As 2020 turns into 2021, not much has changed. We’re still washing our hands, staying inside, and online dating remains the only way to meet someone (unless you’re able to make a connection with a cutie across the grocery store aisle and you are really good at flirting with only your eyes). Since we’re not about to meet someone at a crowded bar anytime soon, our dating app Ship is rolling out a bunch of new features to make online dating with your friends’ help and input even better.
With most dating apps, the only way to unlock certain features like sending unlimited likes per day or finding out who likes you in advance is to pay for a premium membership. Ship knows nobody wants to pay for that sh*t, so they launched Ship Rewards. It’s a virtual in-app currency called Ship Sparks, which you can earn by doing things like inviting friends or swiping. You can then redeem Ship Sparks for those perks like unlimited ships and swipes—without having to put in a credit card. It’s a win-win: you get the added bonus features, all for doing the stuff you’d normally be doing on Ship anyway.
Gone are the days when your friend would wingwoman you with the cutie on the other side of the bar. But never fear, because Ship’s new Hype Line feature is basically that, but virtual. Now, when you’re swiping for your friend, use Hype Line to leave your friend’s prospective match a note. Maybe something like “your dogs would make such a cute couple” or “ask her to explain why Parks and Rec is better than The Office”.
Being able to see who else liked you is typically a luxury that other apps make you pay for—but not Ship, because they’re offering it for free. Soon, you’ll be able to see which eligible singles have already liked what you’re putting out there, just unlock the feature by picking up some Ship Sparks, and you’ll be on your way to quicker matches.
Just because it’s still a pandemic doesn’t mean all hope is lost for your dating life. With these new features from Ship, you’ll find your quarantine bae in no time.
“You ready?” I asked, adjusting my cleavage in my old costume corset before turning toward my husband. He peered at me through the black, lace mask (recently purchased as a two-pack from Amazon), the mixture of excitement and uncertainty I felt mirrored on his own face. We were about to attend our first virtual orgy, something I never even knew existed until coronavirus stripped us of our means of sexual expression. As an exhibitionist, a global pandemic made getting it on in ways that excited me quite literally impossible.
Maybe it was growing up doing competitive dancing, maybe it’s just something more deep-rooted and fundamental about my personality, the point is: An audience is what turns me on, and with zero human contact other than each other, I was getting desperate for some means, any means, of sexual stimulation. Which is why a few Saturdays ago, you could find me and my husband getting ready in our cramped single bathroom for our first “date” in months, him shaving his stubble and me poking myself with eyeliner. We were going to a virtual sex club, a first for us and many others, as a result of the pandemic making in-person clubs impossible.
So, after learning about NSFW’s virtual sex parties from a Google search along the lines of “I’m so f*cking bored at home and my vagina is developing cobwebs,” I immediately requested to join the member’s only club I found. The process of joining basically consisted of answering a few questions to prove I was a real, non-creepy person. Though there are other companies that have similar events, I opted for the one with the most press and reviews (and yes, solid social media presence). While it says it can take weeks to get approval, I was accepted within a few days (hair flip). Also, in case you’re thinking of taking the ~sexual plunge,~ you can get a Traveler’s Pass which gets you into one party to test things out. Anyway, when the weekend finally arrived for my first party, the old jolt of pre-event adrenaline was pulsing through my veins. My hair was curled, my makeup was perfect, and my tits looked phenomenal—I was ready for a show.
As soon as we “entered,” 12 different squares greeted us, some screens hidden like ours and others showing singles and couples in various stages of disguise and undress. The host, Lorrae, was in a black teddy negligee, her blonde hair down and her face unhidden. Her brand is sex-positive, and with close to 270k followers on her main Instagram account, showing her face is elementary.
Lying on our stomachs side-by-side on the bed like two kids at a sleepover, my husband and I casually clicked on each square, checking out who else was in the party. Single girls with perfect contours and sultry lighting, couples in dark rooms wearing elaborate masks, and everyday people in everyday people clothes yelling at their dogs to stop barking—all of us conspirators in sexy crime.
Lorrae greeted each person as they entered and asked hidden guests to reveal themselves—it was a safe space, after all. (How safe, I’m still unsure. Anyone could have easily recorded the event from their phone or computer.) With a glance at my husband who smiled and shrugged, I unmuted our mic, turned on our camera, and officially entered our first virtual sex party.
“Hi, Hungry,” Lorrae said as soon as our mask-clad faces appeared on the screen. We had selected my husband’s gamertag as our nickname because we were drunk and nervous and as he pointed out, people would think we were hungry for sex and not just junk food. “Where are you two coming from?” She asked.
