Whether online speed-dating in a Zoom breakout room, taking walks 6 feet apart, or chatting over a video platform with drinks in hand, Catholic men and women across the United States are finding new ways to conquer isolation during quarantine through “social distance” dating.
People interviewed for this article anecdotally reported that because of social distancing, they’ve adapted their dating behavior offline as well as online: writing more messages back and forth with people over a longer period of time and agreeing to more phone or video dates over a shorter timespan (rather than spacing out dates by a week or more).
A spokeswoman for the online dating service CatholicMatch says that engagement from existing members has significantly increased during the coronavirus shutdown. Mutual “likes” (indicating that both members are interested in each other’s profile) are up by 20%; unlocked (viewed) messages have increased by 58%; and overall communication on the platform has risen by 18%.
CatholicMatch has not seen an increase in new users, but according to Content Manager Kateri Bean, they have increased output of educational materials to give people more ideas and resources to adapt to new social-distancing norms. They’ve also temporarily opened some of their “premium” services, such as replying to messages, to all users, regardless of whether they are paying for the service.
Dating: Distance Style
So what do these daters-at-a-distance do together? Elena, a 28-year-old in Alexandria, Virginia, who requested a pseudonym to protect her privacy, says she mostly just talks over Skype or FaceTime, although she has taken a walk and had a “virtual coffee” with quarantine dates.
The most exciting date, she says, involved watching a free Metropolitan Opera performance simultaneously with her date, each at their respective home. It was her date’s idea to do this and to text each other reactions throughout the show. “It was a really cute idea,” Elena said, “and definitely the most creative.”
Kara and Jason, both 34 years old, are a Catholic couple on the East Coast who have been dating each other for more than a year. They live 15 minutes apart in Maryland now, but they started their relationship long-distance while one was in New York and the other in Chicago. Kara and Jason compare their coronavirus experience to previous stints they’ve had dating each other long distance. They still pray the Rosary together and chat in the morning, text throughout the day, and FaceTime as they are able. A book club they attend still occurs over video, and Kara and Jason also try to mix up their one-on-one time by discussing articles, exchanging friendly banter over games, and connecting over video during everyday activities like cooking.
They say that their relationship has felt “more concentrated” during quarantine because they are more or less “alone in the relationship,” since they are not participating in activities with groups of friends or in public.
Kara, who is head of marketing at a startup company, says that because of their lighter social calendar, she has also felt less stressed for the past few weeks.
Searching for Companionship
For other single Catholics, emptier schedules have sparked a more dedicated search for companionship and conversation. When quarantines began in March, the National Catholic Singles Conference decided to launch online, coed study groups to go through inspiring talks from past conferences. Within a couple of days, 80 people had signed up.
“A lot of people shared that they joined because they wanted to see other people during quarantine,” said Anastasia Northrop, founder of the conference. “I’m not sure if any dates will come out of it, but the neat thing is that people get to meet each other in a comfortable atmosphere, discuss deep topics, and if there’s interest there, can chat on the side and connect afterward.”
According to Northrop, “Quarantine has made people think more about the value of relationships and perhaps even the idea that if you’re just sitting around waiting for something to happen and not taking initiative, you might have to make more of an effort.”
That’s precisely the situation that Gildas (pronounced Gil-da), a 31-year-old engineer, found himself in. He is not originally from the U.S., and he has a demanding job in the small town of Columbus, Indiana, where there is only one Catholic church. He says he can’t envision himself meeting someone in Columbus who shares his faith and his approach to life — especially within his circle of engineers.
“My friends go out a lot. They don’t think about their faith; it’s not their motivation. And even aside from faith, their approach to life is about consumption, having this and having that,” Gildas said. “It’s a completely different approach — I want family to be the center of what I do.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, Gildas’ work projects slowed down, and he was told to work from home. With “a bunch of free time” on his hands, he decided to take the online dating plunge and subscribed to CatholicMatch. While he says it’s reassuring to have access to single people who are looking for someone to date through the site, he hasn’t gotten many responses thus far.
“I’ve been surprised,” he said. “I was expecting people to be at home doing nothing ... apparently not.”
