Dora Guo

In a typical year at Yale, dining halls and libraries are teeming with people, making it easy to scope the scene for a potential crush or admirer. As you walk past SSS before an 11:35 a.m. class, you are one of many students swarming the street; although you may be focused on a pset due later that day, future romance crosses your mind while making eye contact with someone marching down Hillhouse. Every seat in your lecture is taken — a testimony to the endless options you could have if you actually took the time to meet each person. Then there are all the opportunities to socialize outside of the academic sphere. You put your work aside on a Wednesday night to line up by the Toads entrance, thinking about who you could meet while dancing on the sticky hardwood floors. On a Friday, you squeeze into a dimly lit suite party or join the throng of people in front of the frats, running into the person you glanced at five seats over in your econ lecture.

When quarantine started last March, our large lecture halls and lively seminars turned into arrangements of squares on a screen. Our friends and peers became two-dimensional pictures and  loneliness began sneaking up on us; we had taken our daily interactions — integral components of life at Yale — for granted. Those with serious romantic relationships continued them, but many lost touch with their pre-COVID flings. As weeks went by, some students took to downloading dating apps like Hinge and Tinder to meet and talk to potential love interests: swiping and scrolling became the new way to see fresh faces. Elizabeth, who like all the sources I spoke to chose to use a pseudonym, said that she “downloaded Hinge mid-lockdown in April out of pure boredom,” but pickiness caused her not to take interest in anyone or make plans to actually meet up with them. However, the new style of living under COVID-19 lasted longer than we expected. As spring turned into summer, dating apps continued to fill the void of parties and events, leaving more time to match with people on Tinder or develop conversations on Hinge. For some students returning to New Haven in the fall, this meant setting their school to ‘Yale’ and their age range to 18-22. Others kept their dating apps set to their hometown or New York City to separate their virtual private dating life from their Yale life.

Lauren, a sophomore, says that she “only matches with Yale people for precautionary reasons. I don’t know if other universities in the area are testing their students as regularly, and I want to be safe.” This past fall, she went on three dates with Yale men she met through Tinder, and began seeing one of them exclusively. “The lack of a party scene has made it difficult to meet a potential fling in person, and so Tinder has become my primary way of meeting people,” she says. “While I actually used Tinder a little last year, people are more likely to actually want to meet up now because there is no other way to be formally introduced.” Swiping has also become another mode of social media to browse when procrastinating and seeking entertainment: “I tend to scroll a lot when I’m bored, and it’s become kind of an activity for me. I have matched with a bunch of people who I’ve made plans to meet up with once we’re out of quarantine,” Lauren says. 

Elizabeth, a senior, takes a different approach to dating apps — she sets them to her hometown, strictly separating her online dating life from her Yale life. When she first downloaded Hinge, she did not have plans to meet up with anyone, but toward the summer she ended up matching with someone she thought was interesting, and met him for a few dates. Although they are at separate schools, she keeps in touch with him and saw him while at home during winter break. “While I hadn’t planned it, something really positive came out of downloading Hinge and now I look forward to it when I get home from school,” she says. She prefers to keep her Hinge set outside of the Yale sphere so that people she knows on campus, like her ex, don’t see her profile. “It’s less about embarrassment about having the app and more about word spreading when I match with someone that other people know,” she says. While our memory of Yale is one of endless faces lining desks and couches in Sterling and Bass, it also happens to be a relatively small school when it comes to running into people you know, especially those you’re avoiding. Lauren, who sets her dating apps to Yale only, agrees with this, as she has run into previous Tinder dates while walking around campus. “The funniest situation was when someone who I was talking to on Tinder ghosted me and then I ran into him on a date with another girl… It was funny for me and awkward for him,” Lauren says. 

Then there are those who don’t use dating apps to meet brand new people, but to link with friends-of-friends who may follow them on other social media platforms. Dating apps have become a way of expanding our network because there are no events where you can be introduced to them. “I would only meet up with someone on Hinge that I know but haven’t been formally introduced to yet,” says Sandra, a first year. Through this lens, dating apps aren’t a replacement for the exhilarating rush of seeing new faces, but an easier way to formally meet people you somewhat know. For Sandra, this has been a successful tactic, as she’s been talking to and gone on a date with one of these people — he followed her on Instagram beforehand and knows her friends, but wouldn’t have otherwise reached out. Hinge has become an enhancement and convenience rather than an unfitting replacement, because it only requires one tap to reach out to someone you recognize and find good-looking. 

Of course, not everyone is on board with dating apps — in fact there are a significant number of Yale students who prefer the traditional in-person way of meeting their fling or significant other. Although this may seem almost impossible in the cold winter months of a pandemic, you never know who you’ll meet in your residential college hallway, off campus building or on your way to a snowball fight. Otherwise, keep swiping.

Julia Levi | julia.levi@yale.edu