On Saturday, after three hours of flirting and playing games, Katia Ameri got “engaged” to Ronak “Ro” Trivedi—and the whole thing was live-streamed on Zoom.
“I thought that he was very sincere!” she told me on Tuesday. “And he just seemed like someone I would get along with in the real world.”
The pair were taking part in Zoom Bachelorette, a streamed quarantine phenomenon inspired by the cult American reality television show. In this version, 12 suitors vie for a singleton’s affection over the course of three hours. Viewers spend at least $15 via GoFundMe to watch on Twitch (proceeds are donated to Feeding America).
On Saturday, before a series of Zoom backgrounds, the suitors did everything from making homemade pizza to exercising their wit. Eventually Ameri made her choice (after her parents had given their opinion too), although she wasn’t really choosing someone to marry. When I spoke to her before the show, she told me her goal was just to have fun.
Whether or not Ameri and Trivedi’s connection actually lasts beyond the confines of the show, the way they met is an example of how dating culture is changing during the coronavirus crisis. While the pandemic has made traditional dating virtually impossible, March’s shelter-in-place orders have given us a sneak peek at what might be to come: more video chats, less location filtering, and even a matchmaker behind the scenes.
“The social dynamics of lockdown are not normal,” says Jean Yang, one of Zoom Bachelorette’s creators.
In San Francisco, soon after California announced its shelter-in-place order, a friend of MayC Huang’s asked if she was single and offered to connect her to Maria Shen, Zoom Bachelorette’s other creator. Shen had never met Yang but was running a matchmaking experiment in her free time from her work as a partner at a venture firm.
Not far away, Matthew Benjamin got a Facebook message from another friend of Shen’s. “You’re single, right?” it read. Benjamin was, and the friend told him that Shen was doing “this crazy thing” of setting people up on dates during the quarantine. “I’d just binge-watched Love Is Blind and thought it would be a funny story,” he says. “Plus, I was supposed to be traveling all this month, and what else am I going to do?”
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Shen has strict rules for her matches: only audio for the first three dates, through an app that encrypts phone numbers to avoid stalking and awkwardness should the match go awry. There are also rules about what you are allowed to talk about. “Résumé-like” material is banned: where you went to college, what you do for a living, the type of stuff a person might bring up on a first date otherwise. “Vetting” via friends is strictly outlawed.
Though San Francisco is “a small world in a lot of ways,” Huang says, “I don’t know how we would have met otherwise.”
“It was maybe in the back of my mind, the six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon thing,” Benjamin added. “But it felt random. Maria [Shen] doesn’t know who I am.”
Shen isn’t the only one delving into matchmaking. Before creating Zoom Bachelorette, Yang (founded a data privacy firm) was also connecting strangers via The Zoom Dating Experiment, a side project she launched after casually linking friends and friends of friends in her spare time.
“None of my background has to do with matchmaking at all,” Yang says. But when she set a single male friend up with a female friend for a Zoom date, they hit it off, and she tweeted about it. By the time the day was over, she had a string of tweets from people begging her to match them with other single people. “That was late on a Thursday night,” she remembers. “By Saturday, I had 50 people signed up, and 10 Zoom dates had already happened.”
Meanwhile, OkZoomer—founded by two Yale juniors as a joke featured on the Facebook group Ivy League Meme Consortium—has now gone from a simple Google form to a bigger operation serving students at any accredited college. Regional, unofficial adaptations of Love Is Blind, the hit Netflix reality show, have gotten big with the Brooklyn-based Love Is Quarantine and a DC version called DC Is Blind.
One benefit to Zoom matchmaking is that your match can be physically located anywhere. Boomers might have met their partners around their immediate town, and millennials might have encountered them on dating apps within the confines of a region, but Gen Z is starting to date without location barriers at all. A generation facing canceled school years, unlikely summer internship and travel plans, and fall semesters still up in the air needs all the breaks it can get.
At the moment, however, all these sites and experiments tend to cater to a specific type of person. Thus far, Zoom matchmaking tends to attract elite college students. Zoom Bachelorette was almost completely filled with white-collar tech entrepreneurs, all friends or friends-of-friends of Shen or Yang. Ameri runs a skin-care startup called Mirra. Trivedi, her “fiancé” for the day, runs an online jewelry marketplace.
But as shelter-in-place orders head into their third month, many more people might be tempted to gamble that Zoom matchmakers can hook them up with the right person online. For their part, Huang and Benjamin were due to go on their first date last night, a socially distanced walk in the park. “I think that truthfully, I got pretty lucky,” Benjamin says. “Me too,” Huang agrees.
As for Ameri, she is not sure when she will even meet Trivedi in person. But she’s confident it could work. “Finding a romantic connection is possible in this new form [Zoom],” she told me.
Her bio for Zoom Bachelorette is equally upbeat. “Although she never imagined meeting her future husband over Zoom while livestreaming to an audience, she’s ready to embrace these unprecedented times,” it reads.
She’s not the only one.
Editor's Note: This story previously stated that Jean Yang works at a data privacy firm. Yang is in fact the founder of a data privacy firm. The story has been updated.
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