Dinner date? No, thanks; How are singles finding love in a pandemic?

A relationship manager from dating agency GaiGai advising a client over a video call. PHOTO: GAIGAI

SINGAPORE -In a time of safe distancing and staying home as much as possible to prevent transmission of the coronavirus, singles are either delaying their journey of looking for love or changing the way they go about it.

"I met someone on a dating app who told me he was still going out and meeting people and, honestly, that was such a turn-off," says Ms Sam Gan, a copywriter who signed up for a 12-month matchmaking package with dating agency GaiGai and is also on the dating app Coffee Meets Bagel.

The 24-year-old signed up with GaiGai in February, entitling her to meet up with at least one member a month.

She has already postponed two dates indefinitely since the middle of last month, though she went on one date early last month.

She says: "I have elderly grandparents at home and they are more vulnerable, so I have to be extra careful. I'm even keeping meeting friends to a minimum and at least with friends, you know how they are like, what their jobs are, their general social circle.

"But it's harder with new people to know whom they have interacted with."

Ms Gan is, however, open to virtual dates over video calls - which several dating agencies and dating apps The Sunday Times spoke to are encouraging.

Mr Alex Tam is chief executive and co-founder of GaiGai by Paktor Group, which also runs an online dating application called Paktor.

He says all of its mass matchmaking events are on hold or have been cancelled since the Government banned social gatherings of more than 10 people.

Earlier in February, a Valentine's Day weekend cruise which was supposed to involve more than 100 participants was postponed to October.


He adds that though GaiGai still sees "demand for face-to-face physical dates", members are offered the option of online dates.

All video profiling for members as well as coaching for dating advice have moved online as well, and the dating application Paktor has seen an increase in use, perhaps because more people are now online without the lure of physical social gatherings.

"The app saw a 28 per cent spike in installation rates compared to the same period last year and its engagement increased by 17 per cent, with users logging into the app more frequently throughout the day," says Mr Tam.

Ms Kang Da-woon, the co-founder of Coffee Meets Bagel, a popular dating app here which is based in San Francisco, says Singapore remains one of its strongest and most engaged markets.

"There was a temporary dip in sign-ups early last month in Singapore, but the numbers have returned to normal," says Ms Kang.

The app has modified its features in light of the coronavirus situation. It originally had a seven-day chat expiration feature to encourage users to get off the app and meet their matches in real life, but the function has been eliminated.


According to a survey of 240 users in Singapore conducted on Coffee Meets Bagel, 61 per cent said they have hit the pause button on in-person dates.

The app is also sharing virtual date ideas on its social-media platforms and on the app as well - encouraging more people to link up over video calls.

Ms Kang says she is not worried about her business.

"I think the need to connect with people is greater than ever and the changes coming our way could even be positive and encourage users to take a slow dating approach.

"Since they are staying home, they could take the time to get to know someone better and establish a genuine connection instead of the old dating app pattern of swiping, ghosting and spending just two seconds on one profile," she adds.

While dating apps say user engagement has been sustained throughout the pandemic, some users are dropping off.


Ms Nivani Elangovan is a university student who used to swipe through profiles and chat with matches on dating app Tinder almost every day.

But with changes to modules and teaching as universities cope with managing the virus, her priorities have shifted.

The 21-year-old says: "Now I'm so busy with settling school that I maybe open up the app only three or four times a week and spend less than five minutes on it every time."

She adds: "With the guys I'm still speaking to, there's an unspoken agreement that nothing is going to happen for a while."

She has "lost" several matches on the app as the outbreak worsened, as exchange students in Singapore's various tertiary institutions stopped replying.

Referring to Tinder's location function, she says: "They went from 5km away to 5,000km away, so they probably flew back home."

Some singles, however, are carrying on with dating.

Mr Simon Yee, 27, is a member of GaiGai's matchmaking services. He has gone on two in-person dates in February and last month.

Though he is open to virtual dates, he prefers to meet in real life. "But now I tend to choose more well-ventilated, perhaps open-air, venues," he says.

The public-relations executive is, however, more cautious about any form of physical contact - be it hugs or hand-holding.

Mr Yee says: "Physical contact is very minimal on first dates anyway - it's really a chat to know the other party better. But now with the coronavirus, I really won't initiate any form of physical contact."

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