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Love in the time of coronavirus: Couples share how they found matches in the middle of a pandemic

Alec Mahon, 29, met his girlfriend Brooke, during the pandemic. They've been inseparable for the past month. By Saba Hamedy, CNN

(CNN) -- If you asked Alec Mahon one month ago whether he believed in love, he'd probably tell you he had "given up."

When coronavirus first hit in March, the freelance production manager paid about $30 for a three-month premium subscription on the dating app Hinge -- and he figured he'd just keep swiping until that ended.

Like many, the 29-year-old used dating apps like Hinge as a way to connect with others, especially since making in-person connections had become nearly impossible with Covid-19 shutdowns. He went on one Facetime date -- the girl, he said, seemed like she was "just going through her matches ... like on a spreadsheet."

But on May 29, he had plans to meet up with a different match -- this time in person. A 28-year-old nurse named Brooke, with whom he would hike Runyon Canyon -- Los Angeles' picturesque, influencer-ridden trail.

It was in the middle of their approximately three-mile hike, when the two decided they felt comfortable enough to remove their face masks, that he knew this was different. Their guards were down, or as he described it, "all caution (regarding coronavirus) was thrown to the wind."

Now, less than one month and many dates later, they split most of their time between his West Hollywood apartment and hers in Long Beach. He's done what many initially considered impossible with social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders:

He found love during a global pandemic.

"This is truly two people finding their soulmate during the most unlikely of times," he told CNN in a phone interview. "We're thinking about eloping to Vegas if the chapels open."

While this may sound extreme, many formerly single people -- and dating experts -- say the pandemic has actually helped people find their matches more easily.

"I think people are more likely to find love during this time than not during this time," Yue Xu, co-host of the popular "Dateable" podcast, told CNN in a video call.

"Because we have this dedicated time to find love, there are no distractions -- you're not a bar looking at people around you or looking at your drink. Everyone's more present and they are more conscious about the way they are showing up to these virtual or real-life dates."

Xu and podcast co-host Julie Krafchick, who are based in San Francisco, said they've noticed an overall change for the better in terms of the dating landscape over the past few months.

"Consider this a reset," Xu said. "Even though we're losing magic of that first date -- the first kiss, first touch -- we're forced to think about how we can reinvent dating."

The 'fail fast mentality'

Dating has never been -- and never will be -- perfect. Before the pandemic, Xu and Krafchick answered questions on their podcast such as "Do Millennials even want to find love?" and "Is monogamy dead?"

"We can't have amnesia that dating wasn't perfect before," Krafchick said. "Part of the reason we created the podcast in the first place was to answer the question, 'What the f**k is wrong with modern dating?'"

The biggest challenge for the singles out there before the pandemic, Krafchick said, was that many spent a lot of time in relationship limbo.

"No one wanted to say they were excited about someone," she said. "No one wanted to define the relationship."

Now, however, the pandemic has led to what Krafchick described as the "fail fast mentality."

"People are starting to feel it's better to fail fast than be in this constant state of equilibrium," she said. "Like, let's either get it off the ground or end it."

The podcast hosts have heard countless stories during these past few months of people who have successfully found love, and people who have felt more encouraged by their dating experiences even if their quarantine relationships didn't work out.

"Coming out of quarantine, everyone has a really strong feeling of a yes or no," Xu said.

Many have also taken this time in quarantine to self reflect, which has helped pave the way to finding healthier relationships.

"I think this time has given people a lot of clarity into what they want in life," Krafchick said. "It's shown life is short and at the end of the day, relationships are what matters most. A lot of people have used this time to do self work, especially in the dark middle period of quarantine, where it didn't feel like there was any way to meet someone."

Virtual dates have also made people throw their old notions of dating out of the window, as they are forced to get creative. For example, "there are 'Zootie' calls now," Xu explained. "Zoom booty calls."

'A whole other dimension of consent'

With this uncharted era of dating also comes new conversations around consent: Do you feel safe meeting in person during a pandemic? Do you agree to wearing masks on the first date? Do you feel comfortable being less than 6 feet apart?

Jessica Gerhardt, a Santa Monica, California, native, and her new partner -- they have not labeled the relationship yet -- waited three months before they decided to meet in person for the first time last week.

"He's way more conscientious than me," the musician said of the new guy in her life, who is also a musician.

The two, who had mutual friends in the music scene, began talking after he "slid into her DMs" on Instagram. Before they met up, he researched and looked into data about social distancing, Gerhardt said.

"We both consented to hug when we first met," the 30-year-old told CNN. "There's a whole other dimension of consent during this pandemic. Under normal circumstances, of course I'd want to hug -- but it was helpful to have that conversation before and nice to know if we don't do something it's not necessarily a sign of 'Oh, I'm not attracted or interested, but I'm trying to be considerate of your safety and vice versa.'"

The lack of touching before meeting, Gerhardt said, made her feel like the two were cultivating "deeper intimacy" as they got to know each other.

