When the government declared the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) a national disaster on March 15 2020, and called on people to work from home and to observe social distance, “Via” complied right away. She imposed a self-quarantine at home and stopped any social activities in the real world, including meeting guys on dates.
“Taking a break (from dating) for now, because I’m too scared. I’m not even chatting because guys can’t stand chatting; they just want to meet,” she told Magdalene laughing.
“I really don’t open the dating apps at all,” said Via, 40.
In one of her Instagram stories, she uploaded a screenshot of her conversation with some of her girlfriends. All of them declared absence from the digital dating scene because of “fear that OkCupid might become OkCOVID.”
Like Via, “Nina” and her dating partner agreed not to meet as they observe social distance. It had been a week since Nina, 30, started working from home and, truth be told, she started to get bored. But she imagined how much work it would require, if she persisted in dating in the midst pandemic.
“Can you imagine, you have to shower in disinfectant, or fog your room in disinfectant before you start cuddling,” she said chuckling.
“Oh, well, I’ll change my schedule for maybe the next two weeks,” Nina added.
Not everyone is as cautious, however. “Tisha”, 28, managed to gather her courage to go on a date to Bogor with her match from the dating app.
Read more: Confessions of a Serial Online Dater
“I’ve been on three dates with him and we chat intensively every day. We’ve had plans to meet on the 14 (of March). I was a bit scared, but we’d prepared well. I’d bring wet wipes and he’d bring hand sanitizer,” Tisha told Magdalene.
Tisha and her date rode the commuter line train to Bogor. She was actually a bit paranoid, but was relief to find the train less crowded. After going to Bogor, they decided to go to Kota Tua in West Jakarta.
On their date, the two talked while walking and later grabbed some coffee. Did they practice physical distancing? Well, they were definitely sitting and standing less than the recommended 2 meter distance. The challenge multiplied when Tisha’s date said he wanted to hold her hand.
“Well, I did let him hold my hand,” she said.
A few months back, some LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people said they received notifications from online dating app Tinder, urging them caution if they were in non-LGBT friendly countries or places including Indonesia.
Tinder has also released similar warning during the current pandemic, urging its users to prioritize their health. It shared the standard tips to prevent COVID-19 infection including washing hands, carrying hand sanitizer, avoiding face touching, and maintaining distance from others in public spaces. The message included the link to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website. Like the notices for LGBT users, the message seemed to have popped up on random Tinder users’ screens, however, so it wasn’t clear how effective the measure was in curbing infection caused by dating.
In the middle of March, on their official Instagram account, Tinder announced that they would be giving away free access to Tinder Passport, which eases users to change their location to any part of the world. The move was done to encourage social distancing even more.
Meanwhile, through their official Twitter account, OKCupid released a graphic displaying responses from OkCupid users in 10 countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Turkey, England, and the US. It showed that 88 percent of OkCupid users still wishes to go out and date in this corona pandemic.
On March 17, OkCupid once again reminded its users to stay alert in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, advised against dating outdoors, and urged people to chat or videocall instead.
Read more: My Tinder Experience
Another dating app, Bumble, also launched a new campaign to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In Bumble’s official Instagram account, they pointed out that social distance does not have to equal loneliness. Bumble also released some tips for its users in the midst of social distancing, one of them is to use their video call feature to watch movies together.
This news was welcomed by Nina, who said that keeping a relationship with your date is a challenge of its own when physical encounter is limited.
“We have to wrack our brains to keep our conversations interesting. It’s even harder if the match is a passive type. We end up coming up with a joint activity like a drawing challenge. It’s a little random, but that’s OK,” she said.
The good and surprising thing that comes out of the dating moratorium is that sometimes conversation gets better – warmer or deeper.
Nina said that since all the dates were cancelled, she had been talking to her match on the chatting platform more intensively.
“ I don’t really have too much work and was getting bored. So we started talking about our situation during the lockdown,” said Nina.
Instead of a new match, Via, on the other hand, reconnected with an “old stock”, a former dates she calls “old fuckboy” who suddenly contacted her to vent. Because she lives alone in Jakarta, Via welcomes these conversations.
“Old crushes check on how I am doing. Because we are all actually in need of mental support in this uncertain time,” she said.
Conversations get deeper than “what are you wearing” or other cheesy flirting.
“Don’t even think about being horny – I don’t have the energy for that. I’m just worried. Turns out these guys need a partner to have an intimate conversation with, especially the ones who live far from their parents. Some are anxious because their parents are in the Netherlands or Italy. They can’t return home, and they’re worried,” said Via.
“We all come from another place, so we feel the camaraderie when we are venting to each other. Everything feels wrong, and we are anxious, not knowing what to do – sad, worried, confused, all mixed together.”
This article is translated by Tabina Amarilla from the original version in Indonesian.
Illustration by Karina Tungari