Two months of being ‘locked down’ with his long-time girlfriend, 37-year-old Rishi is ‘done with monogamy’. “There’s no chance in hell I will choose to be with a single partner once this lockdown is over,” the resident of Delhi said. The 37-year-old consultant said he wants to break free, as what had seemed exciting in the beginning has turned into a ‘nightmare’.
With love and attraction giving way to monotony and negativity, Rishi decided to log on to dating apps a couple of weeks into lockdown. What started off as a ‘mood lifter’ turned addictive for him. After a few matches and spontaneous conversations, he now looks forward to the lifting of the lockdown and meeting these women.
Rishi is not the only person in India to have started using dating apps after the lockdown. Bumble alone witnessed an increase of 19% in messages sent during the last week of April. While Taru Kapoor, GM, Tinder India, told HuffPost India that conversations were up by 39% on the app; Priti Joshi, Vice President of Strategy at Bumble, said the average video call / phone call time on the app was at an all-time high at 18 minutes, indicating more and more Indian users were using dating apps during lockdown.
According to Narendra Kinger, a senior clinical psychologist and psychotherapist from Mumbai, the basic need to connect with other humans was amplified after lockdown, as most people were no longer satisfied with their relationships or day-to-day activities. “Bound by all sorts of restrictions during lockdown, dating apps gained popularity as they came with the freedom to ‘just be’ and ’interact with others,” he said.
We spoke to a few therapists and industry experts to understand the reasons behind this growing trend of using dating apps irrespective of gender, age and relationship statuses during the lockdown in India.
It IS about sex
“Sensex is no longer fun. But sex is” read Avishek’s bio on a dating app. The 47-year-old Mumbai resident started using the apps after lockdown as he oscillated between ‘feeling bored or sexually aroused’ all the time. Separated for nearly three years, work and travel had kept him occupied till before the lockdown.
“Lockdown felt like a prison and I found no joy talking to my friends, who were busy with their kids and homework and wives and housework. I began talking to younger women on these dating apps, and it was a refreshing change!” Avishek said.
He said it was not just him, but also women in their 20s or 30s who initiated ‘sexual’ conversations. “They found it exciting that I was older and single and reciprocative to their needs. I preferred video calls as it felt more personal and I didn’t have the patience to type for hours,” he said.
Avishek is one of the many Indians who took to dating apps during lockdown to experience some form of ‘sexual excitement’. ‘Netflix and chill’ became passe as users started being more vocal about their needs and more bios included ‘I’m bored and here for sex’.
While conversations went up, even the average length of conversations became longer during lockdown. Kinger explained this could be because of the ‘classic golden opportunity of using extended free time for one’s benefit’, which could be an escape from boredom, an avenue for sexting and in some cases a way to remain socially relevant.
According to Ruchi Rooh, a counselling psychologist and relationship coach, dating apps provided a sense of adventure that is otherwise missing from our lives these days. “Everybody wants validation, especially from the opposite gender, and dating apps provided that during this period of lockdown,” she said.
Marriage is a prison
Sangeeta, a marketing specialist from Mumbai, had been using dating apps for a while now, but it was the first time that she came across so many married men. “There were married men on these apps before, and even I had matched with one a year back. The difference is now they are open about their marital status. It looks like the lockdown has given them an excuse to start using dating apps openly,” said the 26-year-old.
Earlier, it was easier for men or women to hide their marital status, as dating apps could be used when the spouse wasn’t around. One could even meet their matches discreetly. But, as the lockdown trapped married people home for months with their partners, they announced their status on apps while searching for exciting encounters.
Ruchi, who received ‘distress calls’ from married clients during lockdown, said marriage is just a social tag for many urban Indians. “People choose to live with this tag due to shared child care, expenses or social pressures. However, we are gradually seeing marriages transforming into open relationships,” she said.
The lockdown has brought to fore the incompatibility of couples and disgruntlement due to expectations and responsibilities. So, while most married couples are on dating apps discreetly, many are choosing to be in open relationships. Hence, the rise in ‘married and looking’ bios on the apps.
It was easier for 32-year-old Radhika to let her matches know she was married and not available to talk or chat all the time, as her husband was home all day. “Our sexual life took a hit a couple of weeks into the lockdown, as my husband seemed disinterested in lovemaking. A cut in salary and added pressure of house work left him bitter. I had heard of married people using dating apps, and was curious to know more,” said the Chennai resident.
A mother of a three-year-old, Radhika doesn’t intend to continue using the app after lockdown. “I will have other things to look forward to, like going out for work, meeting friends or just shopping. The dating app is like a crutch for me during the lockdown. It takes my mind off my moody and uncooperative husband,” she said.
Married for 10 years, 39-year-old Rajesh from Mumbai started using dating apps during lockdown to escape the monotony of his life. “I had stopped interacting with people outside my family, but the lockdown made me realise I still wanted to communicate with more women and the dating apps helped me do that,” he said. Rajesh said he has made three ‘special friends’ and intends to be in touch with them even after lockdown.
A virtual social life
Many Indians, who had never used a dating app before, started registering themselves on platforms like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge to virtually meet and socialise with new people. People who liked to call themselves ‘party animals’ or ‘social and outgoing’ had nowhere to party and nobody to socialise with, in real life and the lockdown created a vacuum in their lives.
Thirty-four year old Rakesh from Mumbai wanted to interact with people apart from those in his house. “I started using dating apps during lockdown as I missed going out and meeting people in person. Although it’s not the same, the video calls give it an almost real feel!” he said.
But, why use dating apps instead of reaching out to friends or family members?
According to Janki Mehta, consulting psychotherapist and co-founder of Mind Mandala, Mumbai, while old, stable connections bring comfort, new connections provide excitement, something that was missing from our lives due to the lockdown. “Each new match on a dating app brought instant gratification that made the monotony of everyday life slightly tolerable,” she said.
