With everything non-essential canceled and closed, and social distancing at its peak, dating, like much else, has moved into the virtual world. In L.A., where the weather and nightlife always beckon, it is particularly challenging. Safer-at-home rules prohibit getting up close and personal with new people outside of your quaranteam, and though no one will know if you do so, singles have to ask themselves if the risk is worth it. Right now, playing it safe while playing the field means forging connection via other means — texts, phone calls and video chatting.

“I never thought phone sex would be exciting after the age of 13, but now it is starting to look enticing,” says Vanessa Johnston, a West Hollywood-based bisexual stand-up comedian and host of the Sooo Aggressive podcast. “Quarantine dating has given me higher standards because I have to actually talk to the person. But I have gotten a lot of really bad pick-up lines like, ‘If corona doesn’t take you out, can I?’ and, ‘Are you the coronavirus? Because I want to take you around the world.’ You can tell who the bad guys are because they still try to hang out even in quarantine.”

While many singles in L.A. are taking a complete break from the dating scene, others are trying to have fun with virtual courtship and using technology to spice up the experience. Online dating sites and apps like Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and OK Cupid are busier than ever in the age of “coronazoning.” Yes, a slew of new terms and pandemic dating trends like this one has emerged and they’re likely here to stay until a COVID-19 vaccine is found. A popular meme defines coronazoning as “engaging in flirty, romantic and/or sexual conversation with someone you have no intention of dating once social distancing is over, solely because self-isolation is leaving you bored and lonely.”

As casually meeting up for coffee at Blue Bottle, Hugo’s or Urth Cafe or planning a fun cocktail night at El Coyote, The Formosa or The Pikey (sadly shut down as a result of COVID-19 losses) are out for now, getting to know someone new the old-fashioned way — very slowly before actually meeting or having physical contact — is becoming the new norm.

“It’s weird because I’ve suddenly realized I’m missing human touch,” observes director Elizabeth Blake-Thomas. “Dating is totally over.” On the plus side, she says, going virtual “means you can spend much longer getting to know someone without that pressure of a first kiss. The worst is not being able to feel a real connection and know if you really do like someone.”

(Timely bios via Tinder and Bumble)

If you don’t find love, reading updated dating profiles and bios on Tinder and Bumble (like the ones above) will keep you laughing, at least. Though, these apps continue to see creeper types who could care less about quarantine restrictions, many males (and females) have shown they are open to adjusting to the situation.

“I haven’t changed my bio, but I have seen some clever updates, and the guy who posed sexily with the Clorox wipes def got a right swipe,” admits Christina Parish, an executive vice president at an entertainment marketing research firm in Burbank. “And, ridiculously, my interest in dating has exponentially increased with the quarantine. Spring fever cannot be denied!”

The reality is that dating is much more challenging than it was before for everyone. Not only are singles worried about getting sick (or infecting others) but the crushing feelings of isolation and apocalypse can naturally dim desire. Love or hookup interests that started before lockdown have fizzled for many with an uncertain sense of future possibilities. When saddled with additional responsibilities like homeschooling, seemingly endless Zoom meetings, or caring for sick family members and friends — plus the futility of meeting up — flirty texts become low priority. It’s easy to shut down. “It’s just not a good time right now” brushoffs are a whole quarantine mood.

“I go back and forth between investment and apathy. In some moments texting and video with strangers seems fruitful, but after a long day on Zoom, the limits really present themselves,” says Brian Sonia-Wallace, the Exposition Park-based author of forthcoming book, The Poetry of Strangers, echoing what zapped-out singles are feeling. Like others interviewed by L.A. Weekly, he says he’ll start chatting and then lose interest and leave messages unread until he picks up the thread. “Everything on screens seems to sap my energy, and the open sexuality that’s so nice in the gay world becomes a liability because it’s hard to untangle intimacy and horniness, and both are left unsatisfied.”