“Orlando,” I said, after a quick glance at Jon. It was a lie, but not too off-base since that’s where we went to college. I’m not sure if it was the shock of being semi-naked on-screen or a fear of my identity being immediately broadcast, but something about saying my actual location felt risky. Looking back, I would have said the truth to better connect with guests and maybe even find like-minded friends in my area. Also, people started exchanging IG handles and ya girl never likes to miss out on potential followers.
As more and more guests arrived (a total of 40 at the time of the most attendees), the host greeted each one with her quiet, soothing voice, setting the stage for an intimate affair. 20 minutes and two drinks later, I was officially drunk and pulsating with a need for attention. So, when a casual game of truth or dare was suggested, it seemed like a no-brainer. It was an easy way to eliminate the awkwardness and say “I’m interested in you” without so many words.
Guests took turns daring each other to take off items of clothing, dance for the camera, and do body shots off of their partner’s torsos. One couple did naked jumping jacks. Another had to do a strip show. “Hungry,” a busty brunette said, after giving an artful blowjob to a banana. “I dare your partner to spank you 10 times for the camera.”
“Easy,” I flirted, bending over so my ass was in view of the webcam, my forearms on the bed, waiting for my husband to begin. The entire party counted as he hit me, alternating cheeks and waiting in between each one to build the suspense. With each hit I moaned, playing the eroticism up for the camera. I caught a glimpse of our bedroom highlighted as the main screen on the chat, the twinkle lights from the headboard glistening off of my hair.
“Whew,” Lorrae breathed as I strained up and grinned at the camera after the last spank, endorphins causing my cheeks to heat up. “I don’t think we can top that, so we’re going to move into our first show of the evening…”
The main focus shifted to a man holding a whip and standing over a woman wearing a leather bodysuit and a ball-gag. While the main screen showcased a BDSM tutorial, watching the rest of the guests watch the show was oddly erotic. Some were already making out with their partners while others were pouring drinks, milling about their homes, or leaving their screens momentarily to deal with life outside of the virtual event. The voyeuristic appeal was strong as we observed others from our king-sized bed in our make-believe Orlando, Florida.
After the tutorial (which was more or less footage of a couple striking each other with various whips), Lorrae came back to ease the party into the rest of the event, the reason we were all there: the virtual orgy.
“Now,” the breathy blonde said after thanking the performers and casually noting their Venmo handles, “it’s time to break into the play portion of the evening.”
Despite being spread out across the world, the sexual tension was palpable. The different couples excitedly glanced at each other, and singles tossed back their drinks and adjusted their hair. “I’ll be posting the links to different rooms you can attend,” the host told us. “I’m staying here in the singles room. Feel free to jump around, find a place you feel comfortable, or set up a private chat with a new friend you’ve connected with.”
I glanced at my husband in confusion before muting the mic and placing my hand over the webcam. “Private chat?” I hissed, forgetting immediately that the rest of the party couldn’t hear us. “Are people private chatting? Why didn’t anyone chat us?”
My husband, nonplussed, shrugged and poured another shot of bourbon, his face flushed and eyes glassy. “There has to be some mistake,” I slurred. “We were the best during truth or dare. People have to want to chat with us!” I frantically scanned the screen, my hand still covering the camera, as the host broke down the different rooms again. Horrified, I watched as different guests disappeared, off to their preferred new chats.
“There’s the boy’s club, for gay and curious men—or anyone looking for lots of guy action, and the ladies room for queer or curious women,” Lorrae said. “Then, of course, is the couples room, for any duos looking to make some special friends.”
“How do I talk to people?! How do I join these rooms?” I groaned, the shots we took to limber us up causing me to completely forget how Zoom worked. I glared at the host’s smiling face and frantically clicked the different icons on my screen.
“All of the different rooms are now available in the chat on the right, so feel free to explore, have fun, and find what feels good,” Lorrae said. My eyes immediately darted to the corner of my screen where a small number “48” was flashing above a hidden chat icon. Eagerly, I clicked. A flood of messages appeared from the group chat with callouts to us, links to the parties, and requests for private rooms.
“You and your partner are so hot.”
“Ouch, you’ve been bad! Do you need a hand?”
“Come chat with us. We dare you…”
“Oh my god,” I said, clicking to see each of the guests who had reached out. “People like us,” I murmured, not even caring how cliché the pickup lines were. “Jon, look!” I nudged my husband who was now lying back on the bed, scrolling through Reddit on his phone. “Cool, cool,” he said, without glancing away from the snowboarding video he was watching.
