On a Saturday night, after another riveting week of walking around my living room and failed attempts at making cold brew, I turned off The Sopranos, put on a fresh pair of sweatpants, and got ready for a date. Actually, I got ready for 23 dates — all at the same time. That's right, folks: At the height of a global pandemic, I went Zoom speed dating and attended a virtual singles mixer.
Although the phrase "Zoom singles mixer" may sound like it was written by the creators of Cards Against Humanity, many dating companies and matchmaking services have opted to move online since social distancing began. Take video-dating app Filter Off, for example, which has seen a major surge in its speed dating sessions, Bumble's collaboration with BuzzFeed, which sets up strangers on live-streamed first dates. Eventbrite even reports a 1000% increase in online events in April, with "speed dating" becoming a new trending search term. This is the wild, wild west of internet culture and behavior.
Virtual speed dating may come with little reward, but it also means little risk.
In mid-March, when my city officially banned group gatherings and began living in isolation, I received an email from Rachel Breitenwischer, co-founder and COO of Here/Now (formerly Perchance), a dating and human connection company that hosts events for singles. She invited me to an upcoming virtual singles mixer.
While I've never been one for ice-breakers, I've always been intrigued by the prospect of experiencing love at first sight in real-time. So, I applied to attend an upcoming mixer on the Here/Now website, listing my name, age, gender, and career, and ticking off my top three "personal values" from a list including traits like creativity, adventure, independence, and kindness. Lucky me.
As the mixer drew close, I received an email with the Zoom link and some instructions for the night. I was told to bring an object to share with the group, something that "shed a little color on what made me uniquely myself." The idea of an adult "Show & Tell" made me nervous. Would people take it too seriously? Would I look like a jerk if I didn't take it seriously enough? Would there be a man in his mid-30s, showing off a trophy from his college rowing team? (Spoiler alert: Yes to all three.)
Although I am prone to overthinking, Meredith Golden, dating coach and dating app expert, says that virtual meet-ups may actually help you quell some of your first-date "what if's."
"Video chatting and Zoom speed dating act as a great screening tool," Golden tells Bustle. "[You can] decide if someone should be on your ‘meet when it’s safe' list or if the process should stop now so you can protect your time."
And protect my time I did. In just over an hour, the Here/Now mixer introduced me to 23 singles. The event started with an entire group Zoom and broke off into randomly selected "Breakout rooms," where three or four of us were prompted to answer — you guessed it — ice-breakers.
While I personally struggled to earnestly answer, "What kind of child were you?" or "What was something people wrongly assumed about you?", others appeared to respond enthusiastically to the provocations. With the exception of my sarcastic tendencies, the group divulged confessions about their dream houses or proudest accomplishments, making visible connections with each other in the process.
A guy vaguely resembling Aaron Samuels asked me, 'Well, are you looking for a date or an article?'
Although I had to tilt my computer screen down in order to roll my eyes in peace, I was thankful I hadn't left my house. Virtual speed dating may come with little reward, but it also means little risk. Essentially, I still had to put myself out there, but I got do it while wearing an elastic waistband and lounging on my couch — which, in retrospect, is not the worst thing in the world.
"[Going to an online singles event] is an easy way to dip a toe in the water," Golden says. "It’s a controlled environment, and you don’t have to be the main attraction. A bad date reminds someone that they don’t have to waste their time, and it's an empowering reminder that you are in charge of your clock and calendar."
Although I wasn't "allowed" to talk about work, I accidentally mentioned that I was a sex and relationships writer. A guy vaguely resembling Aaron Samuels asked me, "Well, are you looking for a date or an article?"
I told him I'd be happy with either. But I think I knew, even then, that I'd only be leaving with one.
Meredith Golden, dating coach and dating app expert