“You have a new message,” says the notification icon on OkCupid. It’s from Akash, 32, New Delhi.
The message simply says: “What’s the funniest assertion about life that you’ve heard?”
I smile, then click on his profile. It’s a comprehensive one: he’s filled out every category dutifully, right down to his height and body type. His bio is both interesting and funny, with enough detail for me to get a good idea about his personality. OkCupid’s algorithm tells me we’re 87 percent compatible. Yes, I would definitely grab a beer with this man.
He’s also representative of a modern breed of Indian man. Yes, ‘Akash, 32, New Delhi’ is the face of the future: a man who understands online dating.
An Indian Man’s Romantic Destiny: “Mummy-Papa, Find Me a Girl to Marry”
Dating apps are still relatively new in India, as is the idea of dating itself, especially online dating. In a country where most people meet strangers for the purpose of marriage, it still feels a little subversive to announce that you met your partner on a dating app. After all, dating apps don’t offer the kind of information most Indian people want to know about a partner: what kind of family are they from? Which part of the city do they live in? What does their father do for a living?
Are their horoscopes compatible with yours? These are the things we are told to look for because older generations value them.
For centuries we’ve been answering these questions. Prospective grooms in India have been judged on their earning capacity, their professional degrees, or their green-card status. On the basis of these professional qualifications, they’re matched with suitable women. It’s a model that doesn’t require the man to do much – he doesn’t have to work on his personality or attractiveness (these are considered to be of little importance in the marriage market). All he has to do is to a) be a boy, and b) tell his parents: “Mummy-Papa, find me a girl to marry.” He relies on his family and connections to determine his romantic destiny.
What Leads To “Hi Dear, Luking Very Nice” Messages
In stark contrast, women in India have always been judged on the basis of how they look, or how round their chapatis are. Read any matrimonial newspaper column or website, women are valued on the basis of the fairness of their complexions, their height, body types, and so on and so forth. As for the rest – the words “homely”, “modest,” and “accomplished”, crop up frequently. (It reads straight out of Jane Austen: women are expected to speak multiple languages, play the piano, and do fine embroidery.)
In general, Indian women are depicted as exotic, highly-sought-after creatures – ones that boys don’t know how to talk to. It’s not far off the mark: your average Indian man lacks the basic knowledge of how to approach a woman he isn’t related to.
This explains the flood of “hi dear, luking very nice : ) ; “send bobs and vagene” messages that inundate women’s Facebook and Instagram DMs. Although they can be frustrating to receive, it’s understandable in a cultural context that advocates the segregation of men and women from birth.
I look back to my high school days, when I was called into PTA meetings for “talking to boys.” Although the talking was entirely innocent, we were punished for a normal and healthy boy-girl rapport. Is it any wonder that men grow up clueless about the ‘mating dance’?
An Indian Man’s Guide To Dating – And Its Result
The only courtship models Indian men have – the only representation of romance that they see, is Bollywood – which is both unrealistic and unhelpful. There are any number of Chetan Bhagatesque movies-made-from-books that teach men to obsess over single women, and to stalk and pursue them until they say “yes”.
These movies teach men to leave women creepy notes, to follow them home, to place them on a pedestal, and above all – not to take “no” for an answer.
Indian movies don’t teach men that there are other fish in the sea, or how to handle romantic rejection with grace. In fact, they don’t even teach them that rejection is a possibility.
I remember one memorable night with my best friend at Summerhouse Café in Delhi. A man approached us as we’re having an impassioned debate on feminism.
“Hi, girls,” he said confidently.
We returned his greeting politely, then resumed our conversation. Unfortunately, the stranger wouldn’t be deterred: he muscled into our conversation as if he was a welcome guest. Despite our frequent and unsubtle signals of disinterest, he continued to flirt with the both of us. We had to walk away from him multiple times before he abandoned his mission – that’s how long it took for him to grasp that he may not be God’s gift to Indian women.
How Dating Apps Help Balance The Gender Scale
Dating apps like OkCupid are extraordinary because they destroy the existing balance of power. Single women are at liberty to pick and choose their partners – historically that has been the prerogative of men.
This arrangement means that both men and women are now expected to make an effort . No longer can they rely on mummy-papa to find them a 10/10.
Now if they use such apps, they’ll have to find some decent pictures, fill out their bios, and figure out how to showcase their best qualities. They’ll have to compose wittier messages than merely “Hi’s,” or risk getting ignored (a consequence that never previously existed.)
They’ll also have to consider their own views on subjects like feminism, and the topic of children, and world philosophy. If they want a better match on apps like OkCupid, they’ll have to fill out a series of questions that takes them to task on these topics – topics that the average Indian male doesn’t have to think too deeply about! (After all, he has inherited his politics from his parents: he has never been judged on his worldviews before.)
Transcending Social Barriers
This marks a massive cultural shift: the idea of individualism and self-improvement (which were previously dismissed as being Western notions).
Millennials are turning away from what older generations might have considered most important, and considering what they want from romantic partners. People like ‘Akash, 32, New Delhi’ are evolving to become better companions, and determining compatibility on the basis of worldviews instead of astrological charts.
Perhaps most importantly, dating apps are a great equaliser: people are exposed to others who may not be in the narrow social circles they inhabit. That’s the great lure of online dating: you can meet people that you would normally never meet!
However, one of the saddest things about Indian society is the lack of upward mobility: it’s very difficult to overcome class, caste, and religious barriers (in fact, people are matched only on the basis of these). The fact that dating apps like OkCupid allow for the possibility of meeting someone from a different religion or tax bracket by prioritising values and shared wavelength, is hope for a progressive future.
(Priya-Alika Elias, is a published author and a freelance writer. She tweets at @priya_ebooks. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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