Modern dating can be a minefield; from swiping left on profiles, rolling eyes at bios, we are all exhausted by having to navigate what seems like countless users that dating apps have. To add to this, should one find their soulmate on a dating app, answering the dreaded ‘how did you meet’ question from parents or family often leads down another road of drama —many Indian parents are still not too pleased with their children using online apps to find love.
That is, unless it’s a matrimonial site or app. In August 2022, Statistica released a report titled ‘Dating Services in India’ and projected the Dating Services segment to reach US$397.90m (Rs. 3297cr) in 2023, with the market’s largest segment, Matchmaking, having a projected market volume of US$292.10m ( ₹2420cr). Here, offline dating agencies or online purchased tickets for speed dating or similar events were not included.
According to a report published by Mint in September 2022, more Indians, especially “young Indians from small towns, are now relying on dating apps to find love and companionships as more and more people have started to choose video calls over in-person dating.”
"Millennials are way more independent and keen on making their own decisions," says Ravi Mittal, Founder and CEO of dating app QuackQuack. "Youngsters want to explore relationships of their own free will instead of being forced into one. And with dating apps almost spoiling them for choices, young Indians can match and chat with anyone they like without the constant pressure of marriage,” he says adding that “it helps them test the waters before taking the plunge."
Seher Malwani, a 34-year-old banking and finance lawyer practising in Mumbai has faced a slew of matchmakers and awkward encounters with parents (and their sons) who were too scared of her job and perceived personality."I didn't have time to date, and when I wasn't working, I was researching, studying or frankly, just catching up on sleep,” she recalls. “There's no love story behind how I met my fiancé; we met on a dating app where I listed exactly what I was looking for. I didn't want to waste time explaining my life to families who didn't understand me or my work,” says Malwani.
As per a nationwide survey conducted by YouGov in June 2021, 72% of single Indians thought it possible to fall in love with someone online, even if they’ve never met them.
"We have observed that Indians are becoming more mindful when it comes to their search for a partner," says Samarpita Samaddar, India Communications Director, Bumble, "they are intentional about dating at their own time and pace."
However, with the news of Shraddha Walkar by her partner Aftab Amin Poonawala (they met on Bumble in 2019) many dating-app regulars — and their parents — have renewed apprehensions regarding the safety that dating apps provide. This is despite dating apps claiming to provide various safety features including photo verification, verified badges, and even AI to censor unsolicited nudes and abusive language.
“I find that there’s a level of safety that comes with the filters that matrimony apps have,” says 38-year-old Sharvi Gupta, a homemaker who met her husband on Shaadi.com in 2017. “With dating apps, how do you know whom you are meeting? It could be an entirely fictitious personality — even one’s name could be a lie,” she adds, referring to the phenomenon of catfishing.
The strongest case for matrimony apps, is rooted in the fact that it is a platform where often parents or elders are known to create and manage profiles for bachelors and bachelorettes; adding a layer of security, albeit thin, to the process.
“Matrimony apps can seem intimidating, however, there’s some merit there, says 31-year-old project manager Varun Barve, who has profiles on both Shaadi.com and BharatMatrimony, which he made a few years ago. “Since it’s not meant to be a dating platform, the questions and conversations there are directed towards the larger picture, which ultimately involves the family.”
However, Adhish Zaveri, assistant vice president of marketing at Shaadi.com, points out that “contrary to the popular narrative that profiles are managed by parents, around 80% of the profiles are created and managed by the singles themselves.” Being one of India’s leading matrimony apps, “we aim to understand our consumers deeply; we’re continuously investing in building a brand that is relevant and relatable to the youth.”
This begs the question, what if a person with an undiagnosed problem, like Poonawala, creates a profile on a matrimonial app? Would the filters of questions Barve mentioned help or stop him or someone else from understanding another’s mental health?
Does any platform that aids in the search for love or companionship, whether through dating or matrimony, encourage or enable a safe space to talk about one’s mental health status? Or are these questions that one ought to be addressed only someone is knee-deep in a relationship or the process of marriage?
Dating apps might not be ‘sanskari’, but matrimonial sites and apps are not entirely a safe bet either. Perhaps the same rules of vigilance and open communication ought to apply when using both, without being heavily coloured by preconceived notions and biases.
Richa Sheth is a freelance writer based in Pune. She explores complexities within human interactions and relationships