I am a lonely person,” says Nirmal Banerjee, 67, when asked why he joined TrulyMadly, an Indian online dating app. Barely a month later, the Kolkata-based entrepreneur is yet to meet like-minded people. “I live alone. I have never been married. There have been one or two short-term relationships along the way, but a lifelong commitment has just not happened,” he says. Banerjee is hoping to change that.
Over the past two years, more single people in the 50-plus age group have turned to online dating in the hope of finding companionship. Some are looking at a second chance, after the death of a partner or a separation. Very often, they are looking for someone like-minded, someone they can talk to.
It’s no surprise then that they have longer conversations than millennial and Gen Z participants, or send the highest number of virtual gifts and twice the number of private messages. “In fact, they are the ones who have the least sexually connoted search parameters. Mostly, they are looking for kindred spirits to engage with in intellectual and platonic conversations,” says Sybil Shiddell, country manager-India for the app Gleeden.
Take Gurugram-based R.N., 51, who joined Gleeden last year. When she lost her husband, her friends suggested virtual dating to help her fill the emotional void. “I live with my kids, aged 23 and 24. After my husband passed away, I have had to shoulder a lot of responsibilities. I am trying to find people with similar interests, whom I can speak with and relate to,” says R.N. She has met some but she hasn’t told her children; she doesn’t want them to be uncomfortable.
Online dating platforms are reporting an increase in the number of people signing up. “In 2018, this demographic constituted less than 1% of the membership base, but today it stands at 5% of our 700,000 members. And it is growing at 200% year-on-year,” says Snehil Khanor of TrulyMadly. While he has seen members coming in from both tier 1 and 2 cities, QuackQuack, a home-grown dating site, says most of the users in this age group are from Delhi, followed by Bengaluru, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai.
According to Anjali Chhabria, a Mumbai-based psychiatrist and psychotherapist and founder of Mindtemple, a counselling centre, the pandemic has accelerated this trend. “I used to run a group called Single Again for people in the age group of 55 and above who had been widowed or divorced. So there was this need to forge connections earlier as well. But now, because of the covid-19 pandemic, people have realised the need for companionship even more, and hence the interest in online dating apps,” she says.
Some of the trends are distinct. The motivation to join is usually to kill loneliness and chat with others in the same age group. “The 50 and above age group is usually active on chat for longer hours, unlike millennials. They are not in a hurry and spend some time analysing profiles, chatting and then moving forward,” says Ravi Mittal, founder, QuackQuack. They spend more time on the apps and are willing to pay higher subscription costs, for a longer period.
Shiddell concurs, adding that conversations last for one and a half hours on an average. But the search for “kindred spirits”, says Shiddell, doesn’t mean that they don’t look at younger profiles—in fact, engaging with younger individuals makes them feel youthful again, and being the older person in the conversation also makes them feel more confident in a tech-savvy, millennial-dominated environment.
Banerjee, however, is not interested in engaging with younger people. “They are only looking for hook-ups,” he says. But though casual dates may not interest him, he is not looking just for friendship either. “I have lots of friends in Kolkata. I am not looking at marriage. But I am looking to meet someone like-minded,” says Banerjee, who used to love going to movies and clubs before the pandemic. Today, he is glued to Netflix.
On TrulyMadly, the oldest paying member is 70. Hailing from Ahmedabad, the septuagenarian posts images inspired by actor Jeetendra’s films, with farms and fields in the background. Another member, a 54-year-old man who has lost his wife and whose children are abroad, has just joined the site. “He said I don’t know what I want from the site but it feels good to connect with people from the same age group. He mentions this in his bio as well: ‘I don’t know why I am here’. This is turning into a very radical experiment for people like him, who were brought up in a very different culture. For a lot of them, their children are the driving force behind joining the site,” says Khanor.
Chhabria has been witness to the pros and cons of virtual dating. An acquaintance, for instance, was asked for money after a couple of chats. She ended the conversation right there. “Someone had been chatting by using another person’s picture,” says Chhabria, adding: “Having said that, a lot of people have also ended up finding good friends online. Not just dating platforms but WhatsApp and Facebook have also emerged as social spaces for those in this age group who live alone,” she says.
Pal Azad, a 55-year-old entrepreneur from Ludhiana, joined dating platforms one and a half years ago, after a friend sent him a link. But when it comes to forging relationships, he has been luckier on Facebook. “It has served as a dating site for me. My first girlfriend, post my separation, was from Poland, and I found her on Facebook,” he says. They were together for five years, meeting every three-four months, till her death in 2014. He finds online platforms easier to handle: No one is judging you, and it’s easier to move on. “Offline mein bohot himmat chahiye (offline, you need a lot of courage). In case something goes wrong, that hurt lasts for a long time. The presence of the person in the vicinity keeps reminding you of it,” he says.
Azad’s presence on dating platforms is not a secret from his friends or his children. “Relationship chupane ki cheez nahi hoti (there’s nothing to hide),” he says.