Manvi would quote Bukoswki, while Rohit would rattle off some Murakami. He knew how much lettuce she had for lunch, she knew the colour of the shorts he wore while working out. After wooing each other with words, they would smile — toothy sometimes, followed by a kiss at other times. The intimacy levels were growing, but this, however, was all on WhatsApp, since Manvi lived in Delhi and Rohit in Mumbai. The 25-year-olds thanked technology for bringing them closer, and their first 50 dates were on WhatsApp, Snapchat, Skype and Facebook Messenger. The technology-induced fairytale, however, didn’t last too long and came to an end because of the same messaging platforms. “The real-life relationship wasn’t as good as the virtual one. I would get suspicious when I would see him online on WhatsApp till early morning,” says Manvi.
When Urvi Jha’s boyfriend of three years, Karan Patel, shifted to the US for higher studies, there was trepidation about making a long-distance relationship work. Used to seeing each other every day, the two decided to give it a shot any way. They upgraded their phones, got WhatsApp and FaceTime, and a year later, they are still going strong. “While we can feel the distance, it’s not so bad because we are constantly in touch with each other. We use WhatsApp through the day, and have a 20-minute time slot for FaceTime. We rarely call each other. It’s more practical financially,” says the 26-year-old, a PR executive.
A lot has been said about how technology — especially smartphones — has played the perfect cupid. But then does it also suck the life out of relationships? “There are times I feel like throwing away my iPhone. I have had major fights with my boyfriend of four years over why I didn’t reply to his message even though I was online at that time on WhatsApp,” says Isha Banga, a 24-year-old advertising executive in Gurgaon.
A delayed response, a non-expressive simple smiley, a status update or a profile picture — reasons enough to put some strain in relationships and worse, end them. “While in college (in 2010), a friend began dating. His girlfriend would get so paranoid that she would ask him to click a picture of his class during the lecture to assure her that he was in college. Of course, it didn’t work out for them,” says 25-year-old Archit Kumar, a budding filmmaker based in Mumbai.
So grave is the issue between a few couples that they even seek professional help. Hemant Mittal, a Mumbai-based psychiatrist, says that 30 per cent of the relationship-management cases he deals with every day are social-network related. “When people are addicted to social media or phones, they also communicate with their partners through WhatsApp and other such platforms. Human interaction goes down and the partner feels neglected,” says Mittal. While this, he says, is not the main concern, it does have a big impact on relationships. “Some develop a sense of adventure and begin cellphone affairs. It causes mistrust, people get caught lying and usually relationships end,” he adds.
Kalyani Sharma, a graphic designer in Bangalore, feels dumping smartphones and apps is the best way to keep doubts and petty issues out of her eight-month-old relationship. “I don’t want to know when my boyfriend is online, who he has a picture on WhatsApp with or who he dined and wined with. I trust him, so I need to get away from these evil apps. They only breed mistrust,” says the 24-year-old. She now uses a basic handset that can only receive and make calls and SMSes. “Relationships worked even when there were no instant messaging options. We are going back to the basics,” she says. “Switch off your phones for three days per month at least. Slowly, you will not feel the need to be on these apps at all,” suggests Sharma, who feels her relationship has only become stronger since she quit smartphones.
Unlike Sharma, most are trying to find a way around these apps, instead of completely doing away with them. For instance, the “last seen at 10:10 am” function on WhatsApp is becoming another reason for breeding misunderstanding. After a fight with her boyfriend a few days ago, Banga decided to not reply to his messages for a night. Next day, she woke up with a message from him about her WhatsApp and Instagram activity, which only made the fight worse. “One is constantly under the scanner because of these apps. Luckily, my new phone has the ‘disable last seen’ option. It has saved my life and relationship,” she says.
Some names have been changed on request.