If there has ever been a weird time to date, this is it.
But even as millions of Americans stay at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, nothing is stopping them from dating online. Daniel Ahmadizadeh and Christopher Smeder designed Quarantine Together, a dating app for exactly this moment.
“People need to stay home and people will be lonely when they stay at home,” Ahmadizadeh said.
He bought the domain name on March 8 and the website and app launched on March 15.
“We wanted to build something that is not just great for others, but for our selfish purposes so we don’t get bored,” Ahmadizadeh said. “I watch basketball when I get home but that’s not on.”
But as the coronavirus crisis became increasingly serious, the app’s opportunity with virtual dating became clear.
The app is text-based. Every day at 6 p.m., the app asks its registered users whether they washed their hands. If they say yes, they are introduced to another user by text. After 15 minutes, the matched users will be offered a link to video chat.
As the number of coronavirus cases in San Francisco continue to increase, Nivi Jayasekar does not want to go out with strangers but she has not given up on connecting with potentially interesting people.
When she heard about Quarantine Together, she was excited to try it out.
“It was a hilarious idea. I liked it because I feel like it’s an opportunity to form a deeper connection with someone before meeting them,” she said.
This also seamlessly fit into her usual dating practice. Whenever she had matched with people on other dating apps, she would talk to them on the phone to screen them and make sure the person checked out.
But Ahmadizadeh claims these dating apps become “irrelevant” in the current crisis.
“In quarantine, it’s not repositioning what people do,” he said. “Quarantine Together is specific to how people are living in this time.”
The skepticism is valid, but Tinder said it is seeing a 10-15% increase in daily messages in the US as compared to the week before. Bumble said it is seeing a 21% increase in messages sent nationally and in their voice and video call usage.
Hand washing and dating
The reminder to wash hands is a big hook for Quarantine Together and Jayasekar likes it even if there is a chance that people might not be taking the reminder seriously.
“It reminds me to check in on myself and my surroundings. I don’t know if it necessarily matters (that the other person is doing it) because I don’t think if I would meet the stranger during this time,” she said. “Sometimes, some people don’t show up well during hard times. But some people do, so you know they will be with you during thick and thin.”
It’s hard to say whether the app could work beyond the pandemic. From a user proposition standpoint, it works right now, when virtual meetings are the most encouraged form of dating. But people are going to want to meet at some point. It’s already a looming question for some users.
“It’s a good way to meet people because you want to get to know the person but it’s hard to figure out what the leap-off point is,” Jayasekar says. “You’re probably going to want to meet but you don’t know when that will be.”
When Americans come out on the other side of the coronavirus crisis, whether features like video calls would still be relevant and appreciated in helping form a connection is yet to be determined.
Regardless, Quarantine Together saw about 200 sign-ups when it was launched. That has been growing by 50% every day, according to Ahmadizadeh. People who signed up for access to the app provided echoed their search for love and romance in the time of coronavirus.
“This time might be the best time in history to find love,” a user wrote, according to the app’s website.
That might be too much pressure on an app that is just weeks old.
“Honestly, I would have a good story tell even if we walked away as friends,” Jayasekar says.
When two users get introduced, they know nothing about each other except their names. Ahmadizadeh says it eliminates superficial biases.
“There are no rejections,” he said. “It’s less about your photo or your bio, it’s more about actually being able to talk to another person.”
The idea sounds too good to be true, but the pandemic is set to last long enough that it might build new user habits, he hopes.
“And right now is not the time to get rejected. Right now is the time to be empathetic.”