The pandemic has been challenging for everyone, but particularly for young singles whose dating lives have been disrupted by the fear of contagion and the need for social distancing.
“People my age have been really confused about how they can get to meet people during this time,” says Rebecca Shapiro, 24, a Pikesville native who now lives in Los Angeles. “They’re home alone and they need some entertainment.”
A graduate of Krieger Schechter Day School, the Park School and Tufts University, Shapiro recently launched “Listening for Love,” a podcast to provide dating support to her peers. Hosted by Shapiro, the podcast takes listeners along on a blind virtual date.
While working full-time as an assistant to a writer/producer at a Hollywood film and television production company, Shapiro says she frequently takes on freelance gigs “to keep her creative juices flowing.” She characterizes herself as a “people person who loves connecting her friends.”
Before the pandemic, Shapiro watched the popular Netflix reality show “Love is Blind,” which brands itself a “social experiment where single men and women look for love and get engaged, all before meeting in person.”
Although she enjoyed the show, Shapiro says some things about it troubled her. “Everyone was gorgeous, and [the contestants] all wanted to be famous and all wanted to get married,” she says. “I thought, ‘What if there was a stripped-down version of the show, and what if the audience couldn’t see the contestants either?’ That’s a podcast.”
But she shelved the project, deeming it a tad too ambitious at that moment in her life.
One morning during the pandemic, however, Shapiro, who is single, decided she wanted to “fix up [her] friends. I started pitching my friends on Instagram with a picture, a bio and a couple of sentences from me about why they’re amazing. We called it ‘Quarantinder.’”
The initial feedback was quite positive and made Shapiro feel connected to others, something she needed to counteract the isolation of the pandemic.
Soon, Shapiro began organizing Zoom happy hours to connect her friends. But she found them “frustrating” since people were talking over each other and no one could talk privately.
After consulting with her sister, Rachel, a high school teacher who knew how to create breakout rooms on Zoom, she added that feature to the happy hours.
“It was kind of like speed-dating,” Shapiro says. “After the happy hours, I had people fill out surveys, and if they expressed interest in someone at the happy hour, I would connect them. There were matches that came from those.”
Over the summer, Shapiro came back to Baltimore and returned to the podcast concept. By early September, it was ready to launch.
“People helped with the cover art and the music,” she says. “It was a way to stay connected during that time. Everyone was open and excited to try something new.”
The first installment of “Listening for Love” features Grace and Val, two acquaintances of Shapiro who were “willing to put themselves out there.” Val was originally from Baltimore, although he and Shapiro met in L.A.
Before participating in the podcast, Grace and Val were strangers who knew nothing about each other. Shapiro says she does her best to create a viable match. Unlike some other reality dating shows, she says she’s not trying to create drama to grow ratings but simply wants to make people happy.
So far, Shapiro has volunteers for the next three episodes. For the show’s first season, she plans to choose singles from the L.A. area. But she hopes to broaden the casting pool to other locations in the future.
Shapiro says she’s not too concerned about running out of people to fix up. “I get plenty of referrals,” she says. “But I joke around that some people on the show will be people I met on a dating app or tried to date but are in the ‘friend zone.’ I would have loved if someone had a show like this for me!”
A former Chizuk Amuno congregant whose parents, Sarah and David, live in Pikesville, Shapiro says she believes her Jewish heritage has much to do with her matchmaking aspirations.
“It’s that idea of putting trust in other people in the community who know what’s best for you,” she says. “I’m not saying I know what’s best for my friends, but there’s something better about having your friends fix you up than using a dating app. I know all these amazing people. I’ve always looked at how to connect them. It’s like, ‘How can I strengthen my community?’”
Shapiro says “Listening for Love” debuts at an ideal time in American culture. “In the current moment, full of divisiveness and disconnect, I hope listeners find a sense of connectedness in the podcast,” she says. “I hope it encourages listeners to seek out this kind of no-frills connection, be it with new friends and potential partners or old friends and longtime partners.”
The “Listening for Love” podcast is available on Spotify and most podcast streaming sites.