Move over matrimonial websites, the new-age Indian is experimenting much beyond life-long commitment. From platforms offering extra-marital affairs to kinky encounters, today people just need to download a dating app to fulfill their fantasies
Years ago, when Indian parents had to choose the ‘perfect match’ for their children, they logged on to matrimonial sites like shaadi.com and jeevansathi.com to look for “fair, beautiful, well-educated girls”, or “tall, handsome boys with good jobs”.
Today, you can log on to dating sites to look for a partner who dresses like a bunny on a leash to fulfill your craziest sexual fantasy or find someone for a casual extra-marital encounter or same-sex partners, and everything else in-between.
The apps reveal some juicy data as well. Take Gleeden, an extra-marital dating app and website which brings together partners with full disclosure about their marital status, but offers full privacy protection. Officials at the website say seven out of 10 women have cheated on their spouses because they did not help in daily chores. Not only that, India’s most unfaithful women live in the big metropolises. Bengaluru, Mumbai and Kolkata are among the top three. Four out of 10 women admitted that flirting with a stranger helped them improve their intimacy with their official partner. Clearly, infidelity can be therapeutic too. Also, 31% of the unfaithful women have already had an affair with one of their neighbours.
If the feminist in you wants to make the first move and ask a guy out, Bumble, a location-based social and dating application that encourages communication between interested users, is the ideal choice. The catch here is that only the woman can make the first move. In case you are ethically non-monogamous or queer, you can opt for OkCupid (OkC), an online dating and social networking website founded in 2004 by Harvard mathematicians who believed in the power of questions to lead you to meaningful connections.
FetLife, a social media platform that caters to people who have an interest in BDSM, fetishism and kink, encourages open dialogues about kinks and fetishes amongst its users. It basically gives you a chance to discuss your inhibitions and taboos.
This is a clear departure from about a couple of decades back, when dating itself was a taboo. Today, men and women go out on multiple dates with multiple people to test the waters. Few years back, the mindset was different. “The woman would get labelled as a loose character and the guy would be called a casanova,” says Ira Trivedi, author of India in Love: Marriage and Sexuality in the 21st Century, a book about the sexual revolution in India.
She further adds that the concept of dating didn’t really exist on a mass scale in India till a couple of years ago. “Dating is when you meet multiple people with the possibility of a romantic relationship and it doesn’t have to be just one person. It could be five or six or seven, this idea of meeting people didn’t really exist until recently,” she adds.
Hit amongst youngsters
Clinical psychologist RK Suri reveals something startling. Apparently, one of his clients, an 18-year-old girl, has dated 27 people she met through dating apps, of which she has been sexually active with 19.
Twenty nine-year-old artist Shinjini Roy (name changed on request), who started using Tinder in Delhi in 2015, says meeting people organically is not easy any more. “We don’t know how to meet new people because we spend so much time on our phones,” she says. .
Initially, Roy was wary of inviting strangers home. “I used to think I was being reckless by calling strangers, especially in Delhi.” However, she has had only one bad experience amongst her numerous casual encounters. “They were respectful of boundaries, I didn’t feel unsafe at any point of time, which was a surprise for me except for one guy… This person was a bit aggressive about what he wanted. Though it was consensual, I felt violated,” she recalls, reflecting on the dilemma of meeting people online. Interestingly, Roy has also gone on to forge long-term friendships with some of her dates from Tinder.
Online dating clearly has some advantages. Dating apps like Tinder give you the opportunity to be more forthcoming, and the person swiping left or right knows what the other person is looking for, as opposed to say an encounter in a bar where you don’t know what’s in the mind of the cute person you want to hit on.
Says Taru Kapoor, India head, Tinder, “Tinder represents endless possibilities where each right swipe opens up a new world. Every swipe is a new opportunity, a new connection, a potential epic memory or a valuable lesson in self-discovery.” She adds: “We have user stories ranging from a Tinder match rescuing someone on a deserted highway between Hungary and Croatia, users finding love and companionship to friendships of a lifetime being formed.”
Many people don’t know that Tinder also has a gay version – Grindr, a geosocial networking and online dating application geared towards gay, bi, trans, and queer people. Delhi-based Samudranil Gupta (27), who has had a decent number of sexual encounters from Grindr, says, “I like the fact that Grindr has helped me find many men I have had a physical relationship with, which later transformed into long-lasting friendships.” He also believes that like most other social networking apps, Grindr is a neo-liberal capitalist enterprise that ultimately promotes consumerism. “Here the ‘success’ of each profile is ultimately determined by its marketability. The users turn into competitors, putting themselves on sale or offer while continually advertising and highlighting various details — the profile picture, the bio note, physical details, preference in bed, intention and HIV status,” he says, adding, “This can get very disturbing but then it is like addiction obviously.”
