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Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Social distancing popularized video dates — and they'll outlast the pandemic.

The big picture: Dating is expensive, and many people are deciding they'd rather meet virtually first in case it doesn't work out.

By the numbers: The average American spends a total of about $700 annually on dates, according to a 2019 LendingTree study.

"But the pandemic was a jolt to our systems," says Logan Ury, a behavioral scientist and the director of relationship science at Hinge.

  • "Video chat was normalized, and it's only natural that it would extend to dating, because dates can be really costly and time-consuming."

So just as people are now saving time and money on commuting and eating out with hybrid work, they're saving money on those first-impression drinks and dinners via hybrid dating.

  • At the beginning of the pandemic, almost no Hinge users had been on a virtual date, per a survey conducted by the dating app. Now, close to half of them (44%) have been on a video date, and 65% of those people say they'll incorporate virtual dating into their routines even when it is safe to meet in person.
  • 37% of Hinge users say they're open to being exclusive with someone before ever meeting in person.

On top of that, 44% of Hinge users say they're nervous about dating again because they worry their social skills may have atrophied during the pandemic.

  • Virtual dating — at least for the first date — can be a smooth way to ease back into the process, because the stakes are lower than in person, says Ury.

But, but, but: In the age of Zoom fatigue, it's important for people to think of ways to separate video dates from work meetings, experts say.

  • Martine, a 29-year-old New York woman, told the New Yorker she meditates beforehand and picks a festive Zoom background or sits in front of her paintings as a conversation-starter.

What's next: The pandemic may be turning more people away from hook-up culture and toward serious dating. About 75% of Hinge users say they're looking for a relationship.

  • "During the pandemic, people had a lot of time alone to think about who they are, what kind of relationships they’ve been in in the past, and what they want in the future," Ury says. "Now there is really this feeling of, 'I’m not going to wait around.'"

Go deeper

1 hour ago - Health

WHO: Not yet known whether Omicron leads to more severe disease

Photo illustration: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The World Health Organization on Sunday said that it is not yet clear whether the newly discovered Omicron variant is more transmissible than other strains of the COVID-19 virus.

Why it matters: The agency's statement comes as the variant, discovered in South Africa, has already been detected in European and Asian countries.

7 hours ago - Health

Fauci: Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in U.S.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cautioned on Sunday that the COVID-19 Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in the United States.

Driving the news: Fauci, Biden's chief medical adviser, told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that U.S. officials will meet with colleagues from South Africa later on Sunday to try to determine the severity of the cases, as countries scramble to learn more about the variant.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Dems fear supply-chain blame

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As supply-chain kinks drive up prices and disrupt holiday shopping, Democrats are scrambling to show action and deflect blame.

Why it matters: With their party controlling both the White House and Capitol, vulnerable Democrats worry supply-chain snafus will hurt them in next year's midterms.