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10 things I have learnt from over 5 years of online dating

A staff writer takes a hard look at her time swiping (mostly left but sometimes right), and lists her takeaways

Tinder was the first dating app to come to India, now 10 years ago.
Tinder was the first dating app to come to India, now 10 years ago. (Unsplash)

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My first impression of dating apps, I must admit, was largely negative. When Tinder first came to India half a decade ago, the editor of the publication I was working in at the time decided that it warranted an undercover operation (yes, not very ethical, I know).

Three members of our team were deputed to go on Tinder dates and write about it. I refused to volunteer. As someone who was waiting for a tall, dark stranger — a hybrid of three highly problematic characters (clearly my type) from books, aka Rhett Butler, Heathcliff and Mr Darcy — a dating app felt like a pedestrian, almost tacky way to find love.

I did, however, pounce on my colleagues when they returned from their dates to find out exactly what it was like — their stories did not assuage my initial trepidation about dating apps, and after one horrendous date soon after, I abstained from using an app for a very long time. I watched from an arm’s distance as many more dating apps like Bumble and Hinge began coming into India.

Also Read: ‘The year I turned to online dating for the first time’

Then, in 2018, when I moved abroad to study, I decided to give it another go, influenced, no doubt, by the glut of exceptionally good-looking men who thronged New York City. There was no looking back from then.

I have, over the years, met some fascinating people on these apps:a struggling actor who quoted Anais Nin, Joan Didion and Arthur Miller and worked as a bartender to make ends meet; a chef who claimed to have a Russian soul and turned up very drunk for our date (too much vodka, perhaps?); an entrepreneur obsessed with coffee, kink and fintech; and a hair trader whose extreme love for animals(a major plus in my book, usually)was unfortunately blighted by his hateful political beliefs. I have been catfished, benched, breadcrumbed, ghosted, submarined, and, if I must be honest, have ghosted too. And yes, my last significant relationship, three-odd years ago, also originated from a dating app.

While I am no closer to finding a partnership now than I had before I’d started on dating apps, there is much that I have learnt about myself, what I want and don’t want, and better ways to negotiate the tricky landscape of love and all its various iterations. Here are 10 key takeaways — my own and those gleaned from conversations with others.

1. First date? Always meet in a public place

This one is basic, but always — and I mean always — have your first meeting in a public place, preferably one not in the same area you live in. The only time I broke this rule was when I was waiting for grocery delivery, and my date wanted to meet immediately. It led to one of the most awkward situations in my life — he stormed out into a cold winter night, hopping mad because I had refused to sleep with him. (leaving his fancy designer pyjamas behind. I am still not sure why he carried them along, whatever his intentions)

2. Read profiles carefully

Let’s be honest — dating apps (like online shopping) make it easy to judge people based on merely well-shot photographs. Don’t let this deter you from reading profiles very carefully. From exhaustive research and experience, here are some people you should avoid: anyone who claims he is free-spirited (usually a f**kboi, most likely a married one); has an artistic soul (spoilt, narcissistic, perpetually gloomy, often with substance-abuse issues); says that his best friend is his mum (I don’t have to explain this one);or claims to be very woke (it is cultural appropriation and if you didn’t know that, you aren’t woke).

3. Avoid situationships

“I ended up catching feelings,” says Megha (name changed) when talking about how a recent situationship led to her getting badly hurt. Even though she’d wanted something completely casual, someone she’d matched with on an app would say romantic things making her believe that he actually liked her. Once she told him she liked him too, he began to withdraw. “I was very hurt and heartbroken,” she adds. I personally detest situationships. They mess with your head and heart, and from my experience, men seem to like these undefined, inconsistent, vague, casual romances which require no commitment or exclusivity much better. In general, I’d say avoid them; almost inevitably, one person will develop feelings and expectations and end up getting their heart broken.

