Ofmar Ofrozan spent a Friday night in mid-March at Nighthawk, a bar in Albany Park, with a woman he met on Tinder. The pair connected over a common love of sports, holding nothing but a vague awareness of the novel coronavirus that would soon shutter bars and restaurants for months.
The date concluded with an elbow bump, said Ofrozan, 30, of Avondale, decidedly safer than a hug or kiss.
Ofrozan hasn’t seen her since.
“We only went on one date,” Ofrozan said. “Is it really worth the time and effort to continue pen pal-ing when we only met once?”
Many single Chicagoans took a hiatus from dating when the pandemic hit in mid-March, anticipating a return to the status quo in a matter of weeks. Weeks turned into months, shifting what’s considered normal in how people meet and date. Video calls on Bumble are up 70%, and people are having longer messaging conversations on Tinder, according to representatives from each app.
Zoom calls, socially distanced picnics and straying from “hook-up culture” characterize dating in a pandemic. Some of these shifts, experts argue, are here to stay.
Alexandra Solomon — a relationship therapist and professor at Northwestern University — said even before the pandemic, many people were critical of sex-driven relationships, where emotional connections take lower priority.
“The pandemic has flipped the switch,” Solomon said. “Long term, the pendulum may swing back, with more friendship and mutual caretaking that happens earlier, and sex gets pushed a bit later.”
Bela Gandhi describes this shift as a “throwback to the ‘50s.” Instead of rushing into physical intimacy, people are more deeply getting to know each other before meeting in person, said Gandhi, owner and founder of Smart Dating Academy in Chicago.
Virtual dates can still be creative and fun, Gandhi said. Her clients — which have doubled this year — have virtually cooked a recipe together or done a “show and tell” of their most meaningful objects, Gandhi said.
“You can tell 99% of person by doing a video chat,” Gandhi said. “It makes dating better, more efficient, cheaper and safer for people, especially for women.”
Some existing couples experienced the pandemic as a relationship accelerant, deciding to move in together earlier than they might have planned, Solomon said. Others, under the weight of uncertainty, financial strain and caring for loved ones due to the virus, lacked a bandwidth for dating at all, Solomon said.
That’s what happened with Ofrozan. His health and rent payments took priority over an active dating life when the pandemic began.
“It wasn’t ideal,” Ofrozan said. “Pretty much, dating just kind of fell off the wayside when everything happened in late March.”
It was during Chicago’s stay-at-home order that Stefanie Groner co-launched Quarantine Bae, a Chicago virtual dating site. Groner said the quarantine forces her and other “baes” to examine what they want in a relationship and be more upfront about that in dating.
“People are much more interested in real conversations,” Groner said. “In 2020, s—-’s gotten real, so why treat dating relationships any different?”
Stef Safran, owner of Stef and the City, a Chicago date coaching and matchmaking service, has seen an uptick in clients of all ages, including many recently divorced people. She’s always advised her clients to do a brief “screening” call before going on a date, but Safran said more clients are now heeding her recommendation since so much of dating is now virtual. Safran said she hopes this trend lasts even beyond the pandemic.
New dating criteria include whether someone social distances, wears a mask and prioritizes sanitization. Safran said she’s heard stories of people ending relationships immediately because someone didn’t have soap or hand towels in their home.
Will, 26, who lives on the Gold Coast, turned to dating apps in the pandemic out of necessity, unable to meet people in bars as he normally did. Will, who did not want to use his last name, met someone on Hinge a month and a half ago and is still seeing her.
The couple spent a week getting to know each other over the app before meeting in person, walking along the 606 trail and bringing their own drinks in canteens. Visiting a beach or having a rooftop dinner allows people to show more personality than they can in a crowded bar, he said.
“If things stay the way they are, I think things will go a little more old school — chivalry will come back,” Will said. “It works well for an older-school guy like myself.”