For 12 hours I was someone else. I was a 31-year-old content writer originally from Lucknow but now living in north Bengaluru. My display picture was hazy, but it didn’t truly matter to any of my Tinder men. In fact, one of them messaged me: You are very photogenic.
The editor of this magazine is a mischievous man. Why don’t you explore the Tinder world, he asked me as we discussed column ideas. Large parts of the digital world are a black hole for me. As for online chat rooms, dating portals and now smartphone dating apps, none of these have ever interested me. It seemed too much of an effort to create a fake ID, persona and sustain it through a chat assignation. And, for what joy? I wasn’t looking for a man, or a bonk, or both. But, I have just as much of the devil in me as this editor, and so I decided to take up that casually thrown gauntlet and do the Tinder. After all, one must try everything once, except incest and Morris dancing.
For the uninitiated, Tinder is a hugely popular two-year-old American dating and hook-up app created for smartphones, which has found traction in India in recent months. This is how Tinder describes itself: “Tinder is the fun way to connect with new and interesting people around you. Swipe right to like or left to pass. If someone likes you back, it’s a match. Chat with a match or snap a photo to share a moment with all of your matches at once. It’s a new way to express yourself and share with friends.”
My journey on Tinder starts with choosing a day when I had a cast-iron excuse to keep a line of chat going, without sounding chicken when one of them suggested meeting. Valentine’s Day was dangerous. Besides, I didn’t want to sound like a desperate chick seeking a lay on a day when the whole world was out there celebrating love/lust with pink heart-shaped balloons, red roses, sexy lingerie and candlelit dinners. If you are on Tinder on Valentine’s Day, it is just as sad as the person on a Greyhound bus on Christmas Day. I didn’t want my Tinder-self to be that pathetic persona.
The day after was the big match day — India vs Pakistan at Adelaide. I was counting on my Tinder men to be true to the Indian stereotype: unwilling to be parted from their plasma televisions when a good game of cricket was on. That it was also a Sunday helped. What excuses could they make to their wives/girlfriends/mistresses for getting out on a Sunday, and especially, on a big match day?
I discovered it was an Android app. So, I couldn’t use my iPad. Then, I discovered that Tinder requires my Facebook profile. I didn’t have the time to create a new one and besides, the credibility factor of a just-born Facebook profile wouldn’t sit well. So, as a woman of the world with friends in the digital space, I borrowed one of their fake personas on Facebook. Suddenly, I had a Tinder token and an entry point. I was AM, 31 years old, single and on Tinder because I was looking to meet interesting people in the age group of 29-49. My initial reading had indicated it was a simple enough app. By swiping right, I say yes to a profile and by swiping left, I say no.
And, then it began. As I swiped one DP after another, I realised this must have been the real high point of a swayamvara. I was Sita, Damayanthi and Draupadi melded into one as I examined each photograph, and read the profile beneath. Some of them were interesting — perpetually curious and INTJ (that, for you psycho-dummies, is a personality type based on Jung’s theories expanding to introversion, intuition, thinking and judgment). Some were cryptic — entrepreneur, wanderer; some were pompous — I am what I am; but, my favourite was — there are many great things about me, and the most amazing thing is my humility. Was he being ironic? Or, was he for real?
Somewhere I was beginning to see a pattern. All of them had put down travel as part of their profile, from trekking to wandering photographer to backpacker to roaming without a plan. Restless men who were lonely even if they were not alone, seeking escape into empty spaces or parallel lives. I looked. I touched ♥ or ⊗. Do I choose the doctor or the pilot? Or, the furniture designer or the marketing man?The AVP of a captive bank or the landlord with the petrol bunk?
And, then, I realised that unlike my epic heroines, I didn’t need to stop with one. I didn’t need to choose. I could be the girl who has her cake and eats it too. So, I touched and touched and the list of possibilities grew by the nanosecond. The Tinder ping is distinct, like the messenger and BBM ones. My phone didn’t stop Tindering, as message after message arrived from hopefuls. Each man, I realised, had his own individual way of chatting.
