The urge and desire for human proximity and a significant other have not waned during Covid-19 but may have increased. Singles, some for the first time, turned to virtual dating this year when the usual ways of meeting people vanished and the pandemic continued. The year 2020 altered our lives in unexpected ways, redefining dating rules as single Indians continue to navigate virtual and socially distanced dating etiquettes, and different approaches to relationships evolved in this new environment.
India has one of the youngest populations in the world with over a third – 400 million – born after 1982. This massive millennial population is spurring the demand for instant services and solutions that simplifies their lives, whether it’s online shopping or errands to be run. And dating is no different. Indian millennials, today, want to have a say – in their career choices as well as their love lives.
They demand a dating app that helps them find the ‘right’ partner on their terms so they can enjoy a compatible relationship and healthy companionship with equal respect and commitments. With the average millennial spending most of their waking hours online, dating apps have become a place where they get to connect with new and interesting people outside of work.
Aabha, a 29-year-old data analyst from Mumbai, says she’s always been something of an introvert. She’d dabbled in dating, but when the first lockdown began, she was reluctant to date in person again. “I’d chatted with some people on dating apps, but I wasn’t in a rush to meet up with anyone,” she says. “Everything about the pandemic had made me quite anxious. I happen to connect with a few good men and we exchanged messages for a few months, but I am still hesitant to meet.”
Social distancing takes an unprecedented strain on almost anyone with libido and no partner at home. “Covid has me paranoid to hook up,” says Anant. “The Covid-19 outbreak has disrupted nearly every aspect of my social life, I’ve been reckoning with what it means for my sex life. So, turning to dating apps to cultivate conversations seems like the only viable option. It’s just that now, most of the women that hit me up on these platforms are keen to talk – a modern-day miracle,” he adds.
Talking about how the love game has changed in 2021 and how dating apps are helping singles find their suitable match, Priyanka and Tanisha from Not So Arranged tell us, “We're still amid a pandemic in 2021, so more and more singles are turning to dating sites to help meet potential matches. Today, there is quite a lot of options for consumers, if someone is looking for something more casual, most dating apps cater to them, if they're looking for marriage there are so many matrimonial platforms and now if they're looking for a meaningful connection and don't want to go the clichéd biodata route, Not So Arranged is filling in that gap.”
That being said, the modern dating process has also slowed down. People are spending more time talking and getting to know each other. Samarpita Samaddar, communications director, Bumble India, tells Outlook, “Since the onset of the pandemic, we’ve seen a surge in virtual dating on Bumble. We observed a 38 per cent rise in the use of Video Calls and Voice Chats with people spending roughly 20 minutes on average on Video Calls or Voice Chats on Bumble in India. People are talking for longer, having better quality chats than they were used to. We’ve also observed an increase in the volume of messages exchanged and video chats initiated, showing us that our community is looking for means to connect socially during this time.”
Courting is back in, rather than simply swiping right and moving on to the next profile. Priyanka adds, “By matching people based on compatibility and personality, we help provide meaningful matches so this helps the conversation flow. When you’re set up with someone who compliments your personality, there are lower chances of forced, awkward conversations and higher chances of a long-term connection. We strive to do just that with the help of a Compatibility Quiz that has been specially designed by a psychologist who has years of experience in relationship counseling and premarital assessment.”
She says, “Our approach focuses on quality over quantity, by blending psychology with dating behaviour, we strive to find you meaningful matches that’ll get those sparks flying. Also, since compatibility leads to chemistry and chemistry happens in person, we help take dating offline rather than sliding into DMs.”
Anukool Kumar, marketing director, OkCupid India adds, “The app is built around an algorithm that uses answers to over 3,000 questions to introduce users to people on the same wavelength – their kind of person. We make sure the algorithm makes connections basis the answers and preferences shared by the users and these are further contextualized by location, gender identity, and cultural realities.”
Multiple key dating trends emerged during the lockdown and are expected to continue through 2021. Samarpita Samaddar, communications director, Bumble India, gives us an insight and tells us, “Our recent nationwide survey also revealed that one in three (38%) single Indians hope to see themselves in a committed relationship in 2021. Since lockdown was announced in March 2020, more than one in two chats turned into something more meaningful with a large number of messages being exchanged. This goes to show as single Indians started settling into the new normal, they also wanted to stay connected. Single Indians now go on ‘pre-dates more than ever: People use video dates to get to know one another before meeting in person. This kind of ‘slow dating’ is bringing forward conversations that may have happened over two or three dates, as people are working to figure out what they’re comfortable with, in real life and virtually. This has led to more virtual communication before the relationship is taken offline.”
Talking about virtual dating in India, she tells us, “Recent nationwide survey revealed 40 per cent of single Indians want to opt for virtual dating in 2021. People want to feel more secure as they are connecting with one another. They want to have fulfilled conversations that could lead to a new connection and video calls are proving to be a great way to form these connections.
Samanta and Vyas, who married each other in January 2019, met through a dating app. “We both struggled to find a perfect match for ourselves, but things looked great when we met each other, of course, virtually on dating app. We spent time to know each other – we chatted for months and days before the meeting. It was magical when we met – it seemed perfect and here we are.”
But Ashmita has a different story to tell. “I won’t bore you with the saga of the endless “did you have breakfast” type lazy bums or the “Good morning gorgeous” type serial greeters. I will talk about the underbelly of the online dating world which I discovered is both entertaining and educational. Yes, educational. I had no idea what NSA, FWB, NSFW meant (Google it, in case you belong to the same category or join a dating app). I did not know about bread-crumbing or ghosting. I did discover some fetishes and sleaze, but it is unprintable and to know more about that you have to wait till I become a stand-up comedian.”
By changing the pace and bringing back the charm of slow dating, millennials are discovering love through long, meaningful conversations and (digitally) shared experiences. “OkCupid believes that the future of dating is a reassertion of shared interests, values and quirks and a rejection of “compromise” to enjoy the sort of love you dream of.”
Indian millennials are also using this time to ensure they are spending it with someone they are interested in and who shares the same values, beliefs, and quirks without having to compromise or settle for less.