Being single is 'like a quarantine within a quarantine'

Zoom me, maybe: Singles seeking love in a time of COVID find new ways to hook up

Many say finding a partner while socially distancing is a challenge, but being able to slow down and meet on video can have its upsides as well

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Couple kissing at the light rail station on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem on October 11, 2020 (Courtesy Nati Shohat/Flash 90)
Couple kissing at the light rail station on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem on October 11, 2020 (Courtesy Nati Shohat/Flash 90)

Finding one’s soulmate can be something of a challenge, and never more so than during a pandemic, when social distancing has replaced social interaction.

As the world marks its first Valentine’s Day since the pandemic became entrenched globally, those looking for love have an array of options meant to make up for the now-impossible casual in-person interactions, from dating apps and video dates to speed-dating online and matchmakers. But some singles say there is no substitute for meeting someone in person — even, it turns out, in a coronavirus hotel.

That’s what happened to Ilan Atri and Georgia Martin, two Masa Israel fellows who fell in love while convalescing together in a coronavirus hotel in Tel Aviv, where they were quarantined with fellow Masa participants who had all contracted COVID-19.

“We’ve figured out that the amount of time we spent in the corona hotel is around the same amount of time we would have spent dating over the course of a few months,” said Atri, who is now living in Tel Aviv with Martin and two other friends.

Ilan Atri (left) and Georgia Martin met and became a couple while convalescing in a coronavirus hotel at the start of their Masa Israel program (Courtesy Ilan Atri)

Their weeks spent together in the quarantine hotel were pretty idyllic, said Atri. After each being sick in bed for several days, they went on to spend all their time together in the hotel, without any need for masks or social distancing.

“It was the ideal situation,” said Atri, noting that they’ve never been out to a restaurant together, but have often dined al fresco on the roof of their apartment building.

Their rom-com style meet-cute is the exception, though, with most singles limited to meeting people through dating apps. If they’re interested in one another, they then move to speaking via Zoom or another video platform.

In the US, nearly one in five singles has video-dated during the pandemic, according to online dating service’s annual survey of 50,000 singles across the country.

In Israel, the numbers are even higher. A recent survey carried out for telecommunications provider Bezeq of Israelis’ online habits during the pandemic found that 40% of singles surveyed (2,300 people over the age of 18) said they had tried remote dating.

While 64% of them said it saved a lot of time, 65% percent said that they didn’t enjoy romancing from afar as much as going on an in-person date.

“I think Israelis are big on being in the moment,” said Leora Mietkiewicz, 27, a Canadian now living in Jerusalem. “Being online can negate that element, so it’s not surprising that people are willing to meet up at a distance — I would definitely prefer that over a Zoom call.”

A couple wearing protective face masks and kissing in Jerusalem on April 12, 2020. Nati Shohat/Flash90)

According to matchmaker Tzippi Schechet, whose organization Points of Contact specializes in finding suitable matches for American Israelis in Israel, Zoom has been a blessing not only for working from home but for finding love as well.

“I don’t measure success only by the sound of that smashing glass,” said Schechet, referring to the Jewish wedding ceremony tradition. “It’s about someone in the pandemic who hasn’t gone out at all but agrees to one Zoom date. I see it as CPR for singles during the pandemic.”

Right now, being single is “like a quarantine within a quarantine,” she said. “There’s a sense of being alone and solitary. People are thinking, ‘How do I want to spend my life.’ They don’t want more months of being alone.”

One of the pandemic’s dating platform success stories is Corona Crush, an Israeli-made private Facebook group for Jewish singles seeking love, which was founded at the start of the pandemic and now numbers 17,700 members.

Participants can post their profiles and private message one another. They can also schedule a date via Zoom and take part in Corona Crush-organized Zoom speed-dating sessions.

Founder Ian Mark advanced the dating platform from a simple Zoom link to a Facebook-based program with an algorithm that utilizes forms filled out by the users, and based on the ages, interests, locations and level of religious observance, creates the speed dating schedule, which includes seven rounds in one Zoom event.

Illustrative photo of online dating. (iStock/ SIphotography)

The group holds speed dating events every week with several hundred people participating, and has seen at least five engagements, said Mark.

The biggest audience comes from the US, said Mark, who lives in Tel Aviv. It’s taken time to tap into the Israeli audience, and any traction he gets is by word of mouth.

“I’m not sure why,” said Mark, regarding Israelis’ lack of interest.

Speed dating feels too forced, said Adam Stone, 32, a Tel Aviv realtor who uses dating apps Tinder and Bumble.

“It’s worse than speed dating in person, because there’s something about looking in a person’s eyes in person and it’s just more intimate,” said Stone. “What we’re really missing are the bars and parties, or just going to work and meeting people.”

In November, between lockdowns, dating app Bumble partnered with electric scooter company Bird to offer free scooter rides in Tel Aviv for Israelis looking for love who downloaded the dating app.

Dating app Bumble and e-scooter company Bird partnered in Tel Aviv in November to encourage finding love during the coronavirus (Courtesy Bumble)

Bumble also added a feature this year that helps identify how singles want to date — virtual only, socially distanced, or socially distanced with masks. More than 1 million Bumble users globally have used that feature.

New Yorker Zach Schleien created speed dating video app Filter Off two years ago, but he hit the big time with COVID-19. Seeing the other person on screen is a means to an end, he said.

Filter Off creates video speed-dating events grouped around different communities, such as runners, divorced and widowed, Jews from different regions, LGBTQ groups, Black, or from specific cities, like Singapore or Kuala Lumpur.

The pandemic has allowed people to be more mindful and intentional in their dating, as opposed to hook-up culture, he said.

“People are hitting rock bottom and they want that feeling of belonging,” said Schleien. “The vibe around online dating has changed. People have gotten so comfortable with video that they’re totally okay with jumping on a video call just to see if they have chemistry.”

A screen shot of dating app Filter Off, which encourages online speed dating (Courtesy Filter Off)

Much of dating is really about attitude, regardless of the pandemic, said Ilana Schurder, a Beit Shemesh-based counselor for families and couples.

“I see the coronavirus as a technicality,” said Schurder. “It certainly poses a logistical issue if someone is looking to date and meet people. But if somebody is looking to make it happen for themselves, then they will find solutions. The coronavirus looks like a horrible thing that’s in our way, but it’s just another thing to blame.”

For Avi Rubel, 48, the pandemic is actually what allowed him to find love.

As the founder and CEO of Honeymoon Israel, a Birthright-style trip for young couples with at least one Jewish partner, he had been on the move for years, traveling back and forth between Israel and New York. Settling down and coupling up himself seemed impossible.

“It kept me busy but I don’t think I realized until this unplanned stop of regular activities how much not being grounded made me not grounded in other ways,” said Rubel. “After the first wave of COVID, I found myself completely grounded physically — and over time, I became more and more grounded in every other way.”

Rubel met his girlfriend six months ago on OkCupid, and things became serious very quickly. The couple, along with her 4.5-year-old son, moved together last week to their new home on a moshav after six months of dating.

“I can only see now after having gone through this that I was really stuck in my patterns,” he said. “The pandemic is terrible, but the involuntary shutdown has had a lot of silver linings.”

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