VIRTUAL dating has become the norm for many singletons whose love lives were put on hold for the better part of this year as a result of lockdown.
And while it doesn’t compare to meeting someone for the first time in person, it seems digital daters can still sense a connection with someone right away – after just 30 seconds, in fact.
Virtual dates soared by 36 per cent during lockdown – with six in 10 singletons admitting they enjoy the “new dating normal”, according to a recent survey.
One in four will continue to keep up virtual dating even after lockdown fully ends, to screen out non-starters in the search for romance.
The study, commissioned by Virgin Media, also found that in addition to first impressions, virtual dating speeds up relationships on several accounts.
Dating from a desktop takes an average of 60 minutes, compared to 86 minutes in person.
What’s more, virtual dating is cheaper too, saving singletons £18 per date – with the removal of time and cost barriers giving daters more bang for their buck.
Relationship expert Alix Fox, who has teamed up with Virgin Media to create a digital guide for singletons looking to make lasting connections online, said: “The idea that the average digital dater has just 30 seconds to make a great, but speedy, first impression online might seem intimidating to many.
“Which is why I’m proud to have partnered with Virgin Media to pass on tips to help people master those all-important first few moments of an online rendezvous.
“Sure, successfully navigating this brave new digital world takes a little extra effort and imagination, but those are qualities that are prized in a partner; with a little practice and polish, it’s absolutely possible to make deeply meaningful, valuable, lasting connections online”
The research also found that 55 per cent of 1,000 daters surveyed felt their virtual relationships blossom much faster than they would in person.
And 45 per cent are more likely to make a relationship exclusive if they’ve been on a virtual date.
A third (34 per cent) of singletons are also less likely to date multiple people digitally at once than they might have done previously.
But while 44 per cent of men said they’re more likely to delete their dating apps and focus on one potential partner than they would prior to lockdown, just a quarter of women said the same.
And although men would say ‘I love you’ after 22 virtual dates, this went up to 30 for women.
However, the research carried out via OnePoll found that progressing to ‘official’ status and maintaining lasting connections online comes with its own etiquette to abide by.
Cyber daters claim to be wooed by their partner taking control with organisation of the date, arranging the next date before the current one has ended, and suggesting a theme such as cocktails or wine tasting.
But disinterested body language (33 per cent), poor Wi-Fi (16 per cent), eating loudly on camera (16 per cent) and going off camera too often (20 per cent) have been recognised as digital faux pas when it comes to making an impression on-screen.
Cilesta Van Doorn from Virgin Media said: “The internet has been at the heart of building relationships for years, but thanks to the ‘new normal’, digital dating has opened up a world of possibilities for those looking for love and meaningful connections online.
“I hope our new digital guide, created with the expert help of Alix Fox, helps more people across the UK to stay in love and stay connected no matter what the world throws at them.”
Here, Alix Fox offers some top tips for virtual daters…
Choose your setting
While it can be hard to get yourself ready for a date in the same place that you’ve been working from home all day, showing your real-life surroundings on a video call gives a more genuine, authentic impression than using a digital background.
Create a new atmosphere for your evenings by switching up the lighting to give you a more relaxing space. Set an alarm to play “date night” music, to prompt you to get ready and get in the zone.
Just be mindful of sharing visuals that could reveal information about the exact location of your home, like views from windows whilst you’re still getting to know your date
Be punctual and present
When an arrangement is more “URL” than “IRL”, it can be tempting to feel it’s fine to dial in behind schedule, but it’s important to respect your date’s time, and show effort.
If you were out at a bar or bistro, you wouldn’t let your mates invade your date and take over the talking, so pop your mobile or laptop on Do Not Disturb to avoid being interrupted by streams of pings, dings, WhatsApps and texts.
Test the waters
Another plus-point about video dating is that you can arrange a short and sweet 15 minute “taster” call the first time you chat to someone, so you’re not committed to feigning interest for hours if they turn out not to be a match.
But make sure your manners are always 10 out of 10 even if your date is not The One; don’t hang up or make it obvious you’ve mentally checked out, as your date may well become a valued mate (or have a better-suited pal they can introduce you to).
Cut out Covid
While coronavirus is front of mind for many of us, but you don’t want it to entirely infect and direct your every conversation.
You and your would-be sweetheart could both agree to bring along a handful of items from around your houses that have an entertaining story attached to them, or say something about your tastes, passions or personality: make the most of the at-home visual format with a virtual show and tell.
Connection is key
Make sure you have great Wi-Fi. Stuttering, spluttering, stammering connections that keep dropping out create awkwardness and hamper conversational flow.
You don’t want the punchlines of your jokes to be missed, or for the screen to freeze mid-sentence so you’re open-mouthed and eyes closed… no-one wants to hold that look for any length of time. A great internet connection supports a promising human connection.
Show them you’re into them
Relax! Your virtual date can’t smell your cologne or feel you touch their hand, so visual body language and facial expression are all the more important to get your vibe across (especially if you fancy them).
Hold eye contact; gesticulate; smile broadly; lean into the camera; there’s no need to look like a mime artist, but it’s worth slightly amping up the expressive elements you have at your disposal to make up for those that are AWOL.
Make sure your chat is on point
Ask interested, attentive questions about them that show you’re tuned in, paying attention and intrigued.
It’s understandable to want to highlight all your achievements, activities and accolades in an attempt to sell yourself, but this isn’t a shopping channel presentation.
You’re aiming for a balanced, enjoyable dialogue where you come away knowing more about the other person.
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