The Love Nest

What Works For Virtual Dates: Experts Weigh In

June 6, 2020

Carla Swiryn

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Founder at DateSpot

You’re SO over quarantine. You’ve been stuck at home long enough to have watched all three seasons of Ozark, all nine seasons of The Office (this time in order), and since you’ve been missing live sports, all the old Super Bowls with the Niners. You’ve managed to get your work inbox to zero, and your house is spotless from “stress cleaning”. You’ve consistently broken your rule about no drinking alone on weekdays, and despite those frequent home workouts, your body’s looking suspiciously soft. You loved the photos on “People Are So Bored During Quarantine That They’re Building Cardboard Tanks For Their Cats”, which prompted you to adopt a kitty. And you never even liked cats.

But things are looking up. As coronavirus-related restrictions are being lifted around the country, you see a light at the end of this lonely “Groundhog Day” tunnel. You can now play tennis and golf with your best friend, and you’re excited to soon eat at a restaurant again, even if just on the patio. And since you finally had enough time to dedicate to dating, and didn’t want to give up on your love life, there’s that promising candidate who you met on the apps…

Well, you were certainly not alone getting back on the apps with gusto, as dating sites reported an increase of activity across the board. Match Group (which owns Match.com, Tinder, OkCupid and Plenty of Fish, among others) had a 27% increase in daily messages in April as compared to February. (The biggest growth was seen in women under 30, whose total number of daily swipes increased by 37%.)

Since people couldn’t meet in person, they took dates online. People started realizing the inherent benefits of video call first dates: weeding out people who just want to hook up, avoiding traffic, saving time, and save money on drinks (and sometimes food).

And now, the majority of people are doing them while sheltering in place. 69% of Match.com daters and 70% of Hinge daters are now open to video chatting, as reported in Helen Fisher’s NY Times article and Hinge's poll results. Just in case the world really is coming to an end, people thought, why not give this a shot?

As a matchmaker and dating site founder, I’ve been following advice from other professionals in the dating, matchmaking, coaching and therapy fields. There’s been a lot written about it in bits and pieces, but I wanted to compile all of the great advice into one comprehensive list. So I’ve curated my favorite tips from reputable sources. Even once quarantine is over, we can assume that many people are still going to prefer first dates from home due to their efficiency.

To start, if you’re one of the few people who still absolutely resist video call dates, consider the advice from online dating coach Erika Ettin of A Little Nudge: "Try to actually put your phone away and not collect matches just for the sake of an ego boost or boredom. Take this time to work on yourself, your interests, and being a better person for when you are ready to date."

Otherwise, here are my favorite ground rules for success:

BEFORE THE FIRST CALL

1. Avoid Covid jokes in your dating profile.

"It’s tempting to make a comment in your profile like ‘The only Corona here is chilling in my fridge.’ Unfortunately, those jokes are only funny the first 3-4 times people see them. If they are spending any time on a dating site or app right now, they’ve already seen them at least a dozen times." - Eric Resnick of ProfileHelper (blog post)

2. Recognize that these are still real dates.

“Just because you’re not in person doesn’t make the date any less real. People often say they prefer to meet someone IRL. But this is real life.” Respond to online messages promptly and treat each potential partner as if they could be the love of your life. - Alexis Sclamberg of Borrowed Wisdom

3. Suggest the call ahead of time, starting between 8-9 pm.

Give someone at least a couple hours of lead time before a date. Don’t just ask someone if they want to FaceTime now. Women especially want to be ready and that can take some time. Also, starting between 8-9 pm is great as it’s right after most people have finished dinner, and before people get tired. - Kinda Dating Podcast (“How To Virtual Date” episode with LJ Matchmaking)

4. Dress to impress.

While some people advocate for yoga pants or sweatpants, and yes you might not be seen from the waist down, dressing how you would on an in-person date makes a way better first impression. Assume that video will be on, and get ready like you would for any first date...it could mean putting on your favorite shirt...whatever makes you feel on your game. “You’re not primping to look good for the other person, as much as you're sticking to a routine to get yourself into the first date mindset.” - Moraya DeGeare of Evolve Therapy (article). Amy Andersen of Linx Dating also advises making an effort to look fresh. “Wear a pop of color. Women should wear some tasteful makeup so they don’t look ‘washed out.’ Men should put on a dress shirt, not a sloppy old t-shirt.”

