Dating? Nah, it's dumpster diving!

The dating landscape has changed fundamentally with the introduction of dating apps, which behave like sly but invisible thorns, pricking at you, urging you, sweet-talking you and shaming you without shaming you.
Last Updated : 05 November 2023, 03:43 IST
Last Updated : 05 November 2023, 03:43 IST
Last Updated : 05 November 2023, 03:43 IST
Last Updated : 05 November 2023, 03:43 IST

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Skies of grey and clouds of dust, not a soul to be seen. Not a scene from an apocryphal movie but how dating in 2023 has been described by some, no, make that many. ‘A search through a junkyard’ is what another sapped soul calls it. A few other hapless urban creatures have even likened their dating journey to an uphill trek on a land hit by a nuclear disaster — such is their sense of puzzlement and weariness. 

These might be the exaggerated claims of the exasperated, but clearly, there is truth somewhere in it. The dating landscape has changed fundamentally with the introduction of dating apps, which behave like sly but invisible thorns, pricking at you, urging you, sweet-talking you and shaming you without shaming you. Combine this with the quirks and woke concerns of millennials and zoomers, and fast-changing relationships in a faster digital world, and it is no surprise that many are feeling overwhelmed with the demands that they have to meet and the unwritten rules they have to understand — on the go. 

“It all started with daily ‘good morning’ messages. Even though this was the same way my uncle and I communicated on WhatsApp, I decided to give my Bumble match a chance. However, when we graduated to the next level — a weekly ‘Happy Sunday’ with no follow-up, I had to stop holding out hope for any conversation,”  says 25-year-old Sneha. 

“Sometimes, he would surprise me and hit me up with a ‘Sup?’,” she says, after a beat. The variety astounded her. Sneha is describing the ones known as the ‘Good Morning’ boys — who are devout in their greetings but barely pass muster when it comes to forming meaningful connections. 

Her other matches, online and offline, unfortunately, were not promising either. “Somehow, every conversation I had with a man, sooner or later, turned into intense investment advice. It always went from meeting to mutual fund in 0.5 seconds,” says Sneha. 

Besides the greeting boys and investment gurus, several subtypes of daters plague the scene — the ghosters, the “no text, only calls” people, the gym bros and the ones who communicate solely via Instagram reels and memes. 

A drop of toxic, anyone?

Despite the diversity of daters (and issues), an implicit etiquette has arisen across the board. For instance, “You have to be a little toxic if you want to maintain the other person’s interest,” says Kanishka, a 27-year-old in Bengaluru. Commonly, this looks like delaying your text replies to not seem too eager, and never ‘double texting’.

“Dating is a cat-and-mouse game today, where each party competes to seem the least interested. I am embarrassed to say this works,” says Kanishka.

This is a carry-forward really, of the concept of “playing hard to get”, translated to the digital mode of communication. Other means of achieving this include liking Instagram posts selectively, seeming busier than you really are and ‘seenzoning’ people. The modern term for such behaviour is ‘breadcrumbing’, dropping irregular, often confusing morsels of interest that keep the other person guessing and waiting for the next. 

Even people who meet offline are not free of these rules as they rely on social media platforms to get to know each other and progress in their relationships. In a natural progression, story views become likes, which become replies, as they transition to the ‘talking stage’. 

Lost in the mist

Most connections, unfortunately, rarely see the light of day outside of the ‘talking stage’ graveyard. 

“Every waking moment, I was going back and forth with this guy. We had talked for two months at this point and had been talking about meeting. The anticipation soon turned to frustration,” says Kanishka. 

“He would straight up blue-tick me for days when I tried to fix a date or time. Eventually, I had to call it quits,” she adds. 

The few connections that drag themselves out of this abyss do have the potential to progress into healthy, long-term relationships. Yet, they take the more commonly-trodden path straight towards ‘situationships’. These horrors look like this: A refusal to define, commit, be consistent or accountable. A nexus between the casual and the romantic, most situationships leave either party heartbroken and confounded. 

These relationships commonly begin with a ‘chase’. Once interest is established, one person withdraws out of the blue. For instance, Pershia, a 23-year-old in Bengaluru, has experienced this ‘switch-up’ first-hand. 

Two of her recent relationships took this path — when she started dating someone after months of being pursued, they suddenly changed and became more distant and unavailable. A common thread running through her stories and those of her friends is the lack of interest some have in commitment, being exclusive and having a sustained emotional connection, despite indicating otherwise. 

Many share that in the ‘pursuing’ or ‘wooing’ phase, daters only display the ‘greenest of flags’, saying the right things, when, in fact, they are masking their true intentions or expectations. 

The modern Indian gladiator

‘Undefined’ is the order of the day in modern Indian dating. “Especially in India, we do not yet have a ‘dating’ culture. Arranged marriage has its own norms, so for those of us figuring out dating, there are no laid-down rules. We rely on Western countries and what we see in pop culture, but quite often, this may be very far from our own context and worldviews,” says Ravali, a 29-year-old resident of Hyderabad. 

In such a nebulous setting, “it is hard to know what is okay and what isn’t, what is safe and what isn’t, what is expected and what is considered prudish,” she adds. 

One modern dater likens the scenario to venturing onto an episode of Shark Tank. “Dating has become much more urgent. You get a very short time to pitch yourself,” says Shashank*. 

He has recently re-entered the dating arena, after a gap of around 10 years. “There’s a general sense of urgency in dating today, people set targets even before they meet anyone. I will try three dates and see, for example. It all has a very ‘job search’ feel to it,” he says. 

Beyond the comparison to a business reality TV show, starting to date again is, for him, reminiscent of Morgan Freeman’s character from the iconic movie The Shawshank Redemption. “He’s freed from jail after 20-odd years and sent out into a world that has changed drastically. He sees it and doesn’t like it.”

