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The Secret to Success at Video Chat Dating

Dear Dr. Chani.

I would never have dreamed of living through something like the coronavirus. It has been hard all around, but the setback to my dating is particularly poignant. I was just beginning to get hopeful about starting to date. When I returned to America after two years in Israel, I was not rushing to get married. I was busy putting my efforts into going through college and the great part-time job I had. But I turned 21 this winter and I decided it was time to focus on getting married. Unfortunately, the current situation has stopped me in my tracks. I cannot go out because of social distancing. How am I supposed to date for the near future?

Here is one interesting solution that came up (courtesy of my mom). My suburban community formed a google group where people volunteer to have dating couples meet in their private backyard. I appreciate their effort, but I really do not see that as working for me. Number one, it feels really awkward. Number two, how do I know he does not have COVID-19? I really do have to keep my distance. Also, outside is not so easy. Since there is nowhere to retreat inside, I am subjected to the whims of the elements. I have a feeling it will be hard to make conversation with my hair blowing in my face and my teeth chattering, or the sun in my eyes and baking us.

Some of my friends suggested that I use Zoom to date. But I cannot imagine how that makes any sense. How can I really get to know a person on Zoom? Furthermore, what is the point of starting to date over Zoom if there is no short-term plan to allow me to meet a guy in person? I am afraid that I will end up being in a dragged out relationship without knowing what will happen in the long run. 

Am I doomed to delay until social distancing is behind us?



Dear Chaya,

This sounds like a really frustrating situation to be in. You feel out of control. You want to move ahead in life and the need for social distancing seems to be holding you back. You were planning on dating and now your dating went the way of many community minyanim – on hold! 

It might be interesting to think about how dating online has been something that people have been doing for quite a while. Way before we even knew what a coronavirus was, people that were in different locations dated for a significant time on video. There are some couples I have been involved with that dated most of their time online. By the time they actually met in person, they were very advanced in their relationship – almost engaged! 

Dating on video has challenges, and it also has advantages. If you approach it with a positive mindset, you can find that video dating can help you date very productively. 

One thing to keep in mind is that initial online dates can be much shorter than in-person meetings. I do not only mean the time you save without traveling. The actual date can take much less time. Without the external distractions, an online date can be more focused. Since a video date can feel somewhat more intense than a typical in-person date, it is less common to have a multi-hour date online.

It is important to recognize the difference between the length of the average online date and an in-person date so that you will have an appropriate expectation. Sometimes people rate the success of their date by how long it was. Zoom dates are understandably shorter, and that should not color your perspective on how the date went.

You might be concerned about Zoom dating because you feel that a video date is too focused on you.  Meeting someone you never met before without having accompanying natural scenery, activities, food or drinks to enhance your experience can seem overwhelming at first. The focus on looking at each other and simply talking may feel uncomfortable. That makes sense. 

Here are two ways to make it easier to meet someone new on a video date:

Firstly, bring genuine curiosity about the other person along with you to your date. Imagine that you are a journalist trying to discover interesting and meaningful aspects of the person you are meeting. Approach your time together as an opportunity to get to know things about this person, even though you are not sure where your relationship will go. Explore areas that can lead to deeper conversation including daily activities, pastimes, interests, and educational experiences. The more you aim to find out about him because you are genuinely curious, the more enjoyable your date will be.

Secondly, you can take this to the next level by learning from Dan Ariely’s discovery about how to create a successful “social speed meeting.” Dr. Ariely is an expert on economics and human behavior. He once consulted to staff members of an assisted living facility for seniors who had creatively arranged speed meeting events for new members of the community to meet others. The organizers complained to him that these events went sour. In their initial attempt to get seniors to form new friendships by meeting one on one, there was very little interaction and energy in the room. 

Dan advised the staff to ask that each participant bring a small memento that they valued with them to the event. Some people brought a photo depicting someone or something meaningful to them. Others brought a photo or a small souvenir from a place they had traveled. The goal was to explain something about that object to the person across from them. This time, the speed meeting event was a runaway success. Participants were so engaged in a meaningful conversation that they were reluctant to move on to meet the next person. 

It seems that people enjoy connecting with others. Yet, when they are brought together with no context, it can be hard for them to think about what to say to each other. When their conversation centers on something meaningful to them, they naturally open up and talk freely.

You can use Dan Ariely’s strategy in your own dating, both in person and online. If you bring a specific thing to share that is interesting and meaningful to you and you discuss it, you will likely find that your conversation flows and you enjoy the date more than usual.

I hope that you allow yourself to try out video dating during this time and that you make the most of this unique dating experience.

Wishing you much success,