Happy Valentine's Day, ladies, gents, and catfish of the interwebs.
The Month of Love: Part 2/4
Parental Guidance: I have heard from some parents that their children love reading Womaning. As much as that makes my heart somersault with joy, I should warn parents that the posts of February 2022 deal with the subjects of love and sex and have strong language. So parents, please pre-scan these posts, and do your thing. ❤️
Happy Valentine’s Day, online love birds and fellow dinosaurs alike!
We were discussing online dating last week, but the stories and layers that this area revealed proved to be too much for me to fit into one piece. Let us dive straight into Part 2 of the ‘Month of Love’ celebrations here at Womaning.
If you missed it, you can catch Part 1 of this series here.
Catfishing for love. Or money. Or a job interview.
Janvi is an NRI who has been settled in Canada for a decade.
“I am on an Indian dating app here. I often come across guys who have Dr. So-and-So as their profile name. In Canada, if you are a licensed medical practitioner, people can simply look up your license online. And I cannot count the number of fakes I have caught this way. Men who weren’t just lying about being doctors, but even their names!”
Janvi recounted a particularly memorable example of catfishing gone wrong.
“I once received a match from a ‘Dr Vivek Mufti’. I was confused because it sounded like a Hindu name with a Muslim surname. I guessed that his parents had a mixed marriage so I put the thought aside. But when I saw his photographs, I felt like I had seen him somewhere.”
Janvi racked her brains all day, trying to recollect where she had seen the man.
“Suddenly it clicked. It was the picture of Dr Vivek Murthy, the recently appointed US Surgeon General! This man had simply pasted a public figure’s photo (and not even copied the name correctly!) I am used to the lying and cheating on these apps, but this was one case where I could not believe the laziness!”
Gargi once matched with a guy who would talk about nothing but his food – or the lack thereof.
“It was totally weird. I matched with this guy and he would keep texting me about how he has just been eating bread and butter for many days now. I was not sure how to react to this information.”
Within a week, the man started talking to Gargi about his financial situation.
“He started talking about how he had loaned money to help a friend repair his bike. He said he was eating bread and butter because he didn’t have money to buy any food. And by our third conversation, he directly asked me to send him ten thousand rupees.”
“I cannot imagine what sort of person would run out of money and decide to go on dating apps, looking for personal loans! I politely told him that I am not that gullible, and unmatched him right away. But I am sure he is still out there somewhere, trying to melt women’s hearts with his bread-butter story.”
It is not just Tinder loans that are a thing now, apparently. Shomita has even had the pleasure of receiving Tinder job applications.
“I work for a prominent startup. It is considered one of the cool places to work at and is a popular employer in the Indian job market right now. It is not uncommon for me to match with someone and to receive a message from them on LinkedIn within a few days asking, ‘Can I send you my CV?’”
Shomita says this makes her wonder why the person connected with her at all.
“Every time this happens, it makes me wonder if the person had actually looked me up on LinkedIn first, and then tried to find me on the dating app – thinking it will improve their chances at getting the job!”
“I am married to the mountains” (and also to a woman)
Vanshi was chatting with a man for a few days and things were going rather well. One day, she randomly went to check out his profile and saw a crucial update he had added in the last few days.
“It had the word ‘married’ used on it now, albeit in a convoluted sentence. He had never shared his marital status before so I was taken aback by this.
I immediately texted him, ‘Are you married?’
He started giving defensive replies, like, ‘Oh, can’t I be married to the mountains?’
I said, ‘Sure, you can be. But I am asking if you are married to a human being.’
After a lot nonsensical replies like this, he admitted that he was married. I thanked him for finally telling me the truth and unmatched him.”
Unfortunately for Vanshi, he had her phone number by this time.
“After I unmatched him on the app, he started sending me messages, like ‘I thought you were a cool girl. I can’t believe how close-minded you are being.’
I told him, ‘You can find more open-minded people on the app. Just stop messaging me.’
