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Home / Brunch / Click, swipe, fall in love: Love virtually

Click, swipe, fall in love: Love virtually

It's no longer "desperate" to look online for love. Or even sex. Dating sites and apps are all the rage now. But do they deliver on what they promise?

brunch Updated: Oct 05, 2014 23:49 IST
Text by Satarupa Paul & Asad Ali. Illustrations by Uttam Sinha
Text by Satarupa Paul & Asad Ali. Illustrations by Uttam Sinha
Hindustan Times

Three windows are open in Nikhil Varma’s browser. His Gmail, a shopping portal and a dating website. “I want the shoes to have exactly six Velcro straps, ankle-length with a short zip at the back-heel,” states Varma, 30, a Delhi-based freelance photographer. He’s been trying to locate just the right pair of shoes for himself online, with little success. “Looks like love is easier to find,” he says with a wink, as he looks at the list of visitors to his online dating profile.

An increasing number of people in India are turning to websites and mobile apps that have taken over the responsibility of finding true love, or lust, for thousands of their users. OkCupid, for instance, one of the most popular dating websites in the world today, has made its presence felt in India too.

In terms of percentage of users, Alexa – the US-based company that provides Web traffic data – puts India at sixth place overall for OkCupid usage. Tinder, which was launched in 2012 and has over 10 million active users worldwide, has also seen a steady stream of Indian profiles. There are online dating spaces geared towards the gay community as well – Grindr and PlanetRomeo.

Back home, a number of Indian start-ups have also decided to play online Cupid. Truly Madly, is one such example, Woo is another.

Before you start off about cheesy spam messages that were a given on dating websites, at least till around the ’90s, the current crop of dating sites ensure that needless vulgarity is kept at bay. Hitesh Dhingra, co-founder of Truly Madly, says, "There was a time when anyone could message anybody. A lot of women naturally stayed away from online dating because of that."

Now, on most apps, a user will only receive messages from someone he/she has also ‘liked’. "So the chances of getting undesirable messages from random people are minimal, which is great for the female user base," Dhingra says. And if any chat gets creepy, you can simply unmatch the person – sort of like walking out of a real conversation in a bar. If you don’t like it, you end it and never see the person again.

Tanvi Jain, a Delhi-based freelance Web designer, thinks that the whole notion of meeting a stranger at a party somewhere, starting a conversation and promptly deciding to go on a date is a bit dated. "I think a lot of us are nostalgic about that romantic cliche but it doesn’t fit in our world anymore. It’s more natural now to talk to somebody online. We’re always logged in."

To get a fair idea of the mechanics of some of the most popular sites/apps right now, here’s a lowdown for ready reference. So go ahead and play the field!

Who's the fairest of them all?

What’s the best way to gauge the ecosystem of online romance? Be a part of it and experience all that it has to offer. So we decided to do some on-the-ground research and signed up for Tinder and OkCupid. A friend pitched in for Grindr and Planet Romeo, and we went about hunting for that one success story from our desi Truly Madly which would make everyone go "Aww". Here’s what we found:

My face lit up suddenly. It was 3am and I had decided to open my laptop to see if anyone had replied to my messages on OkCupid (OKC). The blue-white light of the computer screen washed over my face as I logged in. I had sent about ten messages but no one had replied to validate my existence on, what I gathered, was the most popular dating website doing the rounds!

I had registered about a week ago and answered 400-odd ‘match’ questions. From "how many dates it will take for me to consider having sex", to "how often I smoked/drank", to my political opinions on certain things, and more. Then I sifted through the list of user profiles.

Sexyforyou automatically disqualified herself. I was slightly unnerved by the next, which under the ‘self-summary’ header clearly stated: "I’m rude and a total b***h, only nice to those who I prefer". No candle-light dinners there, then. By the time I came across Gothmistress I was beginning to seriously doubt the site’s dating pool and my (in)ability to attract a half-decent mate.

Then, like a miracle that creeps up when the non-believer isn’t looking, I began to see. Someone who thinks Vivah was a shit movie and loves Andaz Apna Apna! Someone else who loves Stanley Kubrick to bits! I mustered up as much self-deprecatory humour as I could and began messaging.

