I set my friend up on a virtual first date and she now plans to do the same for her friends

PHOTO: Pexels

When circuit breaker was initially announced, the first thoughts on some of my friends' minds were — how am I going to continue meeting new people?

Yes, I'm referring my single friends who are on dating apps and on the lookout for that special someone to spend the rest of their lives with.

The typical routine for those in the dating app scene goes like this:You match up, do a bit of in-app chatting and then proceed to meet, usually at a cafe or a dining establishment.

Over food and drinks, you work on discovering if you have common interests or if there's a spark that ignites, to decide whether or not to keep the conversation going.

So what happens during this period when we are asked to stay at home as far as possible and even when out, we are to practise social distancing?

The answer is to have a first date from the comfort of your own home, via Zoom or a similar platform. And dating agencies in Singapore have quickly pivoted their businesses to match clients up in such a manner.

One outfit that has taken to going online is KopiDate and I decided to set one of my said single friends, Jo, 30, who works in marketing, up for the experience.

Just in case you were wondering, Jo is someone who needs no help in getting a date. But given that she is an extrovert by nature and cabin fever had started setting in early during CB, this date was a welcome change from her usual WFH routine.

Here's how it went.

Preparing to get a match

After registering her interest in being set up for a date, Jo was asked to fill in a questionnaire to help the agency find a suitable match for her. It included the usual basic details, and likes and dislikes, as well as the preferred choice of coffee (it is KopiDate, after all).

Once they find a match (which usually takes about two to four weeks), they'll drop you an email including a description of the person you'll be meeting. When a date and time is confirmed, you'll also find in your mailbox a starter kit, which is a unique signature of the agency.

You've got KopiDate mail!

The kit includes pointers on how to get your date started, and a couple of other booklets that are for you to only open up during the date itself. And yes, instant coffee (or teabags if you prefer) is included in the kit as well. The premise for KopiDate is on having open, honest conversation over a cuppa, and this remains the same even though the date now takes place at home.

Before the actual meeting, another email will be dropped in your inbox to give you a written preview of what your date is like (but not how the other party looks), and then there is nothing left to do but to gear yourself up.

How the date went

Given that Jo frequently meets new people in her line of work, she didn't experience nervous jitters before the date. There was just the usual excitement of meeting someone for the first time.

Jo did share that the pointers provided in the package were useful tips, especially for someone who may not be as comfortable with meeting someone for the first time online. 

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When the allotted time for the date rolled about, Jo logged into the private chat platform, where her date for the afternoon was already waiting. After the first round of introductions, they followed the schedule the agency had provided in an email and started with the first booklet Break the Ice, which consisted of a couple of ice breakers.

For Jo, things got more interesting when they started on the second booklet, which they were only to open during the date, as it was a roadmap of questions to ask one another. According to her, these were questions that she would not usually think to ask during a first date, perhaps because they required more intimate answers not everyone is prepared to share.

However, as both Jo and her date had already been prepped by the agency that they should be vulnerable and open during the session, the questions did help stimulate the conversation to go deeper and shed light on the other person's way of thinking and personality. "I would not have thought about asking some of the questions we were given, but some of them really made me think and I appreciate how I got to know a side of my date that I may have otherwise not discovered."

A smooth process

And even if there might be awkward pauses after a question was answered, which did happen on her date, it was easy to get over them. "There were times I wasn't quite sure how to respond to what my date had said, but I would just move us on to the next question. So having the booklet really helped."

The questions were also structured in a way where they became progressively personal. The first few touched on lighter topics that could be easily answered, before they delved into questions that required more thought, such as, 'What was one dream that you had to let go of?'.

Having the date take place over the computer and from home meant no distractions, unless of course privacy at home is an issue. "Sometimes while at a restaurant or cafe, you can see the other person drift, perhaps due to the bustle of the place. Doing this date from home, meant that both of us were fully focused on the date and sincerely getting to know one another."

But this should not be a sign to get too comfortable and one should still be aware of how you present yourself, said Jo. She shared that her date would rub his eyes every so often, which did not make a good impression on her initially.

The last part of the date involved surprise challenges that were delivered in the third and last booklet to bring a fun end to the hour. They weren't tasks that were too difficult to execute and Jo thought that it helped conclude the date on a nice note.

No sparks, but she'll do it again

I wish I could say that Jo found her Prince Charming through this experience, but unfortunately, she felt a lack of chemistry between herself and her date.

But on the bright side, she thought the experience was great, in terms of the personal sharing that went on right off the bat. 

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A virtual date is still something she would still recommend, and Jo is already of thinking of purchasing the experience as a gift for several of her friends. "This is a great experience, especially if you tend to be on the shy side. And as there are 'tasks' to complete on the date, it helps fill the time, so there won't be a chance that no one knows what to do.

"The questions also really help prevent the conversation from becoming stale," shared Jo.

The recommended time of an hour for the date was also great from Jo's perspective, especially if the date doesn't go as well as you had hoped. "Unlike over a meal, where you are expected to hang out for a bit longer, there's less of this expectation online, which makes for a great exit strategy if needed."

One thing she would have done differently though, would be to provide more details in the form when she signed up for the experience. "I was initially hesitant to give out too much information about myself, but in hindsight, with the way the experience went, I would provide more details about myself in the questionnaire, and potentially get a date that matches even better with me."

AsiaOne was invited to participate in the experience, but all views and opinions are the writer's friend's own.

kailun@asiaone.com