all about efficiency and safety. It’s generally free, which is a nice alternative to paying for a couple drinks at a bar - not to mention food if that’s involved - over and over while testing out different prospective mates. Even if you grab a bottle of wine from the store for video dates, it’s a lot cheaper than paying for the upcharge plus tip at a local establishment. And it’s easy. You don’t have to drive, use up gas, cross bridges, wait in traffic or spend money on a rideshare. People who live outside large cities especially benefit from this. Video calls are a way to explore chemistry without the hassle. And because you’re forced to really talk and get to know each other, intimacy can build more quickly through video dates, paving a more nurturing ground for love. Quarantine or not, a lot of people prefer to keep the pressure of sex off the table initially.

On the other side, the “in-person camp” argues that the chemistry just isn’t as strong on video calls. They can feel too corporate, un-sexy, and they don’t leave enough room to be flirtatious. Moreover, the options for physicality-- from a touch on the arm to kissing to sex are not possible. Some singles also like to get in-person immediately because there can be a lack of follow-through from virtual dates. Amanda, an operations manager in San Francisco in her thirties, said one of her potential suitors expressed interest in her after their first call, but then said “I’m not sure what the point of dating is right now if you can’t meet.” She said she’d be open to meeting if there were a few great video dates. She was surprised that he never followed up after that. And men are also expressing the same frustration. Lucas, a 39-year-old Silicon Valley tech manager, reported a similar lack of follow-up from video dates compared to his in-person dates.

I didn’t track a split by age range, but anecdotally it does appear that there’s a slightly greater adoption of the video calls by younger people. Online dating and styling consultant Alyssa Dineen of Style My Profile shared that more younger folks jumped into the video calls first. “Most of my under 45 clients are totally up for, and are dating by video. My older clients are not as into the idea unless it’s someone they’ve already met in person,” she commented.

The openness to video dates appeared in personalized matchmaking as well, where people are inherently looking for a lasting relationship. At high-end matchmaking companies, the vast majority of clients wanted to pause contracts instead of doing video calls, and then over time people increasingly began opting in more. By the beginning of June, my partner matchmakers reported that the majority (60-75%) of their clients were doing video calls for their matches. I also encourage them with my own matchmaking clients. With my clients and what I hear from partner matchmakers, relationships nationwide are blossoming regardless of the original format.

How long do people generally take to move from virtual to in-person dates? We can’t say definitely as more specific research must be done. But from my experience talking with singles, including my own matchmaking clients, many are comfortable with just one to two video calls.

As a format, Zoom and FaceTime are hugely popular, but the dating apps have been rolling out their own internal video functionality to keep you on their platforms and make the transition from match-to-meet even smoother. Some pioneers launched video calling even before the pandemic. League Live’s 2-minute video dates launched in December 2019. CEO Amanda Bradford said that initial users between the ages of 35 and 40 liked the feature most, likely because their time is at more of a premium. Bumble’s video chat launched last year as well.

And if a major dating site didn’t launch video chat before the lockdown, they’ve done it since then. Cosmopolitan wrote about a bunch of dating apps that featured video by the end of March. Match launched this spring, and Tinder (one of their many child companies), started this summer.

So how do you adjust to the new norm? Here’s some ideas to keep in mind:

  1. Learn to embrace the change. Recognize how efficient video call dates are if you don’t already. Set aside the awkwardness and gradually we’ll all get more comfortable with them as they become more standard practice.
  2. Keep in mind the tips for video calls I wrote about in the previous blog post, curated from various experts in the field.
  3. Be realistic. Set that bar for chemistry a little lower for video dates. This does not mean you’re lowering your standards for a partner overall - you’re just giving them the benefit of the doubt (in a romantic context) considering the platform is still new for everyone. Did you find this bachelor/ette interesting enough, attractive enough and like-minded enough to explore this connection further? Then set up another video date. Be realistic about how video calls aren’t going to have that same level of excitement and don’t discount a potential mate because they just don’t do video calls super well. Sparks may not fly quite as easily but you’re also allowing the woman to feel safe, which is essential in laying a foundation for a lasting relationship. Eventually, when you can meet, she’ll likely be more comfortable with you.
  4. Recognize that the person you’re talking to likely has a preference of video call or in-person dates, so ask them. Try to withhold any sort of judgment about their preference if it's different than yours. We’re all just trying to be safe, have fun and make connections, and we don’t have to think exactly the same. That would be boring and competitive.
  5. When you do meet in person for the first time - whenever that may be - just feel it out. No, not literally! A polite but warm way to say hi is a smile and wave from a few feet apart. A good rule of thumb is to not be aggressive and just let the other person show you when they’re comfortable enough to get closer physically or emotionally. If things aren’t progressing, talk about it. For a first in-person date, a walk or a picnic with a large blanket does the trick in creating a pleasant environment while leaving a safe distance.

How will people’s preferences with virtual dates shift in the future? No one knows. I predict that video call dates will continue to rise in popularity, and with exciting new twists to come. Hopefully, in 50 years, you won’t care though -- you’ll have your "old norm" of being happily partnered up.

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