As someone who has exclusively dated people that I’ve met under in-person circumstances, I never quite understood the appeal of dating apps. In February, my friend made me a Hinge profile after a few mutual friends met guys on Hinge who they soon after started dating. We made a profile with the idea that I was to keep it for a week – despite my objections to delete it sooner – and go on one date. Little did I know that a pandemic would dissolve those plans entirely.

Nevertheless, anecdotes I kept hearing left me curious. As social distancing orders were put into place, more and more of my friends seemed to be chatting with matches from apps or dates from the past. Amanda*, a junior at Northwestern, told me that many of her previous contacts from Tinder that she still had on Snapchat suddenly wanted to talk a lot more or send pictures even after being out of touch for months. Rachel*, another Northwestern junior, didn’t want to go home to Minnesota, so she and her boyfriend that she met from Hinge two weeks prior became quarantined together in his tiny Streeterville apartment (and are still together seven weeks later).

I imagine this is what Rachel and her boyfriend are going through right now.

Many major news outlets continued to run pieces about the rise in users on dating platforms and virtual dating since the start of the pandemic. What is it about fear and uncertainty that makes all humans crave intimate connection – or simply connection in general?

I pondered this for a week (whilst procrastinating every single one of my online classes) and I soon noticed Tinder’s Passport function became free. What did I have to lose? I’m single and never really used Tinder before, or any dating app with serious intentions. It was highly likely I’d never meet any of these boys in person. If there was a right time to use the app, now seemed better than ever. Setting my location to a six-mile radius from Northwestern (despite actually being in New York), I convinced myself that this would be a worthwhile experiment.

To do this properly, I knew I needed to be straightforward. I set my bio as something with a little bit of mystery: “In search of: people who wanna answer some questions!” I used two already public photos from my Instagram and made concrete rules: I would avoid giving out my last name, number, or Snapchat and I would delete Tinder upon completion of reporting.

When the profile went live, I called my friend, freaking out. I mean, Tinder is like shopping for people. In a way, I was marketing myself to strangers, a prospect that drove me a little crazy. But this was for the sake of good ol’ journalism! For each match, I asked a set list of questions, prefacing with the fact that I was a journalist looking for answers, not necessarily someone looking for love in a pandemic. Of course, that didn’t stop a few guys from trying ;)

A live feed of me shortly after my Tinder profile went public.‌‌

Now, onto the boys. The Tinder scene was fascinating. I spoke to around 25 guys, many from Northwestern, many not. Some conversations were more genuine, some intense, while others were downright creepy. Each one was unique, and I appreciated how seriously the boys I chatted with took my journalistic endeavor, even over a platform like Tinder. Let’s dig into some of the conversations worth highlighting.

Nick*, 20, was the first conversation I had and probably one of the most detailed. It went in a direction I definitely didn’t anticipate it going – three or four messages in, he told me that his dad had COVID-19, his sister’s best friend and boyfriend both dumped her, and that his sister was bullied at school because of his dad’s situation and threatened with expulsion because of the COVID-19 situation impacting her family.

“I’m just ready for this to be over," Nick said. "My family has lost friends, my little sister lost her senior year of high school, I lost my semester abroad and the financial impact hasn’t hit too hard yet, but we are worried."

Looking ahead, he hopes to connect with people and maybe have a FaceTime or two. Nick felt like no serious relationships would come of his time on Tinder since he’s still uncertain of the future.

Miles, 19, was  on Tinder out of boredom and with the hope of meeting matches that they could meet in person at a later date. As Miles perfectly put it: “I’m not really trying to date anyone right now just looking for chill, novel people to converse with during these soul-sucking times.” Me too, Miles, me too.

Kyle*, 21, had the most creative pickup line. He tried to shoot his shot via a basketball GIF. Extra points for creativity. Most matches I reached out to first with a casual “hey how’s it going,” but Kyle beat me to it, which in a way I appreciated. As soon as I revealed my true Tinder intentions, he replied with “when you think it’s going well but she just wants to interview you <<<<<” (I’m sorry!! It’s journalism!)

Nevertheless, he still took the time to answer my slew of questions. Kyle thinks it’s possible to secure a hookup for a later date after the pandemic. As he put it, “dating through this is probably hard, kinda like long-distance, but it’s also nice cause you can talk to someone everyday.”

Probably Kyle’s reaction to finding out I was a journalist...oops?

John, 19, was an outlier because I ended up setting him up with another friend of mine who is still snapping him two weeks later. I wasn’t the only one using Tinder for research purposes — John was conducting a coding project on his matches to develop a match algorithm on why he swipes right and vice versa. Don’t worry, the friend I set him up with is in McCormick… maybe it’ll be a whole-brain engineering love story?

Mark*, 21, was the sweetest and most genuine of all the guys. I think I asked him about fifteen follow up questions, definitely more than anyone else I messaged (whoops). Mark’s approach to Tinder during this time was unique from everyone else, as he’d been using it as a way to talk to people all over the world, including Austria, London and Mexico. This “experience has been positive and eye-opening,” he said. Agreed, Mark.

The general consensus from the boys of Tinder is that no, you can’t find love in a pandemic because distance is too hard and too much effort. Lewis, 21, put it bluntly: “you have to be in person to date. So no. No love in a pandemic.”

Closest we’ll get to in-person dating during a pandemic at the moment.

Talking during this time has created a set of rules where anything sort of goes, yet at the same time it can be challenging to fall for someone you have yet to meet in person. If you’re connecting over FaceTime or Zoom, as some guys implied that they were, maybe things would be different and you could fall for someone new. Truly, it depends on the person and everything is circumstantial; certainly, you can find friends, maybe more ;)

I guess for me and everybody else, only time will tell where things will go!

*names have been changed to preserve anonymity

Thumbnail image licensed with permission from Wikimedia Commons. [[File:Tveni - Free Chat & Dating App.png|thumb|Tveni - Free Chat & Dating App]]