Gupta who is a cisgender man, reveals that the violent and toxic behaviour of people on Grindr (people rejecting you on your face without being sensible enough), the femme phobia and trans phobia that are rampant here can be horribly threatening, which implies that a transgender man or woman will often receive rejection and derogatory messages on the platform.
Like Grindr, OkCupid also encourages people having non-normative sexualities to be a part of their app. Melissa Hobley, CMO, OkCupid says, “We enthusiastically welcome people of all orientations and gender identities to create a holistic environment for everyone to find like-minded potential matches. With almost two decades invested in helping people find love, we will always be a platform for people to find their match.”
For Berlin-based Abhilasha Mohan (name changed on request), who is an introvert and for whom it takes a lot to go out and meet people regularly due to lack of time or intentions, OkC is a great virtual ground to interact. Her journey on OkC started about 18 months ago when she was dealing with bouts of loneliness and her more technologically aware room-mate introduced her to its “wonders”.
“I soon began a torrid affair with a woman that changed not only the way I looked at life but how life was all together,” remembers Mohan. Although Mohan hasn’t yet found a suitable romantic match, she did find great friends along the way. OkC works better than Bumble or Tinder for Mohan, as “it is more nuanced in the way it features the profiles”. The matches are determined based on a verisimilitude of questions that the users have to answer, hence reflecting the way they think and the way they are. The questions there made Mohan think, and take her time instead of the random haste of finding a match. “It is a dynamic app in the way it sets the thoughts and acts offline, there I find the surprises or the roadblocks the app poses to be intriguing and insightful in this era of virtual intimacy. It makes one ponder rather than swiping recklessly,” she adds.
For the lonely elders
OKC also has users in their sixties and beyond trying to navigate the world of dating. And things get interesting sometimes. Bangalore-based 49-year-old Rishi Menon (name changed on request) met a married woman through Facebook initially and then they met up in person in Delhi’s Rajouri Garden. “We went to her home and made out while her son slept in the bedroom. Then I realised that her husband is due in the evening and hotfooted out of there,” recalls Menon. But the story didn’t end there. The woman joined OkC after knowing Menon was on it and started chatting with him without revealing her identity. However, she was caught because of her punctuation! “She was making the same punctuation errors. Such as leaving a space before a period,” laughs Menon.
Since OkC can connect you with anyone anywhere in the world, Menon also met an Asian girl who would send him pictures and videos of her dog sniffing and licking her feet, which Menon found to be “oddly arousing”. The only real challenge that Menon faced was a paucity of interesting women in the 40-plus age group.
Delhi-based best-selling author of Status Single and Sita’s Curse, Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, 41, recalls her “bad experience from Tinder” and talks about her Tinder match being commitment phobic. According to Kundu, the guy who took her home gave the narrative of having come out of a relationship and not wanting to commit. “He wanted to enjoy the perks of intimacy without commitment. When we argued about becoming intimate, he showed me the door. Later, I came to know that he was on multiple platforms, chatting with a lot of my friends too,” says Kundu. She suggests that women need to be careful and conduct thorough background checks before going on a date. “You have to be very careful in your 40s while searching for companionship, you shouldn’t be desperate,” she adds.
Extra-marital affairs now easier Gleeden reveals some astonishing facts — 77% of Indian women cheat because they are bored with their monotonous married life and 72% of unfaithful Indians don’t regret having cheated on their partners.
Since the Supreme Court abolished Section 377, which criminalised same-sex relationships, there was an over 45% increase in same-sex extra-marital encounters among married people. In a relatively short span of time, six lakh Indians have registered themselves on the Gleeden app.
“Since the decriminalisation of adultery the user numbers have grown very extensively and quickly for us. Consider that when we started communicating in India in the end of 2017, we had around 1.2 lakh Indian users,” says a Gleeden official.
Suri adds, “People have had extra-marital affairs since ages; we just see more people indulging in them because of stressed lifestyles. Dating apps just make things easier.” He feels the text-based communication that happens on dating apps has a robotic feel and is not as intense as a personal conversation, which promote casual relationships.
In India, the divorce rate is just around 1%. Of 1,000 marriages, only 13 results in divorce. Gleeden officials say they understand that seeking a divorce is seen in most communities as against the rules and something to be ashamed of. In such a scenario, a dating app helps people socialise without formally ending their marriages.
Solene Paillet, marketing specialist for Gleeden, says, “Even if adultery is no longer a crime, in people’s mind it is still something punishable. Gleeden offers anonymity, privacy safety and a wide range of candidates outside the circle one usually hangs out with. That’s why our numbers in India skyrocketed since the decriminalisation of adultery. Until Indians fully change their mindset about marriage and divorce, virtual affairs will have a long and healthy life.”
Kundu believes that having prenuptial agreements before marriage and reviewing your marriage every five years can help. For those stuck in boring or unhappy marriages, there’s always refuge in a virtual world.