Aastha Atray Banan: The L–Word is about modern love, from ghosting, polyamory, love in the times of social media to more every-day problems like dealing with heartbreak, infidelity and getting out of toxic relationships. An excerpt:
A lot has changed in the dating scene. It’s not like in 2003, when I was sitting in Hawaiian Shack, a retro bar in Bombay’s coolest suburb, Bandra; a time when people sent over drinks. Despite being an obvious overture of desire, it was alright if one didn’t kiss them or sleep with them. But yes, you could have a lovely conversation with them. Of course, if you didn’t like them, you could always gulp your drink down and tell them you had a curfew time. But then you may get caught at the next bar which was open till 5 a.m. and bump into everybody from the previous bar over there. Ah, the good old days!
But these days, why would anyone risk hurting their ego by asking someone out with a drink at a bar? Isn’t it always better being rejected on a platform where no one else can see you wincing and crying?
And so, everyone and their ex is on the apps.
Dating apps seem like a parallel world where singles, and wannabe singles, live in a continuous loop. People meet, insanely optimistic about where this could go, start getting panic attacks at even the first thing that goes wrong, and soon one ghosts the other, and we are back to the drawing board.
‘What’s baffling is, why instead of ghosting, they can’t just tell you they are just not into you. Why lead you on? Why say I love you to get sex? Why not be honest,’ says a sweet friend of mine, who just wants it straight. More on this very-millennial concept of ghosting later.
But then, as I think about it, most humans have never been good at being straight. It would take the drama out of life, and what’s life without some drama? Sigh.
But as an astute piece, ‘The Five Years That Changed Dating’ by Ashley Fetters, in The Atlantic from 2018 said, many people getting married or engaged in these times met on a dating app. A Manhattan therapist to young couples actually commented that if he asked couples how they met, most of them looked at him like a fuddy-duddy. Their answer was always: ‘on a dating app. How else does one meet?’ As of this year, according to a study by businessofapps.com, Tinder has 57 million users around the world. Bumble has 12.3 million users per month, and Badoo (not in India yet) is the largest in the dating app world with almost 500 million users.
Sean Rad and Justin Mateen, two of Tinder’s founders, have said in interviews that the inspiration for Tinder came from their own general dissatisfaction with the lack of dating opportunities in real life – or, as Rad once said, ‘Justin needed help meeting people because he had, what’s that disorder you have where you don’t leave the house?’ As Mateen said in the same Time magazine interview in 2014, ‘Nobody joins Tinder because they’re looking for something.’ Rad went on to say, ‘They join because they want to have fun. It doesn’t even matter if you match because swiping is so fun.’
Or as one smart twenty-five-year-old single man told me, ‘Dating apps haven’t change the game. They have just brought it closer home.’
Well, in the world we are now living, where a pandemic could strike us anytime, cloistering us in our homes, it would seem to say Justin’s words were prophetic.
What it goes to show could be that even though the way we look for a partner has changed, the need to find a sexual or emotional partner is the same. The challenges may be greater though as now along with the general menu of pros and cons a relationship has to go through, singles these days – as my co-podcaster on ‘Love Aaj Kal’, Ankit Vengurlekar, puts so succinctly – also have to deal with the ‘illusion of choice’. The fact that there is someone maybe more attractive, better-suited to you emotionally, better in bed … all at the swipe of your finger.
As 30-year-old journalist Prutha Bhosle, who has been on dating apps for five years now, says, ‘But it makes sure we don’t lose hope. If one thing doesn’t work out, we can say, “There are more fish in the sea”. It keeps me hopeful. I can’t meet people organically – my job gives me no time, and I am very comfortable in my circle of friends … so how will it happen. On the apps of course!’ Then she muses, ‘But Ankit is right. Even if AA S THA A T RAY B ANAN
you meet someone you like, he may be ready to ghost you, as he is done, and has more choices.’
Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava has observed young people very closely, especially for her book, Stoned, Shamed, Depressed: The Secret Lives of India’s Teens. ‘I think it’s very casual. But then again, when very young people are dating, casual is the key word. The problem is it’s all very transient, and millennials have lots of choices. They don’t even have friends that last for years, how can they have relationships. They don’t believe in working on things – it’s all about moving on. Sometimes that’s very good, sometimes bad.’
And this choice of plenty begets bad behaviour. For Bhosle, the worst part about the apps is that since they know they can ‘maybe’ find someone better, people don’t put effort into their relationships. ‘So, you have to keep starting over. Every time, answer questions – where did you go to school, what do you like eating … blah blah. It’s like an interview. It gets superbly monotonous.’ But, as Harry Reis, PhD, Professor of Psychology and Dean’s Professor in Arts, Sciences, and Engineering at the University of Rochester, said in a paper he wrote on online dating: ‘There’s the old saying that you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince – and I think that really applies to online dating.’
And so, there goes the one big advantage: the dating pool is almost as large as the sea itself that you look for ‘plenty of fish’ in.
Excerpted with permission from ‘The L Word’ by Aastha Atray Banan published by HarperCollins Publishers India
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