My OKC inbox wore a deserted look for quite some time. Maybe I came across as too pretentious in my profile. Maybe I expected too much too soon. But before I started juggling more ‘maybes’ in my head, replies started to trickle in. I measured my words carefully before replying back. I didn’t want to come across as desperate for ‘action’.

That’s when I noticed another message: "Hey… seems like a pretty legit profile, yours... does good food and a movie after sound like fun? Chalo milo fir jaldi ;) [sic]" Finally, what had seemed like a futile exercise, suddenly appeared to be God’s gift to lovelorn souls. So, to all my friends chasing true romance, log in for love, I say!

– Asad Ali

What you should do is join Tinder," my colleague told me in an exasperated last attempt to stop me from whining about my suddenly non-existent love life. "Everyone’s on it these days. Remember the nerd in college we never spoke to? And that cutie we met at M’s party last month? Even P’s ex. And..."

I got the drift: everyone who was single – and ready to mingle just for a night or two – was on Tinder. The dating app had been gaining notoriety for being the (virtual) place to meet random (and not-so-random people) for quick hook-ups, but I wasn’t sure I was ready for one. After all, I still believed in meeting someone through a friend, going out on candle-light dinners, and falling in love.

"But what better way to get over heartbreak? Nothing serious, nothing long-term, just quick, good fun," my friend said. So old-fashioned romance be damned, I joined Tinder that night.

I updated my account with my most charming photos (a pout here, a dazzling smile there), set the distance (20 km, South Delhi only) and age bar (not older than 30, not younger than 26...let’s make that 25).

The first profile popped up. My face fell. Too scrawny, too mousy. "Swipe right to like, left to cross," Tinder prompted me. Without sparing a second thought, I swiped left.

The next several profiles – fat, bald patch, too full of himself, flashy, cocky – met with the same fate. And then came a pilot in uniform – drop-dead hot! Swipe right. A match! So it meant he had right-swiped me too. I hadn’t felt more gorgeous in days.

I have since right-swiped several profiles and each one has been a match. I’ve had chats with a few of the guys, most of which began with an innocent "What do you do?", and some that turned into the outright creepy "So when do we do it?".

The hot pilot, like several others, turned out to be a pushy bore. And almost all of them made it pretty clear in the first hour of the conversations that they could "take care of all your physical and intellectual needs". "What about emotional needs?" I asked myself, as I unmatched them one after one. In less than two weeks on Tinder, I was ready to give up. But then along came a chef: your usual Delhi guy but with a cool degree from Le Cordon Bleu. We chatted for several days about food, movies, music and life.

When we finally met for a movie, I was still slightly apprehensive. He must have sensed it because he made sure he said the right things and made me laugh. At the end of the night, both of us went our own ways. We still keep in touch. I set out to have a fling, I may have found a friend instead.

– Satarupa Paul

Contrary to popular belief, Grindr, also known as the ‘most popular gay dating app’ is not only about the sex, lies and videotape (there’s no videotape involved). Grindr, in its unfiltered GPS-based glory, presents a wide spectrum of gay culture.

There is every shape, size, colour, and age represented within its Cartesian geo-limits. There are smart men, witty men, hot men, but most importantly there are men who want to meet other men. It is a one-way ticket to companionship (both, in and out of bed), all from the confines of your smartphone.

I met a guy on Grindr once, (one of many) – 30 going on 16, an investment banker with a plush two-bedroom apartment in Mumbai. He was gorgeous, had dimples that were deeper than a Pablo Neruda poem, and cheekbones so high, they could be on meth.

The only glitch? He was only five feet tall – a detail we both overlooked while chatting. He forgot to mention it, I forgot to ask. I never saw him again, and his digits were lost in the sea of deleted phone numbers, along with all thoughts of moving into his sea-facing bachelor pad!

