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The App-rehensions of Dating

By Roopank Chaudhary

There is a term that is doing the rounds these days – digital detox – to lure us from the online world of data, to a healthier, natural and easier life. I think we are not far off from the day when we will actively discuss the term – dating detox (for the single people that is; let’s not comment on the murky waters that married folks may wade in!).

It is never easy to find love and, in a day, and age where options (read apps) to date, mate and procrastinate (the decision, of course) is aplenty, trust the digital age to make things a little more complicated. Yes, there are some of us who prefer old-fashioned joys of life, like grocery shopping in a physical supermarket over Big Basket, weathered yellowed books to the Kindle and the whole movie theatre experience, instead of Netflix. And even for those who aren’t, and are busy lapping up love via their smartphones, seeking meaningful relationships isn’t all that rosy. And here’s why.

The heavenly resort that wasn’t
In spite of the ever-increasing number of travel aggregators and hotel booking platforms, it isn’t uncommon to find the gorgeous, serene spa resort that you booked, turn out to be an average, unkempt guesthouse when you land there.

Yes, Photoshop and taking pictures from the most flattering angle helps ‘sell’, and how. And sadly, it isn’t much different on dating apps. If looks are your thing (it doesn’t make you shallow to want that), be prepared to get conned. Your date may end up looking older, more unfit or plain (from their photos), and generally very different from what his or her amazing pictures looked like when you gleefully swiped right. Sure, you can scan Facebook and Instagram, but the same logic applies there as well. You are depending on a digital image and digital history to make your choice, so be prepared for surprises.

The referral check
A good risk mitigant to the resort quandary highlighted above is the fact that well known sites have reviews and ratings, to help you make up your mind.  While dating apps don’t have that functionality just yet (who knows what the future brings in a few years) – relationships and people need privacy. Unlike LinkedIn, which is great for job referrals, relationship referrals or reviews are a bit much to ask for! Hence you are literally going in for a ‘blind’ date (ah yes, you have a photo) with no idea about the person, their background, his/her preferences and very importantly, marital status. No wonder many such dates last about 10 minutes – with very little common ground or connect, with one member (or both) wanting to abandon ship pretty quickly. And then there is the big issue of safety for women, having little clue about the man they are meeting, and the whole risk of actually going out for a date with someone, who turns out to be a married man!

Conversion time
Well, if swiping left and right is a good use of your time and meeting people for a lark is something you fancy, the world of apps presents another medium of entertainment. There are plenty of fish in the sea and if time is your friend and perhaps age is on your side, line the baits and get out there in deep waters. However, if serious relationships are what you seek, and like the many I know for whom there is work and other interests that compete for your time, then you are barking up the wrong tree. If you are in well-heeled New York, walk up to the girl at the bar, strike a conversation, gauge the chemistry, and take it from there. In India, even Bombay, it’s a bit different, so you rely on apps. But then the usual routine follows – that whole drill of lets-first-chat-then-exchange-numbers-then-chat-on-whatsapp-then-talk-on-phone-then-meet-blah-blah-blah. And to be fair, if security and background is something you are wary of, it is perhaps justified. But then, who has the time and the patience and tolerance to do this charade with a crazy job and list of commitments that eat up our weekdays and gobble up our weekends endlessly. Sometimes, a direct meeting is so much more effective.

The chemistry
Very often, the most common missing ingredient in that date is the lack of chemistry. Some can define it, and it is just as intangible for others. There are enough meetings we walk away from where everything was fine with the person we met, but we still didn’t feel it. So what’s the point of spending endless minutes typing messages, figuring out backgrounds, sizing up credentials, attempting a few calls, to set up that date when there is no idea of the chemistry that exists? It is but that moment of reckoning when the physical (no pun intended) interaction happens when the penny drops, and we broadly know where this can go. Now dating apps are unlikely to create an algorithm for chemistry, but why not get the clarity first before spending all that time?

The ghost(ing) protocol
Spoilt rotten by choice, it’s obvious that we don’t live in the lap of exclusivity anymore. When workers in the gig economy can be employed with different organizations at the same time, dating and relationships aren’t far behind. Hence, what you get on apps is the ability to binge-swipe! Many a time, the right swipes don’t end up in meaningful conversation (let alone dates). And most times, both parties are multi-chatting, multi-flirting and multi-dating with aplomb with the choice of partners on offer. They will appear, vanish, re-appear and disappear leaving you confused with the complications of this dating mechanism. I hate to say this, but in all likelihood, you will join the bandwagon, too! And very soon, it will be a never-ending era of swiping right till you find the right one, which itself will become a paradox of choice because you will always keep looking for someone better.

Sometimes, the simplest ways are the best. Love and relationships can be inherently complicated, the path to them shouldn’t be. Perhaps there will be apps that will make us meet partners instantaneously, without all the riff raff and with all the ‘data’ we need. Maybe Bombay will become New York city and striking up a conversation in a neighborhood bar will be the norm. But till that utopian time, bespoke dating or networking services which promise both trust and taste, may end up being the savior that time constrained, picky, busy professionals can lean on to find someone meaningful.

A management consultant by day, writer by night, Roopank is based in Mumbai. He describes himself as a travel junkie and poet at heart. A bookshop browser and Kindle-hater, Roopank is a sucker for all things Bollywood. 

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