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Digital dating in 2021: Virtual dating hit its peak in a pandemic world

Valentine’s Day is here again. But 2021 hits a little different, considering this is the first year that social isolation is nationwide. In 2020, non-essential businesses didn’t start shutting down in droves until March. This time around, those same restaurants, amusement parks and other date night locations that were fighting to stay open on Valentine’s Day may not be just closed tomorrow; they may be closed permanently.

Since December 2019 when rumors spread from Wuhan, China to the United States of a potential worldwide pandemic, singles (and even married folks) have been figuring out how to navigate single life and reevaluating their relationships. Even happily married couples and long-timers have never been stuck in the house with each other for such long periods of time, becoming homeschool teachers, figuring out recent unemployment or tighter budgets, and/or navigating a work-from-home world. In April alone, divorce inquiries shot up to 34 percent for newer couples (five months or less). In pre-pandemic 2019, that number was only 11 percent, according to the National Law Review.

2020 hasn’t been all bad when it comes to relationships though. Singles especially have added an extra battery pack to their backs in social isolation. In 2018, dating app downloads for the 15 most-popular apps decreased to 247 million in 2018 (compared to 256 million in 2017). However, in 2020, while 5 percent of singles decided to ditch dating altogether, 30 percent wanted to chat with potential partners, 50 percent wanted to set up virtual dates and 60 percent decided they prefer online dating more than in-person dating. In fact, according to a press release from, 82 percent of singles are using online dating platforms since March 2020.

Can artificial intelligence identify your best significant other?

Maintaining that six-foot distance certainly doesn’t help make the sparks fly, but sitting behind a computer screen could arguably help online dating app users get to know each other more. BuzzFeed Labs even went as far creating a tongue-in-cheek “extremely scientific BF-GAN-69 Artificial Intelligence” option for the “perfect” boyfriend or girlfriend using artificial intelligence.

Although the comment section is filled with people retaking the quiz to try to better their odds, there is something to be said about where people’s headspace is when it comes to relationship goals of 2021 versus those of 2019. Some singles may have always wanted an egalitarian relationship. Others were all about “mostly sex, no strings attached.” Nowadays, that may not be the move, considering 27,229,862 Americans are infected with COVID-19 (at the time of this publication) and 473,699 have died from the highly contagious outbreak within a year’s time.

Regardless of how serious users are about online dating, and long before 2020, relationship sites have consistently been marketing and pushing their online dating algorithms to assist users with finding the best matches as opposed to relying on human-only searches.

When virtual dating is the rule, not just the option

While dating shows like “Catfish” have had enough content for eight seasons and counting, those mysterious phone numbers and texts and the lack of interest in virtual dating are challenged far more these days. Since people are at home more than usual, virtual conference websites and apps have become the norm. The companies behind the web and mobile versions are scrambling to compete with each other for the best deals.

So that online dater who is “too busy to meet in person” looks a bit more suspicious with FaceTime, FreeConferenceCall, Google Meet (formerly Hangouts Meet),, Skype, UberConference and Zoom all creating business meeting platforms, in addition to on-the-spot virtual dating options. Some online dating platforms have even created their own virtual video options.

Has virtual dating changed the relationship world permanently?

Although President Joe Biden’s camp has big goals regarding COVID-19 vaccines (150 million COVID-19 vaccinations in his first 100 days), four people in Oregon reportedly have tested positive for the coronavirus after receiving both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. So singles shouldn’t be so comfortable that they’re cavalierly running out the door after getting both vaccines. Double masks and six-feet-or-more meetings, or virtual dates, may need to be the norm for this yearlong cuffing season. Get ready to perfect your online dating zest, whether it’s with an offline person, or taking a chance at letting artificial intelligence and algorithms lead you to your next beau.

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