Dating Is About To See A Historic Shift

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We’ve all faced specific pandemic-fueled challenges in the past two years, and daters aren’t any different. Last year, we were forced to date through screens or not at all. This year, we had a hodge-podge of varying desires — and COVID mandates — as we all attempted to navigate dating through a seemingly-endless pandemic.

Given the ride the last couple years have been, what will 2022 bring us in terms of finding love? Dating experts have a few predictions, including a continued use of virtual dating, a push towards serious relationships for some and non-monogamy for others, and an emphasis on mental health and vulnerability. 

Virtual dating will stick around — and VR dating is on its heels

Video dates, a cornerstone of early pandemic romance, are likely here to stay, said Logan Ury, director of relationship science at Hinge. Even with in-person dating on the table (possible variants notwithstanding), Hinge users often use a pre-date call or video chat as a vibe check.

According to data gathered from over 5,000 global Hinge users in December 2020, more than half (65 percent) of users planned on incorporating video dates in the dating process, and Ury said Hinge has seen this expectation come to life. . 

Findings from Match’s 2021 Singles in America survey tells a similar story. Of the 5,000 Americans aged 18 to 75 surveyed, 71 percent said a video date helped determine if they wanted to meet in person, and 63 percent said they’d feel more comfortable on a first date if they video chatted before the meetup. 

Voice features have also been popular on dating apps and in the broader tech world. In addition to adding video components during those initial pandemic days, dating apps also invested in audio features. Bumble added audio messages in late 2020, and Hinge implemented voice prompts for profiles this year. 

“The pandemic really helped us all pay attention to the importance of audio and the importance of voice,” Ury said. Voice notes add an authentic, intimate dimension to a potential match’s profile in a way that text and photos can’t do alone.

Looking into more tech-advanced dating options, Match Group (which owns Tinder, Hinge, and many other dating apps) is planning a dating metaverse, or VR space, unironically called “Single Town.” Users will allegedly be able to interact with others with real-time audio and meet in virtual spaces, like a bar, explained Match Group CEO Shar Dubey in a November investor call. 

A virtual space has similar dangers as a physical space, though: People in Meta’s (Facebook’s) metaverse have already experienced sexual harassment. As such, singles should proceed with caution dating in VR just as they do with online or in-person dating. Dating coach and matchmaker Tennesha Wood urges us to remember that we’re still real people with real experiences, fears, and emotions — no matter the dating method. 

Daters are looking for their person (or their people)

As figurative or literal existential crises tend to do, the pandemic forced us to reflect on what we want out of life. This is one reason experts gave as to why so many people came out during the pandemic, but the experience also drove daters on the whole to reflect on who they want to date. They seemed to divert into two paths: Those looking for “the one,” and those looking specifically for more than one.

In terms of the former, Ury said a majority of Hinge users — 75 percent — are now looking for a relationship; this is a spike up from the 53 percent of users who said they were ready for something long-term at the end of last year. 

These users “want to find somebody to lie in bed with and talk about what [they’ve] been going through,” Ury said, “and how hard life is and how scared [they are].”

Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and Match’s chief science advisor, agrees. Most singles surveyed by Match, 65 percent, want a relationship in the next year. 

That number soars when only considering young adults: 81 percent of Gen Z and 76 percent of millennials want romantic love. This makes sense, said Fisher, as young people are usually looking for a mate, but the figures are staggering — especially compared to how many wanted the same thing in 2019: 70 percent of Gen Z and 63 percent of millennials.

Not only are people looking for their special someone, but according to Fisher they’re looking for financial and romantic stability to boot. More singles want a partner at an equal or higher income now than pre-pandemic:  86 percent in 2021 compared to 70 percent in 2019. The same is true for education level: 89 percent compared to 79 percent over the same time period.

More singles want a lifetime partner that’s emotionally mature (83 percent) than physically attractive (78 percent). “I’ve never before used the word ‘historic,’ and [this] is a historic change in dating,” Fisher said. “What people are really looking for now is emotional maturity.”

Some daters are also looking for a non-monogamous experience. “The pursuit of fulfillment will lead singles and couples to create their own definitions and structures for their relationships,” said Wood, “lending way to ethically non-monogamous relationships and the freedom to be open.”

“I’ve never before used the word ‘historic,’ and [this] is a historic change in dating.” – Helen Fisher, Match’s chief science advisor

More and more people began exploring non-monogamy before the pandemic, and this trend has continued throughout it. Feeld, a sexual exploration app for singles and couples, saw a jump in both men and women using  words describing ethical non-monogamy (ENM) or polyamory in their profiles from 2020 to 2021, according to the app’s communication manager Lyubov Sachkova. The data didn’t include non-binary users.

“The pandemic has brought our sense of ‘normal’ into question,” Wood continued, “and led many to create a new normal in ways that allow them to live more freely.”

Self-care is more important than ever

The prolonged stress of the pandemic has also engendered a focus on mental health. While there’s a burgeoning mental health crisis in the U.S., most participants in the Singles in America survey, 65 percent, told Match they got better at taking care of their mental health in the last year; 73 percent said they got better at prioritizing what’s important in their lives.

Ury predicts mental health will be increasingly important to daters in 2022. A whopping 91 percent of Hinge users would prefer to date someone who goes to therapy, according to stats gathered from over 8,000 users this November. A smidge under, 89 percent, are more likely to go on a second date with someone who mentions therapy during the first. 

This is especially interesting considering that only 8 percent of Hinge users surveyed feel comfortable mentioning therapy when meeting someone new. Given this information, Ury urges people to be open and vulnerable about how they’re caring for their mental health. 

“We are afraid to be vulnerable and bold about what’s really going on for us,” Ury explained, “but actually, when we share that information, people like us more, people feel more drawn to us, more curious about us, safer with us, [and] more likely to bring up their own mental health struggles.”

In 2022, don’t be afraid to divulge how you’re taking care of yourself. 

A whopping 91 percent of Hinge users would prefer to date someone who goes to therapy.

Throw the hardball

In keeping with being transparent, Ury also predicts daters will be more forward about what they want from dating. She called this upfront approach “hardballing.”

An example Ury gave of hardballing is saying this on the first date: “Hey, I’ve been dating for awhile and I know I want to get married and have kids eventually. What are you looking for?” 

“It’s not demanding a certain answer from someone,” she explained, “but it’s being very honest and vulnerable from the beginning about what you want, and asking the other person what they want.” 

There’s already evidence that this is what people want. In Tinder’s Future of Dating report this March, their number one prediction was that daters would be more honest and authentic moving forward. Mentions of the word “anxiety” in bios shot up 31 percent between 2020 and 2021, further punctuating the mental health discussion.

A more recent survey of over 1,000 U.S. users from the app Coffee Meets Bagel this fall said that 79 percent find themselves being more open and honest with matches now than pre-pandemic.

Moving into the new year, daters are solid about what they want and are more than willing to express it than before. While the pandemic taught us we can’t predict everything, the experts and data hint that in 2022, we’ll run towards our desires with a newfound openness.



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