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Crafty cupids

In a country with no culture of dating, exclusive websites and online groups are helping youngsters mingle and, sometimes, marry. Humaira Ansari writes.

social media Updated: Aug 18, 2012 23:16 IST
Humaira Ansari

When Angie Mahtaney, 32, an MBA graduate from Columbia University, returned to Bangalore eight months ago, she wanted to make new friends and seek out a soulmate, but decided to stay away from dating and matrimonial websites.

She had tried that route in the US and, over five years, had never had more success than a few "awkwardly formal" dinner dates.

"Most of those websites are just random databases of hundreds of single people," says Mahtaney, who works in her family's garments business. "How are you supposed to find a potential soulmate in such chaos?"

Then, in March, a friend recommended Floh.in and Mahtaney signed on.

That's because Floh is not your average singles' website. The year-old network is open only to urban, educated singles, with each new member interviewed before being allowed to sign up, for a quarterly fee of Rs. 7,500.

Also, rather than leaving members to navigate a virtual network on their own, Floh helps them get together and fraternise by organising events such as art gallery tours, cooking sessions, vintage car rallies and dance classes.

Floh is among a growing number of premiere singles services and niche dating websites that have mushroomed in India over the past few years.

Dating, made easier
India, unlike the Western world, has no history of casual dating; men find it hard to ask women out and most women would not consider asking a man out at all.

In such an atmosphere, relatively secure online platforms have become a vital meeting ground.

For time-pressed young adults, it also widens the social circle in a structured, meaningful manner.

"Many urban Indians in their 20s and 30s are busy pursuing demanding career paths," says sociologist Gita Chadha. "They find it difficult to build sustainable romantic relationships, so it is natural for them to come up with innovative ways of using technology to meet each other."

Well-heeled, young urban Indians do not mind paying a premium or even being screened before gaining entry to these exclusive clubs.

Mahtaney, for instance, was interviewed by Floh founder Siddharth Mangharam before she was accepted into the closed network.

SirfCoffee.com, another selective singles' club, charges as much as Rs. 15,000 in annual fees but has still found 1,400 members in the four years since it was founded.

SirfCoffee.com also screens each applicant before admission. With a more intensive approach to matchmaking, this database is not open for perusal by members. Instead, the website managers match potential couples and arrange a series of dates for them. Members' phone numbers are only sent out to another member half an hour before they are due to meet for a date.

One of the key criteria for membership to such websites and networks is a particular educational and social background, to ensure that members are not flooded with 'friendship requests' from all and sundry, as they risk being on regular dating websites.