UNITED STATES—Ten faces stare at each other, each one enclosed in a precise square as one of them kicks off a scheduled Zoom call at 4 PM sharp. It’s a diverse crowd—men, women, young and old, and they all live in the same city or close enough and are employees of the same company.

A few months ago, before the pandemic began, the whole thing would be profoundly peculiar but it is not like that anymore; it is the new normal.

Since we’re doing everything distantly and through screens, online dating is no different, and considering how human interaction is forbidden, how will this pandemic affect dating now and in the future?

Online Dating After COVID-19

Sometime in April, Tinder had launched the ‘passport’ feature, originally a paid feature for their subscribers that was later made accessible for free. Members can now look up city by city or pin a location on the map to start liking, meeting and talking with Tinder members who might not even be on the same continent. Will this continue after the pandemic gets over?

We don’t know but it does open a whole realm of possibilities for dating. Imagine taking a trip to London and you already have a date set before you even get to the airport.

Bumble observed a 29% rise in messages exchanged on its platform in March and remarked that more chats were transforming into meaningful communications. Due to this increased application of Bumble’s chat platform, the team behind the app is continuing its current chat, video chat, and voice chat alternatives with tools to record and transmit audio notes to their matches and respond to particular messages inside their chats.

Would this usher in a new change to online dating?

The question is, would apps stay on the path that they are when things return to normal? Since normalcy is a rhetorical question at best right now, no one can tell but if we maintain the practices we are applying now, maybe this will yet again change how online dating functions.

What Dating Apps & Sites Are Doing?

Online dating apps are trying their best to accommodate this new normal. Let’s look at Bumble, where Whitney Wolfe Herd, the CEO, has directly urged users to avoid meeting in-person and date virtually, writing her blog post that said: “we want to help you stay connected, even when physically apart.” They did launch an in-app video feature last years, which didn’t receive much love—but this year they saw a massive 93% spike in its function from March and they noted how the average call was 30 minutes long! Priti Joshi, Bumble’s VP, comments on this increase, “When physical connection is limited, humans will seek out other means to interact. Video calling is meeting that demand.”

OkCupid has also been urging people to meet virtually. OkCupid’s CEO Ariel Charytan said:  “We’re hearing more and more about virtual coffee dates, dinner dates, movie dates, you name it. We recently heard from a new OkCupid couple in Brooklyn who set up a candlelit dinner over video chat for their first date earlier this week.

Hinge has immediately pushed users, additionally, permanently affixing a notification to a section of the app where users exchange messages: “70% of Hinge Members would be up for a phone or video call right now. No pressure, just keep it short and fun!

An old player in the game, Plenty of Fish has also jumped on to improve their functionality. They rushed out a livestream function for its app that users can use for free. The company took note of how livestreaming had captured parts of Asia and started testing it in Texas last year.

Initially, they wanted a June debut but launched it in April instead. And for those apps who don’t have any in-app video or livestreaming feature, Zoom is filling in that space, so online dating hasn’t ceased.

What People Think About Virtual Dating?

Going through several tweets and testimonials, it seems most people are taking well to this new shift in virtual dating. Since being involved and human connection is becoming even more precious to some, dating apps are letting people connect across cities and countries.

Dating apps have become a social activity they can do from the comfort of their homes and video chat functions ensure you’re not breaking any stay-at-home regulations.

Mary J. Gibson, a senior editor for online dating blog DatingXP.co, said that they saw a rise in demand for dating apps that offered video chat features in their roundup article.

Helen Fisher, a senior research fellow at The Kinsey Institute and the chief scientific adviser to Match.com, weighed in: “It’s an excellent time for singles to date. They’re not getting dressed up to go to work. And most importantly, they have something to talk about.” This is obvious for many; some are finding that their dating lives have improved in this pandemic.

The need to connect is a human need and we will feel it more than ever now that most of us are bound to our homes, therefore, virtual dating has now become a way to talk, to meet new people.

The future of dating might become a different picture entirely after we get through this global crisis and it remains to be seen what apps like Tinder and Bumble would do next as they have already adjusted well to the situations now. Maybe the future of online dating will be getting a drink through Facetime.