How the Pandemic Changed Dating

Image by Kevin Phillips from Pixabay

Todd Ward, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA

bSci21Media, LLC

Dating has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a recent article on CNN dives deep into the topic with case studies and input from experts in the dating industry.

Why dating is an important topic for behavioral science

Dating is socially significant. As behavioral scientists, we like to prioritize socially significant behavior – behavior that matters, is relevant, and important to our lives – and dating is unquestionably near the top.  If you are unsure about this, just take a second and consider how you feel when your relationships are going great, and how you feel when they are not so great – bad relationships can wreak havoc on your dating life, and great relationships can make your life lighter and brighter.  Also consider that the vast majority of our worlds, the things we interact with and talk about, are mostly related to other people.

An analysis of dating fulfills previous calls to action in behavioral science.  As behavioral scientists, we are called upon to extrapolate principles at will to the world around us, in order to make the world a better place.  Moreover, an analysis of dating helps answer decades-old calls for behavioral scientists to take a “complex to simple” approach to the development of our science – unpacking principles seen in complex naturalistic phenomena as needed to better understand and provide solutions to the world.  This is in contrast to developing basic research in the lab and extrapolating them to the world.

Case Studies

The first CNN case study came from Alec, and 29 year old who met Brooke, 28.  They met on the dating app Hinge, and arranged a hiking date.  After a few miles they “decided they felt comfortable enough to remove their face masks.”  Fast forward a month later and he said “we’re thinking of eloping in Vegas as soon as chapels open.”

The second case came from Jessica, 30, who met a musician, Matt, through mutual friends and messaging on Instagram.  They waited three months before meeting in person.  Before they met, they had a conversation about hugging, stressing that the concern was about safety rather than attraction.  She also noted that the lack of touching helped cultivate a deeper sense of intimacy.  At the end of their date, he came inside her house and they had a conversation about taking off their masks.  He soon joined her “quarantine pod” with her roomate and roommate’s boyfriend.

A Cautionary Takeaway for Dating

A takeaway here is one of caution.  The pandemic has deprived us of human contact.  This is a type of “motivating operation” that enhances the value of other people.  Dating in a pandemic means you are more likely to be one on one with your date, rather than hanging around groups in public.  In such a situation, attraction and “chemistry” could be artificially inflated.    This has lead Alec to consider marriage after a month, and Jessica to invite a new member to her “pod” after one date.  One could end in a toxic relationship or divorce, while the other could result in severe health issues and even death.

How has dating changed for you?  Let us know in the comments below and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to get the latest articles directly to your inbox!



Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA is a science writer, social philosopher, behavioral systems analyst, and the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which aims to connect behavioral science to the world in an engaging, non-academic way.  Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar.  He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues.  His publications follow a theme of behavioral systems analysis, organizational performance, theory & philosophy, and language & cognition.  He has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Ward can be reached at [email protected]

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