“Do you want to settle down and have kids?”
“Are you looking for casual sex or marriage?
More singles are asking these questions on the first date – and experts say while it was once taboo, now it’s the new normal.
It’s one of many changes relationship experts are seeing after the past two years radically changed the way people connect. Heading into 2022, dating etiquette welcomes transparency and to-the-point conversations, especially as Americans navigate new COVID-19 variants.
More singles are also using messaging and video calls to screen potential partners before meeting in person. Over the past two years, Logan Ury, the director of relationship science for the dating app Hinge, said messages have spiked and nearly half of Hinge users have gone on a video date.
“Dating never stopped,” said Ury, who started her role at Hinge shortly before the pandemic. “It just looks different.”
The sense of urgency among daters has been widespread. The pandemic also spurred people who weren’t looking for serious connections two years ago to think more about commitment.
“It’s like a game of musical chairs. Some people felt like they had all the time in the world,” Ury said. “When COVID hit, all of the sudden the music stopped and revealed … that time can wind down for finding a partner.”
Going into a new year, more singles have already made time for self-reflection, therapy and “finally facing what they want in a relationship.”
Here’s how people are getting what they want out of dating now.
Starting smart, slow
Aimee Miller-Ott, an interpersonal communication expert and an associate professor at Illinois State University, studies how college students use technology to connect and similarly has seen an uptick in video screening before a date. And instead of guessing whether sex on the first date is OK, singles are now talking about what feels comfortable to them beforehand.
“Tinder used to be more of a hookup app and now it’s being used to establish connections,” Miller-Ott said. “We’ve seen people break really bad dating habits and use a video chat to see if they can connect with someone before going out in person. Even as things start to get back to normal, I do think online dating and getting to know people better will stay and be less stigmatized.”
Miller-Lott said she’s noticed an adjusted outlook with many college students. Now much of the pre-date etiquette and early conversations can revolve around a person’s view on COVID.
“COVID conversations can be an icebreaker. Typically, health issues are off-limits,” she said. “People aren’t asking on a first date about an (STD) test or if someone’s been screened for cancer, but they are talking about whether to wear a mask or what their thoughts on vaccinations are. That’s sort of become the new normal.”
Hinge and many other dating apps will notify users of a match’s vaccination status.
Ury said in her research she came across many singles who expressed FODA – fear of dating again – after the pandemic shook up their sense of normalcy and rhythm of dating.
“Some people would say, ‘I haven’t been on a date in a year, and I can hardly hold a conversation with my best friend, how am I going to do this dating thing?'” she said. “But that experience of being rusty helps normalize the experience for a lot of people and then all the sudden you’re starting from a place of vulnerability and connection.”
Looking for a partner to do life with
Ury said two-thirds of surveyed Hinge users said they’ve changed the way they’ve dated, with a record 75% of its users expressing the desire to be in a relationship. Those numbers mirror fellow dating company Match. According to the online dating site’s 2021 Singles in America study, which surveyed 5,000 single people in the U.S. back in August, 53% of app daters are now “prioritizing their search for a relationship more than before the pandemic – with 58% moving toward “intentional dating.”
Michael Rosenfeld, a professor of sociology at Stanford University, said he’s seen more singles looking to settle down.
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“Pandemics have a way of pressuring people to be more monogamous, because having many partners carries health risks, and because at least some of the potential partners are going to be more cautious,” he wrote by email.
He added: “It is harder to play the field.”
Looking for marriage and kids
First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then comes, well, the whole shebang. Dating etiquette before the pandemic suggested that stating a desire for marriage and a family, especially early on, would scare the person away. But now transparency about the end goal is no longer taboo on the first date.
“We call it Hardballing,” Ury said, “when a person on a first date will say, ‘I’ve been dating for a while, and I’m looking for something serious. I want to eventually get married and have kids. What are you looking for?’ It’s not clingy but more so says confidently, ‘This is what I’m about.’ It helps people save time by being direct and up front about what they’re looking for.”
Ury, a former behavioral scientist at Google who wrote the book, “How to Not Die Alone,” said braver approaches by singles have been shown across the board to make for a new normal.
“There’s been a significant rise in intentionality,” she said. “Typically, we need a jolt to our system from a major life event to change our habits and patterns. The pandemic was that. People have been way more honest with themselves and doing internal work.”