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Scared Stiff: How Covid Killed Romance

Dating is booming again thanks to vaccine apps.

DELHI, India — Sheenam Sharma, a 24-year-old from the hill state of Himachal Pradesh in northern India, hasn’t had a decent date since the pandemic started.

The freelance digital marketer who lives in the state’s capital, Shimla, rues that while she has been striking up exciting conversations on dating apps, she has made no actual connections because she hasn’t been able to meet anyone in real life, barring a few.

“I’m too scared to meet someone in person,” she told Zenger News.

“So, even if I vibe well with a person online, I am not sure if I want to sit across a dinner table — forget anything more intimate — and risk catching Covid. Frankly, the pandemic has taken all the fun out of dating.”

Sharma, however, finally sees a glimmer of hope in her rather drab dating life. The dating app that she uses — Bumble — has introduced a feature that tells her if a potential date is vaccinated.

“It’s not foolproof, but now I can now allow myself to meet a guy in person without being as paranoid and anxious about it,” said Sharma, who is fully vaccinated.

Tinder launched its vaccine advocacy initiative in India in June. (Cottonbro/Pexels)

Bumble is one of few dating apps that have launched a feature that allows users to declare their vaccination status to prospective partners. This rush has been spurred by independent surveys commissioned by some of these apps that show most of their users want to engage only with vaccinated profiles.

According to a nationwide survey commissioned by Bumble and conducted by YouGov in June 2021, 38 percent of daters surveyed would not go on a date or have sex with someone who hasn’t received the Covid-19 vaccine, while 35 percent are more safety conscious now after India’s monstrous second wave than last year. Bumble shared the summary of the survey with Zenger News.

“The pandemic has brought about meaningful changes in our dating choices and behaviors as single Indians navigate this new world of dating,” Samarpita Samaddar, Communications Director, Bumble India, said in a press release.

“As our recent research illustrates, single people in India are more intentional with their dating decisions than ever before and are prioritizing safety and compatibility as vaccinations increase in India.”

Tinder, which launched its vaccine advocacy initiative in India in June, aims to get more of its Gen Z members to get the jab, especially since the company found that vaccination was a popular topic of conversation and a commonplace mention on Tinder members’ profiles.

People receive Covid-19 vaccines in New Delhi, India. (Rebecca Conway/Getty Images)

In fact, the company’s Future of Dating Report (a survey of 2,000 Indian singles in 2020) shows that mentions of “vaccine” in bios went up by 42x in India in May 2021 — an all-time high.

According to Government of India data as of Aug. 31, 64,47,99,225 Indians had been vaccinated, of which 49,70,02,083 have taken Dose 1 and 14,77,97,142 have taken Dose 2.

The new Tinder vaccination initiative includes educational guides that answer frequently asked questions, bust myths, and share vaccination resources. The apps now allow users to add stickers like “Vaccinated”, “Vaxing Soon”, “Immunity Together”, and “Vaccines Save Lives” on their profiles.

“The loss, longing, and loneliness exacerbated by the pandemic has accelerated a new normal in people’s dating intent,” Papri Dev, Senior Director, APAC Communications, Tinder, told Zenger News.

“They are actively seeking human connections while looking for more creative and meaningful ways to interact on the platform.”

The loneliness exacerbated by the pandemic has accelerated a new normal in people’s dating intent. (Mikhail Nilov/Pexels)

“Boundaries have become transparent with members choosing to set expectations via their bios, front and clear — the phrase ‘wear a mask’ went up 100x over the course of the pandemic, ‘boundaries’ is being used more than ever [up 19 percent]. The term ‘consent’ rose by 11 percent.”

Tinder’s survey also found that 71 percent of those surveyed were open about their hygiene preference before meeting a date. In comparison, 66 percent agreed that knowing their date’s mask-wearing habits before they meet is important.

Nazia Khan, a software professional and QuackQuack (an Indian dating application) user from Gurugram near capital Delhi met a few people through the app but only after being sure about their Covid history and vaccination status.

It helps that QuackQuack, too, has a vaccination feature now.

“The multiple deaths during the second wave of coronavirus in India, of young people in their 20s and 30s, was scary,” Khan told Zenger News.

“So, there is no question of meeting someone who has not had the jab.”

According to CoWIN data, 31,20,27,431 Indians in the 18-44 age group have taken their Covid vaccine. (CoWIN)

Khan is not a fan of virtual dating and prefers to meet the men she finds appealing in person to find out if she is compatible with them.

“But these days, the fear of contracting Covid looms over everything else. I consciously select only those people who are vaccinated. The good thing is that the severity of the second wave has led many young people to get vaccinated.”

QuackQuack’s survey of 20,000 users between 18-35 from June 3-June 14 showed that 84 percent wanted transparency on the vaccination status of their dates. About 80 percent said they’d reject an unvaccinated profile. Of these, 50 percent were women; 30 percent of the men said they’d give a “second chance” to unvaccinated profiles they liked.

According to CoWIN data, 31,20,27,431 Indians in the 18-44 age group have taken their Covid vaccine.

Ravi Mittal, founder and chief executive of QuackQuack, told Zenger News that his survey showed that users over 30 would rather meet a date in person rather than virtually.

“Younger users between 18-20 are comfortable with virtual dating,” Mittal said. “However, virtual dating is going to remain popular across all age groups till more people are vaccinated.”

(Edited by Amrita Das and Ojaswin Kathuria)