Fastest finger first!

Alex Mathew, popularly known as Maya the Drag Queen, says modern dating today resembles a scene from the popular game show Kaun Banega Crorepati. “The ‘fastest finger first’ fares well in this atmosphere,” he says. 

Dating as a queer person comes with unique challenges in the Indian context. “I had included in my bio that I was a drag queen,” he says. When someone matched with him, however, a series of unfortunate events followed. “There was a huge misunderstanding because the person thought I was a drag racer — the street racing kind,” he laughs. 

Such ignorance can be daunting and render queer dating through online platforms more stressful.“People who want an outlet for their homophobic attitudes find apps an easy platform to find queer individuals to pile on,” he adds. 

Do the mental gym, will you?

Apps and in-person dating events have introduced some structure to meeting people and starting a conversation, but the way people approach them is wildly varied. Ravali describes the ‘mental gymnastics’ involved: “I barely swipe right, maybe I do once in 30 or 40 profiles. I have created my own filters for safety, and compatibility, and base my choices on this. It doesn’t help that men don’t have anything on their profiles or put in stereotypical answers.” 

In fact, a cursory scan of most men’s profiles on dating apps will yield a combination of the keywords: ‘long drives’, ‘good vibes’, ‘beer connoisseur’ and ‘late-night chai’. 

Besides gender, outlooks towards relationships and social lives, age is also an influential factor. “For me, the toughest part has been finding people of my age group to date. The thing about dating younger people is that I just don’t understand their terminologies. For example, I learnt the hard way what breadcrumbing is,” says Shashank. (see box)

Further, translating online connections to offline comes with unexpected challenges. “Cis/het men have strange social skills. After talking to an online match for a while, when we met, he was extremely quiet and awkward,” Ravali says. She had to do most of the heavy lifting during the conversation. “One hour into it, I was so tired and bored that I dragged him along to meet some friends who were nearby.”

Will you be my fraand?

Such “strange” social skills have landed many in awkward situations in bars, bookstores, cafes and the infamous Church Street in Bengaluru. Parks, too, are not free of this phenomenon. “I had encouraged myself to spend a quiet Sunday afternoon alone at Cubbon Park, reading. It was one of the most peaceful, content and relaxing days I’ve had recently,” says Sneha. 

This soon came to an end when a stranger approached her. “He said he was at the park to meet new people. Despite my reluctance, he kept insisting that I share my social media profile and continue talking with him. I hurriedly made an excuse and fled, concerned for my safety,” she says. Sneha has not returned to Cubbon Park since. Women, in general, share stories of being accosted and being caught off guard. 

However, in some instances, be it at badminton courts, concerts or cafes, relationships have blossomed and thrived.  

The upside of down

Even in post-apocalyptic wastelands, sometimes, a glimmer of hope reappears. As Oscar Wilde once aptly said, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Many such ‘stars’ do emerge: “A lot of people get the space to be themselves or to explore who they are. The internet provides that sense of anonymity,” Bharath Surendra, a 28-year-old resident of Bengaluru, says. 

In his case, modern dating culture has allowed him to pitch ‘weird ideas’ that would have been rejected in the past. “In Mumbai, I once had a date in a graveyard. It looked like something out of a scene in Fleabag — a show we both liked.”

Another upside, according to Shashank, is that “you can meet as many people as you want, you don’t have to rely upon finding someone through your friends and family.” 

For instance, Asha from Hyderabad describes her ‘meet-cute’ at a gym, where she met her now-husband. She has noticed an increased honesty and directness in dating. “People are openly discussing everything and not just assuming things. There is a lot of dialogue about what is expected to ensure that eventually, they are on the same page,” she says. 

Ultimately, the steep climbs and sharp curves of this dystopian dating landscape can be jarring, exhausting and disheartening. Yet, it seems that just as unexpectedly, the road can lead to somewhere worth being and someone promising. 

*Name changed on request.

Dating slang we wish you didn't need to know

Here's the not-so-definitive list of dating terms you were embarrassed to ask about. Some of these you will find in the dictionary, and some on dates. 

* Situationship: A tragi-comedy wherein two people are more than friends but less than committed partners, amounting to nothing. 

* Delusionship: Think Ali Bhai in Dhoom 2 — a delusionship sails solely on one’s dreams, wishful thinking and unfounded hope. It's like a crush but takes a few one-sided mental steps ahead, towards building a home, life and family with the person of your interest.

* Ghosting: Unlike Casper the friendly ghost, modern-day ghosters are unfriendly, and don’t stick around. They disappear without notice or reason. 

* Seenzoning: Who knew two little blue ticks on your screen or “Seen on Friday” could wreck your peace the way it does? Well, ask the seenzoners!

*Talking stage: A pit full of quicksand that modern-day relationships sometimes never escape from — the talking stage is a precursor to an in-person meeting or relationship.

* Beige flag: You’ve seen red flags and green flags, but recently, the term ‘beige flag’ has become essential to describe a strange, confusing and completely random quirk a partner may have. 

* Icks: Anything from wearing socks with sandals to holding your fork a certain way could be an ‘ick’, according to some daters. These are qualities that make you question your interest in someone. 

* W Rizz: Someone who has ‘W Rizz’ is an accomplished flirt with incredible charm. Said to be short for ‘charisma’.

* Breadcrumbing: Think Hansel and Gretel but with texts and likes. Just as you’re losing interest, the ‘crumber’ will throw out new fodder to reel you back in.

* Soft launch: The incredibly intricate process of introducing a romantic partner to the digital world, generally featuring side profiles, hands and shared meals. 

* Wokefishing: A conservative person masquerading in progressive garb, leaving you shell-shocked after one conversation on women’s rights to vote.

Published 05 November 2023, 03:43 IST

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