Vaccines badge, blurred boundaries: Dating online during the pandemic

With the pandemic raging on, and people hesitant to meet in person, fewer people are meeting physically. However, that has not put a dent on the love and dating lives of people. Many are turning to virtual dating, some for the first time.

A recent survey conducted by the online dating app Tinder reveals that 9 out of 10 young Indians are using dating apps to connect with people. Users are not restricting themselves to dates, alone, but are also using these platforms to find new connections, or look for buddies to hang out with.

Virtual celebration during covid pandemic. Young black woman having online date with her boyfriend or husband, showing wrapped gift box at laptop screen, having wine at home
More people are turning to datings apps during the pandemic-induced restrictions (Prostock-Studio via Getty Images)

Dating apps such as OkCupid, Tinder and Bumble are seeing more registrations and searches for dates online. A survey by Bumble revealed that around 72 per cent of Indians feel it is possible to fall in love remotely with someone they have never met in person.

With OkCupid, globally, there’s been an overall 30 per cent increase in messages sent on the app each day since 2020. The dating platform witnessed a 26 per cent increase in conversations with over 91 per cent of millennials still looking to date virtually and find love.

“We also noticed that during the lockdown, millennials were not restricting their intention to find love within a certain pin code and had expanded the distance to match with their potential partner,” Sitara Menon, Senior Marketing Manager, OkCupid India explains.

Vaccination badges and clear intentions

This illustration shows a person looking at the OkCupid dating app on a smartphone in Los Angeles, on February 11, 2021. - Dating apps offer a snapshot about a person's life, but in the space of a few weeks, a surprising health issue has emerged as a dealmaker or heartbreaker: have you had the coronavirus vaccine? Some are bragging they have gotten the shot in order to better their chances, while others are using it to justify what one singleton described as
(Photo by Chris DELMAS / AFP) (Photo by CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images) (CHRIS DELMAS via Getty Images)

Online apps have cashed in on the natural weariness brought on by the pandemic to meet physically and have brought in various features that allow people to get to know each other better online before the actual meeting. This includes options of video chats, preferences and even vaccination badge filters for those looking for added safety.

Bumble introduced the ‘I’m vaccinated’ badge for India after it noticed a rise in users who started including the words ‘vaccine’ or ‘vaccinated’ on their profiles. The app also noticed that 38 per cent of singles surveyed in India were hesitant to have sex or date someone who was not vaccinated.

Tinder introduced its vaccine advocacy initiative to encourage young Indians to get themselves vaccinated. Tinder users have access to a vaccination centre that contains stickers that can be used to express vaccination status.

OkCupid has seen a 763 per cent increase in mentions of vaccines on their India bios since March 2021. According to Menon, among OkCupid’s Indian daters, people who answered ‘yes’ to the question “will you get the Covid-19 vaccine?” received 25 per cent more likes and resulted in a far higher number of conversations than those who answered no. As of June 2021, 69 per cent of men and 71 per cent of women answered that they would take the vaccine.

OkCupid introduced the ‘I’m vaccinated’ badge and stack in June 2021 to help people make informed decisions. “The badge is activated by declaring one’s vaccination status on the app and allows them to join the vaccinated stack which helps them match with like-minded love interests who have taken the jab, thereby ensuring their safety,” Menon states. This is expected to result in a 35 per cent increase in match rate with others who are either vaccinated or getting vaccinated soon.

With the lockdown giving more time for people to internalise, dating platforms are also finding that people are dating more intentionally now. “We noticed that daters are clearly prioritising health and safety in their quest to find love and will not leave anything to chance when it comes to the dreaded virus,” Menon adds.

The pandemic has also brought on growing awareness and discussions around critical issues. Menon explains that questions like "how should household chores be split" and "should a woman work after marriage?" have received more answers and growing assertions as important in matches.

According to Menon, online dating during the pandemic has seen people taking their time to get to know each other and discovering love through long, profound conversations and digitally shared experiences. "There is a growing impatience with entertaining dead-end connections and higher engagements with a potential partner, where the intentions are clear of wanting love by expressing exactly what they want in a relationship," she says.

Even before the pandemic, dating platforms had made dating more inclusive, with distances and physical boundaries and genders getting blurred. OkCupid allows users to choose their preferred pronouns or create one for their profile. Users also have the option to choose from over 20 sexual orientations and 22 gender options, thereby helping them find a meaningful match for themselves. This has led to almost 2 million straight and queer users displaying their pronouns on their dating profiles worldwide.

Staying safe online

Dating online enables one to make connections with prospective dates from the safety of their comfort zone, before physically meeting someone and exposing themselves to risk. However, that being said, safety concerns still remain, as is the case with anything virtual.

Here are some tips Menon offers to stay safe while dating online:

  • Protect your personal information- banking details, address, Aadhar etc.

  • Have a low tolerance for disrespectful behaviour- name-calling, shaming and blackmail are never ok.

  • On a dating app like OkCupid, you have the ability to block that person and report such behaviour.

Further, safety experts say that pandemic notwithstanding, it is always a good idea to do a video call before physically meeting your date. This will help you avoid getting catfished by the person. You should also do a simple Google search before engaging further with your date or physically meeting them. By going through their social media profiles, you may get a better idea of what to expect. Lastly, never agree to meet a person physically unless you are comfortable and sure that you want to meet them.