“Stay at home” is the mantra of the corona generation. But what does that mean for us lonely hearts on dating apps? I live with two friends in Berlin, so I’m not completely alone during the quarantine. But my housemates and I often struggle to talk about anything but the crisis, and life just feels very monotonous. So I decided to get back to online dating, hoping to simulate the feeling of meeting new people and experiencing new things IRL, without leaving my apartment.
According to recent advice on Twitter from the Berlin police, Tinder is all about conversation anyway, so there’s no need to meet in person. A bold statement, but maybe true. After all, forming meaningful connections just by chatting with someone online is something we’ve been doing for a while, and if Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks could make it work in the 1998 classic You’ve Got Mail, so can I, in 2020—on Tinder.
I set up my Tinder profile with a link to the song “Let’s Get Back to Bed – Boy!” by Sarah Connor in the bio—an ode to my quarantine mood. My first few matches didn’t really get that I was referring to getting into our own separate beds. One was looking for a boo to hang with before the full lockdown kicked in (this was right before heavier restrictions were announced), while another just wanted to split his Deliveroo orders. I changed my bio to flag I wasn’t looking to be someone’s bunker babe. “Who wants to bond over shared trauma on Google Hangouts?,” I asked instead.
Compared to the constant anxiety I’ve been feeling on the internet these days, Tinder felt easy. One guy’s bio read: “Keep your hands clean and your minds dirty.” Simple. After swiping through the contenders, I started talking to a few dudes and ran into my first dilemma. Does a simple: “Hey, how was your day?” work now that everyone’s day is the same?
I told my first match—let’s call him ‘L’—about my quarantine life. That day, besides working from home, I had cleaned my windows. He wasn’t really taking the pandemic situation very seriously, but said I was welcome to clean his windows anytime. My next match, ‘J,’ hadn’t had to make much of a change in his life. “It’s nice that people are finally adapting to my lifestyle,” he said. Then, I matched with ‘S,’ who inspired me with all his lockdown social activities, including a home-office party with his roommates, living-room aerobics, and a few pub quizzes. His podcast recommendations didn’t even suck.
The next bachelor, ‘A,’ had a formidable collection of profile pics: one with a dog, another with friends at the lake, and the last holding a baby (“not my child!”). I asked if he’d like to play some games over video chat. Before the big date, I moved my chair to seven different spots in my apartment to find the best natural light, tidied up the background and even put on lip gloss again. I drew the line at actually wearing pants.
When we greeted each other again, pixelated and uncertain, I noticed how different he looked from his profile—a little less Tinder model, a little more shabby chic. He was sitting at his kitchen table, ladles and pots hanging from the wall behind him and a vase on a shelf with flowers that still looked alive. “Are you ready?” I asked him. He warned me that he was prepared to play.
We played a popular German kids game where you write down words starting with a specific letter for a series of categories as quickly as you can. Except, ours was the apocalypse edition. Our categories were: cities, countries, things to hoard, weapons for self-defense and means of transportation fit for a cataclysm. “Utrecht, Uruguay, underpants, ukulele, Uber,” I answered. “Rome, Russia, red lentils, razors, riding a horse,” I wrote in the next round.
The next day, ‘M’ popped up in my new matches. We agreed to meet on a video call for coffee and cake, by which I mean I baked a cake while he drank coffee.
“No, I’ve already had one. It was uncomfortable.”
“Yeah, I can imagine. I thought it would feel like a job interview.”
“That’s exactly how it was!” ‘M’ said. We vibed.
The corona chat helped keep the conversation going. While I mixed three eggs with 150 grams of butter and 125 grams of sugar, he told me he started learning Spanish on Duolingo, before changing his mind and switching to French. I told him that I was bored all the time, but pretty good at it. My grandmother, less so. She spent her first day in self-isolation picking up twigs in her garden. Then she tried to light the heap on fire and almost burned down a tree. Despite the fact I was baking in my kitchen with a stranger, it didn’t feel so strange. We said our goodbyes, and he asked me to send a photo of the cake once it was done.
I left my house for a quick bike ride along the canal. The cold air stabbed my face and for a moment, there was no coronavirus. When a video call ends, there’s a moment of silence when you’re even lonelier than before. That’s exactly how I felt when everything caught up with me again back at home.
‘S’ asked me what I missed the most. Not worrying whether my hands were clean. Having to comb my hair every day. “Hugging friends and going shopping,” is what I settled for. “Going for a nice meal, having wine at a bar with friends, and physical contact in general,” he replied. It was comforting to know that we’re all living the same life right now, missing things and eating pasta every day. Maybe I’ll just have to get used to my pixelated and slightly unkempt look for the next few weeks.
Later, I sent ‘M’ a picture of the finished cake. He told me it looked great, and suggested it was his turn to cook for us over Zoom. It’s a date.