Before the pandemic, Neha knew exactly what she was looking for in a date: an athletic, liberal-minded guy who liked healthy living but wasn’t too outdoorsy. Ideally, he would be Indian like her. Party types were a no-no, pets were a turn-off. Now, multiple dating apps, three lockdowns and a handful of real-life dates later and Neha’s adding a new, elusive quality to that list: Covid vaccination status.
According to data from the dating apps, nothing spells sexy in 2021 like “I’ve been vaccinated and I have this unflattering pic to show for it”. Platforms including Tinder, OK Cupid, Bumble and Coffee Meets Bagel have reported a surge in users divulging whether or not they’ve received their jab or whether they plan to. Some, like Elate Date, have added vaccine status to their criteria to allow users to calculate whether they do or don’t want to match with any potential partner.
In the US, where the vaccine rollout has taken off, the syringe emoji has become the new winky face, while a double-dosed selfie on your profile will, it’s claimed, bring you double the number of dates. According to OKCupid spokesperson Michael Kaye, users who claimed to have already received the Covid vaccine were being “liked” at twice the rate of users who said they weren’t interested. “Basically,” he told the New York Times, “getting the vaccine is the hottest thing you could be doing on a dating app right now.”
Neha, a 40-year-old IT consultant from east London, thinks it’s a plus. “Obviously, the picture is a little different in the UK as so many people are still waiting for the vaccine, but to me it’s good to signal if you will or won’t get one because it tells you about that person. Some people still think the pandemic is a hoax. I don’t have time for that.”
In January Tinder identified a 238% increase in vaccine mentions in user bios, while Bumble reported “a steady increase” in the number of people including “vaccine” or “vaccinated” in their profiles. According to Sanjay Panchal, founder of dating app Elate, not only is the vaccine becoming a huge talking point on dating apps, it’s also becoming a deal breaker.
“It’s becoming a bit of a flex to say you’ve been vaccinated. Our research finds that over 60% of people wouldn’t consider dating someone who was against having the vaccination and that it’s become a trend to include ‘vaccination’, ‘antibodies’ and ‘shots’ in dating bios in the same way people would their height, job or interests,” said Panchal.
For Julian Keen, 41, a tube driver from west London, it’s an essential. “I have two boys and I’m a carer for my grandad. I have to think about keeping them safe and not spreading the disease, so I wouldn’t go on a date with someone who isn’t vaccinated or planning to be.”
Keen’s last long-term relationship ended in October and he has thrown himself into the apps as a distraction as much as a search for a serious partner.
“Obviously, it’s different and restricted in what you can do and how much you can see someone, plus a lot of people are very anxious and it’s difficult to break that ice,” he said. “I’m good at putting people at ease in person but you can’t really do that on a screen.”
Despite Keen’s wariness, it seems screens are very much here to stay. While modern-day dating has adjusted dramatically with socially distanced dates and masked meetings, a spokesperson for Hinge said that in the next decade, “video dates will become everyone’s first dates”.
Citing “convenience”, Hinge added that video dating would continue to be “a low-key, safe and efficient way to assess compatibility” for singles. Almost half of Hinge users have been on video dates in the past year, with the app reporting almost two-thirds of those surveyed said they “felt a growing connection” with someone they met that way.
“That’s a really bad idea for people like me,” said Neha. “You’d think I was a very virtual person. I’ve lived in different countries and stayed in touch with people, but I hate video chatting.” The perfect date for her, then?
“I don’t have a type of activity or place I like,” she said. “The perfect date is just the one you never want to end.”
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