Love and Dating in The Age of Covid
Due to the coronavirus rampaging its way across international borders since last year, social distancing and other restrictions have thrown a major wrench into the lives of people looking for love or planning a wedding. People have traded coffee dates for Google meetups, and wine-tasting for virtual game nights! We sat down—virtually, of course—with Indian-American singles and relationship experts for a perspective on how the pandemic has reshaped dating and relationships. Also on the table was a crucial question: How will Covid-19 affect The Big Fat Indian Wedding?
Dating in the pandemic
For some years now, the convenience of social media apps has meant that many singles have been able to seek comfort in finding a partner simply by swiping right, thanks to apps like Dil Mil, Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, and Atlanta’s own BanyanWay. But once the pandemic shut down regular dating options, most people had to get creative with finding love.
Online dating challenges: How have people pivoted?
Singles in the dating game felt the challenges of not being able to meet in person. “Video chat is fine for a bit, but it can only last so long. It is especially hard for out-of-town relationships when travel has been prohibited,” says pharmacist Tapasya Desai. “The challenges are not [being] able to really go out and mingle with people. The pandemic has limited places to go to and activities to enjoy. I think we have pivoted with using Zoom. There is always virtual entertainment to engage in and this has helped us to become more creative,” says clinical research coordinator, Puja Dubal.
“People have now moved towards either FaceTiming or meeting while social distancing. The women I’ve been meeting, though, haven’t been super concerned and have been willing to risk meeting in public. We both wear masks and stay out of crowded areas and it’s all fine,” says The Yes Vision pod- cast co-host, Aniket Shah.
Vignesh Ramachandran, journalist and co-founder of Red, White & Brown Media, agrees that nothing matches up to face-to-face conversations. But the pandemic has opened up new horizons too. “Meeting through a video call with someone who is across town is currently no different than [meeting with] someone hundreds of miles away. I think that it has been mentally freeing for some, allowing them to meet with people across the United States.”
[Left] Last summer, Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking turned the spotlight on the often daunting world of thousands of years of customs and traditions faced by singles looking for love. Then, came the pandemic and threw new hurdles at this hapless lot.
There’s obviously a heightened awkwardness while breaking the ice during initial online interactions. “Because each individual has their own comfort level and preference regarding live interactions that absolutely must be respected and taken seriously. Thoughtful conversations and mutual understandings are necessary prior to actually meeting,” says lawyer Shekar Jayaraman, who appeared on the Netflix reality show, Indian Matchmaking. Charlotte-based Varsha Mathur, a dating and relationships coach, validates this observation, “Instead of meeting up immediately, the pandemic has caused people to learn to connect emotionally and intellectually before making decisions based on visual first impressions.” Jayaraman adds, “Such exchanges, back in March 2020, were not natural for most people. In the past eight or so months, however, these dialogues have become more ordinary, casual, and expected.”
[Right] “There is always virtual entertainment to engage in and this has helped us to become more creative,” says clinical research coordinator, Puja Dubal, about the new realities of long distance dating.
Aparna Basker, CEO of the Atlanta-based dating app BanyanWay, sums up, “Covid-19 has specifically been extremely challenging for singles who are away from their parents, relatives, and friends. Many singles have started feeling very isolated with most options such as getting together for a party, going to a movie, or even a restaurant, being shut down. Thanks to technology, singles, like others, have moved towards virtual events, parties, and hangouts in the comfort of their homes. Covid-19 has made them realize the essence of time and importance of companionship in this isolated world. Some of our clients have taken steps to move forward to a committed relationship.”
As in “real” life, not everyone is lucky. “I’m literally on all the apps (except Tinder), but have yet to be successful in finding love. The challenges include not knowing the other person’s true intention—are they just chatting with me because they’re bored and can’t leave their house, or are they genuinely interested? I think people have found love and pivoted, but sadly, I haven’t been successful… yet!” says project manager Manisha Dass, who also appeared on Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking.
The benefits of online dating, and some advice too
Pivot, adapt, adjust . . . any which way you say it, online dating in the time of Covid-19 has arguably offered multiple benefits for singles who have opted to explore relationships this way.
Says Aparna Basker, “Online dating is safer, easier, and options are unlimited. Online dating also includes online dating events, besides using apps. Leveraging dating and networking events in the comfort of your home and meeting interesting people from all parts of the world, all walks of life, can be very exciting and rewarding.”
Dubal advises, “Some ways of making the most of online dating is to still be yourself. Take all the opportunities you can to attend virtual speed-dating events to provide yourself more mingle exposure. The win is that you get to be in the comfort of your home and still meet people.”
Desai offers a useful tip for singles seeking love online, “In the swipe culture of online dating, it is hard to rise above being superficial—making quick two-second judgements in the hopes you didn’t just swipe away the love of your life. If you do give someone a chance and miraculously match, try to make an effort instead of ghosting away. There was a reason you liked them enough in your first impression, right?”