“Should we talk to someone?” I asked, noting that the singles room was filled mostly with men in various stages of masturbation and women dancing and undressing for the screen. After going back and forth on what we wanted to do (me, wanting to be the center of attention and him, wanting to order food and call it a night), I clicked on a young couple who had reached out and started a private chat. We went back and forth with pleasantries—yes, it’s our first time too. No, we didn’t know what to expect either. Sure, we’d love to take this to the next level.
The rest of the night‚ which ended around 2am, was a drunken PG-13 blur. We made out for the couple, showcased some of our famous spanking, and mostly, just watched other people feel themselves on-screen.
As a couple whose past Saturday nights usually involved takeout and falling asleep mid-movie, the concept of having sex on-screen turned the heat up on our relationship. Granted, asking my husband to attend the party with me was one of the most stressful moments of my life (it’s like proposing, but instead of asking for marriage, you’re asking them to show their genitals on camera), but after he said yes, it opened the door for communication in a way that’s been missing from our lives. It allowed us to chat about concepts we never considered before in a non-judgmental way, and having the aid of professionals, tutorials, and other people in the community there grappling with the same coronavirus-induced sex slump made it that much easier. Whether it’s isolation-induced insanity or the need for something to scratch that quarantine itch, virtual sex parties are here to stay, and I will always RSVP.
When we woke up the next morning, we tried to process what went down over coffee and bagels. It felt like a scene out of a movie. Shot glasses littered our sticky countertop and our thoughtfully selected costumes lay in a heap on the kitchen floor. We had passed out exhausted-yet-satiated sometime between the last chat and the pizza I forgot I ordered that was covered in ants on our doorstep. Granted, we didn’t even explore the other rooms and no, we didn’t do more than a steamy makeout for the viewers—that’s for next time. Even without an on-screen orgasm, though, it was a night like no other. The next time we join the party, we plan to up the rating to something a little more NSFW.
While going to a sex club on-screen is pretty different than one IRL, it scratched the “my libido needs a jump-start” itch that coronavirus caused. No, there wasn’t the option to hook up with a stranger or use new toys, but the feelings of sexual attention, soaking up flattery from strangers, and having an excuse to drink and flirt with randoms was there, even without the physical component. Even after the pandemic (knock on wood and still stay TF home, people), virtual sex parties would be an awesome way to dip your toe into the taboo.
Images: Artem Labunsky / Unsplash; Giphy (4)
Over the past few months, the most consistent topic of conversation has been how we will adjust to the ~new normal~ that we’re living in thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Obviously, we’ve all had to make a lot of changes, but what does that actually mean? Coronavirus hasn’t gone anywhere, a lot of stuff is still closed, and pretty much nothing feels normal. That being said, I know I’m not the only one desperate to have a personal life again, and we’re all trying to figure out how to get back into the dating game while not risking our lives.
As we move through the phases of reopening, everyone is assessing how to move forward in dating and everything else. This spring, we conducted a survey with our dating app Ship about dating during the pandemic, and we uncovered some interesting trends. Some of these things seem like common sense, while others are more surprising, but hey, you never know what to expect in 2020.
Dating Apps Are More Popular Than Ever Before
Most of us haven’t been able to do much in-person dating in 2020, but with so much free time on our hands, dating apps have been lit. The majority of people who took Ship’s survey said they’ve used ~the apps~ more during quarantine, and messages on Ship doubled after shelter-in-place orders went into effect.
We’ve all been busy building our virtual rosters, but what happens now? 62% of people said they plan to meet their quarantine matches IRL, and with all that time to build a virtual bond, I have a feeling we could be seeing a lot of new relationships between now and Labor Day. Everyone that missed the memo on a quarantine bae the first time around will be eager not to make the same mistake again.
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The Bar Is Higher
Now that we’re all being forced to pick and choose who we want to see, it makes sense that we’re getting more selective in our dating lives. Before, meeting someone for a drink was pretty low stakes, and going on first dates was an easy way to weed out who actually had potential. But now, 50% of people say they’ll be pickier than before about who they meet IRL, and 31% of people say their standards are higher in general. We may be desperate in quarantine, but I guess some of us aren’t that desperate.
F*ckboys Are Struggling
With casual hookups pretty much off the table for the near future, it’s easier than ever to tell who’s open to something more serious. In the past, f*ckboys could string you along with the idea that they might want a relationship, when they really just wanted someone to text late night. Survey respondents said this is one of the perks of virtual dating, because it “cancels out the people that just want something casual” and offers “an excuse not to have to meet up right away.”
