Online dating in 2021: how people of all ages are finding connection
How we're finding love in 2021
At this point, it feels like there’s nothing new to say about life in a pandemic. Masks, ‘two metres’, one-in-one-out, Zoom—by now, we know the drill. But even though we’ve all adjusted to this new way of living, the world still does manage to surprise us.
In a time when even takeaway deliveries are being hailed as ‘contactless’, you’d think that dating and new romance would be dead in the water. Not so, according to recent data that points towards a flourishing new world of love via keyboard and screen.
No longer the domain of the youthful ‘internet-native’ generations, single people of all ages are taking to their phones to meet potential partners. Once seen as nothing more than a quick means to finding a cheap thrill, attitudes to online dating have changed drastically in the past year.
New data speaks to deeper connections
Logan Ury, a behavioural scientist and director of relationship science at the popular dating app Hinge, says that single people have been ‘more intentional’ when it comes to dating, engaging new matches in more meaningful conversations, and actually spending more in-person time with new partners compared to before the pandemic.
With so many restrictions on socialising, time together with the people we care about feels even more precious. This is compounded by scientific studies claiming that public health risks make us rethink and resist romantic encounters, even long before COVID-19 came about. But online dating trends are showing us the opposite. With touching and feeling off the menu, WebMD have found couples who meet during lockdown are left with more time to chat and get to know each other on a personal level.
This is leading to deeper connections from the start of the relationship, with physical intimacy being a thing that only (maybe) comes after weeks of communication—resulting in a sort of hybrid model of ultra-modern cyber dating, and old-school sweetheart courtships
A survey conducted by Singles in America found that 58% of dating app users have moved towards ‘more intentional dating since the pandemic’. Out of the people they surveyed, 69% of users said they’re being more honest with the people they match with, while 63% are spending more time getting to know potential partners before meeting up.
This survey also found that 61% of Gen Z and 48% of Millennials are focusing less on physical attraction, and more on the connection they feel to potential partners.
Perhaps this return to more modest dating—rife with chilly dates walking several feet apart in open parkland and hours each evening composing letters to your newly beloved, as though we’re all trapped in an 18th century Jane Austen romance—has made people of all ages more comfortable with online dating.
Dating at every age
Of course, finding love isn’t just a young person’s game. Life is long and whether you’ve decided to wait for the right person to come along or you’re bouncing back from marriage number three, finding connection and companionship is something we’re all entitled to.
But looking for love online is a different experience depending on your circumstances and age group. With all of this emergent data about how we’re falling in love these days, we wanted to speak to people at all ages about what they’re experience of online dating has been in the past year.
We’ve spoken to two women in different generational groups about what online dating means to them. These are their stories.
Nadia, 25, PhD student
Nadia has just entered the phase of life where she’s looking for a committed long-term partner. The fast flings of her early 20s were fun, but she says they taught her more about what she doesn’t want in a relationship. Now it’s time to find out what she does.
Using her preferred app Hinge, she says the most attractive thing a person can have on their profile is photos of them having fun. ‘It’s nice to see someone who enjoys their friends and has passions they want to show off.’ For her, finding someone with a common worldview is non-negotiable. Which is in alignment with the finding that 76% of single people today want a partner who shares their political beliefs, which is a huge increase from only 25% in 2017.
For Nadia, the most important quality a person can have in the early stages of online chatting is humour. ‘You can build up trust in a relationship and learn how to communicate on so many different levels over time. But being able to make me laugh is either something you have or you don’t. You can’t work on getting funnier, and funny is a must for me!’
Joanna, 61, teacher
Joanna’s looking for someone who knows that life is for the living, excited to join her vibrant life splitting her time between England and the Bahamas with two adult daughters. She’s looking for someone who comes across as ‘a happy, friendly man, but most of all genuine,’ cheekily adding that first and foremost she’s at least got to fancy him.
But finding companionship later in life has its unique challenges. When she first messages someone she tries to keep the tiresome chit chat to a minimum, opting instead to be direct about her desire for a serious relationship. And like many, she’s embraced ‘video dating’, where two people share a FaceTime call first to make sure the chemistry is there. In 2020, 68% of people used video dates to determine if an IRL date was in the cards and reported that getting the chance to see someone’s face and hear their voice ‘made them like their date more’.
But Joanna also says err on the side of caution: ‘One experience was where I was talking to a guy but when we video called it went all pear shaped! He looked as though he had been dragged through a hedge and chewed his nails the whole time. The icing on the cake was that he had clothes all over the floor, explaining that he had underfloor heating and wanted them to dry… Not for me!’
Finding the one
Love it or hate it, online dating is here to stay. There’s no denying that this mode of intimacy can bring its fair share of cringey evenings and questionable suitors, but in the end what keeps us going is the evergreen promise that we’ll find our true love.
And believe it or not, it really can happen. We’ve had floods of customers over the years whose online misadventures eventually lead to finding their spouse. Just take Mindy and Sarah, who shared a first date ‘straight out of a movie’ years ago and never looked back.
How did you both meet?
Sarah: We met through an app!
Mindy: Modern day romance… Our first date was at the National Portrait Gallery, in late July—I remember!—on a balmy Thursday evening after work. I remember walking down Shaftesbury Avenue and I saw you down the road and you turned around. It was like a movie, the sun was hanging low and the way your hair was catching it burned in my memory.
For them, online dating was a way to be upfront about what they wanted and help connect them to people outside their social circles. But at the end of the day, it was their deep human connection that lead them to love.
What's love got to do with it?
Pandemic or not, 2021 is bringing us a whole new world of love. With so many people embracing a digital dating experience, it’s safe to say that this trend isn’t going anywhere.
But what’s important to remember is that even though the act of meeting new people is increasingly happening through a screen, the act of falling in love remains unchanged.
Nothing is going to replace the magic of spending quality time face to face, nor the thrill of looking into someone’s eyes and realising you’ve just found your partner for life.
Click below to read more love stories shared with us by our customers.