With social distancing here to stay for a while, the dating game has completely shifted online
Chhuo na chhuo na mujhe, chhuo na chhuo na dekho chhuo na... this 1985 hit from Saagar shot sensuous on Dimple Kapadia and Rishi Kapoor and doused with searing passion might, ironically, become many a couple’s relationship status with the curse of Covid-19 wrenching out the romance from the good ol’ days. To be or not to be... socially and physically distanced, will be the plaguing question, expected to create pandemonium in many a lover’s paradise going ahead and laying down the new pyaar ka superhit formula. While the lockdown has seen hearts beat crazy from across smartphones and computer screens, Unlock 1.0 has seen a few bravehearts answering the call of their heart, masks and sanitisers in place. The Telegraph tries to map out emotions, coping mechanisms and the magic mantra to ensure that Cupid doesn’t go jobless, in different situations!
Same city, social distance...
Popular Tollywood couple Bonny Sengupta and Koushani Mukherjee, going strong for five years, have found it tough to cope with the distance, living in the same city. “None of us are used to this. Jhogra hole boltam... kichhudin bade dyakha korbo but Bonny was insistent that we meet every day. We would hang around, go for movies... shekhan theke no meeting at all is one of the most challenging things we have had to do. We are avoiding meeting each other because of our families,” Koushani tells The Telegraph.
They have found a bridge in video calling though. “Our comfort time is to talk at night because our sleeping cycles have gone for a toss. I have made Bonny learn a lot of recipes over video call and he made pancakes for his mother on Mother’s Day. Video calling is, however, not a substitute for going out for lunch and dinner,” says Koushani. Has there been any plus of this rather dull situation? “We are fighting less!” laughs Koushani.
Special occasions have, of course, brought the two together, with Bonny dropping by to be there with Koushani on her birthday on May 17. “Even Covid-19 cannot separate us on my birthday! In between his dad was unwell and Bonny too had a shoulder injury. I went to see him then,” says Koushani.
What the pandemic has, however, taught Koushani is to live every moment. “Like if you have to get your groceries, the mask is your normal wear, similarly, in relationships too, social distancing has creeped in so much, which no one had an inkling about. I would tell Bonny let’s not meet every day as that might affect the charm of the relationship, but now I realise that it is important to live in the moment,” she said. She also tells us that though the pandemic will alter her equation with the rest of the world, it won’t ever with Bonny.
A different ‘long distance’...
Actress, writer and producer Ritabhari Chakraborty has not been able to hold on to her “21-day policy” this time. “It’s never happened that I haven’t seen him for such a long time. If I am in a relationship then it cannot be that I will not see him for 21 days. So, either of us visit the other,” the Brahma Janen Gopon Kommoti star tells The Telegraph. And, she has no plans of travelling to be with her man anytime soon. “Long distance can play games with you, which a lot of people might be discovering now,” she says.
The lockdown has seen video call durations go up with the two choosing to bond over activities through which they could spend time with each other. Like taking masterclasses! “We schedule a time and then we discuss our experience at night. We have done a Martin Scorsese masterclass together,” she says. Both have found solace in long conversations. “When one is feeling low, the other person is cheering him/her up. You also feel the mental connect.... kotota katha bole shosti hote pare jiboney,” Ritabhari smiles.
Just we met!
Stylist Ankita Banerjee was over the moon when she met her “nice guy” in January. And soon after the world shut down! “My love life at the moment is shouting “akhon kichu coro-na”. The moment I thought that I had met someone nice, the universe decided to release some virus into my life... how predictable!” says Ankita.
The two have, however, embraced the “challenge to know each other better and get the feel of a long-distance relationship!” “Suddenly I realised the importance of a good Internet package and the art of cribbing online! Our we time has become more like wee time, because he ends up sleeping a lot at random hours (pretty annoying if you are reading this), but he makes it up to me later! I have never been a ludo fan, but I guess that is the only thing I can play with him as of now and he never lets me win! We mostly end up watching movies synchronised and have endless debates and discussions as we have just started getting to know each other better,” laughs Ankita.
In the last couple of months, Ankita has met her boyfriend only twice, including her birthday. “It is pretty frustrating for us because we constantly sanitise ourselves and I make sure he takes a shower every time he comes to meet me. The act of intimacy is a distant thought because we both are aware and cautious regarding the repercussions of being careless. We are looking forward to be more creative in meeting up, feels like a weekly prison visit, but we can’t help it as of now,” she says.
Single and not ready to mingle...
For model-turned-choreographer Tina Mukherjee, the pandemic has rendered everything uncertain in her life, including her love life! “Dating is a big part of our lives and we are missing that human interaction. So, to go on a date, hold hands or kiss, it has to be someone I have some faith in. I would only go out with guys I know a little and who I know won’t lie to me. It narrows down my chances to two-three people, but better safe than sorry. Takey joto bhalo dekhtey hok! You don’t want to get Covid-19 after a date!” shrieks Tina. Her golden rule? “In times of Covid-19, I have no plans to mingle unless that person has been in quarantine for 14 days. I think post-lockdown that is what is going to be the rule. We can FaceTime to ensure he is really at home and then go out or aamar chhade asho, dure dariye cha kheye chole jao!” she laughs. Forget random guys, even if it is someone she has any remote interest in, protocols it’ll be for her. “The scare is legitimate,” she says.
Not really an online dating person, Tina does like talking to interesting people she meets through Instagram and Facebook. “Right now I am not even doing that because I know it is not going to go anywhere. ‘You stay close to a hotspot?! Never!’” she says.
