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The coronavirus epidemic has made dating even more complicated

Washington Post illustration; iStock (The Washington Post)

Sajmun Sachdev, a 36-year-old single woman in Montreal, was messaging with a promising match from the dating app Hinge. The guy had two desirable traits: a six pack and a job. And he’d asked her out — the only guy to do so in months. But one thing was worrying her: He had joked that he didn’t know if his headaches were from a concussion he got in China recently or a symptom of covid-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.

Excuse me. Did you say you’ve been in China recently?!

Conveniently, he canceled their date, claiming he was too busy and hasn’t tried to reschedule. Sachdev was relieved. “I’m not sure that this is totally worth it,” Sachdev recalled thinking, in a phone interview last week. “There must be someone else I can meet.”

People do fall in love through online dating, which is now the most popular way for couples to meet. But often they match but don’t message. Or they message but never meet up. Or they make plans but then cancel. Or they make plans, then unmatch and never show up. Or they make plans, date for a bit and then disappear without an explanation.

Now, coronavirus fears have further complicated this hotbed of flakiness. Dating apps are serving up reminders to wash your hands; profiles and first messages are full of coronavirus references; one dating coach suggested ways to avoid touching during that initial greeting. For many, the fear of the coronavirus is real. But in dating, it’s hard to know when people are using it as yet another reason to discard one another before they’ve even met.

“I don’t think anyone really wants to rush meeting in person, given everything,” says Meghan Lloyd, a 28-year-old woman in San Francisco who’s been in a few suspiciously drawn-out conversations, without being asked out. “We’re just chatting longer than is usual.” She’s also hesitant to meet up, asking herself: “Do I like this guy enough to risk catching coronavirus?”

Being well-traveled, like Sachdev’s match, is usually something singles brag about in their dating-app profiles, noting how many countries or continents they’ve visited, or suggesting that you help plan their next trip. Now Hinge profiles say things such as: We should match if you haven’t been to Italy. Comedian Nicole Byer, who hosts the “Why Won’t You Date Me?” podcast, tweeted that she’d been talking to a man on Tinder who unmatched her after she said she’d been traveling.

Other daters use the prospect of self-quarantine as a chance to get sequestered with someone. “Let’s meet before the Coronavirus gets really bad” says one Hinge profile, where the dater touted himself as “fully stocked” with Purell and items from Trader Joe’s.

Evan Maeda, a 26-year-old man in San Francisco, says he’s seen lots of Tinder and Bumble bios seeking partners to help ride out the apocalypse. Since his demographic isn’t at high risk, most of the references are lighthearted. “I’ve never been able to fully read the sarcasm on dating apps — until now,” Maeda says. He’s even using the outbreak as an icebreaker. “How are we feeling about this coronavirus stuff?” has become Maeda’s version of that 2017 pickup line “I’m going to Whole Foods, want me to pick you up anything?”

The virus even has a fake dating profile floating around. (Hometown: Wuhan, China. Bio: “I love being outdoors, crowded places and food markets.” Turnoffs: Masks and goggles). “Saturday Night Live” combined coronavirus anxiety with Netflix viewers’ “Love Is Blind” obsession to conjure up a reality-TV dating scenario where singles dated while in separate pods — and while sick and hooked up to IVs. Some people even find the doom and gloom arousing: Coronavirus-themed porn has gone viral on Pornhub, Vice reports.

What you need to know about coronavirus

Apps are promoting good hygiene as good dating strategy. Last week, Hinge tweeted that singles should wash their hands before stealing a date’s fries. On Instagram, the dating app proclaimed that “washing your hands is hot.” Tinder has interrupted users’ swiping to deliver PSAs saying protecting yourself from the coronavirus was more important than dating. Avoid touching your face, Tinder cautioned, but the dating app conveniently didn’t say anything about touching someone else’s. With your lips.

And daters are definitely still doing that.

On Thursday night, 37-year-old Xavier Garcia was among the many singles at the Washington bar Green Zone who told The Post that they’re not being more cautious about making a move. “If I want to kiss someone, it doesn’t matter,” he said while standing next to a woman he had already kissed. “I’m not going to ask anyone: Do you have coronavirus?”

Emily Menge, 26, said she hadn’t thought about the coronavirus’s potential effect on her dating life until she had a nightmare that she was patient zero in Washington — and that the virus had spread because she’d kissed two men. “My mother was very disappointed,” she recalls. In Menge’s waking life, she is dating two men and at the moment everyone is healthy. But that doesn’t stop her and her friends from wondering: Should I be more careful? Should I stop making out with people in bars?

Menge and her friends haven’t resolved to change their behavior. “We’re going to get it anyway,” she posits. Though she does think coronavirus references in dating profiles have become a good litmus test for whether someone is paying attention. “If people update their profiles, it shows if they’re reading the news or not.”

Rachel DeAlto, the chief dating expert for Match, says that the virus is actually an opportunity to be more discerning. DeAlto suggests doing pre-dates on FaceTime or Skype before meeting, to get a sense of whether a connection is really worth leaving the house. In times where people are hunkered down — such as snowstorms — Match and other dating sites have reported surges in traffic. Coronavirus self-quarantines could have a similar effect.

Francesca Hogi, a dating coach in Los Angeles, says she hasn’t noticed her clients being too concerned about in-person meetings. But if someone is, Hogi advises that they talk about it with their date before that awkward hello. They could send a text saying something like “I’m really excited to meet you, but let’s not shake hands.” Perhaps daters might put their hands over their hearts in a contact-free salute to their dates. (Hogi doesn’t think fist bumps are good for first dates; they set more of a buddy tone.) She also suggests modeling good hygiene by putting on hand sanitizer together.

Sometimes the coronavirus is preventing people from meeting up not because they’re sick but because the virus is putting their work lives into overdrive. Or at least that’s what they claim.

For over a month, Michael Garofola, a 39-year-old attorney and former “Bachelorette” contestant in New York, has been trying to schedule a first date with a woman he met on Raya, the celebrity dating app. She keeps canceling because of work conflicts, he says, and, last week, she again had to postpone because the coronavirus’s effect on commerce kept her in the office late. But he hasn’t given up hope that they’ll eventually meet.

“All I can do is continue to wash my hands every day and wait to hear back,” Garofola says, “without washing my hands of her.”


‘Love Is Blind’ duo Lauren and Cameron tell us what it was really like in those pods

‘Love Is Blind’ acknowledges that dating is too visual. But it doesn’t offer a real solution.

‘The Bachelorette’ casts Clare Crawley, 38, the show’s oldest star, reflecting a shift in the way we date now

Coronavirus: What you need to know

The latest: The CDC has loosened many of its recommendations for battling the coronavirus, a strategic shift that puts more of the onus on individuals, rather than on schools, businesses and other institutions, to limit viral spread.

Variants: BA.5 is the most recent omicron subvariant, and it’s quickly become the dominant strain in the U.S. Here’s what to know about it, and why vaccines may only offer limited protection.

Vaccines: Vaccines: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone age 12 and older get an updated coronavirus booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant circulating now. You’re eligible for the shot if it has been at least two months since your initial vaccine or your last booster. An initial vaccine series for children under 5, meanwhile, became available this summer. Here’s what to know about how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections and booster history.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. The omicron variant is behind much of the recent spread.

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