When Casey Boykins, a 24-year-old Brooklyn actress, first started dating Allie, a 26-year-old actress, in March, the chemistry between them was undeniable. The two women had met two weeks before at the Magnet Theater Training Center in Manhattan, when both were cast in the same play. But before they got a chance to connect outside of work, the coronavirus lockdown sent Ms. Boykins to quarantine in Chicago with her father. She decided to message Allie on Instagram and spark a conversation that she hoped would result in a relationship.
They set up a FaceTime date with homemade cocktails. “It felt exactly like a first date, except you just don’t get to make out with the person at the end,” Ms. Boykins said. “We wouldn’t go longer than like two or three days without video chatting with each other. And then we would also talk on the phone for hours.”
After video dating for four months, their comfort level increased and their conversations became more intimate.
“I don’t think I’ve talked to someone on the phone for that long since I was a middle schooler,” Ms. Boykin said. “We learned so much about each other and spent so long talking to each other that it felt like we were in a relationship.”
Once Ms. Boykins returned to New York in July, she invited Allie over for a date at her apartment. Surprisingly, the in-person chemistry did not match the chemistry felt over the course of four months of video dates.
“I had talked to her for so long it felt like we knew each other,” she said. “And the only part of it that was weird was when I wondered how are we going to hold hands or what will the first move be like.”
But when it came time to hug, Ms. Boykins instantly noticed something felt off. For the remainder of the evening, they did not touch. When the date ended, she was met with a text from Allie saying that the vibe in person felt friendly.
“I don’t see myself trying to fall for someone in that way again,” she said. “It was so sad and also just so confusing, because I felt like I was really being myself. But not everyone is the same person on the phone as they are in real life.”
The perceived chemistry that developed over video, but not present in real life, is not uncommon for singles who opted for video dating during the pandemic. Vetting skills are not the issue in such a disconnect, but rather the limits of a two-dimensional setting.
“What’s happening is when we meet someone for the first time after video dating, there’s some familiarity already,” said Dr. Jacqueline Mendez, a licensed marriage-family therapist and certified sex therapist in Los Angeles. “We feel we know this person, but we really only know the presentation of this person.”
“Video gives us just one view of someone,” she said. “There’s a missing piece of the energy of the physicality of the person. So what ends up happening is that we start developing a fantasy of this person, just given the information that we have. And then the fantasy takes over and we start imagining what this person’s going to be like. We start imagining what it’s going to be like when we finally meet and we start feeding and nurturing this fantasy.”
Ms. Boykins learned the importance of physicality when deciding if a vibe is truly present. “There are so many little things that add up to me liking a person and it has to do with the way that they move their body, the way that they touch your arm when they’re talking to you, the way that they look at you and make you feel when you’re close to them,” she said. “But I don’t think that you can figure any of that out over the phone.”
While gauging whether you like the sound of someone’s voice or sense of humor can happen over video, Ms. Boykins now believes that compatibility or a spark has to happen when two people are right in front of each other, when they’re making eye contact.
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Another disadvantage of video dating is the inability to see a person’s full body and gestures.
“We’re very keen on movement, that has to do with our visual cortex,” said Anne-Maartje Oud, a behavioral expert and adviser, based in Amsterdam. “We want to see people, but the fact is with video, it’s just a 2D setting, and that’s really difficult for our brain because we want to see everything else as well. So it’s not the interaction you need when you really want connection with somebody, because we don’t see every part of the body.”
Ms. Oud also notes the importance of proximity when dating. With video, there is no established distance. “If I gently want to come a bit close to touch you, maybe in real life you would just say, ‘Hey, go away,’” she said. “Or maybe you would accept it and like it. But that whole rapport and establishing what you prefer and what they prefer doesn’t take place on video.”
Another issue with video dating is unmet physical expectations. When Catalina Meija, a 24-year-old bilingual journalist in Washington, met up with a guy she had been regularly communicating with on FaceTime for a month and half, she was shocked to find he was shorter than she had expected. “If it had been a different situation where I met him in person first, maybe his height wouldn’t have been an issue because I know what I’m getting into,” she said.
Although their conversations seemed to flow easily over FaceTime, speaking in person exuded an unexpected, awkward vibe. “At one point he was like, ‘I think we should take it to the next level,’” Ms. Meija said. “And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ Then later he asked if he could grab my hand and I was like, are we in kindergarten? Like take the initiative, clearly I had been talking to you this long. I’m clearly interested to some degree.”
Ms. Meija admits that she painted a picture of who she assumed the guy would be in person from their video interactions, something Ms. Oud describes as a natural response to meeting someone virtually. “We analyze everything, and we analyze a person from head to toe,” Ms. Oud said. “And then that gives you information and data that does something to you — that’s your filter. It could be that it is that you like this person, but the other way around, if you do not have all the information, you probably will make it up in a way.”
Whether chemistry can form over video depends solely on how closely both parties are making their virtual connection mimic an in-person connection. Ms. Oud suggests showing yourself fully by standing up and turning around for a clear view of how you look, even if it feels awkward. She also suggests not only listening and asking questions, but instead, creating more interaction. “Meet up as soon as possible when it’s safe, and if not, try to understand how you can get more information about this person, not just by talking face to face,” Ms. Oud said. “Maybe you want to see what they’re wearing or what books they have, but when it comes to body language and behavior, you need a lot more input than conversation.”
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