For singles practicing social distancing in their houses and apartments, dating presents some obvious challenges. But also: opportunities.
“If you really think about it, being in your apartment during self-isolation is like being in a pod,” said Thi Q. Lam, 27.
He was referring to the Netflix reality-dating show “Love Is Blind,” in which contestants are isolated in windowless rooms called pods and speak to each other through walls. These dates are part of an “experiment,” the show’s participants say, to see if a lasting emotional connection can be forged between two people who have never set eyes on each other.
Mr. Lam and his roommate, Rance Nix, 28, are hoping to replicate the experiment virtually, as the new coronavirus has confined many people to their homes.
In their project, Love Is Quarantine, the pods are cells on a Google spreadsheet. The dates are phone calls. Each “season” lasts only one night. Mr. Lam and Mr. Nix are the ones doing all the matching. Viewers at home can follow along on their Instagram account, where the creators post updates from their “cast members.”
On Tuesday night, the first 30 contestants — who applied earlier that evening through a Google doc — were matched for dates. The group consisted of mostly straight couples, but they did have one gay match. “We’re L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. friendly,” said Mr. Rance.
After the dates, Mr. Rance and Mr. Lam called and texted the contestants for recaps. The contestants also recorded pre- and post-date videos, similar to the confessional interviews on reality shows.
Fans following along shared their thoughts and predictions in comments on Instagram and in a section of the Love Is Quarantine Google doc. “We already have some fan favorites,” said Mr. Lam. “I want to date Roman,” one comment on the fan spreadsheet reads. “I need updates on Katie and Steve! Another date?!” reads another.
But what did the daters have to say?
“Some of the dates went really well,” said Mr. Rance. “Some of these couples were talking on the phone for over an hour. We’d text to check up on them, and they were still talking.”
“I think we have a lot in common and we’re really vibing,” read one mid-date text from a contestant last night.
Mr. Lam and Mr. Rance said they are ultimately looking to help people connect and feel less isolated in these uncertain times. “Any way we can lift spirits, that’s what we’re here for at the end of the day,” said Mr. Rance.
The two roommates recently binge-watched the Netflix show, as both of them have been out of work as a consequence of the virus’ spread. (Mr. Lam runs his own content studio, and Mr. Rance is an actor.) They found the message of the Netflix show — that love could blossom without physical barriers — inspiring.
“One thing that resonated with us is the fact that we’re stripping away the physical aspect of dating, and that’s a pretty cool opportunity,” said Mr. Rance. “As a person with achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism, dating can be kind of tough when a lot of people are looking for that six-foot-four guy. To watch ‘Love Is Blind,’ a show where they give people the opportunity to get to know each other beforehand, I think that’s cool. We’re trying to do the same thing with Love Is Quarantine.”
“We want people to get to know other people and their personalities, likes and dislikes before they make a judgment call based on what they look like,” he said.
Mr. Lam and Mr. Rance plan to begin selling Love Is Quarantine merchandise. When they do, they said they would donate 100 percent of the proceeds to Feeding America, a nonprofit organization focused on hunger relief.
“While Love Is Quarantine is a fun opportunity to set up dates and create loving matches, it’s also a great opportunity to help others who at this present time might not be able to cover their bills for basic needs like food,” said Mr. Rance.
Love Is Quarantine already has 400 contestants hoping to be chosen for Season 2, which will unfold Wednesday night at 9 p.m. Eastern time. The roommates, who live in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, plan to keep the project going for as long as they remain unemployed.
“We’re excited and super grateful for the opportunity to share some positivity and light especially during these difficult times,” said Mr. Lam. “We’re going to do this as long as we can until we get our jobs back.”
Many of those who successfully match plan to wait to meet up in person until everyone can safely venture back outdoors.
“We might send our couples to Popeyes later after this is all over,” said Mr. Lam, “as their honeymoon.”