Long phone chats to find the right one: COVID-19 changes rules of dating game

NEW DELHI, Apr 26: Time was when a first date, or even second and third, meant tentative glances over coffee or something stronger, holding hands maybe and promises to meet again soon, but COVID-19 has changed the rules of the game and it’s now all online, and all about conversation.
The prolonged lockdown could well have pushed the rewind button on the idea of romance, taking it back perhaps to what it was meant to be in a forgotten era of no net connectivity.
“Actually I feel it’s a good thing… because you spend more time chatting, then slowly move to phone calls and then, if it really clicks, to a video call,” said 25-year-old Avantika Singh.
“Prior to the lockdown, it was a day or two of chatting and perhaps meeting. Or at least the request for a meeting would come up. Now, there is no other option and it’s good,” the Delhi-based communications specialist said.
The unprecedented lockdown situation, she said, has come with the opportunity to find love. Online dating was in vogue before India shut down on March 25 and the fear of the spread of the disease kept everybody indoors. But the initial conversation was followed by incessant requests to meet, and this take-it-slow, one-conversation-at-a-time, approach to a relationship is great, she said.
Many young Indians clearly agree with Singh.  In early April, dating.Com, an online dating website, released a list of top countries going online in search of love since the beginning of March, when the coronavirus pandemic made countries rush indoors.
It found the US was the most active country for online dating. India was a close second followed by Ireland and the United Kingdom. There are no exact numbers.
Over the last few years, the online space has been flooded with dating apps such as Tinder, OkCupid, Bumble and Hinge.
Most dating websites have started noticing a shift in the way their users are interacting with each other during the lockdown period.   OkCupid clocked over “50 million intro messages” across the world shared among first time users in the last month as people are looking for “human connection” more than ever before, said CEO Ariel Charytan.
“With restaurants, bars, gyms, offices, and entertainment establishments around the world all temporarily closed, people are looking for human connection now more than ever before,” Charytan told PTI.
The dating company reported a 26 per cent increase in conversation and a 12 per cent increase in matches in India since the lockdown began. The numbers also suggested that more people believed in developing an emotional connection before a physical one.
“This form of virtual dating is ushering in a new era of ‘slow dating’ that’s been welcomed by singles. An estimated 85 per cent of users on OkCupid believe it’s important to develop an emotional connection before a physical one, so the switch to virtual dates has allowed these emotional connections to thrive,” the New York-based Charytan told PTI over email.   Tinder has also reported “more conversations lasting longer than earlier” on its platform. And India has clocked in more conversations and also longer conversations than the global average.
“Globally, more members are swiping right on someone new, having more conversations overall, and those conversations are lasting longer. Daily conversations have been up an average of 20 per cent around the world, and the average length of the conversations is 25 per cent longer.    “In India, conversations have been up an average of 39 per cent and the average length of conversations is 28 per cent longer,” a Tinder spokesperson said.    Dating services have adapted to the scenario of “virtual dating” by introducing new features in their apps.
While Hinge introduced the “Date from Home” feature, which was supported by 70 per cent of its users, OkCupid reported that 91 per cent of Indian users “will continue dating, albeit virtually”.
The virtual dates involve having dinner and drinks over video calls, watching a movie together, or playing an online game.   A Delhi-based finance sector professional, who did not want to be named, is among the new users.   She said she had never used a dating app before the lockdown was imposed across the country but installed one because she’s been working from home since the pan India lockdown came into effect, and had nothing else interesting to do. The lockdown has been extended till at least May 3.
“I usually don’t meet people using dating apps. But this time I am planning to meet my match once this lockdown is over. That, too, only if our opinions on demographics, interests, and purpose of using the platform match,” she said.
Not everyone is lucky, of course.
B Sundaresan, 28, who uses Tinder, OkCupid, Bumble and Hinge, to hopefully find a kindred spirit, said the aim is to find somebody to talk about shared interests.
“My friend suggested that right now would be a better time to find matches as everyone is at home with not a lot to do. I was matched a few times, but that was mostly about it. The conversations led to nothing significant,” said Sundaresan, the founder of a Delhi-based tech startup.   Gabriel Garcia Marquez may not have thought of online love when he wrote his story of love that conquers time and space, “Love in the Time of Cholera”. Even he may have been convinced that online, however impersonal, is the way to finding the right one in the time of corona. (PTI)


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