Monday, Sep 26, 2022
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Finding Love In The Midst Of Algorithms, AI And Peach-Flavoured Strawberries

What sustains the thriving business of love? What has made these apps, agents and companies who broker love, such a success? Here is what my experience taught me.

Representative image. Shutterstock

Love is no more a coincidence where one bites into the forbidden fruit from Eden’s garden. If at all we are still using fruit to speak of it, then it must be genetically modified Arctic Apple or a Peach Flavoured strawberry. Like the Crispr technology chooses the best genes to make an apple that doesn’t brown on being cut, we are conditioned by everything around us, to swipe right to the “perfect, ideal partner,” hoping for a love like that. A love that doesn’t brown, grey, or blue. Love with the sweetness of strawberries and the fragrance of peaches. Add to that the intoxication of choices. You have your very own cocktail, your “poison,” sure to bring your highs and lows but rarely something mellow.

When the pandemic first knocked on our doors in 2020, I was single, 26 and unemployed. Two years later, Covid-19 is still there, I am 28, employed, but still single. A 28-year-old unmarried, daughter is a nightmare to most Indian parents. For some time, I used to feel, I am the one who is dejected in love. But, now after looking at my family losing patience with my “inability” to fall in love, I find it rather comic.

Well in my defence, I have tried to find love. Like most of my friends who got married in the lockdown, I too tried to save my parents a lot of money. But, sitting in my room, trying to read love through a WhatsApp text or an Instagram DM did nothing much except for leaving my eyes sore and heart bored. As someone, who used to look down upon swiping through pictures on an application, I was a bit sceptical about technology-driven love life.

How much can one know from texting through a phone screen? As someone, who has grown in the 90’s Bollywood nostalgia, where the coincidental meeting of lovers happened just within the first 3three minutes of the 3-hour long movie, I found, finding love through dating apps, without any “surprise” factor or “co-incidence”, a very dull idea.

In a world where cupid is a paid service, and matchmakers, dating apps, matchmaking websites, at our service always, it is but natural to be cynical of digital romance. Apply filters, swipe right and you are set to fall in love. Your high-school best friend who was as inexperienced as you is now replaced by the AI bots generating options for perfect responses. With technology eliminating our imperfections, is there even space for individuality? Love demands vulnerability. Turning our backs to imperfections are we even trying to be vulnerable?

Anonymity is not new in love. But even in anonymity, love has always been visible, present on monument’s walls, in dried rose petals, in yellowed letters, in folk songs and legends. What do all the writers who sell love write about? They trace love through the city walls, through rickshaw rides, lovers gazing at the moon, dancing in the rain, jumping on to trains and getting off the planes. With the latest disappearing messages, the only trace of virtual love is data. Today, data is more valuable than oil and writers are mostly broke. Though Millenials had started equating deleting chats with a lover, with burning letters. But disappearing messages? Nothing to read again and again to shed tears?

So, what sustains the thriving business of love? What has made these apps, agents and companies who broker love, such a success? Here is what my experience taught me.

When Covid-19 came to India, it brought a lot many concerns for Indians. Priorities changed overnight. But, marriage retained its place on the priority list for Indians. The charm of stability, in a time as uncertain as to the pandemic, is undeniably enticing. More than being something to come back to, love or companionship became something to hold on to.

“A few years more, and in no time, from DDLJ’s (Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge) Simran, you might turn into her unmarried aunt.” said my brother jokingly. I wanted to tell him, “In Aditya Chopra’s world, I am already her.” Avoiding adding more to his panic, I laughed it off.

With Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking trending on social media, and plenty of marriages around me, I thought, “What’s wrong in arranging a match through people I know?” So, I gave into my family’s request and they made my profile on a matchmaking website whose founder is trending these days as a “Shark” in the business world. Guess, his company must be doing something right.

What I realised later, was nothing I didn’t already know. My family made a basic profile for me. I received a call in a few days, where a concerned employee asked me why I was not responding to the requests.

“I didn’t get the time, will see later,” I told him like I tell the person trying to sell me credit cards.

“Ma’am, you have not customised your profile. Answer a few questions and I will put filters on your profile. Only those who are a good potential match will see your profile.”

After a few questions like vegetarian-non-vegetarian, income, astrological preference, etc., he asked me my height! I told him it’s 5’1 or something. His immediate response was, “Ma’am, let me put it at 5’2!”

Taken aback by this sudden attack I insisted to let my profile reflect my original height. He, however, persisted and kept convincing me that it does not make a difference. Meanwhile, I could feel my ears turning red.

The next question was obviously my caste preference.

I said, ‘No’.

Sceptical about this answer, he kept repeating the same question in different ways. Pressing his view, he tried to explain. “Ma’am there are a lot of different castes, you can tell me which all are you okay with.” Weak at maths, I realised much later what he meant. Putting a no-caste preference could limit the number of people to whom my profile is visible.

Then he did the unimaginable. He started blabbering a list of castes like it was a rap by Eminem. In a few seconds, he must have covered around 30 to 35. Already uncomfortable and almost nauseated by now, I told him, “Please don’t talk to me like that, I am not comfortable.”

Understanding, he did what he thought was the next best thing to do.

“Can you please pass the phone to your mother or father?”

He was doing his job. Infamous Seema Taparia of Indian Matchmaking was doing her job. Algorithms and bots, which we blame for filtering out our choices, are not the primary sources at fault. Tinder, Bumble, Jeevansaathi.com, Shaadi.com, local community centres, temples and other matchmakers in India are serving Indians as they want, what they want. At least, they are not mincing their words, fooling themselves by romanticising love as we do.

In a way, they hold up a mirror to us, when they ask us about our preferences and put filters. They compile a practical package based on our choices, and then we happily frame that package behind rose-tinted glass and “walk into our forever.”

Looking back, even if I would have found someone offline before the pandemic struck, what would have changed? From, the time we step into society, be it physical or virtual, our choices, our circles, and our life partners are largely controlled by our identity --- we are woke on reels and complacent in real.

There is a way we are brought up, conditioned and socialised. Consciously or sub-consciously, we create our own choices. So, what is the point in looking down upon dating apps, when we are blindly letting society, norms and identity control our chances at love?

So, if we look at it objectively, love never was merely a coincidence. Which leaves us with a question we don’t want to answer: “Though love doesn't necessarily have to be revolutionary or an outlet to rebel but, does it has to be this customised?”

Maybe it could be both. Maybe none. But, certainly, a question, writers can dwell upon now that the monuments, cinemas, and gardens seem romantically redundant. It might be heavy on the heart, but certainly lighter on the pocket when pitched against data.

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