If you have been swiping left and right and liking and disliking people on Tinder, Happn, Bumble, Coffee Meets Bagel, OkCupid, Woo, Hinge, Aisle etcetera for some time now and still find this piece confusing, you may have had a very linear approach to these apps — starting with a clear sexual preference, exploring the abundant choices, getting a few matches and fewer real-life connections. If the one you like (swipe right), likes you back, it’s a match. It’s a fair approach. We desperately needed it half-a-decade ago when these apps first arrived in India. At least it helped reduce the pressure of finding people in our immediate physical surroundings.
“The options were limited to school, university and workplace,” says Melissa Hobley, chief marketing officer of OkCupid, which has over a million users in India. And, smaller pools often lead to terrible decisions. We have all seen office romances get ugly.
Social networking sites, such as Facebook, didn’t help much with the problem either, except offer a virtual pool of people that now largely consist of friends, family and acquaintances. And apart from guessing from their relationship status, which is hidden from most users, you can barely tell if a friend of a friend is open to meeting new people.
It’s also not a platform where people, especially women, are comfortable being approached by total strangers. They are routinely bombarded with unsolicited messages and friend requests from an inordinate majority of men.
“Except for a group of girls that I hung out with once, I have never really met a new person through Facebook,” says Sakshi, who sporadically uses Tinder, Bumble and Hinge. Facebook says it will soon launch a dating interface of its own. No surprises there.
Dating apps, she says, have made it much more comfortable to remain single in the 30s. “I was off these apps when I was in a relationship for two years, and I am back on them. It doesn’t look like they are going to run out of people anytime soon.”
The suite of dating apps in India is on the cusp of an evolution. The variety is stupendous. Apps like Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, OkCupid and Coffee Meets Bagel are the clear favourites among the urban, educated users. Then there’s Happn that connect people based on location proximity, apps like Inner Cirle and Floh that organise exclusive events for their premium members to mingle, and others like Badoo (Russian), Tantan (Chinese) and Azar (Korean) that are gaining popularity with the growing internet penetration in India.
While basic laws of attraction still govern the interface and pictures still reign supreme, apps that have been proud to hook you up with people that you approve of visually — Tinder still does it best — are moving towards more exhaustive profiles.
“You can’t create a profile in five seconds anymore. Users on average answer 50 pre-generated questions about their preferences and personality to make an attractive profile,” says Hobley. Apps such as OkCupid, Hinge, Coffee Meets Bagel, Woo and Aisle also use algorithms to connect people who share common interests.
There’s also a refreshing change in how users can identify themselves. OkCupid now has 13 sexual orientations and “22 genders” to choose from, which makes the app among the few that are putting in a serious effort to be more inclusive. “When users clearly define their preferences, the matches are more meaningful,” says Hobley.
The dates that go well often turn into relationships. Some last longer than others but dating apps are proud of their couple testimonials. “I have been invited to more weddings than most people,” says Hobley. I too, with my more limited circle, have been invited to at least three weddings facilitated by dating apps this year. Couples that meet through dating apps and get married are part of an urban Indian phenomenon.
Google in its report, Year in Search — India: Insights for Brands, said that queries in 2018 related to dating apps grew by 37 per cent against a 13 per cent increase in queries about matrimonial brands. While the revenue growth of popular matrimonial sites suggests otherwise, the report is at least indicative of a shift in trend.
Homegrown apps such as TrulyMadly and Woo, for instance, have a clear agenda of helping people find love and committed relationships. Snehil Khanor, CEO & Co-Founder, TrulyMadly, says: “Fifty per cent of the app’s five million users are over the age of 28 and the oldest among them are in their 70s.” Married people are strictly not allowed on TrulyMadly.
“Unlike with traditional matrimonial platforms, where intent is clear and mandatory, the choice of status on Woo ranges from ‘seeking marriage’, ‘long-term relationship’ to ‘still making up my mind’,” says Sumesh Menon, CEO and co-founder of Woo, which has five million users in India.
While a large chunk of users on dating apps are in their teens, 20s and 30s, older adults looking for long-term relationships also have platforms such as andwemet.com, which caters exclusively to people between 30 and 60. “Maybe they are looking for marriage or a live-in relationship or even an asexual relationship — it’s a nuanced, age-specific pool of people they interact with,” says Shalini Singh, who launched the platform in January and now manages over 1,000 verified users.
Gleeden, a French app that arrived in India in 2017 and also caters to a mature audience, has been quite active since the Supreme Court decriminalised adultery in September last year. It’s an app that is meant to facilitate extra-marital dating. Among its 500,000 users, 30 per cent are women between 30 and 36.
“People who’re unhappy in their marriage will try to find intimacy elsewhere. Gleeden makes the search for a partner easier and, above all, safer,” says Ravi Truchot, its co-founder. The app has achieved new levels of discreet. It has features like “panic button”, which allows you to disconnect immediately, or “shake” to exit the app and even a “discreet mode”, which turns the app interface blue to resemble that of a popular and innocuous social media network just in case your official partner walks in on you.
For younger, more honest and consenting adults, non-monogamy is a simpler choice. “We stay away from relationship labels by design,” says Hobley of OkCupid, which gives you the option to declare your relationship or marriage and even link your partner’s profile to yours.
It’s not uncommon to find single or married people on dating apps who prefer or approve of a non-monogamous relationship. “Find a great date, or great dates for the rest of your lives, or maybe a great friendship,” says Hobley. Dating apps are moving on from preaching to facilitating interactions between people. “The chemistry is up to them to decide.”
Not all dates are about sentimentalising the moonlight. Sana, 27, who has gone from casually dating men to being in a relationship with a woman in the last three years, has, while going through a full spectrum of self-discovery, created a network of friends and reliable acquaintances. “Even the hookups or romances that fizzle out add to the list of people you end up knowing closely,” she says.
Raksha, 25, who travelled solo to Europe last year, found many free tour guides on the way through Tinder and Hinge. She later returned the favour by offering a guided tour of Rajasthan to a group of Spanish travellers this year. “Once you have learned to filter through profiles and find like-minded people, these apps are just about meeting new people. And the experience is unique to different places,” she says.
Four months old and a million users down in India, Bumble, backed by actor Priyanka Chopra, is a one-stop shop for a full spectrum of relationships. It has a three-tab interface Bumble Date, Bumble BFF and Bumble Biz for dating, friendship and networking, respectively.
Priti Joshi, global director for strategy for Bumble, the app in which only a woman can initiate the first conversation, says that 50 per cent of the women on the app use more than one feature. “It’s an opportunity to have rewarding conversations through all kinds of connections,” she says.
There is palpable discrimination, the fear of online abusive, safety and privacy issues and a whole lot of vanity on dating apps. But even through these challenges, it’s an unusual, constantly evolving network that these apps are subconsciously building. And it is more accommodating today than ever.
Some names have been changed on request