If you open any dating websites or apps in India today, you’ll find precautionary guidelines about Covid-19 and social distancing. You might also find an additional feature of a video call — surprising since one couldn’t even send images on most of these platforms earlier
This has been a way for Bumble, Hinge, Tinder and others to encourage conversations on their platform, to both facilitate virtual dates, and all people to become comfortable with their matches before going on actual dates.
But for many, virtual dates are not enough. As more days pass in quarantine, people’s urge to socialise, and seek romantic or sexual interactions is also increasing.
But how do people physically meet and go on dates in this climate? Date drives are the answer.
As certain restrictions lift, people are now asking their matches out on ‘date drives’, since there are no restaurants, cafes or bars to go to. Driving around, chatting in one’s car is the new ‘it’ place of meeting one’s potential love interest.
This past week itself, at least five men on such apps have asked me if I’d be willing to go on a drive with them, confident that they are Covid free, since they’ve been dutifully self-isolating at homes.
But maybe they should continue to stay at home, it sounds, taking a drive with a stranger is the worst idea possible right now.
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A disaster waiting to happen
If you haven’t been living under a rock, you should know how disastrous the idea of date drives is in most big cities in India right now. Mumbai has reported having more than 72,000 coronavirus cases. New Delhi, which has beat Mumbai, has now over 77,000 cases — a third of which were from this past week.
I was shocked upon learning that someone I know, a social worker who has been doing relief work through the lockdown, had continued to be sexually active with people he was meeting on dating apps. Remorselessly. His justification was that he apparently takes ‘necessary preventative measures’. Like doctors, nurses, police personnel and other frontline workers haven’t tested positive across the country at all, despite taking preventative measures.
There are enough places to seek intimacy online. Jaspal Singh, a Delhi-based art director says 2 AM conversations with people online are the band-aids that have kept him going through the lockdown. “Instagram pages like Skinxtype have always been a turn on, but during the lockdown they’ve also been places where I’ve met people who might have the same fantasies as me and we indulged in it.”
But in these scenarios women are often on the receiving end of ludicrous messages sent by men, who think dating apps are places where they’re entitled to behave crassly and get away with it. The objectification and slut-shaming of women by the same men who swipe through virtual platforms in search for a romantic and sexual partner is indicative of how, even in metropolitan cities, a woman seeking sexual pleasure as per her will is considered unacceptable to many.
A Mumbai-based filmmaker, who wishes to stay anonymous, recounts the horrendous messages she has been receiving recently. “This one person’s first text to me was an invitation to have sex over video call,” she recounts with digust how he hadn’t even bothered to send her a hello before making such a request. “When I called him out over it, he gaslighted me and told me it was ‘normal’ in these times.”
The man went on to abuse her, and then unmatched her. The next person who texted her on that app, asked if she’d be willing to go on a drive with him.
In the beginning of the lockdown, I had written about how the very nature of conversations on dating apps are changing. It seemed like people started to seek deeper conversations, instead of exchanging casual texts, given the anxiety and loneliness caused by the lockdown.
But as time has passed, people have adapted to their new reality. The lack of physical intimacy has superseded the need to talk to someone for many single people.
Singh says sexting is like his part time job now, “it keeps me going, since I haven’t had a sexual encounter since January.”
It’s not surprising. As the world slowly went into lockdown, the sale of condoms had spiked because people found themselves quarantined with their partners.
But not every couple ended up together in the lockdown. Some who quarantined in different places have also ended up going on date drives. “I either drove to my girlfriend or she drove to me,” a development sector professional who wished to say anonymous tells me. “I was lucky, I have an essential services pass so have actually met my girlfriend throughout, fooling around on my building’s terrace or in the car.”
For everyone else, there was Pornhub, which witnessed a 95 per cent increase in traffic in India. According to a counselor who handles distress calls, there is a significant increase in calls from people expressing sexual frustration since they’ve been in isolation.
But considering that fact that there seems to be no light at the end of this Covid-19 tunnel, abstaining from having sex or physical encounters, for the time being, can be your way of helping save the world.
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