The online dating environment and apps are an always-available method for quickly “finding someone” thus perceived by the media and some users as promoting and accentuating a certain hook-up culture (Garcia et al., 2012). Relying on this argument alone is not enough to apprehend the social universe of online dating – especially during the pandemic of COVID-19. The aims of this study are to explore the romantic narratives and modified online behaviours that have risen during (and maybe even because of) the physical and social distancing restrictions and the impact these rapidly evolving technologies have on intimate social connections and risk perception. Therefore, some questions inevitably arise: how is the push towards the digital and online world affecting the dating scene? how have users adapted? and how contrasting worldviews about romantic and sexual life are reenacted on dating apps in times of COVID-19? This exploratory study consists of descriptive qualitative research conducted on dating applications (primarily Tinder and Bumble) in Bucharest, Romania, between January and March 2022. The research uses in-depth interviews, informal discussions, first-hand exploratory experience of using dating apps and content analysis. Although respondents have not adopted a completely digital lifestyle (implying a no face-to-face interactions dating strategy), online dating technology is a “prosthesis” in facilitating social interactions and reducing loneliness. The findings depict online dating narratives – how one perceives the practice of online dating and online courtship before and through pandemic; self-presentation on dating apps – how one's identity is permanently reconstructed; risk management – how risk awareness is highly gendered and how people navigate the situations created by COVID-19 restrictions and disease contraction; other findings would be a resistance to full online dating migration and that the experiences and uses of the dating apps are gendered.
Keywords: risk management, digital dating, romantic narrative, COVID-19, digital transition.