There was the shy doctor who in less than six minutes wanted to know if I was single.
AM: In a relationship that’s going nowhere. U?
Shy doctor: Married
AM: How come u r here if u r married?
Shy doctor: Just trying out this site. No malice AM
If I was really AM, the content writer, he may have been the almost perfect guy to start something with. Never mind that he was married. I was on Tinder and so was he, and that said much without saying anything at all. I think of the message that came into my inbox that morning from Deena, the Russian:
“Hello Mr. Dependable!!!
I am Deena and I am in search of my personal Mr. Dependable? Are you one?
Well I hope that you are. Most girls are in search of one. It is very important for us girls to have someone who is there for you in any situation in life. I am from Russia and here girls love to have someone who cares, loves and pampers you so that they feel secure and blessed.
Russian girls know to be the loved ones, we understand men to the core and we love [to] make a man feel satisfied in every aspect of family life.”
He could have been AM’s Mr Dependable. He was so punctilious with his queries about her well-being: Had Lunch? Napping?
In contrast is the techie who tells AM in message three that he isn’t looking for a relationship. AM has a Sybil moment. She turns into a feisty toggler of apps and men. Neither am I, she responds. If I was looking for one, I would be on shaadi.com. The techie pings: LOL. Do u think we can move this to WhatsApp.
This is the request that pops up all the time along with a request for a clear picture. I have my standard response to both: I have an obsessive ex who, if he sees me online, will pop there. And, I hate being photographed. Three of them offer to help me with my WhatsApp settings so I will be invisible. Meanwhile the shy doctor persists with gentle but persistent pings. His bedside manner must be excellent. But, I am busy with the petrol bunk landlord.
Petrol bunk landlord: U don’t do Party?
AM has yet another Sybil moment. She is outraged. She says an emphatic: NO.
The petrol bunk landlord isn’t about to give up: I mean clubbing. I’m a big party animal. Whatsur hobby?
AM: Movies. Urs?
Petrol bunk landlord: Me? I told u. Party. Clubbing.
After a few hours I was exhausted trying to juggle AM’s multiple personas with multiple men. I was beginning to make mistakes. I had told everyone I was watching the match with a flatmate. But, later I told one of them that I lived with my bhaiya, bhabhi, mummy and dog. “Why was I in a flat then?” he asked. AM responded, “Bhabhi and I don’t get along. She is too domineering.” There is yet another moment of disquiet when one of the Tinder men says he is from Lucknow too. Spooky, I write for effect. Yes, he says. “What are the movies I like?” he asks. AM has yet another Sybil moment. She likes romcoms and hates arty movies. The Tinder man says. “I like anything but drama. I have had enough drama in real life for a lifetime.”
Somewhere it dawns on me what this is all about. It is as much Heartbreak Hotel as it is an opportunity for a romp with no strings attached. True, there were the hardboiled philanderers who were on Tinder just for casual sex. But, there were also others who were just shy and lonely to meet up with new women, and this was one way of doing so. Some others were merely seeking to connect with someone in a new city. I know how daunting it can be to be in a new city with an empty weekend stretching ahead. How long can you play Angry Birds on your tab? In real time, in real life, some of these men may be perfectly decent blokes. The kind I may even have dated if I was AM, age 31, wearing a bindi and a shy smile in
my hazy DP.
As the night wears on, Tinder continues to ping with match alerts and messages: Had ur dinner? Gdnite. Sweet Dreams. Wassup? U rise early? And, then, one from the shy doctor who has had enough of my reticence and makes a lover-like growl: “Enuf of content writing. Where r u?” And, to think I met him just 12 hours ago. I uninstalled Tinder.
Anita Nair is the author of the better man, ladies coupe, mistress, lessons in forgetting and cut like wound. Follow her on twitter @anitanairauthor.