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Swiping left on dating habits in India and making meaningful connections instead

Worn out by mechanical swiping and mundane small talk, Indians are turning to more mindful and conscious ways of finding themselves a partner

A singles meet organised by Prem-a-Culture in Bengaluru.(Prem-a-Culture)

By Babli Yadav

LAST PUBLISHED 07.06.2023  |  01:00 PM IST

“Situationships" are not new to Gen Z or younger millennials. But expect confusion if you ask anyone older than that what the term means. Breadcrumbing, benching, catfishing, cushioning, love bombing, ghosting—new dating terms seem to come up every other day and the vocabulary is hard to keep up with.

But after years of new relationship terminology, mechanical right swipes, dating apps and the exhaustion that comes with them, words like slow and mindful might slowly be making their way into the world of Indian dating.

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In February, Bengaluru held its first-ever “Conscious Dating" event, co-conceptualised by expressive art therapy practitioners Shilpa Ivaturi, 30, and Sarayu Acharya, 27, with event curator Ekta Singh, 35. “The idea was to move away from the typecasted, transactional and manufactured dating scene and discover newer ways of connecting with people," states Acharya. 

The rules of engagement were simple. Participants had to be over 21 years of age and align with the ethos of the platform, which includes the desire to delve a little deep and identify one's own relationship needs. 

Also read: Are you being ghosted or friend-zoned on dating apps?

Aditi Jain, in her late 20s and exhausted by the extensive back and forth on dating apps, almost gave up on finding companionship until she attended the event. Participating in the “conscious dating" workshop felt like an eye-opener because it helped her pin down what it is that she is seeking from her relationships, she says.

“I figured communication was a very important need for me and I would like to ensure that I am able to have open communication with people I date in future. That and valid attentiveness from a partner," Jain shares.

While one may assume that talking about one’s feelings or being expressive is good communication, ascertaining other’s moods, behaviour, and personality by merely listening or silently observing is also a part of healthy, two-way communication.

At the event, emphasis was drawn to non-verbal communication and the exchange of energy between two partners, allowing participants to venture into each other’s space through various activities such as meditative practices and creating art together. 

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Talking about how they structure the event, Ivaturi says, “We approach it with the intention of bridging the gap between the psyche or the thought, and the soma (the Greek word for the living body, which is distinct from the soul, mind, or psyche). Our participants begin with a guided meditative exercise that helps them go inward to identify their own needs and then slowly turn outward, connecting with others around them. There is very little talking and lots of artistic activities using techniques such as visualisation, drama and art rooted in the modalities of expressive arts therapy."

But she reiterates that the event's focus remains on building authentic and genuine bonds, saying, "It [the event] is not a therapeutic space." 

Also read: Young singles swipe right for authenticity and self-care

Another participant, 29-year-old Aditya Joshi, was pleasantly surprised to come across other men who spoke openly about their emotional and relationship needs.

On the cliched notion that men generally seek hook ups on dating apps while women are there for more substantial bonding, he says, “The new generation of men are different. They are all for meaningful relationships, but it is so rare to find that. Especially because men are still learning how to express their emotional needs, reveal their inner self and talk about their vulnerabilities mostly within their own tribe."

The majority of dating apps offer people a technological platform to meet others, but are only able to help them at a superficial level. Getting in touch with one’s emotions is a harder task, for which a safe space and trusted environment are also important. 

Vanaja Ammanath, couples therapist and author of the book Relational Gestalt Therapy in India: A Guide to Group Practice, opines, “Dating apps give people a chance to find a match, but it also dehumanises human bonds. It is just another form of fast consumption in today’s world that jades young minds with repetitive experiences devoid of wholesome human connections."         

She elaborates with an example, “Before apps, people would give closure to a relationship with consideration. But now, one can exercise the option of just blocking someone, leaving a partner potentially vulnerable."

Cutting ties without offering a person closure may have also become more common during the pandemic. For those dealing with loneliness then, frantic swiping became an easy solution, with many feeling that some kind of human contact was better than none. 

To offer a small and sustainable solution to building bonds during the pandemic in 2021, Delhi-based Arti Bhandari along with Suyash Saboo and Geetika Arora introduced the concept of “slow speed dating" through a platform titled Prem-a-Culture. It offered single men and women a chance to slow down from constantly swiping and to instil in them a sense of belonging and community through offline gatherings. So far, more than 50 such events as well as workshops have been organised across multiple cities including Pune, Mumbai and Bengaluru. 

“Our workshops help singles deal with trust issues, receive dating coaching, and learn about healthy communication," Bhandari, 30, says. “We also have sexuality circles where people can speak freely; a lot of gender complexity and politics has entered the dating space."

Also read: Why and how to prioritise self love and self care when dating

One of Prem-a-Culture’s missions is also to bust the many myths surrounding love in India, such as, “Love should be unconditional and the ideal couple never fights" or, “One is never ought to get bored of the right person in their life". This is being done through a series of videos on their social media handle, which also delve into relationship problems and offer advice on love. 

With platforms such as this and Conscious Dating, Indians can look forward to a few more local solutions rather than continuing to just swipe on prospective partners and the host of problems that comes with it. “Most of us lead a very work-centric life and it is not always possible to find like-minded company at the workplace," says Bhandari. "For those not looking to swipe on apps, looking at organic ways of meeting and connecting with people by attending community-based events, same-interest workshops or through mutual friendships may be options worth exploring."

Babli Yadav is a Bengaluru-based writer attempting slow, conscious and mindful ways of looking at life around her.