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Game, Set, Match

Decoding dating apps for those who want to explore companionship online

'These things don't work.You know that, right?'my newly single friend said, sounding a tad grumpy. I ignored him and focused on the dating app on my phone,swiping left once, twice, three times, in the hope of spotting a decent profile.'I tried for a bit, but not one match,' he added. I rolled my eyes and continued. You never know who is behind the next swipe. He could be THE one.

What am I doing on a dating app?I succumbed to persuasive friends who wanted me to 'explore and get out there'. So, I did the easiest thing possible. I downloaded an online dating app and got going. I was surprised by how much I liked the experience; they felt so different from drab matrimonial websites crowded with people looking for cliches. While vigilance is key, these apps have enough filters to weed out unsavoury elements. Since then, there have been a few hits amid a barrage of misses, many great conversations and a lot of laughs.'There are parallels with real life,'says marriage and family therapist Dr Maitri Chand.'With the convenience and the instant gratification superimposed.'


If matrimonial websites changed the world of matchmaking in the past decade or more, dating apps have taken things up a notch. There is something for everyone: the lonely hearts, determined singletons, serial daters, even marriage-seekers. Taru Kapoor, head of Tinder India, feels that our society is 'undergoing an interesting transition with the new generation craving and commanding more control over their choices and decisions'. The connection, then, happens through similar sets of interests, education, profession or perhaps even a love for Kafka, says Sumesh Menon, co-founder and CEO, Woo. And that is the intrinsic part of the experience.

These apps transcend age as well as recognizing the needs of those in their 40s or 50s, who are single or divorced and ready to go out into the world.'Our pace of life is only getting faster. Isolation sets in as we get older-that's where these apps come in,' says Chand.


So what is the best way to start out, make sense of them and then use them effectively? Here's a quick primer.


Be Honest With the Why:Each app positions itself differently with unique features and tools that you will come across while browsing on the app store. Identify your needs and pick accordingly.'Many people do not have the time or space to nurture a relationship. This helps them experience companionship and connection, and may even fulfil their need for belonging, however short-lived it may be,' says Chand.


The Safety Factor: Most apps expect you to log in using a social networking site, such as Facebook or LinkedIn. They also have filters and authentication processes (even identity proofs in some cases), in an attempt to filter out fake or dodgy profiles. There is also an active 'report abuse' system in place.The app taps into your social circle; so, often your 'matches' could be friends of friends. However, make sure you go through the detailed safety guidelines outlined in the app before connecting.


The Devil's in the Details: There's nothing more frustrating than a two-word description or empty bios. Those are either a red flag or a sign of disinterest. Menon advises you to 'invest time in building your profile. The more you build, the more genuine and serious your intent.'In fact, a recent Tinder survey revealed that men without a bio are 98 per cent less likely to get a 'swipe right' (read: like).


You Don't Have to be Photogenic: It is more about creating an impression with your personality-choose pictures that portray the depth and dimension of who you are. Solo shots that are alive and colourful will help you stand out from the crowd. Ditch those group shots, please!


Woo demonstrates the rise of home-grown dating apps in India. While Tinder is well known, the indigenous online offerings are tailored to Indian cultural needs.


Make the First Move: Go beyond the prosaic 'hi'. Comment on the image, engage with your match's interests and share your opinion. Don't be afraid to show that you have a sense of humour!


Keep the Conversation Going: The app is just the medium. You still need to work on reaching out. Do make an effort to get a better understanding of the person you are talking to. Don't rush or jump to conclusions. If they don't respond right away, give them a little time.


You Can Always Jump Ship: The user is always in control; connect only when you are ready. Don't give out your phone number until you have built in a measure of trust. You don't need to connect in the real world immediately. If your match asks for an address, wait. First meetings are best done in public spaces.


The Red Flags: Remember that this is still the virtual world. You may be getting along like a house on fire, but temper the enthusiasm. Even if you are sharing your deepest, darkest secrets, this is still analogue communication that relies on writing skills.'This is pseudo-intimacy,' says Chand, 'where there is a lot of intensity and sharing that happens within a short span of time. But this is not significant intimacy, which comes with you experiencing vulnerability when you are sharing. And that only happens in real life.' So enjoy the thrill, but keep a bit of reality check in place. 'This is not the platform to fall hard and fast,' she says.


Also, always observe the conversations with your match. Did they tell you they are in their 20s or 30s, but they sound more a teenager? Do they deflect questions about their personal life? Are they comfortable sharing information with you? These are important questions to ask when moving to the next level. But the most important thing to remember, she says, is to always trust your instincts.