In contemporary India, dating has many layers

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By Boshika Gupta

I have a friend. Rahul’s (not his real name) twenties has been a mixed bag of professional success and personal frustrations. While he’s managed to get a good job and a hefty pay-check, love has eluded him.

Let’s face it – it gets hard for youngsters to meet people outside of work and forge meaningful connections. Romance is tough on its seekers. This is especially in true in a place like India where there is a lot to work with. For example, arranged marriages, matrimonial sites, astrology, high-school love stories, newfound passion at a friend’s party and the newest entrant on the block, the faithful dating app.

It’s important to note virtual dating was already sort of sneakily making its presence felt through chat rooms and services like Orkut and Facebook way back in 2004. A flirty message on someone’s wall, enthusiastic frenzied instant messages, and a thoughtful note really meant something.

In college, two of my friends met their boyfriends on Facebook. Their relationships didn’t last for too long but their shared fascination for the platform did. It was convenient to trace a person’s virtual history, get to know his friends, go through pictures from his trips by clicking and scrolling through pages of relationship gold.

Fast forward to today and there are more options available for those looking for new friends, relationships, casual hook ups, great conversations and even validation. A number of popular apps have popped up in the country including Tinder, TrulyMadly, Woo and Floh. While Tinder remains the most popular option, its competitors are trying to offer their own rewards in a bid to appeal to users.

For example, TrulyMadly promises more security by putting its users through a verification process that includes checking profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, a phone number, a photo ID, and even salary slips to cross-check information.  However, this doesn’t appeal to many users who find the process cumbersome.

The first time I got a taste of Tinder, I was in a serious relationship and listening to a friend’s heartbroken woes. He sent me screenshots from the app, wondering what the girl in the picture was like. He knew she was a mutual connection thanks to Facebook, and wanted details. While he had interesting dates with many girls thanks to his presence on Tinder, he eventually only found the kind of love he was looking for at work.

Another dating app, Woo prides itself on being different and lets users access a plethora of features with a lot of promised anonymity before the conversation takes place. Users are matched through shared interests such as travel and music. It claims to help people find something deeper than a quick hook up.

“We believe that there is a new India that’s growing and making decisions on how they travel, their hobbies and even who they want to settle down with,” says Sumesh Menon, CEO, Woo.  He explains that the app is meant for a mature audience and targets independent working professionals who want to find more people like themselves.

Youngsters fit several descriptions at once in an increasingly complex society, filled with contradictions. Many restless souls want nothing more than casual encounters, preferring to stay away from emotional baggage and enjoy themselves.

Other people like Rahul have been there and done that and they’re tired of being ghosted by strangers on platforms they don’t fully understand.  It’s exhausting to go through the process of connecting, exchanging ideas and thoughts only to be greeted by silence a few days later.

On his experience with Tinder, Rahul says, “The app is an interesting way to meet new people and explore possibilities. But it is overrated in its effectiveness.”

Overall, he called it a rather ‘depressing’ experience and added, “The app goes a long way in reinforcing societal stereotypes and plays on people’s insecurities by falsely placating them with the power to left swipe even the prettiest people.”

At a stand-up comedy event I attended recently, the performer insisted that no one in the history of time would ever want to say that they found their soul-mate by swiping right.

It’s true that Rahul is looking for someone who’ll make him feel happy, loved and fulfilled as he chases the butterflies in his stomach. Dating apps, social media and even a matrimonial site have left him completely exhausted, looking for better ways out.

The icing on the cake? Many Indian parents expect a far more traditional approach and have their own set of demands such as a solid family background, financial stability, an impressive education history and more.

Another app, Floh likes to be exclusive, by the way. It prefers to only let people with invites access its features. There is an internal screening process that needs to be completed to verify a user’s profile. After that, the paid service combines conversations and technology to connect people. The app uses an algorithm that has a whopping number of factors (42!) that it uses to match users.

In a diverse country like India, dating apps probably have a massive untapped user base. The trick is to figure out what works, makes users feel safe and lingers long after we’ve logged out, our hearts racing and anticipating the next unforgettable date with the perfect stranger.

Maybe there’s some room for all kinds of love out there.  Maybe some of us fell in love on the subway, while some chose to exchange love letters underneath school desks.  Maybe some of us just met in the most random way possible and hit it off instantly like we were always meant to be. Maybe our children and grandchildren will be smarter, more social-media savvy, super confused and trying to listen to their tired hearts while juggling way more choices than we could have ever predicted.

Rahul’s name has been changed at his request.