Shen has strict rules for her matches: only audio for the first three dates, through an app that encrypts phone numbers to avoid stalking and awkwardness should the match go awry. There are also rules about what you are allowed to talk about. “Résumé-like” material is banned: where you went to college, what you do for a living, the type of stuff a person might bring up on a first date otherwise. “Vetting” via friends is strictly outlawed.
Though San Francisco is “a small world in a lot of ways,” Huang says, “I don’t know how we would have met otherwise.”
“It was maybe in the back of my mind, the six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon thing,” Benjamin added. “But it felt random. Maria [Shen] doesn’t know who I am.”
Shen isn’t the only one delving into matchmaking. Before creating Zoom Bachelorette, Yang (who works at a data privacy firm) was also connecting strangers via The Zoom Dating Experiment, a side project she launched after casually linking friends and friends of friends in her spare time.
“None of my background has to do with matchmaking at all,” Yang says. But when she set a single male friend up with a female friend for a Zoom date, they hit it off, and she tweeted about it. By the time the day was over, she had a string of tweets from people begging her to match them with other single people. “That was late on a Thursday night,” she remembers. “By Saturday, I had 50 people signed up, and 10 Zoom dates had already happened.”
Meanwhile, OkZoomer—founded by two Yale juniors as a joke featured on the Facebook group Ivy League Meme Consortium—has now gone from a simple Google form to a bigger operation serving students at any accredited college. Regional, unofficial adaptations of Love Is Blind, the hit Netflix reality show, have gotten big with the Brooklyn-based Love Is Quarantine and a DC version called DC Is Blind.
One benefit to Zoom matchmaking is that your match can be physically located anywhere. Boomers might have met their partners around their immediate town, and millennials might have encountered them on dating apps within the confines of a region, but Gen Z is starting to date without location barriers at all. A generation facing canceled school years, unlikely summer internship and travel plans, and fall semesters still up in the air needs all the breaks it can get.
At the moment, however, all these sites and experiments tend to cater to a specific type of person. Thus far, Zoom matchmaking tends to attract elite college students. Zoom Bachelorette was almost completely filled with white-collar tech entrepreneurs, all friends or friends-of-friends of Shen or Yang. Ameri runs a skin-care startup called Mirra. Trivedi, her “fiancé” for the day, runs an online jewelry marketplace.
But as shelter-in-place orders head into their third month, many more people might be tempted to gamble that Zoom matchmakers can hook them up with the right person online. For their part, Huang and Benjamin were due to go on their first date last night, a socially distanced walk in the park. “I think that truthfully, I got pretty lucky,” Benjamin says. “Me too,” Huang agrees.
As for Ameri, she is not sure when she will even meet Trivedi in person. But she’s confident it could work. “Finding a romantic connection is possible in this new form [Zoom],” she told me.
Her bio for Zoom Bachelorette is equally upbeat. “Although she never imagined meeting her future husband over Zoom while livestreaming to an audience, she’s ready to embrace these unprecedented times,” it reads.
She’s not the only one.