Grindr demands supreme body confidence – row upon row of glistening torsos (some with heads attached, others cut off just above the Adam’s apple) for your perusal. Nobody on show means there’s probably nothing worth seeing or your subject is shy. Six-pack after six-pack dance before your jaded eyes.

So, how do you tell your potential Prince Charming from the pervert that everyone rain checks on? You take the one-off chance, and go meet him. It can play out in two ways: like in one of those conventional rom-coms – you have a fantastic first date.

A couple more hurried dates later, you fall hopelessly in love, enough to get matching towels. You then live in bliss for a couple of months. Then fight over something stupid, resent each other, and break up for good.

Or you can do what everyone else does. Block-Delete-Repeat. What comes after that?

Next, please.

Neel Sharma

(name changed on request)

Planet Romeo. The bane of homosexual existence but such a necessary evil. Planet Romeo can rightly be called the deeper end of the online dating pool – I did find some interesting people there, but it’s like finding a needle in a haystack. For every one interesting person you connect with, you have to sieve through a hundred hopeful ‘His’ and ‘Hellos’, all with ‘a place’, or worse, ‘a bed’.

There’s an odd adrenaline rush every time you log in – the ta-da-ding message alert syncs with your heartbeat. Two weeks into Romeo, I was hooked, like a teenager glazed with Internet porn. It was everything I could ever want, all in the confines of my computer, or better still, my smartphone.

And then the cracks began to appear. The messages piled up and repulsion sunk in. Was this what life would be? Playing connect-the-dots with a string of strangers? Wasn’t this one step away from sneakily creeping about the back alley streetlight at midnight or rushing into a dingy public toilet? One step away from becoming pre-rehab Lindsay Lohan?

I logged out, head hung in shame; and swore never to go back.

I went back in three days.

Over the next couple of years, I tethered in and out, deactivating every few weeks; only to go back, staring wide-eyed at all the newer profiles, with greedy eyes, and a lustful heart. One of my friends has multiple profiles up – one is faceless, asking for ‘discreet M2M fun’, another hides behind a tantalising picture of Ranbir Kapoor, a third, a close-up of his excruciatingly well-defined torso seeks immediate sexual gratification, while the fourth shows his face in all its glory, dimples et al.

I needed to find myself, he advised me. And on his way, he found Miran, Faiz, Rishi, Kabir and half a dozen other gay men. He likes the variety, he told me later. What about settling down with the One? He says that there never really is a One, that would only lead to twos, and threes and so forth.

I go back online, and I find myself. And find my own set of men on the way.

– Neel Sharma (name changed on request)

I am 24 years old and I wasn’t looking for love. But love has its way of finding you, no? Two months back, I logged onto this new home-grown dating app that had just launched called Truly Madly – simply because I deal with mobile applications in my job as a New Media professional and I am interested in checking out new apps as they launch.

I had tinkered with other dating apps before but I couldn’t find anything or anyone on them interesting enough to hold my interest beyond the technical aspects of “oh this has a cool interface” or “that has some crazy algorithm”.

Truly Madly was quite unlike the other apps, because of the way it worked to find matches for you: based on a set of questions that gauged your interests, personalities and not so surprisingly – your values. I mean, in India, many people still consider whether you drink or smoke or eat non-veg probably as carefully as the money you make, the car you drive or the locality you live in.

I liked several profiles on Truly Madly, disliked several others, started chatting to the ones I liked, started chatting regularly to one that I really liked.

Regularly became every day, every day became every other minute. We decided, about 25 days after we first matched, to meet in person. We have since been meeting every day for coffee in the evenings (her office is only a few blocks away from mine).

We haven’t been to the movies, because neither of us are really into films. And we have moved from chatting on Truly Madly to Hike because we both love conveying our feelings with stickers rather than with words.

I don’t know whether it’s love, and it’s still not really a committed kind of dating, but for now, I would rather spend my evenings drinking coffee, talking, laughing and smiling with her than with anyone else.

Shyam Singh Rathore
(As told to Satarupa Paul)
Follow @satarupapaul on Twitter
Follow @AsadAli1989 on Twitter

From HT Brunch, October 5
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