The French dating app Gleeden targets Indian women looking for extramarital relationships. 

Getting happily married and staying happily married are not the same thing any more — even in India. Married couples are waking up to the realisation that they’ve run out of fun moments with their partners. You might still love your partner, but their moves in bed may have become as predictable as guest judges on an Indian reality show. In such a scenario, it is tempting to look outside your marriage for extra romance. I mean, who doesn’t love the feeling of their heart beating faster when they receive a text from someone they have a crush on, or a first kiss with someone new?

Now let’s take a moment to remember that we live in India, where even thinking about these things is considered taboo. So, how do you go about looking for intimacy with a stranger while remaining married? Sure, you could download Tinder and have your entire circle of family, friends, colleagues and neighbours know you are seeking lovers. Or, you could download an app that’s been created to allow married individuals to date online.

A French online dating service called Gleeden, founded by women and run by women, is now facilitating discreet romantic encounters for married Indian women. They’re quite clear that it’s not an app for couples looking to bring a third person into their relationship, but rather for married women (who may or may not join as a couple) looking to find romance outside the traditional framework of marriage. You choose who you match with — samesex couples are welcome, too — and yes, if you’re one of those singles who’s open to romancing someone who’s got a ring on it, you can sign up as well. Potential lovers have the freedom to disclose just as much information as they are willing to, since it isn’t linked to any of their social media accounts. The website is free for the ladies, while gentlemen have to buy credit packs to initiate interactions.

The very existence (not to mention the growing popularity) of dating apps that promote extramarital romances calls to question the institution of marriage and its evolution. A 21st-century marriage looks very different from the earlier versions. An increasing number of countries are legalising same-sex marriages, gender roles are steadily being taken apart, children are not seen as necessities, divorce rates are increasing, open relationships are on the rise, and love is not something that happens only once in a lifetime. While theses can be written about each of these phenomena, a particularly interesting one is the number of individuals who seek romance outside of their primary relationship (in this case, their marriage). There are several reasons why — sex with the same partner becomes boring, daily routines become mundane, and people (especially women) get slotted into certain roles. Says a 31-year-old anonymous Indian user of Gleeden, “I felt that only my role as a mother counted [in my marriage], and it made me very unhappy. I met my lover, who is also married, on Gleeden. Since then, we have shared stolen moments of happiness. It is a way for us to escape from our daily lives without hurting our spouses and families.”

If people are looking to cheat on their partners, it would go without saying that they would look for a platform that protects their privacy even from master detectives such as Nosy Neighbourhood Aunty. Unlike other dating apps, Gleeden does not require users to link their social media accounts. After completing their profiles with the usual information such as age, city, marital status, hobbies, personality, expectations, and so on, they can add pictures in a ‘public book’ (which can be seen by any active member) or a ‘private book’ (only available to members who are allowed to access it). As you’d expect, the public books tend to have more guarded pictures that don’t reveal personal identity, while the private books have slightly more… well, personal pictures. (I was talking about their faces, what were you thinking about?) Members can interact on the website in different ways. If they like to be initiators, they can send a private message or start a chat session. If they’re feeling particularly coy, they can send a ‘crush’ or a virtual gift to catch the eye of an attractive member.

Apps such as Gleeden don’t exist only for cheaters seeking extramarital affairs though. Open relationships are on the rise in India, with there being several kinds of open relationships: some people are emotionally committed to each other but have separate and temporary sexual encounters with others; some bring in a third person on occasion to spice up their sex life; while others choose to have other committed partners while still having a primary partner. The only constraint in a truly open relationship is that it should happen ethically, safely and with the informed consent of everyone involved. When asked if couples in open relationships were a part of the target market that Gleeden wanted to cater to, its representatives were quite clear that it is “not an app for swingers.” However, they did admit that they have testimonials from some couples in which both partners were registered because they were in an open relationship. The important point to note, though, was that they were looking to make encounters on their own and not as a couple.

Gleeden was launched in India in April 2016. In the two years since, it claims to have garnered about 2.5 lakh Indian users. Unsurprisingly, men outnumber women by 3:1, as against in Europe where 40 per cent of its subscribers are women. The most active age group is 34-49 years. Given that the people that Gleeden is targeting are much older than, say, Tinder, there are several inhibitions that users (especially women) have before signing up to an app that would facilitate an extramarital affair. Does the data imply that married men are more willing to cheat on their partners than married women? Possibly. But it could also indicate a lack of penetration (pun unintended) in the digital circles where women are more active. It could also just be confirming stuff we already sort-of know. For one, Indian women probably spend less time online than men. Secondly, there is a greater taboo with respect to women acknowledging that they have sexual needs. Lastly, personal safety is a big question, especially when it comes to meeting a partner you’ve come across online.

The cities that have best responded to Gleeden are New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Most of its users also come from privileged economic and professional backgrounds. According to the company rep, Indian users take more time than their European counterparts to get to know each other online before meeting in real life. The amount of information disclosed in their profiles is also quite different from those in European countries: there is less information about their sexual preferences (especially for women), and fewer public profile pictures. However, Indians do have just as many private pictures as their counterparts in Europe do. Clearly 4G has helped married couples experience different kinds of penetrations.

One may question the ethics of an app that encourages extramarital affairs. However, given that hundreds of thousands of people are flocking to it in India, we also need to question how the institution of marriage needs to be taking a long, hard look at. Given how everything else in the 21st century has changed, it’s possible that the institution of marriage is also ready for a makeover.