Karthik, 35, is a bisexual man married to a straight woman for the last four years. He has dated both men and women in the past, but post-marriage his sexuality is mostly confined to gay dating apps. Karthik is living a complicated life, to his wife and outsiders he appears straight but he has a parallel life on dating apps. The Bengaluru-based senior financial analyst for a multinational company avoids meeting people in person at bars or clubs. He is much more comfortable with messaging and sometimes video chatting with men on dating apps. (Karthik’s name has been changed to protect anonymity.)
With the Covid-19 pandemic spreading across the world, and India currently observing a 21-day lockdown to contain the spread of the Coronavirus, Karthik’s chat time on dating apps has increased manifold.
“For the last one month I have been working from home. I work for clients in the U.S. so mostly I am on the late shifts. While I am glued to the laptop, I am always online on the dating apps on my phone. It is a way to compensate with the boredom of working from home and social isolation. You need to have some human connection besides your family,” says Karthik, who chats almost daily. “I am not sure if I will ever date these people in-person. Virtual is good for me.”
Karthik is not the only one, who is spending more time on dating apps. People are trying to engage and connect with each other more virtually, and meaningfully, while others believe this is a time to do things they wouldn’t find time to otherwise. Apps like Bumble are seeing a spike in chatting, video calls, and the length of these chats has gone up. Meanwhile, Tinder has made its Passport feature, which allows users to connect with anyone, anywhere in the world, free.
It says India saw a 25% increase in the rate of ‘Passporting’ to other parts of the world, more than Germany which recorded a 19% increase, while France saw a 20% rise, and Brazil, 15%.
Priti Joshi, vice president, strategy, Bumble, says that people are doing more video chats, and the call time has gone up to as much as 14 minutes on average per call. The quality of the conversation is becoming better as well, which can be measured by the frequency and the length of the messages.
“During this time, when everyone is home and is practising social distancing, we are seeing that there is an increase of 25% in messages sent on Bumble India. This really speaks to the fact that while everyone is socially distant...users still want to connect and want to know each other,” Joshi tells Fortune India. Meanwhile, on Tinder, conversations have been up an average of 39% and the average length of conversations is 28% higher.
Rebecca (name changed) is a 34-year-old journalist in Bengaluru. Right before the lockdown, her boyfriend was going to visit her from Shillong. Their plans were disrupted as the number of cases of Coronavirus started to increase and restrictions on air travel were imposed.
“We video chat many times in a day these days and tell each other that when this is all over, we will take a vacation and just go somewhere,” she says. Rebecca has been keeping herself occupied by doing things that she never had the time for earlier, like working out, catching up on reading, and watching TV shows.
Many people who aren’t able to meet their families or loved ones, and socialise, have also reported feeling intense loneliness, while others complain of anxiety. Experts say social distancing, job uncertainty, isolation, and constant fear of contracting the disease (Coronavirus) has caused panic and anxiety attacks among people.
“Feeling lonely? WhatsApp someone. Need some self-assurance? Post a filtered photo on Instagram. Need love? Use one of the several dating apps to find love and ah the pleasure of mindless scrolling,” says Anna Chandy, social psychologist and chairperson, The Live Love Laugh Foundation, adding that, “Our definition of normal has been totally displaced as we try to find meaning and structure in this new normal.”
Chandy points out that the time of isolation has also meant that people are consuming a lot of content off the Internet through their phones and using it to keep in touch.
“For most of us this has meant being glued to our smartphones, holding on to it as a lifeline and for some of us it probably is. We are getting updates on news, checking in on our loved ones or just using it to zone out,” she says.
Doctors say that one of the biggest after effects of the pandemic will be mental health issues. According to digital healthcare platform Practo, mental health-related queries have seen a 50% spike in the last two weeks. Queries on mental health grew by 80% in the metro cities, while consultations in tier II cities grew by 35%. Practo data reveals that 74% of all mental health-related consultations come from men, while 26% were from women.
“Fear of the disease, anxiety, and loneliness due to social distancing can take a toll on the overall well-being during these situations and consulting a specialist will provide them with the much-required support and clarity,” says Alexander Kuruvilla, chief healthcare strategy officer, Practo.
Shreya Roy, 35, a yoga instructor with a fitness chain in Bengaluru, feels that the lockdown has reinforced her belief in internal validation, rather than looking for it outside. “A situation like this makes you understand that if you are okay alone, you are fine at all times. That being said, I had a nice experience with a man on Hinge (a dating app). Since we couldn’t meet, we worked out together a few times on Google Hangouts. Later we ended up sitting in our respective homes, having drinks, and dinner over a video call,” says Roy, who lives alone in the city. “It was actually quite nice, without the hassle of getting dressed, and putting on a show, to get to know each other in our own environment.”
Roy points out that there has been a lot of hype on the isolation of the lockdown. “This is a time to double down on personal goals, or set some if you don’t have any, and take time to nurture yourself.” She thinks that if you are feeling lonely, or hopeless, it helps to listen to talks or podcasts on self motivation, self love, self belief, meditation, and practising gratitude for whatever is working for you. “It really depends on how positively you can see this situation.”
While the unprecedented circumstance of a global pandemic has caused a disruption in the daily lives of people, some are using it to be more productive and do things that they haven’t done before.
34-year old Zoya (name changed), who lives alone in Delhi, says she had feelings of anxiety and uncertainty in the beginning, but those have begun to settle down as she started to accept the new normal. She says that while living alone is difficult, being in self-quarantine is even harder. And in the time of Covid-19, the thought of being sick with no one to take care of you can be distressing.
“The first few days were spent calling family and friends and trying to plan a new routine. And then followed this wonderful realisation that I had all these long stretches of time for myself... to go back and read a book again, and listen to ragas for hours and even plant a herb garden,” she says.