As vaccination rates increase and COVID-19 case counts drop, many are looking forward to a return to normal life, including reuniting with family, traveling again and getting back to their favorite restaurants.
Many are also looking forward to getting back out on the dating scene, but a new term has popped up to describe the hesitation many feel: FODA, or the fear of dating again. The term was first coined by Logan Ury, director of relationship science for Hinge, who said that 51% of Hinge users were reporting feeling FODA.
"Dating is always anxiety-provoking, plus dating in the middle of a pandemic? It's not surprising that it's been a really trying time for people," Ury told TMRW.
What is 'FODA'?
Ury and representatives for other dating sites said that while many people are looking forward to a "hot vax summer" or a "shot girl summer," data collected by various teams shows that people are hesitant about restarting their dating lives. Many also appear to be looking for long-term connection instead of short flings.
A common theme was concerns about how to interact with others again after so much time spent in isolation or with just a few people.
"A lot of people were telling us that ... while there was a huge emphasis on wanting to find love and find a partner, there was also a lot of hesitation, and that hesitation came down to the fact that people feel like their dating skills are rusty, their social skills are rusty," Ury said. "And of course there's also fears around COVID precautions in general."
Michael Kaye, a senior public relations manager for OKCupid, said that many users on the site expressed some concern about starting to date again.
"Most of us have been home solo for so long ... There's definitely people who are nervous about getting back to dating," Kaye said. "What we're seeing amongst our users is that people are really nervous for that first date."
How can people combat this feeling?
Dr. Jessica Stern, a clinical psychologist at NYU Langone Health, said that a lot of the concerns people have about dating again aren't new: Things like getting to know someone romantically, finding a communication style that works for both parties and being vulnerable with a new person have always been stressful.
"Finding a way to feel comfortable again is anxiety-provoking," Stern said. "Some people have joked over this past year that we've forgotten how to socialize in general, and I think that's something that can feel even more scary in a dating scenario when you're trying to have fun and connect with someone on a deeper level."
Stern had a few tips to deal with FODA: Make sure that you and the person you're dating have established clear boundaries about what COVID-19 precautions you take, and communicate directly as much as possible.
"I think a lot of people think that (being direct) might make them seem less attractive or less fun or less cool or whatever it might be, but there can definitely be light and playful ways for you to frame some of these standards that you have," Stern said. "It doesn't have to be a serious talk in a way that feels rigid, but finding ways to be direct can be really helpful and is really good for relationship building ... even if it feels a little bit awkward in the beginning."
Ury said that it can also help to remember that lots of other people are likely dealing with FODA, and even candidly talking about your nerves can help break the ice.
"Let's say you show up to a date and you say, 'Hey, you know, I'm really excited to meet you, but I actually was feeling a little nervous, I haven't been on a date since the pandemic,' and the other person might say something like, 'Oh, me neither, and I was feeling nervous too,'" Ury said. "I don't recommend you spend the whole day talking about the pandemic, but it creates this feeling of connection, of authenticity, of vulnerability, that really allows the date to get off from a good start."
There's also no need to abandon tools like video chats, which have become more common than ever amid the pandemic. Clare O'Connor, head of editorial content for Bumble, said that almost half of Bumble's users reported that they preferred doing first dates virtually.
"Virtual dating is here to stay," O'Connor said. "... I think folks are now seeing it as a sort of pre-date before heading out on a real-life date. I think folks are now saying, 'Why don't I have this video date, rather than heading out to a bar or restaurant,' which can be overwhelming after a year of not doing it."
What other dating trends are happening now?
FODA isn't the only dating trend having a moment: All three dating app representatives interviewed for this piece said that they had seen some interesting trends from their users during the pandemic.
One thing that seems to be sticking around is more interest in long-term relationships: Kaye said that on OKCupid, 84% of daters said that they are looking for a "steady partner," with about a quarter of those respondents saying that they were looking for more commitment post-pandemic.
"People are two times more likely now to say that the pandemic has made them want to settle down sooner than later," Kaye said.
O'Connor said that "nearly 40%" of daters in the U.S. have seen a decline in ghosting, where a person abruptly stops communicating.
"Perhaps this past year has just been one of reflection where folks are looking at what they truly want in a partner, in a relationship, and giving them a sense of clarity ... not just deciding, 'Wow, I don't want to talk to this person anymore, goodbye,' and ghosting," O'Connor said.
Dates themselves are also changing: Kaye said that there's been a surge of interest in outdoor dates, with "most" users on OKCupid saying that their "ideal post-pandemic date is literally anything outdoors," including hiking, visiting a park or going on a walk.
Another important factor? Vaccines. Kaye said that on OKCupid, more than 70% of users have said that they're getting the coronavirus vaccine, and those planning to get it are having "5% more conversations, 14% more matches and 15% more likes" on their profiles. Some users, especially Gen Z or millennials, may even cancel dates with people who aren't interested in the vaccine.
"Getting the vaccine isn't only good for your health," Kaye said. "It's actually really positive for your dating life."