Monday, 30th October 2017

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No dating please, we're Indians

What do Indian women want? Marriage, not casual flings. Not surprisingly, finds Kavitha Shanmugam , dating apps in India are switching tracks  

  • Published 12.07.15
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Young marketing professional Mridul Saboo enjoys a full life in metropolitan Mumbai. She is part of a book club and a board gaming group. She frequents the local theatre regularly, tries out all the new restaurants and travels whenever she gets a chance.

Yet Saboo has a problem.

At 28, she is just not meeting guys anymore. There are no like-minded men at work and she has no time to socialise on weekdays. She has tried out the dating sites that promise to bring men and women together. But she's found that the men on the sites just want to have fun. She, on the other hand, wants a long-term relationship.

"Most guys on dating apps want to 'hook up' or 'date without an agenda'," Saboo holds. It is a complaint that you often hear from women who try out the new dating sites and apps. "When I say I want marriage, most men disappear," says Mauli Singh, a 35-year-old divorcee from Mumbai, who started looking at dating apps three months ago.

Just what does a woman in search of a life partner do? Not in favour of the old system of arranged marriages, many of them have also discarded matrimonial websites as just an online form of the old classified ads. For a while it seemed as if the dating sites were the ideal platform for them. Not so, they now say.

It's a poser that's been troubling dating sites, too. Sites such as trulymadly, aisle.co, matchmecupid and iBluebottle are gathering eyeballs and log-ins, but they realise that many women clients are not happy.

This was underlined by a random survey of single women in the 25-32 age bracket conducted by dating app Woo, which rolled out in July 2014 and has half a million downloads on Android today.

The problems that the women listed ranged from fear of rejection to worries about being thought "desperate" and worries about safety.

Not surprisingly, dating apps, which largely caught on in India after American dating app Tinder localised its Android version for India in July 2013, are switching tracks. Some now hope to occupy a "social discovery app" space or the "new age matchmaking platform for modern singles".

That's because dating apps have been facing flak. For one, women complain that many of the sites focus on looks - they match you to a person on the basis of a photograph and limited profile, and you swipe if both people like each other and start chatting and connecting.

"The first factor that guys look for on these dating apps is a woman's looks," admits Dhananjay Sharma, a 23-year-old software developer in Delhi. "The purpose is to flirt and if both are interested in that we hang out," he says.

The second problem, women say, is the attitude of many of the men on the sites. "Some guys question me on why I am still single at 31," says Mandira (name changed), a BTech and MBA graduate who works as a business planner for a telecom major in Chennai. Some men asked questions about why she lived on her own. "We know what goes on in bachelor homes, they told me," she says.

But the biggest problem is the thought of being paired up with a "creep". Married men lurk as bachelors in a bid to bed unsuspecting women. Many of the apps do not verify facts, so anybody can pass off as single.

"The creepy factor of dating apps has put off girls in India and without girls, these apps cannot work. We are 10 years away from dating in the true sense," agrees Akhilesh Sharma, an investment banker and co-founder of iBluebottle, which is positioned somewhere between being a matrimonial and dating site.

So, in a new trend, dating apps and sites are turning "woman centric" and adding dollops of stringent entry levels and safety features. The sites don't want to be known as dating platforms, or as matrimonial sites, which they say are often controlled by parents, and deal with outdated concepts such as castes, sub-castes and skin colour.

"We like to say we are not-yet-shaadi.com," says Aarti Kapoor, chief engagement officer of Waltzz, a matchmaking site for those looking for long-term relationships, launched by Tina Chulet (wife of Quikr founder Pranay Chulet) in March 2015. "We want our users to meet and hang out together before getting married," she adds.

Described as India's answer to Tinder, with 5,000 downloads so far, its stand is clear. "We do not want to encourage people who want to sleep around," Kapoor says. It matches people according to their interests. Users specify what they are looking for, and the site looks for other users with similar likes and dislikes - finding just the right partner for a road trip zealot, for instance, or an SRK lover.

Before you can access its selective database, you need to tick options such as whether you are "serious" or "semi-serious" or "pretty serious" about a relationship. You can sign in only through a Facebook or LinkedIn account. This helps in weeding out false profiles. Teams check out FB pages carefully - anyone with too few friends, for instance, is suspect.

Others - such as iBluebottle, which started two-and-half years ago - have also started screening people. Members can access the database of this site, which focuses on professionals, largely engineers and MBAs. They also have to pass through a stiff entry format. For instance, the college they have graduated from should be on the list of colleges on the site, and you have to be from a certain income bracket, depending on your age.

"It's not a casual dating site. The ultimate aim of our members is to marry," stresses Sharma of iBluebottle.

Footloosenomore - with the tagline "we speak, not swipe"- does not allow you to post your profile until you have been interviewed on the phone and attended one of its meetings in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune or Bangalore. "That is a part of our screening process: we need to see you in person and if we approve, we allow you to access our database for a small fee," its Mumbai based co-founder Varsha Agnihotri says.

The focus clearly is not on fun and games, but on safety. And the apps believe that this can be strengthened by giving women the upper hand.

"Men can enter our app only through an invite, and a chat can only be initiated by a woman. We put all the controls in the woman's hand," Kapoor of Waltzz says.

Woo deploys an algorithm to check the digital history of whoever logs in and claims to reject 25 per cent of them. "We protect the identity of our clients by just using their initials. And we keep the woman as the centre of our universe," Woo co-founder Sumesh Menon stresses.

Cogxio, a dating site and app which grew from an IIT campus version, realised there was a problem when it found that nearly 27 per cent of the men who had logged on looking for dates were married. "We do stringent checks on profiles," Cogxio co-founder Layak Singh says. "Clearances on our site can take a week," adds Simran Mangharam, co-founder, floh.

But for many of the young men on these sites, dating is just that - an occasional date, which may or may not lead to sex. Ajit Singh, a 22-year-old Delhi-based PR professional, turns to the apps when he has had a fight with his girlfriend. Used to talking to his girlfriend at 11pm, at times of strife he downloads a dating app and chats with a random person.

"I get good sleep after that," he laughs.

However, belying this trend of moving away from dating, Tinder claims to have seen an "explosive growth". They don't share details of downloads but there are 26 million matches each day and more than 8 million have dated, a Tinder spokesperson claims.

Rosette Pambakian, vice-president, global communications and branding at Tinder, does not agree that Tinder is purely for fun and casual sex. "We receive hundreds of emails about Tinder success stories and marriages every single week," Pambakian says.

Most, however, agree the market is still evolving and people who jumped into this hot space with low entry barriers are now rethinking their strategy. "It has to do with an emotional connect; we are not talking about a product here," Sharma of iBluebottle says.

Some men, however, point out that not all women are looking for long-term relationships. "Girls also sometimes look for fun," Delhi-based Singh says, adding that he knows of a young man who met a girl on an app, dated her, and then booked a room with her.

But overall, he adds, dating apps are all about light-hearted fun. "Dating apps for me is a way to test my flirting skills," he laughs. "Dating on apps is a myth."

Over, then, to the platforms that focus on matchmaking. Log on only if you are serious!