Priya Dali, a 24-year-old girl from Mumbai, swiped right on her dating app while being in isolation during the lockdown in March 2020. That is where she matched with 24-year-old Meera from Pune. Thanks to the pandemic, their date was meant to be a little different than usual. With no opportunity to meet and take their relationship to the next level, the women carried on with virtual interactions that extended for months, hoping one day they would finally see each other in person.
You may have come across a similar pandemic love story on a Queer Swipe Stories video, an initiative started this year by dating app Tinder, in partnership with Gaysi Family, an interactive space for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Queer Swipe Stories narrates experiences of real-life same-sex Tinder matches. “Tinder has facilitated same-sex matches from its inception but we believe it is important to celebrate more than heteronormative narratives of finding connections. For some members, gender and sexuality labels reflect their own assertion of identity and as identities evolve, the language we use and stories we tell should include everyone, and we, therefore, partnered with Gaysi Family to highlight narratives of Queer dating,” Rashi Wadhera, communication director, Tinder-India, tells indianexpress.com.
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With human interaction going virtual as part of the “new normal”, dating apps came as a saviour for many people who craved companionship while being quarantined. Meera agrees, even if she had flatmates around her during the time of the lockdown. “My flatmates are my strength but truth be told, I did feel lonely in what I was going through during the lockdown,” she says. “Having Priya in the background, virtually, for most of my day, was a very new experience for me. I was very comfortable with it.”
For Priya, on the other hand, virtual dating felt quite “normal”. “That is because in general, I am more comfortable that way. And because both of us were very clear in communication in every aspect, it didn’t seem like a very big barrier beyond a point. That said, of course, I looked forward to meeting her.”
So in September 2020, post-Unlock, Priya travelled to Pune for the much-awaited meeting. But this time, the venue was not a cafe or restaurant or any public place which had the risk of exposure to the virus; it was Meera’s home, not a regular phenomenon for a first date if one goes by the dating rulebook. “In a way, dating has become more intimate. People are now meeting in their home space, which I think is a good way to get an insight into anybody’s personality. I know many people who are now meeting in parks or going for grocery runs which is not how it used to be,” Priya remarks.
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Like many other aspects of our lives, the pandemic has taken a toll on physical intimacy, due to our constant worry about being exposed to infection. And so, even if the lovers were excited to meet after waiting for months, there were reservations. “It was very much the scene the first time because it felt like a risk. So weeks beforehand, both of us were hypervigilant, and therefore, it was not much of a factor when we finally met in person,” Meera says. Besides, the transition from Priya being on her screen to being present physically at her home was quite a different experience for Meera. “I was nervous (in a good way) for the whole time she was there in person for the first time.”
Priya, however, did not feel like she was meeting Meera for the first time; thanks to months of spending time together virtually. In the COVID-19 context particularly, she believes that technology has helped people bridge the gap to a large extent. “It has turned out to be a blessing for people living in different places or different cities who could not otherwise meet each other.”
Being connected virtually has strengthened many people in a lot of different ways, adds Meera. And the increasing activity on dating apps during the COVID-19 crisis is proof enough. “We’ve seen a notable increase in activity among our members, especially those under 30. People are matching more frequently, sending more messages, and engaging in longer conversations. In fact, at the end of Q3, messages and use of the Swipe feature on Tinder are up double-digits from the end of February. In October, we launched our video chat feature, which gives our members another way to connect with their matches while staying safe,” states Wadhera.
But virtual dating, of course, comes with limitations, since you can’t gauge a person virtually beyond a point, Priya points out. “In person, you can be spontaneous and instinctive as opposed to when you are talking to someone via a screen,” she says.