A dating coach weighs in on why you should take a break from scrolling the news and start swiping through potential matches during your enforced time at home due to coronavirus

By Sophie Dodd
March 31, 2020 09:30 AM
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As social distancing measures increase across the globe to help contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), so does the need for emotional connection.

Just because you’re responsibly staying home doesn’t mean that you can’t get out there — ‘there’ being on a dating app or website.

In fact, according to data from several dating apps, that’s exactly what people across the country are doing. Bumble, a dating app in which women initiate the conversation, has seen a 21 percent national increase in messaging since March 12, as well as a notable rise in the amount of time people spend communicating with each other, according to a representative for the company.

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Other platforms are experiencing similar indications of an increased openness to dating digitally, with 70 percent of users on Hinge (an app “designed to be deleted” due to its goal to create lasting matches) expressing interest in going on digital dates, a company representative tells PEOPLE.

To help with that, the app has created some romantic backgrounds for the video-conferencing website Zoom to help make virtual dates feel more like “real dates,” including scenic images of a seaside picnic, a bonfire crackling in the forest, and an upscale bar. (If those are what “real dates” looks like for people on Hinge, then sign me up, please!)

Tinder is also striving to help unite those who are feeling isolated due to social distancing and quarantine measures: The app’s Passport feature, which allows users to remove the distance filter and find matches anywhere in the world, will be free to all members through April 30th.

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“I do think it’s the perfect time to get online, because we don’t lose our desire to connect,” Match’s Chief Dating Coach Rachel DeAlto tells PEOPLE about dating during the pandemic. “Love doesn’t go away, or that desire for companionship.”

With non-essential businesses closed and stay-at-home orders going into effect in several states, virtual communication of any kind offers a way to stave off feelings of isolation.

“When we’re so disconnected face to face, we have to replicate that in some sort of way to prevent us from feeling the effects of loneliness,” DeAlto explains.

Luckily, there have never been so many ways to connect online. And after nearly two weeks of adjusting to frequent video chats with coworkers, friends and family members about the current state of the world, the notion of speaking with someone new about something — anything — other than the news cycle certainly has its allure.

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“There’s a flirtation element that’s fun and lighthearted that I think we’re not getting in the conversations that we’re having with our friends and family,” says DeAlto.

“This is something that could be very uplifting,” she adds. “Give yourself a minute to be more intentional about it — this is more time than we’ve ever had before, so we can actually focus on it. I think there’s a lot of opportunity.”

She encourages users to think of this as an “extended vetting period” — a way to pursue the connections that spark, while letting those that don’t fizzle out.

“I like to think of dating as a funnel — you want to have a wide opening, and allow everybody within it [who meets your initial criteria] through in the beginning, but then it comes down to a smaller sub group,” explains DeAlto, who encourages users to “then whittle down [your matches] based on what you are really looking for.”

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A crucial aspect is not changing the qualities you’re looking for based on the current circumstances, she says.

For those who are still on the fence about online dating, Match.com launched a new Dating While Distancing Hotline on March 23, to ensure that those who have any questions about finding love (don’t we all?) or anything from fielding texts from an ex to general digital dating tips can chat with an expert. The hotline, 1-888-302-6224, is open Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST.

Stay safe, stay inside and start swiping!