Love, lust and loneliness during lockdown
It’s been the best of times, it’s been the worst of times. It depends on whether you’re single and ready to mingle in the virtual world, are trying to stay connected with a partner who could be living a few blocks away, enjoying the unprecedented togetherness of being at home with your spouse or succumbing to cabin fever for that very reason.
Though less grave than the effect on livelihoods, careers and businesses, the fallout of the lockdown has crept into the personal realm, realigning relationships, especially romantic and sexual. Online dating is on the rise, and so is virtual flirting and sexting. What’s more, nude selfies and even online threesomes are helping people cope with isolation.
One plus one
With the impossibility of going out and meeting the people you were introduced to online, you would believe that dating apps would be dormant in a lockdown. Not so. Tinder noted a record three billion plus swipes on a given day at the end of March. A company release said, “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. In India, conversations have been up by an average of 39 per cent and the average length of conversations is 28 per cent longer.”
Clearly, isolation is prompting people, mostly singles to seek an online connection. Tinder decided to ride the wave and made its paid Passport feature free through April for all users. This allows members to temporarily change their location and connect with matches all over the world. Going by the data, plenty of people signed up. In India, the highest number of people ‘passporting’ was between Mumbai-Delhi and Bengaluru-Delhi.
There were also those who wanted to connect with people in other countries. Neelima, a chartered accountant, decided to drop a pin in Berlin, “a city I’ve been to and love,” she says. “I met someone who was interested in the same things I was – food, beer, the club scene – and we’ve had great conversations. We may or may not meet in the future, but I feel I’ve found a friend.”
Singles are also using Zoom to set up ‘dates’ with people they may have met on dating apps. Zakir, apprentice in an architecture firm, got dressed, poured himself a drink and spent an evening video-chatting with a girl he had met online. “We attempted some quizzes and played a few games on House Party, it was fun and helped quell the need for some connection,” he says.
Mahesh Natarajan, counselling psychologist at InnerSight, says it’s natural to want to be connected at a time like this. “It may work particularly well for those who do not wish to make a serious commitment. In the present circumstances, you cannot even ask for a one-on-one meeting. There are others who may try it for a while and find it futile to continue if the relationship is going to remain virtual,” he says.
PR professional Seema lives alone and is the second type. “I don’t really want to exchange romantic or sexual messages with anyone at this time,” she says. “What I need is someone who checks in on me and asks if I’m okay.”
In virtual relationships that are going to remain just that at least for the time being, there are only limited positives, warns psychologist Vishal Srivastava of Swabhaavam. “It gives people a long leash, encourages fake profiles and puts innocent people at risk. You should really be certain what you are signing up for,” he says.
In the absence of real connections, the virtual is the only way out for many people, Natarajan points out. “When technology reaches the next level, there will be truly sophisticated virtual reality and that could impact how we navigate this terrain,” he says.
Many are using available technology, not just to stay connected, but also to satisfy sexual needs in the lockdown. Late-night sexting has certainly increased. Sriram, a restaurateur, chats with his girlfriend who is stuck in another city, most nights. “We’re trying to spice things up with imagined scenarios and even role play. It’s nothing close to being together for real, but will have to do for now,” he says.
Whether it’s the prospect of isolation or the pressures of lockdown, the exchange of nude and semi-nude selfies has also been surging. “My boyfriend and I would sext occasionally before when we couldn’t meet, but I’ve never sent him ‘pics,’” says Sasha, a home chef. “But now I’m in a different city and suddenly I find myself making ‘intimate’ videos to send him.”
While singles are finding new ways to date and couples who’ve been forced apart by the lockdown are figuring out how to keep their connection, married couples are having to deal with unprecedented levels of togetherness. “The reality – both positive and negative – of the individual and the relationship is emerging during this crisis,” Natarajan says. “Much depends on the two people in the relationship. Some are stifled by the closeness: imperfections appear magnified. They are asking themselves if this is what they signed up for. There’s a distinct possibility of such marriages ending in the near future. Yet others are allowing old wounds to heal and feeling grateful for the togetherness.”
Srivastava says spouses could work their way through this enforced togetherness by drawing clear boundaries, allowing themselves both physical and mental space. “It’s important to share responsibilities and not let small frictions build up to something more serious,” he says.
(Some names have been changed to maintain anonymity)
(Author bio: Priya Bala is a senior writer based in Bengaluru, who has edited several mainstream newspapers in the past)
From HT Brunch, May 10, 2020
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