All this is taking the fun out of the dating game for sure. “It is so much fun when you meet someone new. And then you would be wearing a mask all the time! You wouldn’t know what he looks like! (Laughs) The masquerade balls we had earlier, that’s going to come back!” she says.
And, going out with someone you know might just mean ex-boyfriends! “Revisiting old times!” she laughs.
Popular apps like Bumble and Tinder have adapted to the new normal. “We wanted to make sure our users knew where we stood on dating in real life. We have been encouraging virtual dating and offering tips from experts on how to have a great online dating experience,” says Priti Joshi, vice president, strategy, Bumble, ‘the women-first social networking platform’, founded by CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd in 2014.
A bunch of new features has been floated to keep the engagement going. “We have free features within Bumble that allow our users to place voice calls or video chats without having to meet in public, share a phone number or email. The option is available across our dating, friendship-finding, and professional networking platforms. Additionally, we have released a new bundle of customised features that will help improve how people can connect with each other during this period of social distancing and as dating moves online,” says Priti.
Tinder that was ‘introduced on a college campus in 2012 and is the world’s most popular app for meeting new people’ has “made the decision to make our Passport feature free for all” so that “social distancing doesn’t mean disconnecting”. “Tinder Passport is typically a paid feature for Tinder Plus and Gold subscribers. Members can search by city or drop a pin on the map and one can begin liking, matching, and chatting with Tinder members in a destination of their choice. They can navigate between their current location and new destinations. This is now available for free to all Tinder members,” is the word from Team Tinder.
Priti sees a clear trend of the rise of virtual dates. “While people have stopped going on traditional dates, we’re seeing that our users are going on virtual dates instead. When it comes to having a first date by video chat, we have seen our users leverage new interesting ways while making meaningful virtual connections — be it spontaneous trivia evenings, watching movies together, virtual happy hour, or sharing a glass of wine together over a video call. We’re hearing from our users who are virtual dating that they are getting to know their matches better online than before the pandemic. Maintaining social distance doesn’t have to mean loneliness. It’s possible that this behaviour online will continue once restrictions are lifted, as connecting over video becomes a more familiar part of the routine of getting to know someone and will influence the future of dating for good,” she says.
Team Tinder sums it up. “This situation is still evolving so we aren’t in a position to comment on what lies ahead. The most important thing we can do right now is give our members a way to escape social distancing and self-quarantine and find solidarity with new matches around the world.... In challenging times, we need to find a way to maintain social rhythms and build new relationships that will sustain us.”
The lockdown pattern
A trend of increased use of Bumble in India by new and existing users, especially as it pertains to their chat, video call and voice call features. Specifically in India, they have observed:
ß An 11 per cent increase in Gen Z registrations during the week ending March 27 vs the week ending March 13. This only underscores the natural behaviour of this age group to migrate to digital platforms for connection and entertainment.
ß A 29 per cent increase in messages sent during the week ending March 27, vs the week ending March 13. Bumble is also seeing that more than two in five chats are turning into something more meaningful with a large number of messages exchanged!
ß A 17 per cent increase in video calls during the week ending March 27 vs the week ending March 13. This only further validates that when physical connection is limited, humans will seek out other means to interact and engage, and video calling is meeting that demand.
ß Average video call/phone call time is 14 minutes — another indication of users leveraging our video and voice call features to stay connected virtually (week ending March 27).
ß In March, as parts of the world went into lockdown, members started Passporting into other parts of the world. Tinder members around the world have stepped up for each other in amazing ways; rates of Passport use were up over the last week of March. India saw a 25 per cent increase in the rate of Passporting to other parts of the world, Germany recorded a 19 per cent increase, France 20 per cent and Brazil 15 per cent. This was before Passport was widely available for free.
ß There were 3+ billion swipes on Sunday, March 29, more than on any single day in the history of Tinder. Globally, more members are swiping right on someone new, having more conversations overall, and those conversations are lasting longer.
ß Daily conversations have been up an average of 20 per cent around the world, and the average length of the conversations is 25 per cent longer. In India, conversations have been up an average of 39 per cent and the average length of conversations is 28 per cent longer. ‘Stay home’, ‘be safe’, ‘social distancing’, ‘how are you?’, ‘wash your hands and face’ emojis are being used widely in bios.
Dr Anuttama Banerjee, consultant psychologist, has her fingers crossed about people valuing the emotional connect more. “Once the lockdown is over and the coronavirus is under control, I hope people would understand the need to be emotionally connected. We have realised during this time that we are not always happy with ourselves. We need the emotional connect. I have also heard from some people that: ‘What if I die tomorrow? I at least need to experience one fulfilling relationship before I die!’ People are also taking serious commitments into consideration. Some are trying to give their relational structure a complete remodelling. So, I believe the dating pattern might also become more serious,” she says. Anuttama is also hopeful that “instinctively we will overcome” the fear. “People would be far more interested in physically seeing each other. We have been deprived of that for so long... I don’t think two lovers would constantly meet wearing masks! It is not about not touching at all, but about safe touches,” she says.
She feels the “emotional connect” between couples living in different cities has “increased”. “Earlier they were in two different clock lines and they were too busy with their respective work. Now they can connect with each other more frequently,” she says. Anuttama feels now is not the time for drastic decisions... to get into a serious commitment or get out of one. “Even under the same roof not all relationships are hunky-dory. My suggestion is, those areas which will lead to a major friction or conflict, for the time being let us keep them aside,” she says.
Be there for your partner, emotionally, in these unprecedented times, is what Anuttama would like to tell all couples. “I think the emotional connect will make relationships stronger between the lovers and partners where they can talk about their unpleasant feelings with each other. It is an important lesson to learn to be with your partner’s anxious moments... learning to be with each other in our most difficult moments,” she says.