A LITTLE wave. A fleeting glance. A tentative greeting. Young romance novelist and singer Anmol Malik looks out from her suburban Mumbai building and sees an old-fashioned romance brewing. Harking back to the days when making eye contact at the boy or girl in the ‘saamnewali khidki’ was the closest one could get to swiping right. “In these strange times, it’s charming how kids are finding a kind of companionship,” she says, with the wisdom of a 25-year-old.
Welcome to the world of dating during lockdown, when what someone described as safe six (the mandated six-foot distance) is the norm. Speak to an array of singletons forced to spend time by themselves and they all talk of the mixed joys of long conversations and longer abstinences. For a generation that grew up on WhatsApp forwards and TikTok videos, the attention span for love mirrors that for social media. In the absence of potential intimacy, there is only so much they can talk about. One young woman who is recovering from a serious relationship and had just joined dating apps Bumble and Tinder as a “distraction”, complains of the demands of making conversation. “How much can you talk?” she asks. “It’s always better to meet in person and make plans.” A young man who also prefers anonymity agrees with her saying there is a limit to how long you can “drag on” a conversation, especially if you’re not going to meet soon. Virtual connection does not exist, insists Shashwat Gupta. “Guys just jump to intimate conversations straight away and that makes me uncomfortable. Everyone is so bored and so fake. Even if you start a conversation, after some time you run out of things to say,” adds Gupta.
Anyone who thought courtship was all about pretty poetry and purple prose, perish the thought. Despite being surrounded by an abundance of words, thoughts and ideas, the biggest complaint of young romantics wrong-footed by the lockdown is the awkward silences and the endless pauses. Clearly young India did not get the memo that good conversation is good for romance. Poet and writer Ashish Bagrecha who found his partner thanks to his way with words, says intelligent chatter is not the only thing the new generation brought up on social media lacks. “They are obsessed with themselves, think life is as picture-perfect as celebrity Instagram posts, and are all too fragile. I get so many DMs [direct messages] on my Instagram about couples breaking up and it’s usually for the silliest reasons. They don’t realise love is about giving, about sharing. What’s more, the world of online dating has opened a romantic marketplace for them, allowing them infinite choice at no cost. Their brains are rewired for instant gratification.” Even then, according to data from dating app Tinder, in India, conversations have been up an average of 39 per cent and the average length of conversations is 28 per cent longer.
“In these strange times, it’s charming how kids are finding a kind of companionship,” says Anmol Malik, novelist
Share this on
The idea of waiting, the bedrock of all romance, is missing. Even the short-distance romance has been converted into long-distance love—the mohalla-paar ladki. Romance novelist Ravinder Singh, who has written an e-single during the lockdown about a boy in quarantine falling in love with his neighbour, says: “The whole idea of love at first sight has been tossed out of the window. In my understanding, once they are done watching Netflix, they want the thrill of new love, the butterflies in their stomach.”
For many young men and women, technology plays a big part in how they select the one to love. They know exactly which app has features that work for them. Saurav likes Hinge because it filters out “weirdos” with its detailed questionnaire, while Anya likes Bumble because she can make the first move if she wishes. Those not on dating apps manage to find love even on Twitter and Instagram. “It’s like the world we’re living in, we’re watching Netflix but also reruns of Ramayan, only love letters have been replaced by video calls, and tequila shots by a glass of wine shared virtually,” says Ravinder Singh.
For those who hadn’t used apps before, preferring a more ‘organic’ way of meeting, it’s been a discovery. Aashay Srivastav joined Bumble because of the lockdown and found someone he’d worked with while interning. “But at that time I was very shy and didn’t take it forward,” he says, adding he has every intention to make up for it now. It’s the same for Sonali who never found the courage to go up to a “supercute senior who was really hot” she had a crush on, until the lockdown happened and so did her reliance on dating apps. “Now we videocall each other and message each other all the time. I’m so connected to him, it’s amazing,” she says as only someone in the throes of a great romance can.
“This is a reset of the world, everyone will have a different mindset. Be honest, especially with so many disruptions and distractions,” says Sudeep Nagarkar, author
Share this on
Naturally those who manage Tinder are delighted with such reactions. For Tinder members, lockdown and social distancing have not meant disconnecting. Globally, more members are swiping right, having more conversations overall and those conversations are lasting longer. There were three-plus billion swipes on March 29th, more than on any single day in the history of Tinder. Globally, daily conversations have been up an average of 20 per cent around the world, and the average length of the conversations is 25 per cent longer. The introduction of a new feature, Passporting, allows people to find matches in other parts of the world—India saw a 25 per cent increase in the rate of Passporting to other parts of the world.
