You can also read this piece in Marathi here.
There seemed to be an inexplicable tendency to deny one’s presence on dating applications to one’s acquaintances:
“My friends created the profile as a joke when they were bored.” (Sure they did, and you were vehemently against it but did nothing about it.)
“I just swipe when I’m bored and don’t reply to any of them.” (What an interesting choice of hobby, judging and evaluating others for no apparent rhyme or reason.)
It is truly great if one has managed to transcend the need for companionship in a society that swears by its importance. However, for the pretenders, why is it weak to admit that one is taking active steps to gain that companionship? Is there something mildly degrading about the admission of reducing oneself to five pictures and three answers that are a balance of witty and aloof? Do you discover in the course of this process that you really are not that interesting a person, and of all things a measly dating app has only confirmed your worst fear?
I could be hitting close to home or sounding completely off my rocker. In the process of installing and reinstalling, I developed yet another love-hate relationship with yet another algorithm. This exposition, if I may, is a candid admission of that.
Application induced casual dating in the pre-covid world had a familiar routine for me: three days of banter on a dating app, maybe a shy first date over a game of Scrabble, and then let the alcohol coursing through my veins impute something akin to realness and feeling to this dalliance.
Truth be told, the familiarity bred staleness. The banter sounded rehearsed, mostly because I forgot which one was which. Numbers weren’t saved: turns out my contacts list was pickier than me. It is sounding sad and lonely, but it was more like being a zorbing extraordinaire. Run on water, thunder down a mountain, not a scratch. I’m invincible. Feeling stifled? Running out of air? That’s all in my head. Or is it?
It was naive to assume that this premise could be applied to a world where days and nights fused into an amorphous lump of uncertainty, and I could no longer go to a bookstore or a bar to ignore this pig-headed lump.
‘What did you do today?’
‘What’s your plan for the weekend?’
‘Any plans to come back to Delhi soon?’
When did words become so unbelievably vacuous?
Maybe it was a coping mechanism, but some butterflies that I was convinced had become fossils decided to stick around in the ever widening circumference of my tummy. Hair was fixed for scheduled video calls, and pajamas were picked such that there was a hint of collarbone (as much as I try to rise above arbitrary beauty standards that benefit from starving women.) We both notice the other looking at the tiny image of themselves on their screen, so that it’s the best foot forwards. They’re making an effort? For me? How nice.
Hours are spent over stories of the exploits of a dog, a cat and a squirrel, and winding childhood anecdotes are shared as she notices the picture of a chubby baby in my living room. More online games we enjoy playing together are found, media file exchanges quickly leapfrog into three digits, and my antediluvian landline suddenly has a sense of purpose again.
I now recognise when the other person is sleepy, but still struggling to stay awake because I’m a zombie. They might send me a voice note on instagram about their day and then realize that instagram doesn’t let you send voice notes that are longer than a minute. Has he not sent anyone else a long voice note before? The butterflies are positively frenzied.
There are lulls of course, the silence when you realize that you might’ve run out of things to say or when you’re being told a story for the third time, but be kind enough not to point that out. Time to draw another blank space, and ask the butterflies which name to write.
In a world where we solder the most elaborate armours to hide any wounds or vulnerabilities, these applications are perhaps yet another arena to perfect that armour. Well if one is determined to not set it down, they might as well search for a sparring partner/s equally (or maybe more) resolute on concealing their Achilles heel. Lockhart or Lupin, does it matter?
Pritika is an aspiring academic based in New Delhi, India. She is a Research Assistant to a leading political theorist, and an education consultant. She writes because she doesn’t know how not to. She has a soft spot for purple prose, potatoes in Calcutta-style biryani, and puppies of all shapes and sizes.