The modern dating scene is simultaneous utopia and dystopia: there are just as many wonderful possibilities as there are pitfalls and problems. As the first ones on the scene, millennials and older Gen-Z-ers have had to live and learn without much in the way of signposts or roadmaps.
For the most part, we have had to let our own experiences guide us, as a lot of advice we get tends to be outdated or just incongruent with our cultural context. The good news is, a growing number of us are beginning to prioritise our own wellbeing in the process of seeking relationships, and in doing so, we are setting the foundation for better choices and more aligned partnerships.
The latest study that highlights this point is one by the dating app Tinder: it found that 61% of Indian women on the app are choosing to date someone for their own happiness and 41% believe dating can be a great way to boost confidence. This is a significant departure from social conditioning that compels women to adjust, compromise and abandon themselves in intimate relationships.
It is with this trend in mind that Tinder, in collaboration with That Sassy Thing, a female-founded sexual wellness brand, has launched a Wellness Guide that brings together a collective of women and queer experts to answer questions and concerns about dating and self-love.
The panel of experts includes reproductive health scientist Zoya Ali, occupational therapist Sakshi Tickoo, obstetrician-gynaecologist Dr Deepti Pinto Rosario, sexuality health educator Swati Jagdish, disability community facilitator Gauri Gupta, among many others.
Through the guide, they answer questions such as how to have a conversation with a partner about sexual health, how to normalise conversations about consent, how to feel confident in your own skin, and more. The wellness guide, called Tinder Love and Care, is available as a microsite, while users of the app can also find in-app cards that will direct them to the guide.
Neuroqueer sexuality educator Apurupa Vatsalya is among the list of experts who have worked on the guide, and is also the curator of the panel. In a conversation with Lounge, Vatsalya speaks about the importance of having open conversations about self-care and the need to bridge the knowledge gap when it comes to dating and sexuality.
The objective was to help young daters—especially women, as they navigate so many other things even as they navigate the dating scene. The goal was to help them feel more equipped and reassured so they are able to prioritise their own self-love and self-care when it comes to pursuing relationships. We wanted to create a space where young people can have their questions and concerns around dating answered in a kind, empathetic, accessible way. We wanted to bring together experts from different fields: we have sexuality educators, gynaecs, reproductive health scientists, and also people with lived experiences in the dating world. A lot of mental health advice we get today sound great in theory, but they are difficult to practise. We wanted to give them advice that is also actionable.
We are first generation daters, so the knowledge gap is a big one. A lot of mental and sexual health content that is out there today is dismissed as “too Western”. There is a need for advice that is specific to our cultural context. Moreover, as a culture we don't understand boundaries: we have been conditioned to think that they are abrasive to relationships. There is a lack of understanding of the nuances of consent practice. Even though many of us have a theoretical knowledge of such things, we struggle to navigate the grey area of ongoing consent. There are also structural barriers when it comes to access to healthcare that young people encounter when they start exploring their sexuality. And of course, there’s the challenge of finding partners who are on the same page as we are in terms of relationship needs and styles.
Certainly, while some answers are specific to the experiences of women, most of them are gender-agnostic. Everybody can benefit from learning about a topic like body confidence or self-love. We have transwomen and queer women on our panel who bring in their perspective as well. In my experience as a sexuality educator, I have seen that men too are eager to learn about dating and self-love, they just don’t know where to find the right information. We hope the Wellness Guide serves this purpose.
Dealing with shame cannot be a linear or overnight process, especially when it has to do with our bodies, intimacy and relationships. Arranged marriages are still the norm in our country. In that context, for us to pursue self-love and relationships on our own can be very challenging. In our wellness guide, we encourage people to seek professional help to deal with the shame. In talking about it, we hope to normalise it and attempt to bridge an inter-generational gap. As first generation daters, we need people who have ‘been there done that’ to speak from that space, which is what compelled us to put together such a diverse panel with young people of different age groups and identity locations. There is no such thing as shame-free, but we can surely work towards it, I think.
To see the guide, visit Tinderloveandcare.com
Indumathy Sukanya is a Bengaluru-based writer and artist.