TORONTO -- Calls for physical distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic are prompting Canadians to look for other ways of connecting with those around them.

Video chat is a popular tool among businesses and friend groups to maintain communication and share the latest updates on work and personal life. But these aren’t the only crowds looking to connect virtually.

Since the outbreak of coronavirus, a number of video-based dating applications have begun to surface, including Swivel and Quarantine Together, which both offer users the ability to speed date through video chat. Even established dating apps such as Bumble are making adjustments to adapt to the new reality.

One of the latest apps helping users connect via video is Teleport, formerly known as Firstdate. Founded in Toronto, the platform features a series of paid speed dating “events” organized by professional matchmakers from across the world. Users are hand-picked to join events based on compatibility. They meet with five people for six minutes each in an effort to find a match. The unique thing about the app, explained co-founder Chad Goodman, is that users can’t look at each other’s profiles before meeting. This is so their first impressions of one another are exactly as they would be if meeting each other for the first time in real life.

“You know instantly when you like someone, but you have to be able to look them in the eye – you have to be able to hear their voice, feel their energy…you have to be face-to-face,” Goodman told over the phone on Friday. “The idea of meeting someone in real life and feeling that moment of attraction with them, we wanted to recreate that online.”

After each date, users decide whether they want to “like” or “pass” a person. If there’s mutual interest, then it’s a match and they can chat with each other after the event. The app currently has about 6,000 users and is active in more than 21 countries.

Though it was only made available to the public starting April 15, developers have been working on the app for about a year now. So while the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t necessarily the reason behind its creation, Goodman admits his app has certainly been helpful to those in the dating scene trying to adapt to the current situation.

“There's never been a more important time for human connection,” he said. “It has never been more essential for us to have those great conversations [and] to meet new people.

“The world has been forced to realize that video chat is actually a good solution for meeting up in real life.”

According to Goodman, not only does video chat serve the practical purpose of helping people connect while indoors, but it also allows people to focus on what really matters when looking for a partner – a great connection. Text-based dating apps showcase some of the more superficial aspects of a person, he said. Online dating through video chat offers users a much deeper connection.

“Online, we're super selective to the person who checks off all of the right boxes – they have to have this hair color, this body type, this type of education, be inside of this career path,” said Goodman. “If you just go out and talk to someone in real life, all of those things come up secondary – you don't find out what they do for a living… [or] what school they went to…until a little bit deeper in the conversation, when you've already decided if you like the person or not.”

Laura Bilotta agrees. According to the matchmaker, dating coach and founder of Single in the City, a dating website, people tend to place a greater emphasis on physical attraction when dating. But with physical distancing measures keeping people apart, she said this will lead people to foster deeper connections based on the values and traits they are looking for in a partner as opposed to just what they look like, and video chat is helping them do this.

“I think a lot of people are going to use this time to really connect with and get to know someone on a deeper level because now we have the time to do that…rather than just jumping around from person to person, never being satisfied and looking for instant gratification like we are today,” Bilotta told on Friday via telephone. “It's bringing us back down to what's really important.”

The risks of dating during a pandemic

Government and health officials have been urging Canadians to practise physical distancing for weeks now. Those across the country have been asked not to leave their homes unless absolutely necessary, such as for work, to pick up food or medication, or to seek out medical assistance. It’s also advised to keep at least two metres’ distance from anyone when outdoors.

In a recent interview on Snapchat’s Good Luck America, the top expert on COVID-19 in the U.S. offered some advice to those currently in the dating scene. When asked whether or not it was OK to meet up with new people during the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci replied yes, but only if people are willing to take the risk. 

“Everybody has their own tolerance for risks, it depends on the level of the interaction that you want to have,” said the doctor. “If you want to go a little bit more intimate [with someone], then that’s your choice regarding a risk.”

Despite this, health experts interviewed by have recommended keeping a physical distance from anyone you aren’t already living with.