Sandeep, a 27-year-old psychiatrist from Delhi, downloaded dating apps as he missed meeting new people. “It’s interesting to go out to a pub or a restaurant as you not only meet but also get to see so many people around you… you feel like you’re somehow a part of a bigger whole. Using dating apps was the virtual version of socialising for me,” he said.
Novelty in a strange world
Bored of being stuck at home for weeks, Aishwarya changed the location on her Tinder app to Buenos Aires. As she started swiping she came across the profile of a guy she found attractive.
“We matched after two days of my swiping right on him. As we started chatting, I discovered he was a soccer player for a local football club. We chatted about our mutual admiration for Lionel Messi, and he told me how it was Messi who had inspired him to start playing soccer and that he now plays for the same team that Messi used to play for, and how he hopes to play for his country one day. If he ever plays for Argentina, I guess I can always look back and say I matched with him on Tinder,” Aishwarya said.
Kinger said dating app use increased manifold between March and May as Indians were looking for ‘novelty’ in their lives during a pandemic. “The uncertainty surrounding us made people feel extremely insecure and many started living life as if it was the ‘end’ and the time being ripe to fulfill one’s ‘bucket list’,” he said.
So, while people interacted with friends and families, they also used dating apps to experience ‘newness in life’.
Amit, a 67-year-old poet from Delhi, had always wanted to know what the deal with these dating apps were! As lockdown began, he got more time for himself and registered himself on one of the popular apps. “I matched with a lot of women in their 50s. This is all so new and exciting to me,” he said.
Ruchi told HuffPost India that men in their 50s or 60s started using dating apps because it was a way for them to stay relevant, even during lockdown. “It’s a mix of curiosity, excitement and wanting to be interesting. But, users have to realise this quick fix might not work in the long run.”
The lure of something real
Sunil from Mumbai was still nursing a broken heart when the lockdown began. The 32-year-old filmmaker and teacher had just broken up with his girlfriend and was trying to keep himself busy with work.
“We broke up since we were incompatible and I wanted to get to know more women. However, with all avenues of meeting anyone closed, I began using dating apps in the hope of falling in love again,” he said.
Ruchi’s advice for Sunil is to look for love or prospective partners on other platforms like online webinars, seminars, discussions and workshops. “There are so many of them being held during lockdown. Why not register yourself in activities that excite you, and you will have a better chance in meeting like minded people. In dating apps, you will always remain an option, easily forgettable and replaceable. This will lead to more anxiety and self sabotage,” she said.
According to Mehta the pandemic and the lockdown are new forms of ‘battles’ that have made people feel uninterested in activities like watching movies or cooking or talking to loved ones. Hence more and more people startwd using dating apps to feel ‘more alive’.
Fighting the loneliness
The lockdown amplified the loneliness that many Indians feel as they live away from home for work or study. “The pandemic has led to many youngsters feeling ‘totally alone’. The work from home situation didn’t help, and instead made their schedules more erratic. So, whenever they had ‘free time’ they preferred to spend it online and interact with new people,” Kinger said.
38-year-old Seema from Delhi had stopped herself from ‘taking the plunge’ as she was unsure about using dating apps as a bisexual woman. She lived by herself and had nobody to talk to during the lockdown. When even her office stopped functioning she had absolutely nothing to do for hours. “This is when I joined dating apps and began interacting with people,” she said.
Not only single people, but also victims of emotional abuse or those bored in their marriages or relationships logged on to dating apps. “The lockdown made many Indian couples realise how lonely they were even with their partners being around all the time! Not just arranged ones, even love marriages went bust in these two months. And, dating apps became the easy escape route,” she said.
The lockdown also saw a rise in the number of users aged between 40 to 60 and up, the reasons primarily being loneliness, being in remote locations and not wanting to interact with one’s regular social circle. “People also needed a neutral person to share their ‘sob stories’ with during lockdown. I have heard many do or experience this with strangers, as people are uncomfortable opening up to friends or relatives fearing judgement or lack of secrecy,” Ruchi said.
Beyond the borders
Sixty-year-old Amit, a resident of Gurgaon had been using dating apps for a few years. However, as the lockdown began, he said he started ‘matching’ with a lot of younger women. “Many of them had recently lost jobs and were looking for heart-to-heart conversations and stability in life,” he said.
While most wanted to talk on and off, he was looking for more as he had been divorced and wanted companionship. “I knew most of the women spoke to me because they could not go out or meet their friends. Later, I learnt how to change my location on the app and set it to a city in Russia.”
Changing the location worked for Amit as he befriended a single mom in her late 30s, who was scared and confused with what was happening around the world. The two exchanged notes on the state of lockdown in the two countries and he kept her posted about latest developments.
Kinger said a lot of individuals in their 50s or 60s started using dating apps due to lack of adequate intimate connection with people in their environment, which the lockdown forced several individuals to realise. “It is possible that till recently the sheer hectic pace of life did not allow them to deep dive into their own emotional well being; and which now percolated to the conscious from their subconscious. Probably, a lot of Indians, both young and older, made a conscious choice to look for people who could make them feel ‘alive’ and ‘relevant’,” he said.
Twenty-nine-year-old Prachi, who was more active on Bumble ever since the lockdown, came across many men that she found attractive. “I don’t know if it was because there was no pressure to meet them in person or because they were genuinely interesting,” she said.
Ruchi said it is important to know why you want to use a dating app before logging onto one. “I asked one of my clients what the core of his need was. Was it a sense of adventure or excitement that was lacking at home or life? If so, were there other avenues to address these needs?”
Ruchi advised discretion while using dating apps and said one must know what to expect out of them. She also suggested speaking to a therapist for a fresh perspective.