by Abhiruchi Ranjan
One no longer needs to lose a glass slipper or be kissed by a magical prince to be free from the witch’s curse in order to find their prince (or princess) charming. Millennials are rewriting fairy tales in the 21st century and guess who is playing fairy Godmother: Tinder, happn and OkCupid.
Online dating apps like Tinder, happn, Bumble and OkCupid are facing a consistent growth in the number of users. Not only are people willing to go the unconventional way of looking for love, but they are also willing to hold on to these services. Tinder has been downloaded by 100 million users, as of February 2018, according to Expanded Ramblings, which clearly shows that this dating app has found a large number of loyalists.
Algorithms helping two strangers come together might be the essence of online dating in today’s times, people have met and dated strangers for aeons, not too different from the courtship period of an arranged marriage.
Arranged marriage has and continues to remain the norm in Indian culture. The parents of potential brides and grooms would look at finding a suitable match for their children through their relatives, family friends and acquaintances and come down to a potential list of candidates. The age of digitalisation has just eased this process and increased the number of possible choices.
A look back at how arranged marriage went digital
The launch of Bharat Matrimony in 1997 was a turning point in how Indian arranged marriages were conducted. Murugavel Janakiraman, founder of India’s first matrimonial website, tapped into a market which wasn’t going to die down anytime soon. Cut to 2018, his platform is the go-to place for those who wish to find the perfect match, in line with their requirements of their cultural fit and beyond those lines. The use of technology had enlarged the possible number of matches for his clientele and made the process less time consuming and self reliant. The website is valued at Rs 2.92 billion, a clear upside for the entrepreneur also implying that matchmaking will always be a lucrative business.
Finding a suitable match wasn’t just restricted to such websites. Shagun TV, a Hindi language channel was launched in 2013 that was dedicated to matchmaking and wedding businesses. When channel head Anuranjan Jha was asked in an interview as to why television was the chosen medium, he was vocal about how matchmaking was never discreet and there was no pint being shy about it. Needless to say, the channel found 10 million in viewership on a weekly business.
With artificial intelligence and voice computing taking over, Google’s voice based assistant, Ok Google has received close to 0.45 million marriage proposals in India.
The transition from arranged marriage to ‘arranged’ dating has been a result of rising income and education levels, especially in India. Although not arranged in the traditional sense, it still is a sort of an arrangement. At the end of the day, both involve two strangers meeting to arrive at the decision of being together or not, which may not necessarily mean marriage.
So what really pushes people to subject themselves to the scrutiny of a complete stranger- is it curiosity, a genuine effort towards finding profound love, peer pressure or sheer desperation? Honestly, it could be any of these.
Shifting away from the heteronormative, close-minded fairy tales
The market for online dating caters not just to the young and straight. The rise of online dating users has given a new ray of hope to people of varied sexualities, age groups, races, physical disabilities, and nationalities by reiterating their faith in the fact that there truly might be someone out there for everyone. People are not just treating this as a casual hook up place but look at this as an opportunity to help them reinvent themselves and their relationships.
When I asked a friend of mine what her experience was like, she definitely highlighted the positives that it is easy to meet people who are open minded and that the space isn’t as bad as people seem to think of it. ‘Personally, it’s been a decent case when it comes to online dating. I’ve actually met people and made friends. Things don’t necessarily go the way you want to but if you can meet new people, it is not such a bad thing. You either make memories or end up with an experience,’ says Ria* (name changed).
Online dating has catalysed the process of global integration. People are willing to look for love beyond their social circles and venture into alliances with people from different communities. By cutting across borders and having greater access to other communities, the rigid lines that used to separate classes and cultures are slowly being blurred. Finding love is not just limited to your immediate friends circle or your vicinity anymore.
Kavita* (name changed) swears by Tinder after being witness to the positives of online dating amongst her friends. She says, ‘No one tells you what its like. You won’t know them but it’s a risk. A little blind trust is required. I’ve had friends who’ve met online and plan to get married next year. It’s crazy but if you think of it, imagine your soul mate or future husband/boyfriend is living all the across in another country or continent or if he lives just down the road. You wouldn’t ever know unless you’ve tried. It either works or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t the least you can gain out of it is a friendship which is not a bad thing.’
European economists Josue Ortega and Philipp Hergovich carried out a research in response to the rise of online dating to find out that interracial marriages have experienced a sharp rise recently. The playground of online dating gives a chance to people of different ethnicities to interact and hence leading to diverse courtships taking place. Their research also highlighted marriages that are the labour of online dating transition from dating to marriage quicker and are more stable as compared to those that are a result of conventional partnering.
Although the westernised concept of online dating seems to be coming around amongst people, especially in the East, there remains a large section of society that considers it to be a taboo. The fear of authenticity and not being ‘catfished’ still prevails and the whole experience from start to finish is not viewed suitable for the frail hearted. Those who are advocates of traditional partnering simply term online dating as a façade.
Digital matchmaking has carved its own niche over the years by becoming an acceptable medium of finding companionship. Be it arranged marriages or arranged dating, people are willing to experiment and explore using the internet, which might result in a happy union. A lot of couples are much more involved in the decision making process when it comes to marriage and even parents are letting go control when it comes to finding partners for their children.
With Section 377 thrown out, online dating application Delta is touted to be the first home-grown LGBTQ dating app. Such welcome changes are changing the scene for finding potential partners and becoming open about one’s sexual orientation. As millennials break away from tradition and societal norms, technology is playing its part well in ensuring it’s a win-win situation for users and its developers.
Abhiruchi Ranjan is a writing analyst at Qrius.
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