A social distance date at Trader Joe’s. (Courtesy Dana Schwartz)

As Eagle Rock–based writer Sophie Sills shared in her essay “No One to Hunker Down With” in the New York Times last week, “Three days before we were told to stay home, the man I’d been dating for a month told me he was self-isolating.” Sound familiar? If you’ve experienced a lockdown breakup, you’re not alone.

“Dating online has been … bad! It’s hard to keep the momentum up and stay excited about a stranger when you can’t meet in person to see if you have any chemistry, or go out and do something fun together,” shares author and Noble Blood podcast host Dana Schwartz. “I mostly have been aimlessly swiping and waiting for hot people I follow on Twitter to DM me.”

Still, Schwartz publicly went rogue, dipping her toe into “social-distance dating” recently. “Went on a first date today where we met at Trader Joe’s to wait in line 6 feet apart,” she tweeted. Each wearing red bandanas as masks, the two beamed in an at-a-distance-double-selfie, with him waving. They kept their masks on during their shopping date, and he gave her a gift of TJ’s chocolate-covered almonds when they said their good-byes. Things have been progressing at a safer range since then. “We’ve been texting a ton and we had a FaceTime movie date.”

Although it can be frustrating and depressing to be alone and sexquestered during this time of hyper-isolation, it might be for the best in terms of building something real and weeding out bad apples. The dating industry has taken note of the cultural shift too, sending in-app messages and adding video features to their platforms.

“All of us in the industry make dating safety a top priority,” says Julie Spira, an L.A.-based online dating expert and founder of CyberDatingExpert.com. “During the COVID-19 crisis, we are all encouraging singles to ramp up chatting to stay connected and to help with isolation. As rules for safety in this pandemic are fluid, I’ve had to reverse my strategy from trying to get singles to go from moving from online to offline, to staying online with meaningful conversations on the phone or in a video chat.”

Cyber-dating expert Julie Spira (Courtesy Alex Resnik)

Tinder adjusted to the pandemic first with in-app messages offering advice for members. “Your Wellness is Our Number One Priority,” it read, adding a link to the World Health Organization. The app also now offers free use of its Passport feature, so singles can search in other cities or countries. Bumble sent out a personalized message as well, advising members to use in-app messaging for audio or video chats and asking singles to avoid meeting in real life. They also launched a virtual dating badge option that makes a donation to the WHO COVID-19 Solidarity Fund each time someone adds it to their profile. Match created a Dating While Distancing Hotline, for members to seek dating advice during this confusing time, and they added in-app video features, as did PlentyofFish.

“To keep dating exciting, focus on common interests. If you and your potential date both love museum hopping, you can go on a virtual tour of seven museums in Los Angeles, including The Getty, the Natural History Museum, MOCA and the Grammy Museum,” suggests Spira, who outlines these ideas and more on her new site, DatingInTheAgeOfCovid.com. “While you’re on your museum date, open up Zoom, or another video-chat service, and select the share-screen feature to watch together.”

Spira also touts binge-watching shows together/apart by adding the Netflix Party Chrome extension to your browser, which allows friends to watch a program or movie together in real time. “You can push the pause button to chat about the show, go on a virtual dinner date or sip a ‘quarantini,’ and toast cheers,” she says. “The intimacy of a video chat can be a bonding experience now, at a time when singles have a strong need to connect.”

Dating in the time of the coronavirus has dramatically changed the nature of courtship, even for those who were already in a dating relationship before lockdown restrictions. For those still looking, it’s made everything more complicated, but connections can still happen. And though we hope the restrictions are temporary, adapting to the current situation might end up being just the reset many hoping to find love needed. “I’m pleased to see ‘slow dating’ emerge from the mandates of self-isolation,” says Spira. “As a result, logging on to dating apps has become an essential part of feeling connected when you’re alone at home self-distancing. It’s also a good time to get creative. There are guys who are sending Purell or even meals to women they like. Matches and love are out there. Just keep swiping and chatting.”

“Connecting in the Coronazone” is L.A. Weekly’s cover story this week.

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