The Scoop: The COVID-19 pandemic made things more challenging for singles as social distancing meant fewer places to meet potential partners. And online dating, which once offered a pathway to in-person connections, often turned into endless chatting. Many singles, meanwhile, found it hard to strike up conversations when they felt they hadn’t done anything new in months. Tammy Shaklee, who owns the H4M LGBTQ matchmaking firm, shares her expertise as a seasoned matchmaker for sophisticated gay professionals and offers some lessons she has learned over the last year.

Last year started normally enough for Tammy Shaklee’s H4M matchmaking firm and her clients. She encouraged everyone to have new intentions for 2020 and to reboot their hopes and expectations for meeting someone new. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“It was filled with uncertainty and challenge, but I quickly chose to rewire the business model and the client expectations,” she said, remembering those first chaotic weeks.

When the stay-at-home mandates and social distancing guidelines were first announced, professional matchmakers had difficult decisions to make about their businesses. Tammy got on conference calls with fellow professionals from around the nation to gauge their thoughts.

The H4M logo

H4M is a prominent matchmaking firm for LGBTQ singles.

She said that most of the matchmakers who had physical offices had decided to close and put their clients on hold until the pandemic was over. But Tammy had a different perspective. She and her team had already given up the brick-and-mortar offices four years ago, so her single LGBTQ clients were already comfortable with meeting with their matchmakers virtually.

“I chose to do the opposite. I let every client know that we’re still making matches for you,” she said. “We decided to improve virtual matches by letting our clients meet all their matches virtually, instead of waiting to meet them in person.”

That approach helped Tammy flip the script on dating during a pandemic. Instead of limiting opportunities for singles, Tammy provided an effective way to connect with potential partners well beyond a small geographic region.

Set the Stage for a Successful Virtual Date

As Tammy helped her clients see that they could have quality introductions during the pandemic, she also noticed a distinct difference in reaction between her introverted and extroverted clients.

“Introverts were happy with shelter in place, and the extroverts were antsy,” she said. “They said they did better meeting in person because they could get a better vibe.”

To address their worries, her team of matchmakers created a way to help singles set the stage for their online dates. The idea was to create a happy hour atmosphere and make it as real as possible. For example, if a client had an attractive person over for a drink, they wouldn’t sit at their desk or wear pajama bottoms.

Photo of H4M Founder Tammy Shakle

H4M Founder Tammy Shaklee helped LGBTQ singles stay connected through the COVID-19 pandemic.

She encouraged her clients to dress up, wear a nice fragrance, light a candle, and play some nice music in the background. Her matchmakers would offer a dress rehearsal for singles before their date to ensure their webcam was set up comfortably and the setting looked romantic, not like a business meeting.

“Even the extroverts had a way to share their personality,” Tammy said. “The introverts were happier to be introduced at home because they felt more comfortable than meeting a true blind date in public.”

Tammy said her team members also changed the way they checked in with clients during the pandemic. It used to be that matchmakers would start with a greeting and get straight to business by offering a new match they found. Now, they start by checking on a client’s emotional, mental, and physical health.

“I need you to be healthy and happy as a single so you can be ready for your next introduction,” Tammy said. “But if you’re struggling with your mental, emotional or physical health because you can’t go to the gym, we want to help.”

That could include a reference to a mental health therapist or a great online yoga class.

Find New Activities to Stay Fresh

Whether a date is virtual or in person thanks to vaccinations, Tammy said a big challenge for singles is keeping the experience fresh. The worst thing is to feel like nothing at all has been happening for months. She said singles shouldn’t lead by talking about things they used to do before the pandemic.

“You’ve done a great job career-wise or staying active as a single, but it’s time to do something fresh to talk about on the date. That can be a fresh recipe, a new hobby, adopting a pet, or volunteering,” she said. “I’m trying to get them to have fresh topics to talk about on that date.”

Many singles have also had time to focus on exactly what they’re looking for during time spent by themselves over the last year. Tammy said she noticed that her clients are more ready than ever to meet the right person.

“There is a difference between social dating and fun and margaritas — and who I’d want to be with if we had another pandemic,” Tammy said. “The quietness of the pandemic allowed for that intention, which was different from a year ago.”

She encourages singles to use the summer to get back on track. That may mean losing any weight gained during the pandemic or becoming more active in the community. She recommends people consider volunteer opportunities if they’re unsure how to get back into the social scene.

“It will change your mood and your attitude just by helping someone out,” Tammy told us.

H4M Says Outdoor and Online Dating Remain Popular

Tammy said her clients have become more discerning about what they want in a potential partner. But they are also more open to meeting people who live outside their area.

Many professionals have transitioned to remote work permanently, making it easier than ever to move elsewhere. That means more opportunities for those singles who don’t limit their search for finding love to surrounding geographic areas.

“There are plenty of dating coaches to get them ready to present themselves. That’s an opportunity to meet someone in another state that you’re really compatible with,” she said. “You can get to know each other and consider a long-distance relationship because of the video component. We have couples in relationships who met on video first.”

Of course, singles in the same town tell Tammy that they’re just excited to meet people again. Outdoor dates will likely remain a popular way to connect with singles, especially when the weather is nice in most of the nation.

Tammy recommends the first in-person date to be outdoors with social distancing, like sharing a drink and an appetizer on a restaurant patio. The second date can be more active, such as going to a dog park or simply taking a stroll together.

Tammy said two women she set up for a second date met for a coffee and then decided to take a walk around a nearby lake. The walk was three miles, and afterward, they decided to get a snack. Then they decided to take the walk a second time — making it a six-mile trek.

“That’s how much active and healthy singles are ready to be outside,” Tammy said.