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Tom Sommers used to date around, prioritizing looks and career status.

Then the pandemic hit.

Like many singles, Mr. Sommers spent months of lockdown by himself. When he returned to dating, he was surprised to find his tastes had changed.

“I realized I need a partner of substance," says Mr. Sommers, 59, who is a marketing executive in Washington, D.C.

Meet the postpandemic single.

Just like everyone else, single people have been rethinking their priorities over the past few years. Many say they are more eager to find a partner than they were in the past—and that they’re dating more deliberately, according to the results of the latest Singles in America study, conducted by researchers at the Kinsey Institute and funded by Match, the dating app. They’re also adjusting to political and social issues.

They’re even (a little) less interested in looks.

Single people had a lot of time to think during the pandemic, says Helen Fisher, a senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and the lead researcher on the study. Now, many have a clearer idea of what they want—and what to do to get it.

Researchers surveyed a national, demographically representative sample of 5,000 single Americans age 18 and older who aren’t in a committed relationship. Match funds the study, although survey participants aren’t collected through its app.

Nearly three-quarters of participants say they want to find a partner who wants to marry, roughly similar to last year and up from 58% in 2019. And half of singles say they’re even more eager to find a relationship this year than in the past.

Research has shown that major stressful events can increase people’s desire for connection and commitment—and that romantic relationships can buffer against anxiety. A separate study of single people during the pandemic found that those who were worried during it became more selective: They became more interested in finding a stable partner, says Liesel Sharabi, an assistant professor in the communication school at Arizona State University, a researcher on the study.

Not everyone is looking to pair up, of course. Some single people found they enjoyed spending time alone during the pandemic, says Bella DePaulo, a social psychologist who studies singles.

Yet most postpandemic singles are interested in dating, according Justin Garcia, executive director of the Kinsey Institute and a researcher on the Singles in America study. Here’s how their behaviors and attitudes are changing.

They’re more deliberate.

Almost three-quarters of single people say they only want to go on a first date with someone they already know they have good chemistry with, the study shows. To figure this out, they’re spending more time on phone calls and video chats. Today, one-quarter of singles say they’ve had a video chat with a date before meeting in person, up from 6% in 2019.

When they do meet, slightly more than one-third of singles say they will wait to have sex. And—surprise!—men were more likely than women to say they’d wait: 40%, compared with 33% of women.

“Often, people were just going through the motions before," says Yuthika Girme, a social psychologist at Simon Fraser University, in Burnaby, British Columbia, who studies singles and romantic relationships. “Now they’re telling themselves: ‘I need to be dating with intent.’"

They’re looking deeper.

Each year, researchers ask single people what they’re looking for in a partner. The No. 1 answer this year is “someone to trust and confide in." It’s always high on the list.

Three traits are new to the top five since the pandemic: Singles said they’re looking for partners who are comfortable with their own sexuality; able to communicate their own wants and needs; and who are emotionally mature. (This last one hit the top five for the first time last year, as the pandemic raged.)

A sense of humor stayed on the list—it’s always a favorite.

And what dropped out of the top five during the pandemic? Physical attraction.

They’re more flexible.

Half of the singles surveyed this year said they’ve fallen in love with someone they weren’t initially attracted to, up from 39% in 2019. This is the highest this number has been in the past decade.

Slightly more than half said they’d be willing to have a long-distance relationship, up from 35% last year, a development researchers say is being driven by the increase in remote and hybrid work.

They’re adapting to the times.

Almost 60% of single people say it’s important for their partner to share their political beliefs. This is down from an all-time high of 78% in 2020. (In 2016, it was 50%.)

But abortion is a hot topic, with 78% of singles of reproductive age saying that the Supreme Court ruling striking down Roe v. Wade has changed their sex life. Two out of three single women won’t date a partner who has opposing views on the issue. And 13% of active daters said the decision made them hesitant to date.

Mr. Sommers, who is divorced, has a new dating motto now: “No more flakes."

During the pandemic, he says he learned to enjoy his own company. That made him less afraid of being alone—and more selective about whom he dates. Out are men who are handsome but shallow. In are ones who show genuine interest in him and know how to communicate.

Now when he meets a man he likes, he goes on two dates with him. If the man talks only about himself or seems uncaring, he moves on.

And he no longer kisses on the first date.

“During the pandemic I learned to be happy with myself and learned what I want," he says “So I now can be more focused."

 

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