It’s become a bit like shopping online. You think an outfit looks good, so you click on it, knowing that you can easily return it and keep surfing if it doesn’t suit you.
So it is with dating in the new millennium. Wherever you are and whatever your preference, apps like Tinder and Happn offer a menu of endless options. Where you once had to limit your choices to a closed circle of friends, family, neighbours and colleagues, anyone with a smartphone is now a potential choice.
Even a decade ago things were simpler. You fell for a neighbour, hot college mate or guy / girl your parents introduced you to. If you were the 'happening' kind, you met someone at yoga or guitar class. Within your limited choices, you weighed your options and picked one.
Today, the problem of plenty, means that even those looking for a relationship and wanting to settle down can find it more difficult than ever before to fix on a single person.
Little things that might not have been a factor before -- the other person doesn’t like your kind of movies, or prefers sailing to trekking -- can feel like deal-breakers when a possible upgrade is potentially a few swipes away.
“The multiple apps have made us a dissatisfied lot. We are constantly looking for more and trying to find ‘the best one’ out there,” says Manini*, 27, an HR executive from Mumbai.
#MillennialLove Poll | Do you use a dating app to hook-up or date?— Hindustan Times (@htTweets) September 3, 2016
She’s been on Tinder, Truly Madly and Woo for two years and dated seven men during that period, but remains single.
“Some of those men have become friends, others are forgotten,” she says. “I met a 29-year-old from Hyderabad last year. I liked his sense of humour, his appearance and the fact that he had a good job with a travel company. But because of the distance, it felt like too much work.”
Three months ago she met a 27-year-old IT executive. “He was a nice, polite guy but double my size. Size does matter,” says Manini. “He asked me twice to meet again. I am busy, I said. I think he understood what that meant.”
If people had moved on that quickly before, most Bollywood movies of the ’80s and ’90s would never have been made. As recently as 2000, Shah Rukh Khan’s character in Mohabbatein was so committed to his girlfriend, played by Aishwarya Rai, that he vowed to be faithful to her ghost!
#MillennialLove Poll | How do you prefer to do the asking out?— Hindustan Times (@htTweets) September 3, 2016
Today, there’d probably be a Tinder or Facebook just for people into ghosts, and he’d be dealing with the problem of plenty in that department too.
Quality time has become another casualty in the online millennial dating scene.
Where you would once go to dinner or a movie, spend time revelling in what you had in common and joyfully arguing over the things you disagreed on, today it’s all hashtags and left swipes.
Similar tastes are a priority, says Avishkar Mokashi, 30, an automobile engineer from Pune.
“A girl’s profile with #Adventurer, #Loves Biking and #CrankyWhenHungry will make me right swipe,” he adds. “I don’t believe that opposites attract. Similarities are important. I love biking and if the girl doesn’t, it’s going to be difficult dating her. How will we even go on dates if not on a bike.”
Watch: Tinder India CEO Taru Kapoor discusses how desi millennials are using the app
If this seems like precious little to go on for someone seeking a relationship, that’s sort of the point.
“It’s easier to say no to a stranger than a friend,” says Akshay Agarwal, 21, an accountancy intern from Delhi. “For me, Tinder is a clean slate, an enabling space. I don’t have to worry about appearing too cheesy; I can be upfront about what I like or don’t.”
SETTING THE PACE
The shape of the relationship has undergone a drastic change too, in the new millennium. Earlier, marriage was a given and casual sex was only for the very few (you usually knew who they were because your mother warned you stay away from them).
For the millennial, deciding on a life partner and when to marry, if at all, is a long process and sex is the given.
“I want to know a person well before taking the plunge. You can’t expect to talk marriage after three meetings over coffee. Phew! And I want to be absolutely sure that the girl and I are compatible,” says Mokashi, who has been on Tinder, Truly Madly and Happn for a year.
For the guys, it’s more or less about playing the field. For many of the young women, it’s about having someone to show off.
The more intimate the pose, the more likes they get, adds Suruchi*, 52, a Mumbai-based nutritionist whose 16-year-old has taken to posting pictures of hugs and kisses with her boyfriend online. “They think it’s cool,” Suruchi adds. “All her friends have a boyfriend, so she’s not going to listen to me when I say it’s too early. I’ve settled for monitoring her accounts to ensure she is never too intimate with a guy. I’ve told her a guy can only have his hands around her shoulders or waist. Nothing more than that.”
SMILES VS FROWNS
Scrambling for likes and trying to make your life seem exciting and glamorous online is something even adult city-dwellers find stressful. “Everybody online always seems to be happy, fortunate and beautiful, and you can end up feeling you have to compete with that,” says clinical psychologist and psychotherapist Shwetambara Sabharwal. “You might be feeling the opposite, but you still feel the need to put on a brave face.”
In adolescence and young adulthood, this can also become part of the race to fill in the gaps in self-image. “And the danger here is that they could find it hard to express, or even identify, their true feelings, particularly when it comes to who they really are, and what kind of relationship is right for them,” says Sabharwal. “That’s a very real risk when social media dictates real-life behaviour from an early age.”
(With inputs from Alisha Sachdev in Delhi; * last names withheld on request)
NEXT WEEK: NAVIGATING A RELATIONSHIP