[Right] Aniket Shah, co-host of The Yes Vision, a podcast about “saying Yes to challenges and all that life throws your way- the ups, the downs, and everything in between,” says he still does face-to-face meetings with the women he meets, albeit with precautions.
Referring to the practice of ghosting—suddenly ceasing all communication and contact without any apparent warning or justification in the midst of active courting, and subsequently ignoring any attempts to reach out to them—Ramachandran says, “People still ghost, which I think is cowardly. I strongly believe in honest communication and that it’s less hurtful to tell someone the truth than to ghost them and leave them hanging. Dating is difficult enough and I think we need more kindness in this messy process, especially now.”
“There are many silver linings to this new norm and people can absolutely make the most of these wins if they choose to. Dating during Covid-19 has forced us all to slow down and engage in more meaningful, in-depth conversations. By the time you actually decide to meet in-person, you have really gotten to learn about one another quite well, and that brings a unique and immediate comfort,” says Jayaraman.
Indian weddings: Is band-baaja-baraat in or out?
As the coronavirus vaccines are being rolled out, many engaged couples have had to get creative with their upcoming wedding arrangements. While some have opted for a smaller, intimate setting with only close family and friends, others have pushed their wedding dates back and added more social distancing options, with masks and spaced-out events. But for a typical desi, band-baaja-baraat style wedding replete with traditional ceremonies like pithi or oonjal, garba, mehendi, sangeet, and other cultural customs, it is hard to keep things small and simple.
[Left] Shekar Jayaraman, who appeared on the Netflix reality show, Indian Matchmaking, feels that the changes brought on by Covid have triggered thoughtful conversations and mutual understandings that he feels are necessary, prior to actually meeting.
[Right] Vignesh Ramachandran, journalist and co-founder of Red, White & Brown Media, feels the pandemic has actually increased the geographical scope of singles looking for love: “I think that it has been mentally freeing for some, allowing them to meet with people across the United States.”
Not everyone agrees. “[Weddings will be] smaller and more intimate. We will have to see what happens after the vaccine comes out, to see if we will ever go back to the old way of things,” says Desai.
Dubal, however, says, “I don’t think the pandemic will drastically change weddings. The only change I see is that people are wearing their masks.”
Shah tends to agree with Desai that there’s no going back. “[Change is] a possibility. Vaccinations may even become a requirement for large events. Depending on the bride and groom’s families, there may even be other limitations. For example, I can see the food lines or dance floors being modified or gotten rid of,” says Shah.
“While most of the weddings I was to attend this year have been postponed, one was modified to take place on Zoom. I think having a video option for those whose families live across the world is a great idea to allow people to be a part of an event even if they can’t attend in person. But otherwise, I actually hope weddings return to what they were before the pandemic—an opportunity to celebrate a union surrounded by loved ones, with lots of dancing and food,” says an optimistic Ramachandran.
Feedback from friends who got married recently has given Jayaraman cause to believe that small weddings are not ideal, at least within the South Asian community. “Many have had court marriages and plan to have larger celebrations in the future when things get better. I think South Asian weddings, at least, will go back to normal once it is safe to do so again,” he says.
Dating coach Varsha Mathur concurs with the view that scaling down wedding celebrations presents a challenge for the South Asian community. “I know a lot of people who have taken huge risks for the sake of marriage. As a coach who wants healthy and strong relationships for all people, I get why there can be an urgency for getting married right away.
And, perhaps in the long run, this may show families that cutting down on expenses and keeping it inti-mate is possible with technology. Though, I don’t think we will see a big change.”
[Right] Aparna Basker, CEO of the Atlanta-based dating app BanyanWay feels Covid-19 has made singles realize the essence of time and importance of companionship in this isolated world.
Aparna Basker has a nuanced take on South Asian weddings in the future, “Weddings are seen as a once-in-a-lifetime event in Asian communities. So, spending a lot of money for the wedding has been a norm than an exception. Covid-19 has taught us that great experiences need not be super-expensive. We have learned to be happy by connecting on a Zoom wedding call. While the wedding industry is going to revive, I think people will rethink about the size and grandeur of the occasion in future. Many may go for quality over quantity.”
The (virtual) road ahead
With the advent of vaccines and the resurgence of optimism that a new year always brings, what lies ahead for online dating? Varsha Mathur paints a positive picture, “As a coach, in 2021, I am offering more group coaching sessions, for people to know that they are not alone in their pursuit to find love, and that it can be fun and easy. I think the pandemic has showed us all how to appreciate the small things. I look forward to supporting the dreams, goals, and wishes of others.”
[Top] Dating coach Varsha Mathur paints a positive picture when she says, “I am offering more group coaching sessions for people to know that they are not alone in their pursuit to find love, and that it can be fun and easy.”
Archith Seshadri is a TV news correspondent based in Atlanta, GA. He serves as the Atlanta Bureau Chief/Anchor for Nexstar and covers politics and health for 15 stations across five states in the Southeast.
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