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Social Distance Dating: Building Chemistry Through Courtship

How quarantine conditions improve our ability to build relationships remotely.



What would a date in an age of social distancing look like? Envision two strangers sitting 6 feet apart on a park bench—if they could find a bench long enough, and a park that was not closed. Maybe they could find an empty street to spread out for a walk. But due to the public closures of most businesses, the encounter would likely not involve doing, but talking, because conversation is one of the best ways to build rapport, and currently the safest.  


Thankfully, it is second nature for most people to “talk” online. In a romantic context, constrained by state-imposed public restrictions, some online daters share that social distancing rules save them from themselves, as they might otherwise be perceived as trying to move too quickly.  And with more spare time to craft online content, there is plenty of room to be creative.  


Remote Relationship Building


Many singles, banned from attending parties, bars, or other social events, have flocked to online dating platforms in droves. Some of them include witty soundbites on their public profiles.  

In a Bloomberg article, “How to Date Online in the Age of COVID-19,” authors Olivia Carville and Nate Lanxon quoted a Bumble profile update made by a 32-year-old Manhattan financier: “Healthy male with a strong immune system and robust Purell supply.” This post is arguably likely to generate a higher number of views and responses than usual, simply because there are currently more prospective daters online.


Carville and Lanxon also note that “random hookups” are being replaced by virtual courtship that lasts for weeks, which includes both contagion concerns and what they describe as “forced chivalry.”corona virus on users’ dating profiles between January and February 2020.  Hopefully, they are discussing other topics as well.lications more than before. They note that OkCupid reports increased engagement and messaging among millennial users. What are users talking about? Carville and Lanxon note that OkCupid reported a 188% increase in mentions of the coronaviruscorona virus on users’ dating profiles between January and February 2020.  Hopefully they are discussing other topics as well.


Carville and Lanxon also note that “random hookups” are being replaced by virtual courtship that lasts for weeks, which includes both contagion concerns and what they describe as “forced chivalry.”


Old-Fashioned Courtship Makes a Comeback



Remote relationship building is nothing new. Young people who might have never seen a stamp should remember that before telephones and email, there were passionate, expressive letters exchanged between lovers across the globe. Without witty contractions and emoticons, such correspondence was no doubt less likely to result in miscommunication. And because of the time and effort put into such carefully crafted correspondence, it was often well worth the wait. Eager recipients would stand outside by their mailbox for hours waiting for that special letter.  


Not surprisingly, many of the resulting relationships were as durable as they were desirable, because good things are worth waiting for.  

Although many people are familiar with the benefits of long-distance relationship building, not everyone is familiar with online dating. Some people have never even considered it—until now. For people venturing onto online platforms for the first time, the transition might involve some significant adaptations.


Online Social Distance Dating 


Liesel L. Sharabi and Tiffany A. Dykstra-DeVette, in “From First Email to First Date: Strategies for Initiating Relationships in Online Dating” (2019), examined exactly that: how relationships are initiated online.[ii] They found that such relationships were often initiated through the use of pickup lines, although the online courtship process involved many other facets including sharing and seeking information, creating authentic self-presentation, and acclimating to the online dating context.  


With an eye toward predicting success offline, Sharabi and Dykstra-DeVette identified some online strategies that impacted whether a first date would be followed by a second. They found that “participants who reported a stronger possibility of a second date were less likely to use the site to discuss their relationship alternatives, and more likely to talk about their partner preferences” (emphasis in original). 


Findings like this underscore the importance of cultivating a careful, thoughtful approach to meeting people online.  


With An Eye Toward an (Offline) Future


Social distance socializing involves the same type of information sharing and rapport building as takes place in person, and an extended getting-to-know-you period can strengthen the bonds that are built.  In a romantic context, having more time to share information and build trust may even have a higher likelihood of creating strong, healthy relationships that will not only survive the offline transition, but thrive. 


Wendy L. Patrick, JD, Ph.D., is a career trial attorney, media commentator, author of Red Flags, and co-author of Reading People.

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