He was quite hard to get rid of. It was definitely creepy that someone would lie about their marital status, cheat on their wife, and then gaslight the women who wanted no part of it for not being ‘cool enough’.”
Manali told me how she approached a date with a man after discovering he was actually married.
“A friend texted me – after the date had already started – that this man was married. I decided to be my dullest possible. I made zero effort at the conversation, and just sat there with a sad face the entire evening. I acted like the most boring person I could imagine. Ultimately, he got bored and volunteered the fact that he is married, along with a sob story about how he does not love his wife anymore. I gave a bored reaction, even to that.”
“After we left the restaurant, I never heard from him again (thankfully!) This date taught me that some men use their marriage as a convenient tool – to be hidden when seeking dates and sex, but a useful escape hatch if things go south!”
Meeting married men, or soon-to-be-married men seems to be far more common than I might have imagined. Tanvi recollected an instance where she found herself on a date with a married man too.
“I once met a guy online and was about to go on a date with him when a friend sent me a link to his wedding page! He had told me his real name, and my friend found a wedding page his fiancée had created on Instagram! I decided to go on the date and confront him. He began squirming and said that it was an arranged marriage, he did not love his future wife, etc etc. He said he wanted to experience ‘true love’ before marriage – by which he obviously meant he wanted to have sex before marriage.”
“I walked out and blocked the guy. It is really disturbing to think about the kind of husbands such men are or will go on to become – pretty sure their desire for casual sex will not diminish by the fact that they are married men. Not to mention the fact that they think of women they meet on online dating apps not as real people with real feelings, but as a free passes for casual sex!”
Some married men, Tanvi says, cannot even be bothered to hide their identities while cheating on their partners through these apps.
“In Mumbai, you can often find even celebrities on dating apps – men you know are married, but still have these dating profiles created for casual hookups. I once saw a famous Indian cricketer on Tinder – everyone knows he is married, and yet, there he is. I only hope his wife knows!”
It is not necessary that all of the married men on these apps are cheating, of course. Akanksha has seen a number of profiles that are upfront about their marital status.
“I have seen profiles of men that state upfront that he is married, or in an open marriage. I have even seen couple profiles – who are looking for a ‘unicorn’. It is not my cup of tea, but at least they are being honest and transparent – with women on the app, as well as their partners about it. At least they are not wasting anyone’s time or emotional investment.”
Akanksha recounts one of the most disturbing experiences she has had with a man who was on a dating app to cheat on his wife.
“I was matched with a guy once, who was lying about his marital status. I discovered the truth by the wildest coincidence. A friend of mine had been talking about her boss a lot. She showed me her boss’s photo on Instagram just to give me a mental image of who she was talking about. It happened to be her wedding photo. Lo and behold, I saw that the boss’s groom was the man who was sending me suggestive texts on a dating app right then! Here is the real kicker – my friend had been telling me how her boss was working so hard despite the fact that she was expecting a baby! So that was exceptionally screwed up – to think that her husband is out there looking for hook-ups while his wife is carrying their child.”
Itika met a guy on Bumble who she thought was quite interesting.
“He had a great sense of humour. We started talking, and then we started talking on calls. He was above-40, so I asked him if he was married. He gave evasive replies, like ‘Too soon, we're having such a fun conversation’. This was a red flag so I insisted he give me a straight answer.”
“After a lot of pestering, he said, ‘Fine, because you're not going to give up till I tell you - yes, I'm married. And I have an eight-year-old daughter’. I told him that as much fun as I've had talking to him, I would like to end things here. He seemed to take it well. He said he appreciated me being so straightforward, etc etc. But he also asked if we could chat sometimes ‘as friends’. I firmly told him that I don’t engage with married men as a matter of principle so I would like this to be our last conversation.”
That should have been the end of it. But Itika kept getting texts from him.
