Make sure you always have a get out of jail free card, and 7 other expert tips for digital dating through a pandemic
Eight expert LGBT+ dating tips from founder of queer app HER, Robyn Exton.
While the global coronavirus pandemic has disrupted our day-to-day lives in a multitude of ways, dating is one area that has become almost unrecognisable.
Restrictions have left daters around the world unable to go for drinks, dinner or even enjoy a first kiss, and LGBT+ communities have had to adapt to connecting in different ways.
But dating during a pandemic is possible, says Robyn Exton, founder of queer dating app HER, and it can even help us form more meaningful connections.
Exton, who is bisexual, came up with the idea for HER in 2013 because she “just wanted to find a girlfriend”. Seven years on, the app has 6.5 million users in 113 countries.
The app has become more widely inclusive over the years, having originally been launched only for women and non-binary people. Since 2018, she said: “We’ve designed ourselves and thought of ourselves as a queer first platform.
“The only gender identity that we don’t cater to is cis men. Purely on the knowledge that cis men have been super well-catered for on other platforms. They are not underserved.”
Although many of us already used dating apps pre-coronavirus, those who didn’t have been rapidly discovering them – HER has seen an increase in users, message frequency and message length – especially in areas that are under lockdown.
Exton has revealed exclusively to PinkNews her top LGBT+ dating tips for dating during a pandemic, and shared some positive changes might be here to stay long after COVID.
1. Your profile picture is the most important thing.
“Number one: your profile picture. It’s the most important thing. I think people feel nervous about it and just want to get a profile up. But if you focus on that picture, that is going to help you like 90 per cent of the way.
“So many decisions are made from that one profile picture of you. You get your hair cut, like take a selfie. Get someone to take a really nice photo of you. That one picture is so critical.”
2. Message on the first day you match.
“You’ve got to message. So often people get a match, and they don’t send a message because they’re waiting for the other person to message. And then they’re like: ‘It’s been two days, like, I haven’t messaged now, maybe it’s just me.’
“Send a message on the first day that you match. It makes such a difference.”
3. Give video dates a go.
“I’m such a fan of video dates, I think they’re so good. And I’m just really glad that the pandemic has kind of forced people to open up the idea of doing that.
“I think a lot of the time, you can’t always tell if there’s instant chemistry. Sometimes you can and that’s amazing, but it kind of like constitute that format. But I think a lot of the time you can tell if there’s nothing there. And I think the idea of like getting on is having up with someone in person.
4. Try to relax.
“Often people will start the date like they’re about to have a business meeting, it’s very set up.
“This is not like a formal interaction, it should be more casual in its nature. So you can be like moving around a bit more. You know, picking up the phone as you’re walking through your house.
“The more you do it, the easier it gets. Like, sometimes you’re going to talk over each other, and once it’s happened a few times with different people, you’re just like, that’s just what happens.”
5. Have some go-to questions.
“It might look a bit engineered, but I do think that people should have some go-to questions. If you’re doing that, you can actually think about the questions that you want to ask, you can think about what are the things that you really want to know.
“What stuff that like makes you really drawn to someone? What are things that have made you really attracted to people in the past? Are there elements of that in new people that you’re dating and what’s going to make you feel more attracted them?”
6. Have a concrete end time.
“I strongly recommend having an end time in place. So, let’s say the date starts at 7pm, say at the beginning: ‘Just let you know, I’ve got something at eight.’ Just so you’ve always got that get-out. Even if you’ve got literally nothing to do.”
7. If you decide to go on an in-person date, communication is key.
“We are seeing that a lot of people are doing socially distant dating during the pandemic, park dates and outdoor bar dates.
“It’s incredibly important to be able to have conversations about intimacy [while socially distancing], even to the extent of kissing. It’s basically like having an STI conversation on day one.
“It’s way better to have that conversation upfront, or even before the date, ideally. Just because once you’re on a date, you get excited, and then you don’t follow through with the date that you intended.”
8. Use the time to reflect on what you’re looking for.
“I think a really big upside is that [the pandemic] has led to a bit of introspection on what people are looking for in dating.
“A lot of the time, people are just on this cycle of matching and messaging and meeting, and not really thinking about who the people are that you genuinely have better conversations with, and who you want spend time with and who make you happier. And then like your hot and im into this. So it kind of gives a bit more room for that.”
While dating has changed a lot during the pandemic, Exton hopes that once it is over we will hold onto some of the new ways we’ve made connections.
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Because of coronavirus, HER has been running online speed dating and talks for the LGBT+ community, in place of in-person events. But having seen how they’ve allowed so many queer people to make connections, Exton said she plans to continue them after the pandemic.
She said: “We had a pleasure coach from Shush [giving a talk] about orgasmic potential, all the different ways to reach your orgasms.
“A hundred people came. We did it on Zoom so everyone had their video on and everyone started DM-ing each other and flirting. We’ve had some amazing stories of people meeting up.
“We had this incredible story of a trans guy who used his new name for the first time at a HER movie event, and then connected with someone.
“We did a whole content series around anal sex in August, and they went to one of those events on their first date with someone that he met on the movie night. Three weeks later they met up in person and now are in a relationship.
“That’s a very different way to be, but it’s awesome. So I think people are just a bit more creative with the ways that they’re like using other digital community spaces to meet other people.”