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15 June 2021updated 06 Sep 2021 12:51pm

Are we really experiencing a summer of love?

In June, dating app activity surged. But this doesn't necessarily mean a summer of casual dating.

By Eleanor Peake and Katharine Swindells

Sarah* has been on a date every week since 10 March 2021. On a particularly busy week she has two or more: “I’d say I schedule more than that but people cancel on one another fairly often.”

At 23, Sarah feels like the pandemic stole her reckless romantic years. “I feel like I lost a bit of youth in that year and need to make it up a little.” Now she has a new dating app policy: she says yes to anyone who asks her.

Sarah is not alone. For single people across the country, the (now postponed) promise of socialising freely after 21 June has caused dating app activity to boom. In February daily swiping activity on Tinder was up by 15 per cent, while daily average messages were up 19 per cent, compared to the baseline period before Covid.

Tinder users are swiping more, and talking more
Increase in types of Tinder activity, February 2021 compared to February 2020

It’s not only the unlocking that has caused a dating app boom. Since the lockdown measures began last year, Tinder has seen a record-breaking amount of activity. On 29 March 2020, the number of swipes broke three billion in a single day for the first time. Throughout the pandemic, it would continue to break that single day record again, 130 more times. 

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On which days did we look for love?
The days which saw the highest Tinder swipe activity since March 2020

“During lockdown there was such a sense of possibility,” says Adam, 25. “I was looking forward to summer because there was a lot of lost time and also I’ve been hoping that everyone else would also be excited and up for stuff.”  Since easing himself back into the dating world, Adam has been on eight dates. “The best date was going to a couple of brewery taprooms and getting pissed in the sun, seeing the best of Bristol,” he says. “The worst date was the one where I just ended up walking around town having a mild panic attack because it seemed too much.” For single people across the country, the pressure to enjoy a vibrant love life is all-consuming. “It’s not been as fun as I expected,” says Sarah.

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Adam and Sarah are among the thousands of young people the government is hoping to target via dating apps in a bid to increase vaccine uptake. From 7 June, the major apps have included a vaccine sticker for users to signify whether they have got the jab or not. There would be, however, no way of verifying if the user has actually had the vaccination. 

[See also: How dating apps are reshaping our desires for the worse]

It’s not clear how much of a driver this is compared to other factors, but it certainly hasn’t hurt: on 8 June, over a million people in their twenties broke the record for the number of Covid-19 jab bookings in one day. Tinder has also noticed an upsurge in vaccine discussion, with nearly a third of its swipers saying they have to have the jab before they feel comfortable dating again, while mentions of “vaccine” on the app are now common in people’s profiles.

But does a vaccinated population of singletons actually equate to a summer of casual dating? “Honestly, because of the pandemic I have decided I am looking for a partner. Before I used to date people that I didn’t want as my boyfriend quite a lot. I have basically stopped doing that,” says Aine*, a long-time dating app user from Manchester. This summer Aine, 25, is hoping to be more selective with her dates. “I have actually written a list of what I want in a partner, so I am now trying to be more strategic about what I want from the whole process.” 

The desire to take dating more seriously is something that currently unites a majority of Hinge users, with 53 per cent of UK users saying they are now ready for a long-term relationship. Like so many single people, Aine feels like the pandemic has damaged her romantic prospects. “Being away from dating for so long made me think I have wasted so much time. A year and a half has basically disappeared and I have got no further in my quest for love, as embarrassing as that sounds. I basically feel like I need to stop pissing about.”

Aine is part of a wider trend: according to Hinge, 39 per cent of UK users say they are pickier than before the pandemic, with 90 per cent saying they don’t want to waste any more time on the wrong people.

Hinge users are looking for something serious
Percentage of Hinge UK respondents, when asked about how the pandemic has changed their dating habits and relationship goals

The serious intentions of Hinge users are in stark contrast to the summer of flings Tinder swipers have in mind. Tinder’s demographic is typically younger: half of its users are aged between 18-24. Instead of longer conversations, users are keen to stress their spontaneity, with the phrase “see where things go” increasingly featuring in profiles (up by 19 per cent), while the number of daters looking for “no particular type of relationship” rose by nearly 50 per cent. 

At 23, Sarah fits into this younger demographic. But she’s not entirely convinced. Just a few months out of the strictest lockdown restrictions, she is already tired of her busy romantic schedule. “It can be repetitive having the same conversations over and over when they don’t usually go anywhere,” she reflect. “The isolation of lockdown made me feel like I wanted to be more spontaneous and open… I think a lot of people, myself included, think they want to be fun and casual but it’s not all that fun sometimes.”

[See also: How Covid-19 changed the rules of relationships]

Post-lockdown daters may have varying intentions, but what unites them is an increasing dislike of ghosting. While 17 per cent more dates were set up on Hinge compared to last year, 27 per cent of users say they’re ghosting (cutting off contact with potential partners without explanation) less. “I think people are much more respectful of the feelings that come with ghosting now because to a certain extent, we’ve all kind of faced it in one way or another during the pandemic,” says Holly Roberts, a counselor at the relationship advice service Relate. 

“I think maybe people have much more of an awareness of what it actually feels like to be disconnected thanks to the year we have had, so they don’t want to do that to somebody else,” she says. “People may wish to be a bit more respectful moving forward.”

For single people across the country, this summer signifies a fresh start. But it isn’t just 20-somethings that will be reentering the pool: the pandemic also took its toll on established couples. As restrictions eased, Robert, 31, came out of a 12-year relationship, which ended because of the stress of lockdown. “I’m certainly taking dating apps more seriously,” he says. So far he has been on one date but is optimistic for the coming months. “The apps weren’t really a thing when I was at university. It’s a strange feeling.” 

Despite a tiring schedule, Sarah plans to keep up her weekly dates. “Overall it’s been an interesting experience. I guess it’s just great to get out there again.” As vaccine uptake continues to rise and the long summer months draw out, for many the search for love is just getting started: “I’m equally excited and nervous,” Sarah says. 

* Some names have been changed

[See also: One year on, what happened to the lockdown lovers?]