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New Age dating-Knows no bounds

From being a taboo word, dating has come of age with the millennials making no bones about having their profile on online dating sites, and hookups being the buzz word. Swipe Right if you like or left if nay, chat for a while, go on a date if you like, continue if it works, and if doesn't, then check out the next one in line. Simple, straight, no frills attached arrangement.

Just like restaurant booking, film tickets, travel, hotel stay, dictionary, encyclopedia, entertainment – prospective dates are now at the tip of your fingers. According to recent statistics, there are a 100 million unmarried young Indian between the ages 18 and 35 and this is a huge market. No wonder tons of apps like Tinder, TrulyMadly and OK Cupid are increasingly becoming popular, especially Tinder taking the cream of the pie – so much so – that if you are young, single and not on Tinder, then you are not happening enough.

Today classified matrimonial advertisements are online in the form of websites offering matches to marry and settle down, and then there are dating apps for the young looking out for a date, fling, affair – you can call apple by any name – it's still a causal relationship, that in a few rare cases may turn into serious relationships. The criterion is that you must be single and though not explicitly limiting, the sites attract mostly youngsters who are still exploring relationships, time-pass dates before they get serious about a long-term commitment. Vinay, who has been on one such site for some time says, "I am not interested in finding a long-term commitment, I wish to hang out with someone who matches my interests, and fun to be around with."

But why do youngsters seek relationships online and not in the real world? Psychiatrist Purnima Nagaraja says it has to do with our society that does not encourage casual friendships or relationships, and most Indian families are conservative in their communication with strangers or even friends of the opposite sex. "Online friends are anonymous, and the virtual world offers a cloak of anonymity. Most are under the illusion that people are more dangerous than virtual relationships, meeting people in public is dangerous whereas in a virtual world everything seems ok. They couldn't be more wrong."

"Moreover, with a breakdown of real communication, people prefer chatting to talking, emoticons take the place of emotions, and to have a friend who seems supportive, available and love seems like a good idea. People don't work on sorting out differences in real-life relations, but seek friends online to emote, chat and have romantic to quasi-sexual conversations," she adds.

That said Purnima reiterates the dangers of having a relationship with strangers. "Chatting on virtual playgrounds doesn't assure safety as many have had accounts and media spots hacked, they faced financial loss and much more worse experiences."

Even though the dangers of online relations are real, people who are subscribing to them are not discouraged. "Freedom to be what you are without being judged and the access to multiple relations is the reason," says Purnima.

Nitin, a youngster with a Tinder account counts on his instinct. He says, "A quick chat usually gives you a hint on what kind of person it is. However, one needs to exercise caution on what one shares online before knowing the person personally. As far as risk is concerned, it is there even when you meet a person in real life."

With urban Indians changing the way they look at relationships, and as more and more people leaning towards alternative methods of meeting people, there is a lot of unaddressed digital dating space. Shalini Singh, Founder of 'Andwemet.com' – a new dating solution site, says, "When I was doing research, I realised that there is enough for those in the 20s and then there are traditional matchmaking sites. I started 'andwemet.com' for urban Indians over the age of 30, who are looking for meaningful relationships, not necessarily to marry. When two people meet their expectations from the relationship too are different. I made this site with a woman's heart taking into count the expectations of people of all ages beyond 30. If one has remained unmarried for a long time, beyond the socially accepted age, then they are judged, deciding not to marry is judged; one may have stayed unmarried because they had other priorities in life, and some may want to wait for a long time before saying 'I Do'. Yet when these people say aloud, they are seeking a relationship with friends or family, they may sound desperate. An online platform that will match their expectations with like-minded people fills this gap. Further, 40 per cent of the profiles online is fake. How do we know we can trust and start a relationship online? Hence, we have made an elaborate registration procedure to ensure maximum safety filters."

'Andwemet.com' started just a couple of months ago, and already registrations are in full swing. The profiles range from young men in their 30s and more to middle-aged women.

Interestingly, yet another dating site, this time for extramarital affairs was launched recently in India, taking online dating to the next level. The trend is new in India but has been there in the West. Europe-based Gleeden was started by women, and the site introduces itself thus - Back in 2009, a couple of unhappily married women decided to create something that would help fellow unhappily attached women to keep their marriages. The site is for individuals, who are in a relationship, married, or separated, and want to be involved in an affair. It's a premier dating site that claims to have its own set of security parameters that include complying to the highest and up-to-date data protection protocols and stringent moderation policy. The site was first launched in France and spread to 100 plus countries.

Solène Paillet, Marketing Specialist for Gleeden, lists out the reason why the site is so popular across the world, "In many urban households, a husband and wife spend more time at work than with each other which sometimes leads to them living separate lives. Such scenarios lead to the formation of a distance. Many people in their 30's and 40's are unhappy with their marriage believing they got married to the wrong person; extramarital dating sites allow such people to form bonds that are absent in their marriage and add excitement to their otherwise bored married lives."

"According to recent studies, some online dating apps in the city have more than 50,000 registered members. Those who use such sites are of all ages, yet a majority are well educated. Many working professionals including lawyers, doctors, bankers, or business executives use such dating apps and the most active users fall between the ages of 34-49. Clearly, a large number of those who use such sites are married but it would still be a mistake to believe they're using dating sites and apps simply for sexual gratification. While some may indeed be using dating sites for sex, a majority are genuinely seeking meaningful relationships that transcend sex. These online dating platforms are not only providing a second-innings for these so-called adults but are also giving them a chance to feel young and wanted again!" she adds.

Purnima agrees and says, "Indian women are extremely suppressed, and many are unhappy with their lives. Such sites offer support, appreciation and love. Extramarital affairs are becoming increasingly common...both sexes indulge in flings and parallel relationships. A breakdown in communication, work pressure and financial pressure further increase issues of communication, mistrust, and misunderstanding in relationships…dating sites offer relief and recreation even if sex isn't a priority." "To feel loved and admired or adored is important to all; if a stranger is able to fit the bill and there is no major commitment hence many prefer this," she adds.

Without judging the thousands and thousands of online users using the dating apps to find the companionship of every kind, one must surely acknowledge the perils of being online, especially for something as personal as forming close relationships. One may seek an intimate soulful relationship, but like in real life, it is not as easy as filling a form and registering your name. Too many expectations and too much of anything bordering on addiction will only lead to heartache and depression in the worst case.

On the question of how reliable these 'so-called' meaningful relations nurtured in virtual space are, one can only draw a blank for there are multiple experiences of all kinds. However, the key to an online relationship is surely your security. Some cautionary directions include – choosing a more reliable app based on reviews, to stay within the app when chatting, avoid giving out personal information such as phone number, social media handles and email address. Sharing intimate pictures is a strict no-no, especially for women.

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