IT TOOK MADHAVI Balakrishnan all of six days after ending a two-year live-in relationship to find a new partner. And no, he wasn’t a rebound, it wasn’t too soon and her motives had nothing to do with the birthday party of a friend that she and her ex were due to attend a few days later. The 33-year-old graphic designer employed with a social media firm in Gurugram genuinely felt a connection with her new beau. She had, after all, paid subscription fees for six dating apps, gone through 200 profiles (at the very least), made idle chitter-chatter with 20 or 30 online somebodies and gone on 12 dates before zeroing in on him. He wasn’t a whimsical decision, he was a meticulously handpicked individual from the myriad options available on her smartphone. “I think I might have felt sad for a day or two after the break-up, but I got over it when I realised how much choice is out there. And the attention… I loved the attention,” she says.
Balakrishnan isn’t the only one enjoying the attention. Last week’s Year in Search report by Google India reveals that downloads of dating apps went up by over 53 per cent in 2016 and that twice the number of users were now interested in searching and discovering more about online dating than the year before. Earlier this year, Google had revealed that Indians download the most number of apps in the world, and dating just happened to be one of the most popular categories along with online shopping. Given that a new dating or meet-up app pops up every few weeks (there are 264 dating-related apps available on the Google Playstore alone at present), picking out a lover using just your phone has in some ways become as gripping and convenient as finding the right bedsheet or kitchen rack. Perhaps even more so.
“There are two reasons why we are seeing a growing interest in the world of online dating,” says Harish Shetty, a psychiatrist and social behaviour specialist at Mumbai’s LH Hiranandani Hospital. “First, the stigma of using a dating app has greatly lessened over the last two years, thanks to extensive editorials and media coverage. People will no longer think you are ‘desperate’ or ‘lonely’ if you have a Tinder account, simply because every second person has one today,” he says, adding that safety measures taken by dating apps and information guides on the web have helped lower the fear of meeting a complete stranger. Thanks to social media and detective agencies, verifying an online profile is easier than deciding on what perfume to wear on a date. Shetty also says that the second factor fuelling the growth of dating apps is the amount of choice available. “Dating apps appeal to users because unlike offline dating, where surprise can be a factor, online you can go as specific and as niche as you like with your list of requirements.”
Just how precise and detailed you can be in your love life is something which Conall Taylor, a 31-year-old British consultant, discovered on a work project to Bengaluru. A bit on the plump size and looking for someone to ‘hang out’ with for the two months he was in the city, Taylor found, much to his surprise, that there was an entire dating app devoted to people in exactly the same circumstances. LargeFriends calls itself the No 1 dating app for ‘plus size dating’ and lists thousands of ‘BBW (Big Beautiful Women’ and ‘BHM (Big Handsome Men)’ for users to choose from. “I typed ‘dating’ into the Apple Store and I found apps for fat people (Woo Plus), tall people (Tall Friends), differently-abled people (Glimmer), lesbians (Brenda), divorced people (Divorce Dating), gays (Grindr), angry people (Hater), foreigners in India (International Cupid), people who love to cuddle (Spoonr) South Asians in India (Kama), millionaires (Luxy), people with beards (Bristler), gym junkies (Sweatt), people who eat gluten-free food (Gluten Free Singles)… It was a bit overwhelming initially, but I ended up having some fun on LargeFriends,” he reflects, adding he even found an app called Dead Meet which was only for those who ‘worked in mortuaries’.
“The real value lies in finding dates that are as specific and tailored to your requirements as possible,” says Himanshu Pande, founder of the offline dating company, A World Alike. He adds that going to meet “just another 30-something guy who is tall and lives in Delhi” is not even half as attractive as knowing the person you meet is “32, 6 foot fall, works at Wipro, likes to eat spaghetti, and wants to learn dancing”.
Detractors of this trend of custom-made dating, though, insist that there is no such thing as a readymade partner. Can we really, by narrowing down our search to the right kind of facial hair, dietary choices and post-slumber toilet habits, be guaranteed a sustainable and satisfying relationship? The comfort that dating apps provide after a break-up and the thrill of receiving your first ‘Hey gorgeous’ in-app message is certainly appealing. But even if the person fits our size, height, personality, family and humour criteria, who is to say any of it will remain constant in the next few years, let alone months. People change, friendships and bonds do not. Apps can certainly help you choose, but choice without hard work hardly ever culminates in success.