Also Read: Why being on dating apps feels different since the pandemic

4. Be clear and ask for what you want

If you want a casual relationship, go ahead with it, but if you are looking for something real, too, there is nothing wrong is being upfront about it. Too often, we end up going along with things hoping that the other partner will come around to see us as potential relationship material. Here is one thing I’ve learnt the hard way: you can’t force anyone to want you, and sticking around hoping that your presence will change things is a bad idea. If you are beginning to sense that you both have very different expectations from a partnership or he is breadcrumbing or submarining you,just leave.

5. Choose the right dating app for your requirements

If you’re looking to settle down and believe that religion, language, and common culture are essential to your identity and the identity of your potential partner, then don’t register on a secular dating site. There are enough sites out there that cater specifically to your requirements, and it would be ideal to just head over there instead of wasting the time of some unsuspecting person. And yes, if you’re married, then Ashley Madison and not Bumble, please?

A screenshot of the poster for Sierra Burgess is a Loser, a 2018 film that kicked up debates about catfishing while matching with potential dates online. 
A screenshot of the poster for Sierra Burgess is a Loser, a 2018 film that kicked up debates about catfishing while matching with potential dates online. 

6. Do a background check as soon as you swipe right (and trust your gut; it is usually right)

The one good thing about being in a hyper-connected world is the surfeit of information available literally at your fingertips. One of the smartest things you can do is to get the person’s full name and do a google check. Also, check in with mutual friends by checking through any social media. It’s always better safe than sorry, as the cliché goes. Not convinced? Let me tell you about Sarah(name changed), who recently met someone “who was just about what I was looking for on paper…who came across as this sweet, caring guy”.By the time she had met him the fifth time, however, she sensed that something was not right. “My intuition told me that he was married,” she says. So, she did what any normal person would do — she stalked his social media, but there was nothing to indicate that he was married. They did, however, have a mutual friend, so Sarah reached out to her.“(The mutual friend) turned out to be a family friend of this guy and confirmed that he was married,” says Sarah, adding that today, she asks people upfront if they are married when she matches with them on Bumble, and then follows it up with online research.

7. You may get catfished

The internet is, as we all know, unfortunately, full of creeps. And yes, there is a high chance you will run into one of them at some point (I have). Take the case of Jaya (name changed),who was recently catfished by someone who was pretending to be a British traveller. “We were flirting; it was really hot and heavy,” she recalls, adding that even though they hadn’t sent pictures to each other yet, they had shared fantasies over text. However, there was no sign of him on social media, and his display photo on Telegram (the messaging app) was of some animated character. It was only when he sent her a d*** pic that she realised that she had been catfished. “It was the brownest-looking d*** I had ever seen,” she says with a laugh; she went on to confront and then block this person.

Also Read: How I found and lost a friend on a dating app 

8. You don’t have to use a dating app only for dating

Confession: I have discovered great sources (for stories) on dating apps. I know an editor, a former colleague, who used dating apps to find good writers who could contribute to the paper she worked at. I even know a former classmate who used a dating app to find a subject for his oral history project. Anjali (name changed), for instance, has been using dating apps“not to find a partner but to find a community of queer people”. She has been catfished too, but Anjali has an overall positive experience of using dating apps to find friends. “For me, having queer friends is important (as) I grew up in a small town in Chhattisgarh, and there was no one there whom I could talk to about who I am,” Anjali, who has made friends from the queer community in all the cities she has lived in—Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai and Bengaluru—says.

9. Love could actually be around the corner

I’ve been fairly unlucky with dating apps so far (though to be fair, that is true of offline dating too, and my friends constantly tell me that I have questionable taste in men). But I know plenty of people who have married people they’ve met on dating apps and are very happy with them. “My love story started on Tinder,” says Payal (name changed), for whom this is a second marriage. Her biggest takeaway? “Take a chance,” she says.

10. If it gets overwhelming, disable or take a break

I am off dating apps and have been so for a while since I found it too overwhelming and time-consuming. The one thing that the last few years have taught me is this: your mental health is way more important than a relationship. Love will happen if and when it has to — it’s just not worth losing your sleep or mind over it.

Also Read: When the search for love online ends in a scam

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