Says Taru Kapoor, General Manager, Tinder India, “Stay home, be safe, social distancing, ‘how are you’, wash your hands and face emojis are seen being used in bios. There is no precedence for this period, and the increase in both conversation length and Passport usage only validates our belief that in challenging times, the community is finding ways to form new connections and discover new social discovery rhythms.” Apart from chatting longer, if not better, the lockdown is also teaching youngsters patience and the art of introspection. In the headlong, feet-first lives young people lead, they don’t always know how to think through their emotions. The fond hope is that everyone will emerge from the lockdown as better versions of themselves, give up the mindless chasing of things, emotions, people. “Everything was fleeting. We had become quite impatient with a lot of things. The slowing down has meant that we crave human company now, and look for the best in the other,” says Malik.
There’s a large, important cultural shift happening, but it’s now accelerating and expanding because of the coronavirus. It has accelerated the dissolution of lines between the digital and the physical. This shift was already underway with our younger members, points out Taru Kapoor, but it’s been solidified by the virus. “We saw a similar shift when Tinder first came into the market and technology became a powerful facilitator of forging new connections. Human connection [irrespective of shape and form] is enduring and will find a way to sustain regardless of circumstance. You can do a lot together, virtually, thanks to video and other technologies, and it’s been interesting to see the power of virtual human interaction and our members enjoying a wide variety of shared digital social experiences. The coronavirus has led more people than we’d ever imagined feeling sparks through a screen.”
“I get so many direct messages on my Instagram about couples breaking up and it’s usually for the silliest reasons. They don’t realise love is about giving, about sharing,” says Ashish Bagrecha, poet
Share this on
But for many, dating is becoming challenging during the lockdown with people feeling the pressure to connect and not being able to maintain the balance between the relationships they have at home and with their partners outside. With each person having their own types of schedules and family routines, coordinating these is becoming difficult. This is getting exaggerated on account of not being able to move out as many people may not have their own private space or are unable to freely talk in front of family members. Clinical psychologist Kamna Chhibber says it’s leading to enhanced levels of discontent, irritability, feelings of missing out on precious time to build experiences, increased comparisons with others and a lack of uncertainty of how and when things will change is increasing levels of frustration and making young people feel out of control of their own lives and relationships.
People are adopting mechanisms of virtual dates to compensate for in-person meetings, she adds. However, these too have been dwindling as the initial enthusiasm for these is getting replaced by the feeling of loss of what was normal and taken for granted. Conversations as a result have many stresses and strains as these are contingent upon the moods of individuals, which aren’t always the best. This is also enhancing the anxiety and worry around how relationships will survive.
Her advice to youngsters: Don’t force yourself to converse or communicate when you are not in the mood for it; give your partner the space to be able to share with you their feelings and thoughts; don’t be quick to judge or look for solutions; actively listen to what they have to share; be patient with each other more so than what you are usually; avoid building scenarios in your mind which reinforce that there is something wrong in your relationship and which would make you continually reactive; make an active effort to connect daily as much as possible and in a way that is mutually convenient; if there is a problem, do take measures to address it; instead of being critical, give feedback to your partner gently and share your experiences to help change patterns; in case of a conflict, step away and take a little breather to calm down and don’t be quick to reach conclusions about the fate of the relationship.
Clinical psychologist Kamna Chhibber says the lockdown is leading to enhanced levels of discontent, irritability, feelings of missing out on precious time to build experiences
Share this on
What about those who are already in relationships but have been driven apart by the lockdown? Author Sudeep Nagarkar points to his own example—of how he and his wife were in a long-distance relationship for three years before getting married, meeting only once in three months. “It’s the same, except you’re in the same city and the mobile has replaced the car, train or flight,” he says. Couples who survive the lockdown will value each other more. He adds: “This is a reset of the world, everyone will have a different mindset. Be honest, especially with so many disruptions and distractions. Keep it simple, compromise if you have to.” The ways you love each other may change but the emotion shouldn’t. As Bagrecha writes: ‘Ever since you left me / my mind is in lockdown / my body is socially distant / and my heart is quarantined.’
DATING TIPS FOR THE NEW NORMAL
– Make the most of your profile: In the absence of any real-life meetings, your profile needs to give people a glimpse of who you are and allow potential matches to have context, so they can start a conversation. Begin by filling in information in your bio, making it easy for a potential match to start a conversation
– Choose your own pace: Making online connections allows you to pick your own pace of when to take things to a video call; and always check with each other if you’re comfortable graduating to a face-to-face video call. Navigate conversations at a pace that doesn’t intimidate you
– Create shared digital experiences: Being part of a shared activity or an experience deepens relationships. Try and think of engaging ways you can virtually replicate what you’d possibly do in person. Start a show on Netflix together, cook the same recipe over video, play games together virtually, or even attend an online gig together
_ Make the effort: It’s hard, but think about if you’re meeting someone for the first time, wouldn’t you choose to look presentable? Across genders, I think even with online dates, you need to put in some thought. The effort that you put in tells the potential match that this matters to you
_ Embrace the awkwardness: Dating brings about a certain vulnerability and now especially coupled with frozen cameras, patchy internet connections and unplanned cameos by pets and parents, it can get awkward. Learn how you can laugh about it and make it your own personal shared experience
(Dr Sonali Gupta, psychologist, is the author of Anxiety: Overcome It and Live without Fear, written for Tinder)