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Video Dating Is The New Normal
And of course, as we navigate the ongoing pandemic, it’s still a great time to use virtual dating resources. Zoom happy hours are played out at this point, which is why we launched Ship Party—it’s like Houseparty, but for dating. A simple phone call, FaceTime, or virtual Ship date are also still great ways to determine if someone is actually worth meeting IRL. It might be a little awkward, but at least you won’t waste one of your precious social interactions. 54% of Ship users said they’ve gone on virtual dates, and if you want to spice up your virtual date, check out these Zoom backgrounds we made for any occasion.
I hope this goes without saying, but sadly, your dating life shouldn’t be going back to 100% normal just yet. With cases once again on the rise in most states, it’s important to follow social distancing guidelines if you’re meeting someone new, and don’t be afraid to ask them questions. If they’ve traveled recently, or have been in a high-risk situation, maybe keep things virtual for another week or two. Once you’ve been hanging out for a bit, then you can make an educated decision about hooking up. Don’t take your mask off around someone you don’t trust, no matter how tempting it is. First date kisses just aren’t going to be a thing for a minute.
When Jillian Trubee first saw the now-ubiquitous Instagram memes about virtual dating in the midst of coronavirus quarantine, she wondered who out there was actually going on FaceTime first dates or having a movie night via Netflix Party. As an avid dater in New York City, she thought she’d seen it all, but it wasn’t until a few days later that she would experience this new phenomenon first-hand.
“I go on dates all the time, and I really enjoy the act of dating,” Jillian says, but as the coronavirus pandemic worsened and the 27-year-old returned home to California to ride out the crisis, she wasn’t sure what it would mean for her usually busy and exciting dating life. She kept her Hinge location set to New York and continued using the app, if only to see what would await her return, but after matching with a guy named Kevin, it seemed like virtual dating, a once foreign concept, would hit close to home after all. “We chatted for a few days, and he was like, ‘Normally, I’d ask you out, but that’s not really the responsible thing to do right now, so would you be open to a FaceTime date?’” she recalls. “It was the first time someone had asked me that in this new world we’re living in, and I just thought, sure, why not?”
As COVID-19 continues its vicious spread across the country and forces everyone into quarantine, people are staying home, limiting outings unless absolutely necessary, and keeping in touch with loved ones through FaceTime, Zoom, phone calls, and other virtual methods. But rather than view this unprecedented and unpredictable time as a roadblock to dating and meeting someone new, some believe the current situation is the perfect excuse to mix things up and establish a real connection, even if it is done through a screen.
After Jillian agreed to take Kevin up on his offer, the two set a time for their call, but they had no real plan going into it. “I just assumed we’d be having a drink while chatting,” notes Jillian, who was ironically sipping on a Corona beer at the time. Kevin called her—albeit 15 minutes late—and after sharing a laugh over the wild circumstances of their date, they spoke for about an hour. The conversation was pretty surface-level, and although Jillian enjoyed meeting him, she knew it wasn’t exactly love at first FaceTime.
“I didn’t really know what the etiquette was,” she says. “Like, do we stay on the call for a long time? It didn’t mean that I wanted to end it, but I also didn’t want to be on the phone all night.” And obviously, since none of us have anywhere to go, we can’t cite a prior commitment for ending a call. Still, when Jillian did hang up, she said, “it was very cordial, but I never heard from him after that, so I’m not really sure what happened. What I think that first endeavor into Facetime dating did for me, though, was show me that it’s not scary and that it is something I’d want to do again.”
The question of what, if any, dating rules apply to this unfamiliar terrain is one that many are asking, not only Jillian. But the answer isn’t so simple, and we’re all kind of figuring it out as we go. “Protocol does and doesn’t apply,” says Lindsey Metselaar, the creator of the We Met at Acme podcast. “I’ve always thought that a girl can initiate but then the guy has to take it from there, and I think I still really believe that now. But like with any relationship, one person can’t do all the work.”
Jordana Abraham, cohost of Betches’ dating podcast, U Up?, echoes that this is a weird time to be dating. “The traditional rules of dating seem to be thrown out the window as everything else in our lives is different than it’s ever been before,” she agrees. “I do think there has been somewhat of a desire to maintain a sense of traditional gender values around hetermormative daters I’ve spoken to. I’ve heard of guys Venmoing girls for drinks they have over FaceTime dates that they’ve had in their apartment.”
