Covid-19 has changed the way we work, shop, learn, and socialize; it's also changed the way couples date. Thanks to the pandemic, meeting people and getting to know them is harder than ever.

“It’s a tricky time…you have to be creative,” explains Nina Siegal, a Chicago shadchan, or matchmaker, who’s helped couples connect in new ways over the past few months. Here are some of her strategies – as well as suggestions and advice from other matchmakers and dating coaches – about how to find love during the pandemic and beyond.

Don’t be afraid to date.

Ms. Siegel works for the Chicago-area Jewish matchmaking organization Simcha Link and wants singles to know that despite the limitations on life right now, dating hasn’t stopped. In fact, she and her fellow matchmakers have seen an increase in the number of successful matches they’ve made during the pandemic.

When the pandemic first hit in March, Ms. Siegal recalls feeling overwhelmed: how would dating work? She couldn’t imagine couples having the energy or opportunity to meet. Yet one by one, couples she set up started finding love. Even some older singles she’d been working with for a long time have found their bashert during the pandemic. “What I’ve learned in this whole time is that God runs the world. When two people are meant to find each other, they will – whether there’s a pandemic going on or not."

Get creative!

“Don't put your dating life on hold – that will only add to your stress and anxiety,” explains Lori Salkin, a popular dating coach in Philadelphia and a senior matchmaker at the Jewish dating site Saw You at Sinai. Singles should continue to reach out and look for love – but she acknowledges that there are some challenges right now, and the dating scene is undergoing some major changes.

The old date standbys of going out to dinner or to a show or even to an indoor cafe are no longer options – and that might have some upsides, she notes. “When somebody wines and dines you, it's so easy to fall for them.” In today’s new dating world, dates are more stripped down, and that can be valuable.

“People have to be really creative with their dates,” explains Hilary Kahn, a Chicago matchmaker and dating coach. During the pandemic, Mrs. Kahn has seen couples plan dates that were out of the box and very fun. "One couple drove to meet each other and they opened the backs of their cars, and they each sat in their open trunk. He brought drinks and sushi, and they sat and shmoozed – it was great.”

Games are another fun way to connect outdoors. “Bring something to play,” Mrs. Kahn suggests – or photos or articles you’d like to discuss. “Come a little more prepared because there aren’t as many activity dates that are possible these days,” she suggests. One couple met outside and brought paints and canvasses and painted together for a date. Another couple – who recently got engaged – planned one memorable date around a friend’s fire pit, where they roasted marshmallows and listened to music outside. Hiking and playing games together are other popular dating choices right now, she notes.

“Find your best friend.”

Lori Salkin advises clients to look for a best friend – and then marry them. Ironically, she’s found, dating during the pandemic has helped some couples focus on what’s truly important in others. Instead of focusing on the date itself, the often uncomfortable nature of dating during a pandemic forces singles to focus on their conversation and on each other, instead of enjoying the date activity. “Today's dates are clearly focused on trying to get to know people," she notes.”

Ms. Salkin advises couples to spend their valuable date time asking lots of questions. “Find similar interests,” she advises. “Don’t hesitate to take out your phone and say I found this great article want to see it? Want to see my nieces and nephews? Go off on tangents. Think of our best friends – the first time we met them we probably didn’t love them – but we found something we connected on, we and built on that.”

Virtual Dating

Another way to connect with people amid the pandemic is through online apps. “We have this technology available today, it’s really a gift from God, allowing people to connect in this way,” explains Yaffa Berger Palti, a dating coach and matchmaker in Miami.

She’s seen screen-based dates that worked as well as in person meetings: “Your personality can still come through in a facetime call,” she’s found. One hurdle that many couples need to get out of the way first is the awkwardness of meeting online. “Talk about awkwardness of virtual date immediately – make a joke about it,” she advises. Once both parties have joked about the strangeness of dating online, meeting virtually can begin to feel real and natural. “Things are only weird when you make them weird,” Mrs. Palti explains. “Decide that this is normal now.”

Dating virtually has the added benefit of giving couples a chance to talk and get to know each other without distractions. Mrs. Palti suggests that people prepare for a date on Zoom or other online platforms just as if they were getting ready for an in-person date: dress up in something nice. Make sure your screen background is neat and doesn’t show anything you’d rather not be visible. She suggests investing in good lighting and propping up your phone or computer at eye level for a more attractive view.

Mrs. Palti also encourages couples to treat virtual dates more like real-life events, complete with distractions and tangents. “It doesn’t need to be only conversation,” she explains. Learn how to screenshare, and then show your date funny videos or pictures. “Share photos or Instagram stories – watch a video together, then discuss it. You can have fun together: virtual dating doesn’t need to be draggy and boring, it can be super fun” and more natural feeling, as you both discuss items that you share on screen that can lead to new conversation topics.

Explore new ways to meet people

With so many dating and meeting venues closed right now, singles are having to be more creative in ways they connect. “You have to boost your chances,” explains Hilary Kahn, who suggests using dating sites and even reaching out to professional matchmakers like herself. Sites she’s seen work for Jewish singles include J Retro Match and Shabbat.com, which has space to put up dating profiles.

She suggests that singles explore Jewish professional networks and speed dating events, some of which are currently taking place online. “Reach out to organizations that are helping singles meet each other. Don’t wait for people to remember you and set you up." For people whose work or school has become fully remote, relocating to an area with a larger Jewish community might be an option, as well.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook – I’ve never experienced this before,” notes Lori Salkin. “People are turning to matchmakers during the pandemic." She also suggests joining Facebook pages dedicated to Jewish singles in your area.

Nina Siegel tells clients to remember that everyone is a potential source of a great date. “People don’t always know that someone’s available. Reach out to local synagogues, to local rabbis. There’s always somebody who knows somebody.” This can be awkward, but Ms. Siegel’s seen reaching out to others lead to personal growth in many singles. “You have to step out of your comfort zone – that’s when you find our strengths and talents,” she explains. Asking people to help set you up can feel awkward, but it often produces results.

Don’t wait for this to pass.

“There are people who aren’t dating and are waiting for this to pass,” notes Yaffa Berger Palti. That’s a mistake: “Don’t be afraid to date.” Even though life is so difficult right now, we still have to find ways to live – and that means looking for ways to date, even during the pandemic.

Try reminding yourself that there are some good things going on right now, too. “Amid all the bad, there’s so much that’s beautiful,” explains Nina Siegel. “How lucky are we that we have technology that lets us talk to people across the world right now?” She suggests using the technology that’s available to us – and going out on as many in person dates as we can, too, while maintaining social distancing.

Yes dating is difficult right now, but there are ways to make it work. Each person has a bashert, a person they are meant to marry. As Ms Siegel reminds her clients: when it’s meant to be, God will make it happen.