A couple of years back, it was common to have friends, friends of friends, and acquaintances introduce their partner and say, “we met on Tinder.” Several people I know even got married to people they had met on dating apps or have been in long-term relationships through dating app-matches for 4-5 years now. It seemed to be the new cool way to meet people without parental supervision; sure there were some bad experiences but, sometimes, you ended up meeting very interesting people, making good friends, and even falling in love.
However, in the last few months, the world of dating apps seems to be vastly different, with users complaining about the current experience. The pandemic seems to have changed how people engaged with finding partners virtually, especially on platforms like Bumble, Hinge, and Tinder.
For starters, with more time, and with staying at home, people were bored. A lot of people turned to dating apps at this time.
A strange mix of loneliness and exhaustion
“Everyone was lonely,” says Akriti Goel, in her mid-30s, who had gone back to Jabalpur, her hometown, during the lockdowns, but could still set her location on apps to match with people in Mumbai, Bangalore, and Delhi. “Everyone had time to talk, and the conversations weren’t superficial anymore. They were quite deep, and we spoke about living alone or moving back home or how we were feeling.”
While this was a welcome change, most people I interviewed complained that it didn’t lead anywhere. Suddenly, there seemed to be a lot of fake accounts on the app, and people found it difficult to figure out which accounts were real. Further, there were many people who had no interest in the app except as a fix for their boredom. A man from Bangalore, in his late 20s, admitted to being in a relationship but was still on dating apps just to have fun conversations. The other reason even deep conversations dried up was the pandemic, of course. There was nowhere to go, and no way to meet, even if you did end up actually liking someone.
For some, this worked to take the pressure off. “I spoke to so many girls during the pandemic. It hardly ever had any purpose. Of course if I'd be more interested in them I'd have pursued it, but mostly it was aimless. Doesn't mean I didn't like it. I spoke to more people without the pressure of the topic of meeting for a date coming up. Lockdown after all,” says Vatsal Udani, 26, from Mumbai. Earlier, Udani would have met multiple people from apps; now he couldn’t meet any. “It was ok for me because I didn’t match with anyone I really liked, but if I had, I would have been really frustrated,” Udani says, laughing. He adds that the pandemic and isolation-induced loneliness might have gotten many people to sign up and get onto the apps, but none of them progressed much.
The frustration of texting matches , with no end in sight bothered people. This also led to a lot of ghosting on apps.. “There was a texting fatigue, I think,” says Debasmita, a 26- year-old writer and editor from Delhi. “Unlike earlier, now we were texting everyone — colleagues, friends, family. And when you wanted to stay off the screen, it was easiest to cut ties with people you had just matched with on a dating app.”
Experience in the first wave versus the second
Psychotherapist Manvi Sharma (@homosapienstales on Instagram), who mainly works with people in the age group 20-30, says that people’s experience of the first and second wave of the pandemic were very different. In the first wave, people were lonely but they were also experimental because they found themselves in a new situation, and hoped that there would be an eventual end. Many had moved back home and were dealing with issues of privacy and personal space. The people left in the city were lonely. Many of these people turned to dating apps, “just to make friends”. However, by the time the second wave came around, exhaustion had set in. It made people wary of starting new relationships. “Everyone was craving the familiar,” says Sharma. People were even rewatching old series and movies because everything was so uncertain and they just needed something to hold on. She thinks it is natural that dating apps took a back seat.
This ties in with Utsav Bhatnagar’s experience. This 26-year old advertising professional was in Kolkata during the pandemic but he’s back to Delhi for work now. He’s not had an easy time since things have started opening up either. “I think people just want to meet their friends now, because they’ve not met them in over a year. They might not want to take out the time to meet someone new, when there’s a chance that it might not even lead anywhere,” he says. Many said that the more formal dates weren’t happening — going on a walk or a drive has started becoming more common.
Delhi-based independent psychologist Rhea Mathews adds that while the number of users on dating apps might have gone up during the pandemic, it probably didn’t lead to many authentic connections. Even now, when things are better, she still finds people struggling with meeting and dating. Relationships are already tough enough to figure out, she says, and they only seem to have become tougher. “It’s almost like we have to relearn to relate to people. We have to figure out how to do that all over again. I’m echoing the sentiments of what people have told me: I don’t know how to go out and hang out with people anymore. I don’t know what to say, I don’t know how to socialize. I don’t know what to expect. I’m worried all the time, I’m thinking about the level of risk I’m exposing myself and my family to. Would this be safe?”
Mathews adds that the isolation and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic affected everyone in some small way or the other. It made people crave touch and connections. She believes that more people might, therefore, want more meaningful, more permanent relationships and are struggling now to go back to the casual world of dating apps.
Shreemayee Das writes on entertainment, education, and relationships. She is based in Mumbai, and posts as @weepli on Instagram and Twitter.