“He started stalking me on Instagram, leaving me messages, sending me video calls that I would not answer. This went on for weeks. Finally, I decided to just answer one of his calls to make him stop. He started begging me to meet him. He said, ‘Why do you care if I am I married or not? I promise I will show you a really good time’. I insisted that I really don't want any part of his ‘good time’, nor was I in the market for a sugar daddy.”
“Immediately, his tone changed. He started getting abusive, said some really nasty things. His language was so crass that I cannot even repeat it now. I hung up, telling him, ‘Thank you for showing me your true colours. Now, maybe you can stop stalking me’. He kept texting and trying to call me, even after that. Weeks passed before he finally signed off with a charming ‘Bhaad mein jaa (Go to hell)’.”
🦖Confused by GenZ lingo? Here is a friendly Dino-dictionary checkpoint for you.
‘Catfishing’ means lying about your identity on the internet for gaining money, relationships, or satisfying any other motive using the fake identity.
An ‘open marriage’ or ‘open relationship’ is one in which both partners agree that they may engage in extramarital sexual relationships. Detailed rulebooks differ from couple to couple, but sex outside the marriage is not considered infidelity since both partners have agreed to it.
A ‘unicorn’ is a single woman willing to date a couple. Apparently not a fictitious creature in modern dating.
“Wear that dress to our date”
Meenakshi has sworn off dating apps, and for good reason.
“One of the big reasons I left was the rampant objectification of women on these apps. I have met men who look nothing like their profile pictures on these apps. They have either used images of them 10-20 years ago, or just photos of different men altogether.”
Meenakshi says she does not believe in judging men she dates based on their looks, and is more interested in who they are as people. Unfortunately, that is not a two-way street.
“I have had a man ask me to send him photo after photo of mine, in various kinds of clothes. ‘Oh, send one in western clothing. Send one in this kind of dress, that kind of dress.’ Ultimately, I started getting creeped out and told him I am not sending him any more photos. His response? ‘Looks like you don’t want to share your photos because you are fat’. Encounters like these have definitely left a bad aftertaste when it comes to online dating.”
Shreya is just tired of dressing up. (And, boy, do I relate!)
“I am most comfortable in sweatshirts and comfortable pants. But on dates, men expect to see a decked-up version of you or they won’t even bother to get to know you.”
It is a lot of unnecessary pressure.
“I wish I could just be myself on dates, and have a man appreciate me for me, not my clothes or makeup.”
Tina’s challenge comes across as the opposite, but it is actually the same – the need to be appreciated for who she is.
“I love makeup, I love wearing pretty clothes, I love being well put together. But I have observed that, when I meet men for dates, my clothes and appearance are interpreted by them in a sexual way. They think that just because I made an effort to look nice for a date, it means that I want to jump in bed with them. I have started wearing baggy oversized clothes to dates now, and no makeup – just so that we can have a normal human conversation.”
Not only her in-person appearance, Tina has also started censoring her online persona.
“I used to put up photos in which I thought I looked good – like everyone does on these apps. I thought the point was to put your best foot forward and feel good about yourself at the same time. But then, I once matched with a man who kept insisting that I come to our date wearing a particular dress I was wearing in one of the photos. It made me realize the creepy way in which he was looking at my pics. I unmatched him, and removed that pic from my profile.”
“I now try to walk that tightrope between looking good – but not too good, and looking casual – but not too casual! It is ridiculous that women have to censor ourselves this much just to feel safe in the virtual world, and to get some men to see us like people.”
“The pain was worse than my cancer”
Komal is single by choice.
“I have definitely been through the rigours of dating apps for years – mostly on my mother’s insistence. And the conclusion I have come to is that online dating is among the most obnoxious things out there. I am happy for people that it has worked out well for, but personally all it did for me was help me decide that I was better off without a man in my life.”
One of the reasons that put Komal off dating apps was a brush with online stalking.