5. Pick up your home.

“Clean up your house. People notice EVERYTHING, especially when there is a mess.” - Erika Ettin of A Little Nudge

6. Curate your space.

Having something in the background that shows your hobbies or interests is a great way to start conversations. “You want to choose items that are going to give your date a sense of who you are. If you play music, have an instrument in the back. If you like art, have some paintings behind you.” - Connell Barrett of Dating Transformation

7. Be in the living room (or kitchen if you’re making something).

“Avoid doing video dates at your office - even your home office - as you want to separate work and pleasure. And do NOT be in your bedroom for a first date either!” - Amy Andersen of Linx Dating

8. Set up flattering lighting.

If your chat is during the day (in case you can’t do tip #3), face outwards towards a window to get good natural light, and so you’re not backlit with your face obscured. If it's at night make sure you switch a lamp on so you're well lit." - Match’s dating expert, Hayley Quinn (article). There are also these camera & lighting tricks from fashion designer & filmmaker Tom Ford, including the ideal camera height.

DURING THE FIRST CALL

9. Keep the energy light and happy.

It’s especially important to smile and keep your spirits up as that energy is contagious, happy people are attractive, and laughter creates intimacy. Alyssa Park of Three Day Rule. Agreed, don’t be so serious, and have fun with it!

10. Prepare a couple questions.

Have a couple interesting questions in mind to ask someone to get things started, but don’t go into full interview mode where you’re asking question after question without connecting, diving deeper or sharing about yourself. - Lucie Luvidya of Luvidya, Inc.. I like these 20 first date questions for ideas.

11. Don’t dwell on the pandemic.

Covid is bound to come up at some point, but don’t spend the majority of the call on it. "It's okay to admit that this time in the world or your life is vulnerable. But there's also no need to spend the whole date talking about quarantine. A good question to ask is, 'When you're allowed to be out in the world, what do you like doing?'" - Andrea Syrtash, author of He's Just Not Your Type (And That's A Good Thing (article). Erika Ettin of A Little Nudge agrees and suggests that you “touch on it, of course - make your joke about toilet paper and Lysol - but then move on... Talking about this pandemic the whole time will get a bit depressing and won’t set you apart from anyone else.”

12. Shoot for 30 minutes.

Video calls allow for nice short first dates to see if you both want to explore more about each other. If you enjoyed it, you can always talk another day. It’s wise to maintain some mystery and leave the person wanting more. To make this easier, Zoom’s free version forces people off after 40 minutes. - Kinda Dating Podcast: “How To Virtual Date” episode with LJ Matchmaking

13. End the call whenever you want to.

You shouldn't feel you need to stay on the call if conversation has fizzled out or you realize you have nothing in common – or if you feel that something is off/you are uncomfortable. “When you’re ready, politely thank your match for their time and bring the call to a close.” - eHarmony relationship expert Rachael Lloyd (article)

14. Give a playful smooch.

If you felt positive chemistry, a virtual goodnight kiss effectively lets them know you liked them and lays a foundation for momentum. Either blow them a kiss, or say something like: “I had a really good time with you — I wish I could kiss you goodnight.” - Moraya DeGeare of Evolve Therapy (article)

15. If you like them enough at the end, let them know.

Since we can’t use body language and physical touch to convey signs of interest, let them know you’re interested verbally if you want to see them again. You can say you look forward to getting together in person once it’s safe to do so. “Be playful, present, and positive. One of the best ways to do this is tell them what you find fascinating about them.” - Connell Barrett of Dating Transformation

AFTER THE FIRST CALL

16. Keep consistency in seeing each other live.

Phone calls are easy, but make sure to see each others’ faces regularly. Men especially are visual creatures. - Alexis Sclamberg of Borrowed Wisdom

17. Do a fun virtual activity.

Play a game on the Houseparty app or elsewhere -- Real Simple writes about ten great game options. Cook the same recipe. Pick a movie or TV show to watch together (I suggest deciding ahead of time whether you want commentary allowed). Paint at the same time. Do a free virtual museum or zoo tour. Offer a funny YouTube clip you've seen recently. If you think your date might be up for something deeper, suggest those famous 36 Questions to Fall in Love With Anyone, which Three Day Rule reminds us in a recent newsletter.

18. Still be you.

Other than smiling a bit more than you would normally, resist the temptation to act differently. As with any date, be yourself so you come across authentically and someone gets to know the real you. Just because we’re wearing masks outside doesn’t mean we should be wearing them metaphorically. (That tip's all me.)



As a final note, even once the coast is clear and quarantine is over, I would ask someone how they prefer to meet first. Everyone’s going to have different comfort levels, and women absolutely need to feel safe to trust and bond with a man.

As so many Fortune 500 brands are reminding us now on TV commercials, nothing can stop human connection. This IS a good time to date and find a partner. And soon enough, you’ll be getting together with that promising candidate in person. And when that happens, the first long-awaited kiss with them will be all the sweeter.

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