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Catch Feelings, Not COVID: App brings New York singles together through blind speed video-dating

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Some New York millennials have turned to video speed dating as a way to maintain their social lives amid the stay-at-home order put in place due to the coronavirus

The dates are coordinated through a project called “NYC Virtual Dating: Catch Feelings, Not COVID,” started earlier this month by Chelsea Mandel and Amanda Shane. The New York women had recently finished watching “Love Is Blind” on Netflix and wanted to use their talents as social connectors to help singles in their networks maintain their social lives. 

“New York is isolating in the first place, and now because of coronavirus, it’s beyond isolation,” said Shane, a social worker. “And in our tiny, tiny New York City apartments, the idea of no connections for months is terrifying.” 

Mandel and Shane began promoting the project via email and their social media accounts on March 19, and have coordinated 145 virtual dates with another 77 in the works. Each date takes place via a FaceTime or WhatsApp video call, and daters have just 15 minutes with their match before the date is over. 

“People aren’t going out, they’re not meeting new people, they’re not going on dates,” said Mandel, who works in commercial real estate. “We just thought this was a great way to build human connections.” 

Prospective daters have to fill out a Google Form questionnaire about themselves and what they’re looking for in a partner. The topics include hobbies, political affinity, religion and everything in between. Mandel and Shane use these answers to eliminate any deal-breakers and match up good fits. 

Unlike dating apps which automate everything and rely on algorithms, the duo read each form and manually match up pairs. 

“It’s pretty simple and a little bit archaic in the way that we’re using technology,” Mandel said. “We wanted to be able to do something with the human touch because people are good at feeling out people rather than computers figuring out what makes somebody compatible.” 

One dater is Jane Scheiner, a clothing designer who lives on the Upper East Side. Scheiner said she appreciates when she spontaneously meets someone new at a bar, so when she heard about Catch Feelings, Not COVID, she thought the project sounded funny and interesting. 

“I thought ‘I want to see if people are actually doing this, and if they are, I’m down to be a part of it,'” Scheiner said. 

So far, Scheiner has been on three dates, and each time she had decent conversations and thought the men were cute. Normally, when Scheiner dates, she gives men 24 hours to contact her again or she writes them off as not interested, but in this scenario, daters have to indicate to Mandel and Shane whether they would want second dates with their initial matches. 

“With an app, there’s that instant gratification,” Scheiner said. “Here you’re going, turning around and saying ‘Yes’ to a neutral third-party and hoping that they’re saying yes on the other side.” 

Regardless of how her second dates go, Scheiner said she’s just happy to have one piece of her regular life back during this time. 

“Nothing is normal right now,” she said. “So it’s just a really nice way to retain a little bit of normalcy, a little bit of fun and intrigue during this time.”

For Shane and Mandel, the hope is that their efforts will lead to even just a few genuine connections who will be able to meet in real life whenever the stay-at-home orders finally lift. 

“If we bring just a tiny bit of happiness to even just a few people, that’s what this is about,” Shane said.

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