“I met a man on a dating app many years ago. It didn’t work out for me so I called things off with him. He has now been online stalking me for years. He seems to have a way to track my online activity. So he appears under different names whenever I set up an account on any app. On dating apps, he starts talking to me. Often I discover – after weeks of chatting – that it is the same guy. And then I block him again. The cycle keeps repeating.”
Neha had an experience with stalking that lasted years and left her emotionally drained.
“Many years ago, I met someone on Facebook. Things did not work out with him, and I went on to get married and have a baby girl. But this man has been stalking me on every social media website over the years.”
A few years later, Neha was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I was going through chemotherapy. It was painful, to say the least. I was unable to eat anything, and was vomiting my guts out regularly. Somehow, around the same time, my stalker resurfaced with his worst hit so far. He took pictures I had uploaded on social media websites and morphed them onto a pornographic film. He didn’t stop there. He took pictures of my five-year-old daughter and did the same with them.”
Neha’s family filed a case with the Cyber Security Cell but they were not able to find the person.
“I cannot overstate the agony this man caused me and my family. I was suffering the worst pain of my life with my cancer treatment. But the pain this man inflicted on me without ever having met me was worse by far. I think many men think of stalking or harassing women as fun, play, or even love. They fail to see that – though they might not be lifting their hand – they are actually inflicting violence on the person on the other side.”
A promising future
The good news about so many women speaking up about their challenges with dating is that the online dating universe is forced to listen. And adapt.
The advent of Tinder in India was a revolution in itself. It gave more power to youngsters to find love in their vicinity without having to jump through the hoops of parental-approved marriage websites of the past.
Tinder led to its strongest competitor yet - Bumble. Bumble (founded by a woman, yay, who recently became the world's youngest female self-made billionaire when she took Bumble public) gave more control to women. In the case of matches between a man and a woman on Bumble, only the woman can start the conversation with the man. This not only empowers the woman to direct the conversation or even change her mind if she wants to, but also takes the pressure off the men to always make the first move.
Another positive news about online dating apps is that almost all of them out there right now are LGBTQIAP-friendly. A person of any gender can choose to date a person of any gender, as long as they are both consenting adults. In fact, many apps - like Grindr and Her - are attuned specifically to the dating needs of the queer community.
“I have had my own fair share of dating disasters. And I realized, through this process, that one of the big things that women look for in their partners is trust. In physical life, we feel more confortable dating a man our girl-friends recommend, than a rank stranger. With Pebbl, we are trying to replicate the same experience in the virtual world as well.”
“Pebbl is a women-first dating app designed to create a safe and comfortable dating experience for everyone. On Pebbl, women and non-binary people join in first, make a profile, and then invite one male each from their network of friends to sign up. Hence, all men on the app are recommended and vouched for by another woman or non-binary person. We are working towards building a high-quality and trustworthy platform for people who are looking to start something fresh.”
I cannot end a piece on online dating in February 2022 without recommending to you the brilliant Netflix documentary, “Tinder Swindler”, which is trending somewhere in the Global Top 10 right now. It is a fascinating real story - not just, as the name suggests, of a man who swindled women on Tinder - but also of the way some of his victims fought back and unmasked him. Makes you go from frustrated, to dancing like a cheerleader, to rather despondent but hopeful in a span of an hour and a half. Watch it and hit me up on Twitter/Insta to discuss your favourite parts! Here is the trailer.
While the online dating world sorts its stuff out, here is a friendly reminder that the virtual world is only a reflection of the real world - minus the filter of politeness and lawfulness.
There is a joke that it is nice that we are empowering so many women, but who is preparing the men for all these empowered women? There is only so much technology can do until the men catch up and learn to treat women with respect before expecting love from them.
So this Valentine’s Day, if you too are hopeless and awkward and desperate for love, adopt a dog and keep the faith. I write these bleak pieces sometimes but even I believe in the cheesy rom-com notion that love will find a way.
In the meantime, show yourself some loving today. Because even after you find a partner, love won’t find you until you love you.
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