Elena, the 28-year-old from Virginia, says she has wondered if, for some people, there is an element of boredom — or at least the appeal of dates that involve little planning.
“I FaceTimed this guy once, and he put in the least amount of effort possible,” she remembered. “He was sitting on his living room couch with the television flashing in the background.”
Real Relationships, Despite Distance
In general, though, Elena says that her social-distance dates have allowed for faith sharing and have been a source of enrichment. Somebody on CatholicMatch recommended Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron’s weekly Mass online to Elena and that became her weekly Mass. Another guy gave her great book recommendations. Instead of asking which parish her date goes to, now Elena might instead ask, “Which Mass are you watching online?” or “How are you doing church right now?”
Interestingly, Elena has observed that her “first date” counterparts sometimes share more personally on video than she thinks would be typical in person on a first date. A couple of men have brought up “heavy topics,” she says, such as problems they have with the Catholic Church.
Kara and Jason, in Maryland, say they think that talking about serious matters early on can be a good way for distance-daters to increase their knowledge of each other. When you’re going out in person and having fun, they say, major differences can be glossed over.
Amid the challenges of the coronavirus, Northrop of the National Catholic Singles Conference says that it’s important for Catholics to remember that as human beings, we’re meant for connection and relationship with other people — and with God. She says this is a good time for Catholic singles to root their identity deeper in Christ in preparation for future relationships. And the topic for NCSC’s upcoming summer online study groups is, aptly, “Dating and Relationships.”
While it may be easy to become scattered by distractions (like scrolling through Facebook while talking on the phone), Northrop says that it’s worth taking time to honor each “encounter” with another person, even if it’s online. “Let this time lead us as Catholics to more deeply value each individual person.”
Kathryn Elliott is a freelance journalist and the founder of E-pulpit.com.
This story was updated after posting.
How Do Single Catholics Date During a Pandemic?
Kateri Bean of CatholicMatch Provides Some Answers
How is CatholicMatch suited for a time like this?
We are very well positioned to help singles right now. For most singles, the only way to meet new people while social distancing is online. We expect people to rely on us even more, as [online dating] is one of the few ways you can still connect with new people regularly. Eventually, things will return to normal, but even then, we expect singles to continue to rely on us, as online dating is quickly becoming one the most common ways for singles to connect.
What are some of the creative solutions that you would put forth for readers who hunger for relationships during a time like this?
A virtual date doesn’t need to be just the two of you talking to each other over video. Have fun with it, and don’t be afraid to get creative. Again, we have a lot of resources on the CatholicMatch Institute about this, but some ideas include using online extensions such as Scener to watch movies together, playing multiplayer games, inviting other couples to join your video chat, and even hosting a virtual book club or Bible study.
What should Catholics looking to date right now keep in mind, spiritually and practically?
We’ve been reminding our users that there is only so much you can control. You can’t control this virus, your job, or what stores are open or closed, but you can control how to approach this situation and how you react to it. It’s important to remember that God works in mysterious ways, and you never know when he will bring someone into your life, even during these less-than-ideal circumstances!
Just because we are facing challenges does not mean you need to put your life on hold. There is no reason to pass up good opportunities! So don’t be afraid to connect with others, even when you’re feeling lonely or scared. We also encourage everyone to use this time to reflect. Ponder your dating experiences. Is there anything you would like to focus on? Set some goals for yourself. Also, use this extra time at home to expand your faith and grow closer to God. There is so much you can do for yourself spiritually and physically, even at home, whether that’s picking up a spiritual book you’ve been planning to read, discovering some new prayers, exercising more, or trying to improve yourself.
Is there anything else you see, from where you sit, that Catholic readers might want to think about?
While we recognize this is a hard time for everyone, it is also important to acknowledge the unique challenges that singles are presented with. Before this virus, we had a marriage crisis, and after this virus, there’s nothing that will make it any better. It’s time that we all start praying for vocations to the married life. ... We pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, so why not marriage, too? ... Everyone laments the decrease in sacramental marriages, but ... we all need to take a more active role in [promoting them], both spiritually and practically.
— Kathryn Elliott