They ended up going on a social distance walk in her neighborhood while both wore face masks. At the end of their walking date, he asked whether he could use her bathroom before he drove home.

"He came inside, and we both took off our masks after I asked, 'Do you feel comfortable being maskless?' and he said, 'I feel comfortable.' It was a nice surprise," she said. "We ended up feeling comfortable enough to also hold hands and cuddle. It was really sweet."

While they do not have plans to move in together any time soon, Gerhardt said he has now joined her quarantine pod, which includes her roommate and her roommate's boyfriend.

Learning each other's values early on

On top of the pandemic, these past few months have seen nationwide protests demanding justice and an end to police brutality in the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks.

How people have acted during this time has helped provide a window into their beliefs, which for some singles has helped narrow down their pool of potential matches.

For example, on dating apps, many have said they have encountered photos of people holding "Black Lives Matter" signs at protests on their profiles. Others said they've seen people sporting face masks in their pictures, to highlight the fact that they are following social distancing guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in order to curb the spread of the virus.

"With the Black Lives Matter movement, Covid, and everything else that's been going on, it's been causing people to have way deeper conversations," Krafchick said. "You can really quickly realize who has same values as you and who would be a better long-term partner. (Talking about) those things can really help you understand someone a lot better on a deeper level and get you past those basic dating questions."

Liz Dwyer, who lives in LA, fell for a guy named Demis Courquet-Lesaulnier, who she has been messaging on Instagram since before the pandemic. He lives in Paris, and they had plans -- pre-coronavirus -- to meet abroad. Now, that plan has been put on hold.

But that hasn't slowed their relationship down at all. In fact, it's sped things up. Dwyer said she's gotten closer to her now-boyfriend these past few months virtually, thanks to many of the current events they discuss.

"We have completely different cultural backgrounds," the writer and editor told CNN. "I'm American, he's French. I'm Black, he's White. We had to get to know each other -- not just on the 'I think you're good looking' and 'you're cute too' conversation."

Dwyer said Demis created a list of 54 films -- including "BlacKkKlansman," "13th" and "When They See Us" -- "to try and understand what it's like to be Black in America." The two have conversations about them, and discuss what he noticed, observed and learned from them. He even wrote a post titled "A Love Letter to Black America" to reflect on his takeaways.

"He was open to understanding what was happening in terms of racism," she said.

Without the pandemic, she doesn't know what their relationship would look like today.

"I don't know what the future holds," she added, "but no matter what, the experience has changed me for the better."

Finding your 'apocalypse partner'

Ronni Morgan, 32, and her partner Adriane (AJ) Johnson, 41, met on the HER app -- a dating app for queer people -- on March 23.

They started by texting, having FaceTime dates and watching Netflix together virtually, with Morgan in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Johnson in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

When they finally reached a point where they felt safe enough to start planning an in-person meeting, they found an AirBnB in between their two locations that they considered secluded and off-the-beaten path.

From the beginning, Morgan said, the two were "on the same page about how to handle the pandemic."

"We have both taken it very seriously," Morgan told CNN. "I don't think we would've made it this far otherwise."

When they finally did meet, on June 26, Morgan said their weekend together "legitimately was like a lesbian romance novel, complete with a fireplace, velvety red blanket and epic thunderstorm."

"When we did finally get to meet in person, we were already so deeply connected there was no question of what the chemistry would be like," she told CNN.

Their relationship is still a long-distance one -- but Morgan said there's no doubt in her mind that she's found her "apocalypse partner," aka the person to ride out the pandemic with.

"There's this meme that talks about how dating in 2020 is about choosing your apocalypse partner wisely and honestly I couldn't agree more," Morgan said. "I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, there's no one I'd rather be braving the new world with than AJ."

The two have created a Facebook page and Instagram page dedicated to their love story.

"I never imagined I'd meet the love of my life during a global pandemic but here we are," Morgan wrote in a post sharing their story on Facebook.

"Anything is possible."

Meeting at the virtual bar

Back in March, Krafchick and Xu decided to bring their community of listeners together in a Facebook group they called "Love in the Time of Corona by the Dateable Podcast." They said they felt it was important for people to feel less alone as quarantine began.

So far, the group has amassed more than 500 members -- who all actively utilize the group to share their experiences with dating in comments, over virtual happy hours, and, sometimes even with the two hosts as guests on their show.

Thursday afternoon, a "Dateable"-hosted virtual happy hour was in full swing, with about 20 people from across the United States -- some returning faces, others new to the hangout -- hopping on a video chat on Facebook.

Group members could check out different Facebook rooms, including: "The Bar," where Krafchick and Xu kicked off the afternoon with intros. Then, some stayed behind to play a game of "Would You Rather?" with dating-themed questions.

"Would you rather date someone who is in a lot of debt but donates to charity on a regular basis," Xu asked the group, "or someone who has no debt, but doesn't donate to charities?"

Others joined the "Playtime" room, where they participated in dating-themed trivia. And some joined a new "room" called the "Dance Floor," where one member taught a dance class.

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