How TrulyMadly do you Tinder?

Online dating has finally come out of the closet and into our phone screens, and developers are raking in the moolah. Since 2013, when Tinder first made its appearance on Indian phone screens, India has become its top market in Asia. Desi spin-offs such as TrulyMadly claim to have over one million users, 40% of which come from Tier II and Tier III cities. The success stories continue with Aisle, Quack Quack, Woo, Wedeterna, Floh, and some other apps which were launched during the time it took for me to complete this sentence.

History lesson

All the hoo-hah about online dating notwithstanding, it isn’t actually a recent phenomenon. During the dial-up connection, pre-Facebook days, Sillygurl2437 and ManPowr660 would send soppy “scraps”, write languid testimonials and chat feverishly on YM. Of course, there were dating websites too (OkCupid, Match.com). But online dating was viewed as the seedy underbelly of socialising. News was rife with cautionary tales of online romances coming to a sticky end (no puns, stop giggling). Everyone was vociferously advocating against online dating while surreptitiously checking their OkC profiles.

Another cyber revolution was brewing which would disrupt relationships forever. In 1997, Murugavel Janakiraman launched a portal for parents to find the perfect spouse (matching caste, creed, education et al) for their child, an online dating website in a family sanctioned avatar. Online matrimony quickly found the social legitimacy that online dating never did, and 19 years down the line, bharatmatrimony.com generates a yearly revenue of approximately Rs. 230 crore, has inspired countless spin-offs (shaadi.com, jeevansathi.com to name a few) and is gearing to go public.

UnSingle Everyone

The industry is booming and is here to stay awhile. It is not just the millennial generation, people of all ages are signing up and investors and venture capitalists have turned on the cash fountain — for example, Truly Madly raised $5.7 million from Helion Venture Partners and Kae Capital in 2015. Online matrimonial portals are jumping in too, with shaadi.com’s Frivil.

Online dating is ‘legit’ now. So what?

Credit: www.thelevityball.com

So, the forever endangered “Indian Culture” where most marriages are arranged and sex before marriage is still largely taboo, is seemingly in jeopardy. With online dating apps making a clear distinction from online matrimony,there is no pressure to drag a relationship to the altar. It is OK to date casually, it is OK if you are in it only to hook-up, it is OK if you want something serious — as long as your partner is in the know.

To experience this first hand, I joined Tinder and immediately noticed something odd: for every five men I swipe right, I match with four. Co-incidence or am I just that hot?

Neither, clarified a male friend, deflating my budding ego boost. Men swipe right at everything. We like to stack the odds as much in our favour as possible. Women can afford to choose, we can’t, he added, a tad gloomily.

Wait, what? Women can afford to choose in the dating/marriage market in India, even in urban India, where a woman’s consent is often treated as a joke? Golly gee!

By turning romance into a “marketplace”, apps such as Tinder and TrulyMadly have leveled the playing field by making men objects of equal scrutiny and superficial judgement, and reinforcing the idea that a woman will not be attracted to just any man who fancies her. Finding the most flattering angle for a selfie is not only a woman’s prerogative anymore

Speaking of choice, you can also chose who you want to see — men, women or both men and women. A huge, huge win in a country where the Supreme Court decides who you get to love.

Love me Tinder, Love me true?

But wait before you start singing paeans in joy. Scratch the surface and the veneer fades away, revealing that in fact, nothing has actually changed much.

People are still labeled on the basis of the apps they use. Tinder has developed the reputation of being a “booty-call” app, for people who want to “swipe it and wipe it”, as it were. For a serious relationship, try TrulyMadly or Woo. (coincidentally all Indian startups, while Tinder owes its lineage to the makers of OkC and Match from big bad USofA)

While talk of a TrulyMadly profile would raise a few good-natured jokes, talk of a Tinder profile would immediately put you in the dock. The nudges and the winks will begin — “loose women” and “studs who want just ONE thing” make up the Tinder demographic, if popular opinion is to be believed (although, speaking from experience, there are less studs than duds). A particularly interesting point was made unknowingly by a friend, who lashed out at the “frivolous” women he met on Tinder. He made it sound like it was their fault that they did not want anything more serious, an opinion which I have seen being reiterated time and again.

So what makes Tinder so big? The app records more than 7.5 million swipes in India each day on average and its India users also boast the most messages per match globally. It is the same OkC syndrome — we love hook-ups only when we are a part of them, everybody else who is getting some are evil creepy sociopaths (But let us swipe right just in case they would want to sleep with us too).