When 24-year-old illustrator Priya Dali matched on Tinder with a female teacher of the same age, it wasn’t love at first swipe. Swapping pings during the lockdown — Dali was in Mumbai, while her match was in Pune — the couple recognised that they had a lot in common. “I am a workaholic, so I look to connect with people with shared goals,” says Dali.
One Sunday afternoon, she encouraged her internet partner to take a quiz she had created for a gay magazine, along with her. Flopped on their respective couches, as the two took a crack at the relationship queries, they also dug deeper into each other’s likes and dislikes. And soon, the chat took precedence over their chores. “By the time we reached the last question, it was 11 pm and we didn’t feel that we had connected just a week ago,” says Dali, upon reflection. The duo is among many for who romance now plays out on a virtual plane. No wonder then, that dating and networking apps such as Tinder, Bumble and OkCupid have seen a significant spike in conversations, video calls and overall time spent since the start of the nationwide lockdown. If the pandemic has a thin silver lining, it is this: That being isolated at home affords one extra time to invest in one’s love life. So while singles have put pedal to the metal in their pursuit for partners, those in committed relationships are trying to sustain chemistry through endless video calls.
The new normal
On a recent Saturday night, marketing professional Dency Mathew, who lives in Borivali, slipped into her favourite red dress, while her filmmaker boyfriend Jonathan Augustin, at home in Chembur, threw on his lucky blue shirt and the couple raised glasses to their respective laptop screens. This is the closest they’ve gotten to the real thing ever since the nationwide shelter-inplace order came into effect. Since they started dating in June last year, this is the longest they’ve been apart. “To make it interesting, we also played a ‘20 questions game’,” says Mathew. The exercise yielded pleasant revelations. “I was happy to learn that one of his happiest moments featured me. It made me feel special,” says Mathew, who even made a home video collating Augustin’s most cherished memories to bring in his birthday last Sunday.
Like them, 26-year-old Mrinalini Mali and her Pune-based match are also using apps to tide over the challenges posed by the lockdown. “Since both of us are working from home, voice notes work best during the day. But after work, it’s time for our daily video call,” says the Bangalore-based PR executive, who met her 29-year-old boyfriend on Bumble a month ago. “Unlike me, he loves experimenting with food and shares his culinary experiments almost every day,” says Mali, who has picked up a chicken recipe or two through her online rendezvous.
The process of selecting a partner varies with every app, and those getting into relationships are only too aware that the chances of offline gettogethers will only get slimmer in the coming months. So, geographical distance has taken a backseat presently. For instance, with just a slide of his finger across his phone screen, 20-year-old Sidhanth Chakraborty connected with a 25-yearold chef in Hamburg, Germany. The third-year law student from Kolkata simply used Tinder’s ‘passport’ feature to do so. The fact that the whole world is in this together helped to get the conversation flowing. Aside from their mutual love for British rock band Queen and sausages, the two discussed how they were dealing with self-isolation. “She shared her recipe for Bratwurst with me, and I intend to try it out someday,” says Chakraborty, who turned into a night owl, exchanging texts with his online date till the wee hours
Negotiating a new relationship or maintaining an existing one with only the tools available on your smartphone requires imagination. “I don’t like texting, it doesn’t convey the mood, and can be misread,” says 26-year-old Arjun Reddy, who works with a Mumbai-based digital agency. Reddy, who has found his match in a final year college student, says he gets ticked off when she takes too long to respond to his messages. “But she’s very mature and knows just how to get through to me,” he adds.
While the absence of physical intimacy is an obvious concern, some say romancing remotely in the times of social distancing comes with its benefits. Like Kiran Jain, for example, who describes herself as an introvert and prefers “to take things slow”. The 26-yearold finds comfort in the anonymity that internet interactions afford. “When I’m talking to a stranger, I can talk about anything without fear of judgment. And, I can take my time to get to know him,” says Jain. Augustin, too, can see an upside to the separation. “Just holding hands or going for a drive… I’ve never taken these things for granted, but when the lockdown is lifted, I will cherish those moments even more,” he says.
Dali, on the other hand, wonders how things will play out when she actually gets to meet her match in person. “Maybe we’ll just end up being two very gay friends who met online and found a few moments of calm and laughter at a time when the world was crumbling,” she says.