As shutdowns and self-isolating intensifies around the world, most of us have to take our offline relationships onto an online portal. With those month-anniversaries and Friday night dates taking a backseat, most couples have had to unlearn the traditional ways of dating and look out for virtual alternatives to keep themselves from losing interest. Thankfully, with technology now at our fingertips, it has become easier to keep ourselves engaged with different activities, despite being in the lockdown. For dating applications too, this period of uncertainty has brought on new subscribers who are looking for ways to combat their boredom.
Mr Snehil Khanor, CEO and Co-Founder of TrulyMadly, a dating app, plans to introduce new features specific to the lockdown that will help retain their users even after the COVID-19 scare is past us.
"One of the new features that we have launched is the 'Likes You' section which allows you to see a list of all users who have liked you," he tells us. He also shares that the like rate for women which was earlier 8 per cent has now spiked up to 81 per cent. Similarly, the like rate for men has gone from being 77 per cent to 81 per cent after the lockdown was imposed. "Earlier we'd observe the app activity between 10 pm to 1 am, but we're noticing that a lot of people stay online up to 2 am nowadays," he tells us.
For andwemet, a matchmaking platform based in India, the numbers have been witnessing an exponential rise since the lockdown was imposed. "The number of people interested in the platform has gone up by an average of 400 per cent week on week, from what it was before the COVID-19," says Shalini Singh, founder of andwemet. They too are planning to introduce an improved platform best suited for the lockdown conditions.
"We plan to introduce an improved platform in the coming weeks which will allow members to have even more control over what they wish to share about themselves along with other interesting non-intrusive features," she adds.
A study conducted by OkCupid, an international online dating and social networking site, shows that matches have increased by 10 per cent in India since the lockdown was imposed in March. This form of dating that is labelled as 'slow dating' is welcomed by those singles who prefer getting to know a person at depth before having to meet them.
"You wouldn't believe it, but there have been over 50 million intro messages sent across the world on OkCupid over the last month among daters connecting for the first time," says Ariel Charytan, CEO, OkCupid. "OkCupid allows daters to match and get to know each other through thousands of in-app questions that'll help you get to know each other without physically meeting," he adds.
The study reveals how 38 per cent of Indian millennials said that they have been able to get to know their matches better through virtual dating. 32 per cent also feel there is less pressure in dating virtually, and 30 per cent are just glad they can wear pyjamas to a date! On asking "How do you plan on dating during this time of coronavirus?", a whopping 91% of Indian responded saying they'll continue to date, albeit virtually!
Apart from having the privilege of video calls, virtual gaming apps such as Houseparty and Psyche have been coming to aid for those who dread the usual first date awkwardness. In fact, with videos of couples arranging a 'virtual' date for their significant others going viral, it is almost safe to say that the online dating space will never be the same again.
"It's good to have something different to do instead of the regular small talk," says Faiz Bogani, a 25-year-old media professional. "While we fall back upon online games to keep ourselves occupied, I'd love to video chat with my date before meeting her even after the lockdown ends. Earlier, video calling was considered to be very intimate, but the lockdown has helped normalise the idea for everyone in the dating pool."
For Aryan Shah (name changed on request), a 22-year-old student, virtual games have revolutionised the concept of dating forever. "My relationships have been digital right from the start, and being in lockdown has given me the time to talk on the phone more than usual. We can sit for hours and play games, without it having to affect our routine," he tells us. "It will never be as good as sitting together at a fast-food joint, but it's an excellent alternative when you don't want to travel for hours to meet up with them," he adds.
"These are changing times, and I would have never thought I'd end up dating someone without being on an official date," says Aparupa Mazumdar, a 21-year-old student. "Before the lockdown, I'd only talk to him, but the lockdown has given us enough time to make things official. We video-call each other regularly, and I don't think I want to change that even after the lockdown ends," she tells us. "We play games regularly over Houseparty; it has been a lot of fun. I don't think I'd have done this if it weren't for the lockdown, but I'd genuinely like to keep this consistent once the restrictions have been eased."
However, just like everything else, online dating too has begun to get monotonous during a routine like ours. "I was never a big fan of online dating, but now since we're left with no other alternative, I have to embrace the virtual side as well," says Asmita Roy, a 22-year-old Airhostess. "That being said, I hope that online games such as Ludo and Houseparty continue because it's a great way of keeping in touch with people, including your friends," she adds.
Zulfi Sadriwala, 27, who was earlier an avid user of these apps feels like the boredom is catching up rapidly. "For people like me who don't like texting or calling, it is tough to keep up with the time now. In fact, video calling is a problem, considering we all live in a small house and with a noisy family!" He says.
Despite that, he hopes that this period will take away the stigma behind the dating apps. "It's heartening to see more people joining online dating services, as earlier it would come with a label and an attached-stigma, I'm hoping this is something that continues even after the lockdown ends," Zulfi adds.