“Love in the time of” references may be passe, but even with an ongoing pandemic, what if you’re single and just want to meet someone?

Time spent in self-isolation, working from home, and avoiding places like bars and clubs means the chances of hitting it off with a potential partner are pretty slim. As with working and socializing, going online offers a safer alternative for those wanting to start romantic relationships during the COVID-19 crisis and, maybe, for the foreseeable future. But the spread of the virus is not only changing the way people date — it’s changing what singles are looking for.

According to a recent survey conducted by popular dating app Pairs, 30 percent of respondents between ages 20 and 39 said that their desire to partner up has increased during the pandemic. Not only that, but the same survey also revealed that having a similar moral compass and sharing values is integral; 18 percent of respondents stated their “view on love has changed,” with some even saying they “don’t feel comfortable dating somebody who didn’t ‘stay home’ while the Japanese government has advised people to do so,” despite compliance being voluntary. Similarly, a survey conducted by Japan-based dating app Dine reported that one in four women now place importance on a potential partner’s morality.

“The second wave (of COVID-19) is now expected,” says Dr. Norifumi Kennoki, sexual health expert and director of Ginza Hikari Clinic. “It’s not good to have a date in a closed room, have close contact or be in a crowd.”

Even though self-restraint is the official stance of many medical professionals and impacting what people look for in their hookups, it’s questionable whether or not the threat of a virus would really stop people from having sex.

“Although self-restraint is the most important thing, it is impossible to talk about human beings as having no sex,” says Kennoki.

The safest compromise is sex with a specific partner, he explains, and avoiding casual hookups. He also highlights that romantic meetings at hotels are not a good idea, noting the possibility of the virus being present in the room. Kennoki likened the spread of COVID-19 to the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

“(Hikari Clinic’s) typical patients are very often those who have just started dating,” he says. “On the other hand, couples who have been together for many years don’t usually contract STIs. With this in mind, at present, it’s important to avoid new encounters as much as possible.”

According to Pairs’ parent company, Match Group, people in Japan who met their partner through online dating apps doubled from 1 in 40 in 2016 to 1 in 20 in 2020, second only to those who met partners through mutual friends. It might be unsurprising, then, that at a time when meeting through friends isn’t particularly safe Pairs has seen a significant uptick in the number of messages exchanged between members.

Taking on the challenge of the coronavirus, that app has recently released a new Video Date feature, allowing romance-seeking singles to woo love interests via screen, rather than face to face. Without the potential pressure and nerves in meeting in real life (and minus the threat of infection), video dating has allowed couples to get to know each other from the comfort of their own home.

“Within five days of the service launch, some members who had met each other on Video Date became couples,” says Pairs representative Mayumi Fujitani; some 70 percent of users were happy using the app’s new remote dating feature.

Tokyo-based relationship coach Brie Schmidt believes now may be a good time to take things slowly. “This is a unique opportunity to check in with yourself regularly to see how you’re feeling, what thoughts you might have on a potential partner and, ultimately, if you think they would be a good match for you,” she says. “There’s more time and space to get to know each other, without expectations for physical intimacy right away. Stay patient and enjoy this slower process.”

For those wanting to meet in person with those they have connected with online, however, Kennoki has some warnings.

“I think that in normal times, dating apps including Tinder were commonplace. However, meeting people through dating apps during this period is one of the most dangerous actions you could do,” he says. “It is highly likely that dating apps will become a hotbed of corona clusters in this way.”

On the other hand, Harvard University researchers bring to light the emotional difficulties of maintaining a life of abstinence during these times. Published in May, the study suggests that those looking for physical intimacy should avoid kissing, wear a mask, and shower both before and after sex.

Schmidt agrees on mask-wearing: “Awkward as it may sound, yes, this does extend to physical intimacy and hookups.

“Intimacy doesn’t always have to be physical,” she adds, “so allow for things like talking about fantasies and what you want to do together after (the pandemic) is over.”

Human connection and relationships are an important part of our daily lives, happiness and mental health. Kennoki advises connecting with romantic interests remotely, while Fujitani recommends those on the dating scene to join online communities, chat with people who share similar interests and express themselves through hobbies.

“The coronavirus may have given us a good opportunity to re-examine our relationships with the people we have met so far, rather than simply running into new encounters,” says Kennoki.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly cited statistics from Match Group.

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