Relationships: Love in the time of social media

From dating apps to crushing expectations, the challenging life of a 20-something

Relationships: Love in the time of social media

Avani Bhagdikar

Monday night, 11.30 p.m. became Tuesday morning, 2 a.m. I was at Hostel 2 with a friend, and we were sabotaging each other’s half-hearted efforts to stop procrastinating and finish our assignments. A series of pings, as his phone lit up with messages from his wing mates.

‘Omg A is such a play boi’

‘U hv a new girlfriend’

‘that girl’

‘I have been watching u for a long time’

I’m paraphrasing the texts I read over his shoulder. I made no effort to disguise my amusement at their presumption that we were a couple. Much of our time together that day had been spent exchanging gossip about our respective love interests, unobtainable though they were, and unavailable though we were. Clearly, he and I were just friends.

Not the first time something like this has happened to me, and I doubt it’ll stop in my college life. Being part of a student body that is so male-dominated comes with annoyances. The students here are unusually curious about each other’s love lives, and if a male friend has a female acquaintance, and they are seen to be on friendly terms, they are assumed to be ‘involved’. It can take as little as a simple conversation.

Most of the ‘confirmed’ couples I know have met either through a shared social network or a dating app. While the use of Tinder is more widespread overall, Bumble is oddly popular on my campus. Instagram and LinkedIn have also transformed into quasi-dating apps, with many of my friends complaining, if only half-seriously, how random men attempt to slide into their messages, with the innocent intention of ‘getting to know them better’. Bumble requires women to make the first move—and perhaps that is why it is so successful with my peers. Being able to choose who to talk to feels novel and allows greater control over who they let into their space.

I don’t trust dating apps, and I’m averse to social media in general, so I do not expect to understand their appeal. My friends say it’s exciting to meet new people—and apps open up a world of possibilities, dozens of potential futures. True love is hard to find, and despite being exposed to so many options—it is after all the age of social media—finding a genuine connection is difficult. No number of dating apps will make the process of sustaining a relationship any easier; all they do is offer options. Daniel Sloss’s comedy bit, Jigsaw, presents a very pleasant conceptualisation of love. According to him, one shouldn’t have to shift around the other parts of one’s life to make room for a new person. Sacrificing hobbies, or time spent with friends and family should not be admissible. Sloss claims that since its release, Jigsaw has ended approximately 300 marriages, 350 engagements, and over 120,000 relationships. His framework of love appears to resonate with many

My mother’s generation was fairly conservative, and the concept of dating was almost alien for most of them, beyond pre-marriage efforts to spend time with a potential suitor. Those chaperoned settings are, of course, very far from what we understand as a date. My mother reports that she was never keen on the idea of marriage, choosing first and foremost to be financially independent. Her self-sufficiency, she says, is what granted her the freedom to choose her partner. I know so many friends who, unsurprisingly, loathe the idea of committing to someone long-term, ‘at this stage. at least!’ Most of us are barely out of our teens and searching for ‘something casual’. Clearly, there is a shift in the priorities of your average young woman.

Women today have far greater autonomy when it comes to life-altering decisions such as the choice of a partner, a career, or even whether to raise a family. Marriage is an institution deeply rooted in patriarchy, and I can understand why many women from my generation may be inclined towards singlehood. While we are not at a stage to have to worry about all this just yet, I imagine we’ll have less trouble escaping a difficult situation.

People no longer date to marry. They date for the sake of adventure. Companionship. Romance. Mystery.

Valentine’s Day makes me wonder about love. The excessive commercialisation of an emotion as powerful as love makes me suspicious of its true purpose. Red, pink, white. Flowers, lace, ribbons. Chocolates, strawberries, candy. Is this romance? Is this rebellion? Is this a rejection of Indian ‘traditions’, an embracing of ‘Western’ ways? Why should all this matter? Love is love, after all.

Is it? How is one to know true love, which involves another, when you do not even know yourself ? The world is not a kind place, and each of us have to be our own advocates to survive difficult places, difficult people, difficult times. Is there room for vulnerability, for love?

Far too many run after love as the defining feature of their lives. We’ve been conditioned to search for it as if it contained all the meaning of the universe. From childhood—the stories with happy endings always have handsome princes and pretty princesses riding off into the sunset together, the Disneyfication of love. To teenagehood—with all the best songs speaking of meeting someone beautiful. And now, in college, the loneliness of being the one who hasn’t found their person.

The life most of us lead as college students is precarious and unpredictable, especially in a place as competitive as my campus. Most of us are weighed down by worries, clutching at whatever gives us some joy. Almost everyone has something they’d like to change, some inadequacy or dissatisfaction that plagues them. There’s no peace of mind, possibly because our attention spans are horribly fragmented, but surely also because there are too many expectations foisted upon us. College is as much a goldmine of opportunities as it is a minefield of distractions.

One of my juniors committed suicide on Sunday. I hope his family finds peace. No one knows how to feel. We held a candlelight march for someone without even knowing his name—who’s writing this script, and why is it so dark? And why wasn’t the institute paralysed, even temporarily? Functions, events, celebrations went on, as planned, even after the news spread.

I’d like a platonic version of Valentine’s Day, for people to celebrate friendship, that undervalued form of love and companionship. Not as devastating as romantic love can be, with heartbreak and turmoil and drama. Fewer expectations, but wouldn’t that be for the best? People expect love to fix everything they hate about themselves and their lives, but you shouldn’t need other people to feel like a person.

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