Love, a game of numbers

The writer examines how Tinder and other match-making apps are changing the way we date.

January 20, 2016 03:53 pm | Updated September 23, 2016 02:08 am IST

There’s an app for everyone out there Photo: Raveena Joseph

There’s an app for everyone out there Photo: Raveena Joseph

A year ago, for a brief and exceptionally interesting period in my life, I Tinder-dated. There are plenty of fish in the sea, I’d often heard, and there I was, in the middle of the ocean, with access to most of them. No longer did I have to wait for serendipity; a right swipe was all it took to forge a new connection.

Tinder made its way to India in 2013, and today, the country is the app’s largest market in Asia, with a 400 per cent surge in downloads last year alone. “Looking at Tinder profiles is like glancing through business cards at a speed-dating event. But your brain picks up the same social cues from these pictures, as it does from someone you meet in person,” says Naomi, a 23-year-old Delhi-based user, who is also on the platforms Aisle and OkCupid. While she was lured by Aisle’s tongue-in-cheek attitude, she found that OkCupid’s extensive questionnaire offered a higher chance of finding someone with the attributes she was looking for.

There’s an app for everyone out there: gay men gravitate towards Grindr, while Bristlr connects “those with beards to those who want to stroke beards”. But the Indian demographic is uniquely diverse, and Indian app developers took stock of the different needs of India’s single population, and rose to the occasion as the app-based dating market opened up in 2014.

The Truly Madly app, which was launched in the month of August that year, was initially positioned as a matchmaking platform, because they were cautious about using the word ‘dating’. “We found that as long as we kept the platform safe and secure, and kept the married men away, most women were okay with it,” says Sachin Bhatia, co-founder, Truly Madly.

Woo, however, still steers clear of the word. “Dating is a process of finding someone, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We call it a matchmaking app because it has more gravitas,” says Sumesh Menon, co-founder, Woo. got into the playing field in March 2015 with its subsidiary, an app called Matchify, which was meant for those looking for “meaningful relationships”.

The motives of users, despite the positioning of the app, vary. Navya, a 27-year-old Chennai-based user, got on Tinder and Truly Madly, looking to find someone for the long haul, but gave up, disappointed, because “it’s a mad race of hook-ups”. She now finds a more fruitful platform for her pursuit. Sofia, a 28-year-old Mumbai-based user, on the other hand, unabashedly announces that she got on Tinder and Hinge to “extend the hook-up circle”. Naomi finds OkCupid inclusive of different sexualities, and says she finds the app an easier way to meet women, than scooping out same-sex events in her city.

While intent varies with people, and love is complex and elusive, all these apps aim to do is introduce individuals based on in-built algorithms, and let them take it from there. “The focus is on acquiring women users, because getting guys on apps like this is easy,” says Sachin. Yet, despite the app offering many women-friendly features, out of two million downloads, only 30 per cent of the Truly Madly users are women.

The app-based dating market in India is undoubtedly skewed towards women, with app developers giving them the power to call the shots. Thrill allows men to access the app only if women vote them in — Truly Madly enables women to share profiles of men with their friends, and Woo offers a fun feature called the ‘Question Cast’, where women can ask an interesting question, and men from the recommendation pool can answer it with wit to woo them.

App-based dating has seen a phenomenal surge in the last couple of years. Tinder reports 7.5 million swipes in India each day, while Truly Madly claims people spend 40 minutes on the app as an everyday average.

However, owing to the numbers, even an average-looking woman gets more matches than an exceedingly handsome man. Sudarshan, a 22-year-old user from Chennai, says that despite using Tinder, OkCupid and Truly Madly for a couple of years now, he has received zero matches. For him, meeting women at events, through friends and chance encounters has worked out better than through apps. Women who have decided to brave these apps, on the other hand, have found a remarkable change in the way they socialise. “I don’t know how to date in real life anymore. I’m not comfortable being walked up to in a coffee shop or a club, because I don’t want to be an object of attraction in those places. So where else do I meet people?” says Naomi.

Swipe on this

--> App-based dating is changing the social landscape by providing easy access to options

--> Tinder reports 7.5 million swipes in India each day. Truly Madly claims people spend 40 minutes every day on the app

--> Gay men gravitate towards Grindr, while Bristlr is for those who love beards

--> For those looking for serious connections, there’s Aisle, Matchify, Waltzz and Woo

--> MeetMe is to just hang out and chat, and Vee is positioned more as a college app

--> Tinder, OkCupid, Hinge and DesiCrush are simply to meet and date like-minded people

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