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Pandemic dating is reminiscent of the ’80s

Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series.

Through the smoke-filled, dimly lit fraternity house basement, I saw my future wife.

She was standing with friends while Snoop Doggy Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” thumped in the background. Red Solo cup in hand, I shuffled my way across the damp floor to say hi.

We could barely hear, let alone see each other. She smiled. We talked and laughed. I was expectedly awkward (she’s way out of my league), but she agreed to go out on a date with me anyway.

Well, sort of.

I’m not sure anyone actually dated in college in the 1980s and ’90s, at least not in the traditional sense. What our society defines as dating ritual often includes asking someone to dinner, setting a pickup time and looking our best in hopes that chemistry and luck lead to a second date.

But college dating was a different experience. We’d pick a movie at Blockbuster, order a pizza and hang out in the living room of someone’s apartment — often with roommates lurking about.

I know. Real romantic. It didn’t feel like dating — it felt like hanging out with a friend.

First dates seemed hard back then, or at least I thought so until my friends started sharing stories about pandemic dating. It was obvious that my college dating experiences paled in comparison to meeting people from home via an app and webcam.

To be honest, I have no need to date right now. I’m happily married to that fraternity party girl from 25 years ago.

But all the single people out there have other things to worry about, right?

I thought this until Serena Coady’s Vox article hit my “must read” feed. Coady both laments and relishes the world of pandemic dating. She sees the good and bad, and (spoiler alert), she found more reasons to be hopeful for post-pandemic dating.

This is because, on its face, online-only dating sounds awful — even for the dating app diehards. What Coady and others show us is that there’s real hope for people who want to make meaningful, lasting connections.

You might be familiar with tried-and-true dating platforms like Match and eHarmony, or more interest-specific sites like Farmers Only or Christian Singles. Apps like Tinder and OKCupid are now part of our everyday pop culture lexicon.

But in a pandemic environment, where most are trying to abide by social distancing protocols, relationship seekers are looking beyond the traditional.

It’s far from a simple waltz across the frat house basement floor. Dating is now more nuanced and it takes more than one app to filter out serious relationship seekers from those who are just, well, trying to have a good time.

The largest challenge, of course, is hoping to make online-only relationships last beyond the shelter-in-place orders.

In the world of Tinder, users swipe left or right in hope of landing a match that would lead to an in-person meeting. That’s not happening now, so relationship seekers are trying to be inventive, applying strategies we used pre-internet to make a match.

According to my friends, people are listening more, looking deeper for overlaps in values and interests, and learning to flirt like we did back in college — which was often clumsy.

I’ll introduce you to those friends next week. Their social-distance-dating stories, struggles and strategies they’ve experienced might surprise you.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn .com.

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