The Digital Age Of Dating | #facebookdating | #tinder | #pof

On a random Tuesday, a friend asks me if I’d like to be a part of a global speed dating event, three weeks from said day. I’m a millennial who has watched lots of American content about speed dating, but I’ve hardly heard of it here, in India. Do I want to do this, I wonder. “Oh, come on. It’s a Saturday. What plans could you possibly have?” eye rolls the friend. So three weeks from then, I was on a Zoom call, attending a global social mixer, organised by senior cyber security and data privacy consultant Tushar Bansal and tech consultant Prateek Thawani, flatmates and friends in London. They created a Facebook event, and asked their friends to invite who they want to (my friend knew Bansal). This was their second event. The duo’s first edition had 70 people join in, and was called Global Speed Dating. “It was focused on one-on-one dating, where everyone would go on dates, all at once, for five minutes (with a one-minute countdown timer that ticks in the last minute). We also included couples and committed people who are just there for fun, and kept separate activities for them. The edition ended with a new couple in Delhi, keen on meeting after the lockdown, and my second, third degree connections hanging out till the end of the call, which went on for eight hours. Next day, I saw a huge increase in mutual Instagram connections between my friends,” says Thawani.

Bansal explains that the idea initiated with the thought that everything that we loved in the city, is going to open up only later in the year. “In this era of dating apps, we still find the traditional “getting set up with likeminded people” to work more than incessant swiping. At a time when doing anything virtually is becoming easier, we wanted to play cupid. It took a bit of planning and spreading the word to gather people from di?erent geographical locations, and people who would actually be up for it,” he says. During the second edition that I was a part of, nearly 40 of us were arbitrarily put into breakout rooms of five, for five minutes. In this room, we could pick one person we wanted to talk to further, and let the host know. Lots of small talk about Delhi-Mumbai, work, coronavirus, followed. I was a part of three breakout rooms when, according to IST, it was too late for me to stay on (past midnight is when life ends, I’m not that cool). However, there were others I happened to speak to, who stayed on, and did make some connections.

D, from Delhi, felt like the idea of being a part of an event that’s “invite only” is probably a more reassuring experience, as compared to meeting people on dating apps, who you don’t know at all. “It was a refreshing change, from the usual way of finding people. For me, video calling a person directly works, because I don’t like texting. I don’t have the initial hiccup of not wanting to be on a video call with someone. I might take part in it again,” she says. Neha, a public relations professional from Gurugram, happened to actually meet someone she clicked with, and they have been communicating since. “I wasn’t having fun on dating apps anyway, talking to people over text. I believe in meeting people the natural way. I was a part of three breakout rooms before I met this person, and we’ve been talking since,” she says. Neha also feels that going on a video speed date takes off the pressure, and lets you be more authentic, than on text. “In person, I doubt if I’d ever be going to a speed dating event. It’s a chance to actually ease out with someone you connect with, when it’s virtual,” she says. Payal, a journalist from Mumbai, attended both the editions, and thoroughly enjoyed both. “I’m an introvert, so it was pretty daunting to have one-on-one conversations with strangers the first time, but ultimately, it was a great way to get out of my comfort zone. The group dynamic in the second edition really took the pressure o? of the one on-one dates,” she says.

Classic speed dating events are more of a thing in the West. In India, they happen, but for the larger part of it, are not that heard of. LifeOfLine is one such speed dating event organiser that organised such events. There was also SpeedCo?ee, a matchmaking company, almost eight years ago. Dating apps are definitely more in, than speed dating events. “With classic speed dating events, it’s always too crowded. On Zoom, it’s much more personal. Although body language and physical attraction still remains a mystery on Zoom calls, it also gives you the opportunity to gather your friends and be comfortable in the environment, which is generally dicult in classic speed date events,” says Bansal. Dating apps also have video features now, thanks to the lockdown. Hinge is o?ering a Date From Home option, where you can video call your date. But Zach Schleien started Filter O?, in February this year, as a unique video-based app, which is available in India too. In fact, FilterO? has India-specific speed dating video events happening right now, other than a global date night every Monday. They are planning to roll city-based dating events soon, too. Despite starting recently, the user database has seen a 25 fold increase since the pandemic, with seven per cent of users from India. In fact, after a user participates in one event, 75 per cent continue to attend events.

“Many people feel uncomfortable attending in-person speed dating, with the fear of being judged. With virtual speed dating, you’re in a familiar environment so it’s not uneasy in any way. With 90-second dates, it keeps it short in case you don’t vibe, but long enough to get a sense of if you may hit it o? with them,” says Schleien. Payal believes dating has become a digitally driven process anyway, especially with the advent of dating apps. “However, the prospect of video calling a stranger might seem daunting to some people (like me), while others might find it the perfect tool to vet their dates before deciding if they want to continue talking to them,” she says. Schleien finds video first as a missing ingredient to traditional dating apps. “People are sick and tired of swiping and judging people on their profile photos. Filter O? o?ers that authentic romantic connection in the comfort of your own home,” he says.

While dating apps are similar to speed dating in the sense that you’re meeting strangers, D feels like there’s no competition, because a Zoom event can only be 100 people, while dating apps have millions and millions of people. “I don’t think that it’s going to be competition, speed dating like this is nostalgic, also kind of new, because it’s virtual,” she says. Bansal feels it gives you an edge to filter your dates before meeting them. “I feel old timers would still like the mystery of it and the excitement. And people who like faceto-face conversations, might still want to meet. But that percentage seems to be only decreasing from here,” he says. So given the current scenario, is digital dating on its way to pick up over “out on a date” prospect for now, even if not for the long run? It seems the intrigue to see this digital prospect influence dating is quite real.

Payal believes in-person speed dating events are much more dicult to organise, and bring singles together, and the sense of control over a date is better when you’re matching with someone on a dating app. Speed dating requires you to be mindful of the time constraint. However, Neha feels, “On an app, you’re approaching a stranger, while from a reference point, a speed dating event organised by a mutual can work, if converted into an actual event post the pandemic. If a friend is hosting such an event and invites you, you’ll trust the word of mouth and go for it. I think it will pick up.” Thawani has never been to a speed dating event himself, and is of the opinion that digitally, it won’t be a success after lockdown. “I’ve spoken to quite a lot of people in the UK about it, and feel that it is a convenient way for first dates — where you can get over the awkwardness that comes with being present physically, but I’m a big promoter of the old school of thought when it comes to dating,” he says.

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