Though, while you certainly can still stick to gender roles, now is a better time than ever to shake things up. Abraham says, “I think both people can cut each other some slack in terms of things like texting first and who’s asking out whom. The stakes are pretty low here since you can’t actually meet up. It’s important to just be open and honest. If you want to text someone, do it. The worst case scenario is you’ll continue to (not) see them.”
As far as conducting the FaceTime date, Jordana says they should be between an hour and an hour and a half, especially for a first date—better to leave both of you wanting more than the opposite. And, if like in a regular date, you need to cut things short, she advises, “it’s okay to say anything you’d usually say to get off a call—like you’ve got to get to bed or your mom is calling you’re going to go watch your favorite show.”
Video chats are not just a good option for first dates; they’re also useful to maintain connections that were initially forged in person. For Nick, a 29-year-old asset manager, the coronavirus pandemic arrived at a rather inopportune time, just as he was planning a second date with a lady he’d recently gone out with. “As the news got worse and worse and then restaurants closed, that was no longer an option,” he says. “So, I suggested a FaceTime date so that neither of would have to leave our apartments.” After discovering their shared love of sci-fi movies on the initial FaceTime, the two decided to watch Blade Runner together on their next date. “We did a countdown to sync the movies together, and I had the movie playing full screen with a Zoom call overlay in the corner,” Nick says. “It turns out it’s harder to watch a movie when there’s a cute girl on your screen at the same time, but we did finish the movie.” The call went very well, but Nick thinks it was a huge benefit to have gone out once before and to know they had chemistry beforehand.
Texting in between dates hasn’t been a problem, and the relationship is reminding Nick of high school, when he’d talk to his girlfriend on the phone until one of them fell asleep. Although the whole thing is somewhat comical, he says it’s ultimately been pretty frustrating to crush on someone in the midst of a global health crisis. As time goes on, the pair is increasingly open to meeting in-person, even though current White House and CDC guidance is to avoid social visits. “I think we have a sense of how each one of us is handling the virus. Both of us have been working from home and haven’t seen any other people, friends, family or otherwise in the past couple weeks,” Nick says. “So, we’re making plans to see each other soon at one of our apartments. It’s nice to have met her in person just prior to the virus. I think that probably makes it easier.”
And coronavirus isn’t just impacting casual daters. It seems, at least by the looks of Instagram, that most established couples are in quarantine together, for better or for worse. But some, like Chicago-based influencer and relationship consultant Faiza Rammuny, who is quarantining apart from her boyfriend, aren’t so lucky. “It’s been an adjustment,” she says, “but we’ve made it work by adding FaceTime and Snapchat much more into the mix.” She and her boyfriend haven’t seen each other for a month, so they’re relying on calls, the occasional lunch or dinner date via FaceTime, or movie night with the help of Netflix Party to get them through this. “We’re making it work and doing our absolute best to not let the circumstances affect the relationship, which is something I’ve been drilling into my clients as of late as well,” the 35-year-old says.
Faiza also thinks it’s crucial that she, and anyone dating over the phone right now, make an effort and go the extra mile, not only for your partner but also for yourself. “Sometimes, I’ll just focus on the waist up,” she notes. “But even then, I’ll still fix my hair and put on makeup, and he does the same—minus the makeup.”
Whether a first date or simply a means of maintaining a serious relationship, the creative methods to dating virtually during this uncertain time have already taught some unexpected lessons that may even extend into post-pandemic life. Jillian often finds herself disappointed when she puts in all the effort required of an in-person date and doesn’t end up liking the guy, so FaceTime has actually proven to be a great alternative. “It let me figure out that I didn’t really like this guy in an hour, essentially, and it seemed like such a better use of my time than how it usually is,” she says.
Jillian also knows that she has to feel an emotional connection with someone before making things physical, which is sometimes hard to do when she’s going out for drinks and one drink turns into another. “Sometimes, I get to the physical part before I’m really invested in that emotional part, and it just kind of ruins everything going forward,” she explains. “So, I think being able to kind of get ahead of that and have a couple of FaceTime dates while we’re in this weird situation allows me to see if I really like someone and if I’m able to forge that emotional connection before the physical.”
But, as Faiza warns, it’s just as necessary to let this time show us the importance of true, in-person connection. “Don’t let the circumstances we’re currently in convince you to turn to virtual means for connection, rather than in-person,” she says. “This is what we have to do right now, and it’s a great substitute, but it does not beat human connection in the flesh, and if we think that way, it’ll only push us further apart as human beings.”
Images: Jet Cat Studio / Shutterstock.com