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Virtual Dating Is the New Normal. Will It Work?
Some New Yorkers are moving beyond the swipe to venture into flirtatious panel discussions and speed dating sessions.

Just as the coronavirus outbreak was reaching New York City, Beckett Mufson, a 27-year-old advertising executive, was ramping up his dating life after healing from a long-term relationship that had ended. “I was just getting to the point where I was asking people I like and respect out on dates,” he said.

In mid-March, he fled the city to live on a 120-acre farm upstate. But he was still interested in finding potential mates.

So from his bucolic quarantine pad, he tried something new: a virtual gathering hosted by Here/Now, an initiative for hetero, queer, and nonbinary daters.

Until recently, dating brought singles together with curated events at places like wine bars and comedy clubs. Then the pandemic struck. And well-known dating websites took over.

For the hourlong virtual gathering, Mr. Mufson and 11 other singles got to know one another by answering personal questions. If you could build a dream house, which weird or interesting feature would you include? What is one item that means the most to you? The singles talked as a large group before breaking into smaller conversations of four. Then, they moved on to one-on-one chats.

Some dialed in from their childhood bedrooms. Others were cooped up in small city apartments they hadn’t left for days. While a few women put on makeup for the occasion, most were casual, content to show themselves in T-shirts and leggings. Some had dogs in their laps.
Afterward, the participants filled out a survey to indicate whom they were interested in. Matches were notified of one another. “I connected with three people out of five,” Mr. Mufson said. “My favorite didn’t connect with me, so I’m sort of sad about that.”

Mr. Mufson, a founding partner and chief operating officer of the Auxiliary, an advertising agency, planned on setting up video calls with all three of his matches. But he ended up texting with just one of them (and not getting a response) because he got busy with work.

“I am not too concerned,” he said. “I don’t think anyone is going anywhere.”

Virtual dating platforms are quickly pivoting to help quarantined singles. Although some of the more traditional dating apps also added video components, these newer platforms present more like parties or networking events. The goal is for people to keep expanding their social circles. After all, this could be the new normal.
“It is an entirely possible scenario that this is how we might start, maintain, and end relationships over the next few months or even a year,” Mr. Mufson said. “We have to consider that our first one-on-one date might be on XOXDate. The first time we have sex might be on XOXDate.”

“Certainly some serious relationships will form through video right now,” said Matthew Hussey, a dating coach who helps his 776,000 followers on Instagram navigate the modern dating world. “At least with video both sight and sound are senses that are being affected. We hear tone, inflection, perceive awkward glances and shuffles. We come to know someone’s mannerisms. This is all so important in measuring both attraction and connection.”

Mr. Hussey warned, however, that video can only achieve so much. “There is still the very real risk that once people see each other in person, there will remain a significant measure of discomfort, even with someone they have spent many many hours with over the phone.”

But until we all meet again, in person, the goal of these video platforms is simple: to keep a dialogue going.

Mindie Kaplan works for a virtual and augmented reality company in New York City. But she also runs MaleRoom, a YouTube show, podcast, and event series that invites eligible bachelors in the city to answer women’s dating questions. Derek Peth, from “The Bachelorette” and “Bachelor in Paradise” reality series; Ben Gleib, the comedian; and Jonathan Casillas, a former linebacker for the New York Giants, have all participated.

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