It's natural to yearn for romance — especially in times of isolation. But during a global pandemic, isolation is a void that intimacy can't fill. At least, not physical intimacy. But House of Pod, Colorado's podcast incubation hub and home of the new virtual matchmaking show LoveSick, has found that this is the ideal time to try and foster real connections.
Jaffee spent much of her twenties as a Fulbright Scholar and National Geographic Explorer in Turkey and the South Caucasus. Once her time abroad ended, she decided to settle down and saved up to buy a house with her significant other.
But things changed, and the relationship ended.
Jaffee, left with time, money and fierce determination, decided to invest her savings in a new business instead of a home. Now, two years after founding House of Pod, her company is producing its debut show.
"It's a pretty bold move when a podcast company like ours goes forward with a show like [LoveSick]," Jaffee says. "It's the first time that we take our own budget, we take our own staff time, we take all of our own things" to make it happen.
"We tried to launch this show like a year ago," she says, "and we came up with another show — for Denver, specifically — called Sounds Hot... but we couldn't figure out the legality of having people meet up in person. What happens if it's a bad date? What happens if people are creepers? We just...we couldn't sort through some of those logistics."
Then came the pandemic.
"COVID-19 just lends itself really well to virtual dating," she says. Which was great news for LoveSick, because "we had all of the architecture in place for this kind of show. We just needed people to be able to be on board to do this remotely from home. And now they are."
"We didn't even realize that we needed that, but we did," says Karolyi, co-producer of LoveSick. "And here it is, a time where every single person on the planet is starved [for] real human connection."
With that in mind, and with an unconventional production strategy and an onslaught of willing participants, LoveSick launched its first episode on Monday, April 20.
Many podcasts are produced in full, then rolled out on a pre-determined schedule. That way, producers know where the season is going, what the arc of the story looks like, and where the narrative ends. But unpredictable times call for unpredictable measures, so LoveSick is jumping in, with the goal of releasing episodes as quickly as they are ready, which Karolyi estimates will be roughly every two weeks.
LoveSick, much like Love Is Blind, the popular Netflix reality show, raises the question: "Can you fall in love with someone just by the sound of their voice?" And what better place to explore that idea than in a podcast?
Over 300 people from over thirty states and countless countries around the world agree, and have applied to be matched on the podcast. Jaffee and Karolyi are reading every application and matching daters in hopes of facilitating connections.
For Karolyi, podcasting has a deep connection to love. During his time as an undergrad at George Washington University, he met a woman when he was leaving the studio after his WRGW radio show.
"Our very first conversation happened because I happened to be in the station when she was taking over her slot to deejay an hour, and her regular co-host wasn't there," Karolyi explains.
Karolyi headed back to his dorm, thinking about this woman he had just met. Determined to connect, he returned to the studio pretending he "lost a book," which she then helped him look for.
"I ended up sticking around and co-hosting her show with her," he recalls. "And our very first conversation was on the air of the college radio station."
Now, years later, the two are happily married.
"I've always had an appreciation for what this medium can do for relationships and how people can engage in a different way and listen in a different way," he says.
Karolyi acknowledges that being recorded can change how people present themselves: "You know you're being recorded, so you know somebody is going to listen to you. It's a powerful thing, because it makes people want to show their best self. And what you think your best self is actually reveals a lot about you."
To get ready for each show — and to help spread love over the airwaves — Jaffee and Karolyi interview applicants and set them up on audio dates; the producers listen in.
Jaffee and Karolyi want listeners to tune in to find out what takes place during these facilitated dates, but they promise it will be fun for daters and listeners alike. "The dates provide interesting models of how to stay inside and be creative," Jaffee says. She hopes they can provide inspiration for couples new and old, quarantined together and apart, all around the world.
Despite the podcast's fortuitous timing, there was one unfortunate development outside of coronavirus affecting the course of LoveSick.
"The day we dropped the trailer, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer," Jaffee discloses. "I was already a really hard person to date," but with that news, she adds, "I just became infinitely harder."
She says she set up a virtual date through a dating app, "to see what it would be like to go through what we're going to be asking people to go through" on the podcast. But as soon as she disclosed that she had cancer, she found that dates "won't respond, and they'll ghost me. Like, without fail. ... I got stood up three times after I told a guy I had cancer. "
Using that lived experience to shape positive encounters for participants on LoveSick, Jaffee is pushing for full disclosure, inclusivity and honesty.
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"This sucks. It sucks to let people know that you're going through something," she says. "So I feel excited to host the show — one, as a single person who's dedicated to audio and podcasting, but two, as someone who's feeling the isolation that you might feel without COVID-19."
"I think that people are in isolation in society without COVID-19, and we're not seeing it or we're not thinking about it because it's not an experience that we're living," Jaffee adds. She's using LoveSick to "make a very warm environment for people to be vulnerable and not be stood up," she says. And also, to combat "the douchebaggery of dating online these days."
LoveSick is "a non-gender-binary, inclusive show, so you can come as you are and define yourself, " she concludes. "We're not looking for neat, heterosexual couples to go on neat dates. Be human and be yourself. And if you can't be that, then maybe it isn't the right fit."
Find out more about the latest episodes, apply to be a participant, and follow the podcast on the LoveSick website, or wherever you get your podcasts.