Adapting to life in lockdown

Not only are individuals making adjustments to their daily behaviour as a result of the ongoing spread of COVID-19, but popular dating apps are also making changes to existing services to help users date more easily while under quarantine. Bumble, for example, recently released a bundle of customized features including a “Virtual Dating” badge to let users know who is open to date via video chat. The app has also extended its distance filters to allow users to match with anyone in their country of residence.

Hinge, another dating app, has a new “Date from Home” feature where users can tell someone whether or not they're ready for a virtual date. While chatting with each other via text, a pop-up message appears asking if users would each like to connect through phone or video calls outside of the app. Answers remain private until both are ready. According to the app, this is meant to help ease the transition towards dating from home.

Since the start of the pandemic, Bilotta said she has been receiving much fewer requests than usual, for both her matchmaking and speed dating services. This has prompted her to make adjustments to her business as well.

On April 20, Bilotta launched her own online speed dating service featuring video chat. With it, users can meet up to 15 potential matches in a single event, which they must sign up and pay for. Each couple meets for five minutes with 45-second breaks in between, where users can review biographical summaries of who they’re meeting next.

“Imagine you get to sit in the comfort of your own home, you get to dress up a little bit…grab a cocktail, and meet people – it's interesting,” said the dating coach.

After meeting someone, users decide whether they want to continue seeing them virtually. If there is a mutual “yes” from both parties, it’s a match. Users then gain access to each other’s full profiles and can continue chatting with their matches. As of now, the service is targeted towards those in the Greater Toronto Area, but Bilotta has plans to expand across the country. 

While she admitted that dating via video chat is not the same as dating in real life, she insists it’s the next best thing.

“Video is not 100 per cent accurate [but] at least you'll have an idea of the person's personality and their character,” said Bilotta. “When you're feeling a little more comfortable with someone, you might be able to let your guard down and be a little bit more vulnerable because you have the perception that you already kind of know them.”

One of the most frustrating aspects of online dating is the fact that users can lie, explained Bilotta. Whether it’s by knocking a few years off their age or trimming their waist in photos, it’s easy for people to paint pictures of themselves that are different from reality. But incorporating video chat eliminates that, she said, not to mention wasted time.

“I think users often hide information about themselves,” said the matchmaker. “When you see someone face-to-face, you get a [better] sense for them – you can’t get a sense for someone just by texting them.”

An ‘opportunity’ to change online dating habits

Despite the benefits of virtual dating, Bilotta said she has noticed quite a bit of reluctance towards experimenting with this new way of dating, especially among older generations who may feel intimidated or embarrassed. Goodman agrees that it can be difficult to change consumer habits, but says that the isolation brought on by coronavirus has helped encourage people to consider trying new things.

“We're living in a world where it's not easy to adopt new technologies, whatever they might be, especially not consumer technologies where you're trying to create a new behavior,” explained Goodman. “I think COVID-19 has definitely given us the opportunity to make people more open to the idea [of online dating through video chat].”

This gravitation towards video chat also comes at a time when people are craving a more personalized experience from the products they interact with, Goodman said. As he put it, consumers are more interested in becoming the player in different scenarios, as opposed to just a member of the audience.

“We’re demanding to have more of a customized, tailored experience where we don't want to just view – whether that comes to TV or dating apps – we want to play,” said Goodman. “We're not just watching the bachelor go through a bunch of dates, we are the bachelor or the bachelorette.”

This idea of creating a unique dating experience, along with the fact that online dating can help bring people comfort, are what make dating through video chat so popular, said Goodman. So much so that he sees it as a way people will continue to connect with each other in general going forward.

“Now that the world has gotten a taste of working from home, they've had a taste of catching up with friends on FaceTime and Zoom, [video chat] is going to substitute real life in a way we never thought was imaginable,” said Goodman. “It's very much so going to be a perfect balance between saving our time and getting that real human connection.”