Socially Distant Love In Time of Dating Apps

The pandemic and social distancing have forced umpteen changes in our lives.
The way people date is yet another one of them.
Sindhu Bhattacharya reports.

As a deadly pandemic rages on, causing particular concern in India with an exponential increase in cases and mortality, young people confined to their homes, keen on meeting and, yes, dating are finding novel ways of doing so.

Journalist Revathi Hariharan, for instance, decided to meet her date for the first time at a vaccination centre in Delhi earlier this month.

Dating during the pandemic has been a challenge for many people, and not only from the safety point of view.

Hariharan points to a general gloom and lack of interest as well as motivation.

With vaccines opening up for the 18 to 44 age group from May 1, she thought perhaps she and her date, whom she had met through a dating app some weeks ago, could get vaccinated together. So, the first time the two got talking was in the observation room at a vaccination centre.

Hariharan is among the few who dared to meet their date in person despite the prevailing fear.

As India went into one of the harshest lockdowns anywhere in the world in 2020, dating moved online. And contrary to expectations, activity on India’s dating apps surged instead of waning.

The trend has continued in 2021, too, with the second wave of Covid-19 bringing restrictions back.

“We saw a notable increase in activity among our members early in the pandemic, especially among those under 30,” said Taru Kapoor, GM India — Tinder and Match Group. Los Angeles-headquartered Tinder is one of the largest dating apps worldwide. It is estimated that in 2021 more than 57 million people will use the app, globally.

“People are matching more frequently, sending more messages and engaging in longer conversations. The combination of being stuck at home and the fact that we were all going through the same thing at the same time led folks on Tinder to get chattier than ever with 52 per cent more messages sent globally,” Kapoor added.

In India, May 3, 2020, was the peak of chattiness: On that day, Tinder members sent an average of 60 per cent more messages versus the start of lockdowns in early March above the global average, she said.

A survey by OkCupid found that nearly one in three men as well as women replied in the affirmative when asked whether they were willing to get vaccinated. Nearly four in 10 women respondents said they would cancel a date with anyone who was opposed to the idea of getting vaccinated, but only 30 per cent of the male respondents said they would do so.

Snehil Khanor, co-founder and CEO at Trulymadly, echoed Tinder’s Kapoor when he said that the first two weeks of the lockdown in 2020 saw exponential growth in traffic on the app. Daters continued to flock to the app even when lockdown was lifted last year.

There was a four-fold increase in the average revenue per user (ARPU) between December 2019 and December 2020 on Trulymadly.

“In some tier-II and tier-III cities such as Patna, Bhubaneswar and Goa, the increase was up to 10 times,” he said.

To enable daters to meet virtually, Tinder rolled out its “Face to Face video calling” feature in India last November.

A 35-year-old Delhi-based professional working in the renewable energy sector said when physical meeting was seen as an unnecessary risk last year, features like video chats helped.

“A lot of dates happened virtually because some of the bigger apps introduced the video calling feature during the lockdown last year,” she said. “This meant I did not have to share my phone number, mail id, Instagram details etc with people but could still chat with them. It really helped in finding dates and feeling less lonely.”

The feature on Tinder ensures video won’t be enabled unless both the participants agree; and it can be disabled anytime.

So are people looking for dates okay with meeting in person even during the pandemic?

A recent survey by dating app QuackQuack found that nearly 60 per cent of the people interested in finding a first date in the 21-30 age group would prefer meeting virtually. But this still means at least four in 10 youngsters are okay with an in-person date.

The same survey found that a higher percentage of women are okay with meeting in-person than men.

The pandemic and social distancing have forced umpteen changes in our lives. The way people date is yet another one of them.

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