Getting intimate without the stamp of marriage has raised more than just eyebrows in Tamil society, and more so in a conservative city like Chennai. But with the advent of online dating apps like Tinder and Frivil it has been easier finding a partenr. While technology has given the tools to explore relationships and review ideas of marriage, the city doesn’t seem to have the mental and physical space to support a change in values.
When 22-year old N Aditya got on to the online dating scene his first concern was not how to impress a girl but finding the right place where they could meet and not feel embarrassed about it. Online dating has brought with it the option of meeting people. Apps open up more choices and people use them as conversation starters, to find company and even one-night stands. The culture still seems alien in the city where the interaction between sexes has typically been under supervision.
“A large number of hotels don’t let you take a room without proper identification. There are very few hotels that are clean, affordable and allow unmarried couples,” says N Aditya, a 22-year old management trainee at an multi-national company.
In some cities, startups like StayUncle have tied up with hotels so unmarried couples can rent a room for less than a day. But such efforts are few and far between. Since most unmarried people in India still live with their families bringing a member of the opposite sex would cause anything from outright anger to a scandal.
“On the rare occasions when my parents are out of town, I’ve managed to sneak in a girl but otherwise I have no privacy and no decent space to get to know a person. Also outside there is always the danger of policemen on the rounds,” says Prakash Ram, a 17-year-old engineering student, who says he has hooked up with more than 11 women so far through a dating app.
The problem of logistics apart, online dating indicates that people are not yet comfortable with the idea of women making unconventional choices. “There aren’t that many men who treat you as an equal. The paradox with Indian men is that they want a great sexual experience — and when you are equally participatory they turn judgmental,” says Rita, who feels app users have not been able to understand the meaning of a free, liberal society.
Another hiccup occurs when it comes to the M-word. In case of arranged marriages many men are still uncomfortable with the idea of their future wives having multiple partners while they would themselves not mind to be on dating apps.
We are hypocritical as a society and for many men getting married to their date they met online is not an option,” says 26-year-old techie Karthik T, adding that girls have a completely different attitude towards dating. “Women misconstrue the desire to stay away from emotional entanglements as being cold and aloof. They look at sex as the beginning of a long-term relationship,” says Karthik.
While emotional connect is what women may value, most men look for casual sex. “When I meet a man I would first want to get to know him and go out with him. It’s necessary not just for a relationship but for the comfort factor that a person is on the same wavelength and is non-abusive,” she adds.
Despite dating strangers met on online gaining acceptance, security remains a major concern, especially since there are some fake accounts. “How do I know if the person is genuine? I prefer to set up a date on my own terms. After all, how do you trust a random stranger,” asks Krithika V.
(All names have been changed)