Reconfigurations of intimacy also swiftly evolved and proliferated in online spaces after the outbreak of the pandemic-from increased chatting and emotional connection through mobile dating apps (Harris, 2020; Shaw, 2020) to sex parties via Zoom video technology, described in popular media articles (Katz, 2020; Parham, 2020; Power & Waling, 2020). The Instagram reality?TV?styled project is one example of a particularly creative way people have used social media to seek out connections with others. As a hybrid ‘dating service’/‘reality show’ that emerged during the early days of the global lockdown, it featured people of all ages and sexualities who virtually dated other ‘matches’, while other Instagram users followed their pre? and post?date video updates (Lorenz, 2020). Similarly, The Guardian newspaper’s podcast series Blind Date facilitated socially distant dates that were relayed through the podcast (Blind Date: Podcast, 2020). Such phenomena, however, have appeared to be as fleeting as the initial ;-the excitement (or anxiety) of the ‘new normal’ wore off, months down the line from initial outbreaks. Yet, they also show the high adaptability of people to find new ways of creating or sustaining a sense of sexual or emotional intimacy with others in digitally mediated ways when the more usual avenues of dating could not be possible.
This landscape is likely to continue to change in other innovative ways, while broader fears or threats of infection remain-even as vaccinations become more wide?spread, international borders open up again, and COVID?19 is eventually brought under more manageable control. The pandemic has created a dynamic and highly variable context in which to explore how public health measures impact upon people’s experience and negotiation of intimacy with others met through mobile dating apps. As Lupton and Willis (2020) note, COVID?19 offers a rich opportunity for a new turn in social theorising; that any contributions from medicine and public health need to be supplemented by social perspectives on how people experience and negotiate risk as they live through the pandemic.
, 2017, p. 2, emphasis in original). , 2017, p. 2). These habits and practices are brought into being, performed and normalised through app design, such as the mechanism of swiping for ‘matches’ and the assistance of location?based searches for dating or hooking up (Miles, 2019; Quiroz, 2013). Such practices become further routinised through app use, including people’s self?presentation and hyper?aware impression management (Blackwell et al., 2015), ending contact with no communication (‘ghosting’) (Le; Le), or digitally mediated affective expression (through ‘emojis’) (Tang, 2017), to name a few.
Discursive psychology offers a useful standpoint from which to view people’s affective engagement with each other, through dating apps; where affect is viewed as people’s emotional, embodied reactions to entities or events, that are also inseparable from discourse, from the linguistic meaning?making that people engage in, and the wider sets of meanings that circulate within a specific time or place (Wetherell, 2012). Affect is viewed, here, as intertwined with language and meaning?making-through ‘affective practices’ that are made available and taken up within particular material and discursive contexts (Wetherell, 2012; Wetherell et al., 2015). Thus, viewed from a critical, discursive psychological perspective, mobile dating could be understood as constituted through cycles of discursive interaction and Gay dating app affective meaning?making that are driven and shaped by users, the apps, and broader social and institutional processes.