I was only 18 years old when I came to Delhi for the first time. (That is a lie, I also visited Delhi as a 15-year-old to surprise my then, undergrad brother for his birthday. Needless to say, that does not count). And, as any 18-year-old almost 1,000 miles away from her parents would, I, too, wanted love (yes, a fulfilling career as well, but this essay is not about that). And so, I did what any sensible person seeking love in the 21st century is expected to do—I downloaded a dating app.
I remember seeking love. I remember, in Richard Siken’s words, wanting to be wanted. All these desires, however, merely culminated in a series of hookups.
I remember the first time I slept with someone. It transpired in Delhi.
I’d desperately wanted to “not be like other girls” who deem reciprocated love as a prerequisite for sleeping with someone for the first time in their lives. Thereby, the best course of action was to sleep with a stranger I had met on a random dating app. And, oh, memory, truly, is such a funny thing! How biased it is! For my memory little heeds to how the aforementioned stranger never called or even texted me after sleeping with me, little heeds to how he acted as a tattletale in reference to our sexual lore, little heeds to the deleterious aspects of the experience. What it does remember is how terribly I fell in love with a strange man.
I was having a rather debilitating day, so when someone proposed plans to meet, it seemed the best way out of the labyrinth of pain I was in.
Thus, I ended up making a plan to meet the very day we matched on Hinge. I reached his house at 2 am and he took no time to make me feel oddly comfortable in his shared apartment. After initial discontentment, when we started speaking, the conversation became engaging. It was not that I had not gone out on dates before (I had), it was not that I’d not had extremely, perhaps even “tediously”, long conversations with strangers whom I clicked with instantaneously (I had). But there was something about sitting on his roommate’s couch and simply talking to him, on the 8th of March, 2023, i.e., International Women’s Day, while holding hands and drinking the cold coffee we’d made together, that made me susceptible to Cupid’s love arrow.
It appeared as though we had discussed everything under the sun, from Albert Camus’ absurdism to the widows of Vrindavan. We had been talking for so long that I thought that he must have invited me over to his place, just for conversation.
Finally, there came a moment when I realised that a segue was about to erupt. I could not help but instantly give in to his charms.
I had grown up in a house wherein physical affection had not been institutionalised. All these years, my existence had been confined to four pink walls and all I had yearned for was to be seen. So, to finally be bestowed with the chance of feeling seen, wanted, and desired, I could not help but leap at the chance, without second thought.
Before I realised it, he was whispering sweet nothings into my ear and running his hand through my hair. Soon enough, he got me to oblige to all his sexual whims and fancies. When we were in the missionary position, I could only think of the following lines from ‘Little Beast’, “[...] he was very beautiful, kissed with his eyes closed, and only felt good while moving. You could drown in those eyes, I said, so it’s summer, so it’s suicide, so we’re helpless in sleep and struggling at the bottom of the pool.” (As a matter of fact, I even left a screenshot of this part of the poem on his phone after we were done, in the hopes that he would come across it someday, and consequently text me. Spoiler alert: He did not.)
Perhaps, all his purported romantic gestures and words were merely a part of his standard procedure in order to ensure that he would get laid. However, that did not perturb me at all. In that moment, all I cared about was being seen, feeling real—and his touch provided me with the requisite warmth to experience the aforementioned. It was enough. It was good. It was love. There was something about orgasming for the very first time in my otherwise touch-starved life, that felt like the pinnacle of love; I met God each time I got to kiss him. I could physically feel the tangible attachments materialising in my heart.
This, most definitely, could never lead to any good. Yet, I found myself unable to stop. I was falling in love with a stranger and there was nothing I could do about it.
After the climax scene though, the energy in the room shifted. The sweet nothings quickly changed to nothing-at-alls as he substituted conversation with me for swiping on Hinge.
It was amply clear to me that I should leave. Now, it’s not that he had proscribed me from using Hinge, or any other dating app for that matter, I just did not want to. When I was with him, it was difficult to remember that other things still existed, that too, at the very same time.
While leaving, I could not help but make pleading eyes at him, to give him a hint about the current contents of my brain. I pretended, however, as if I did not care a bit.
Yet, I wanted him to ask me to stay.
I wanted to ask, “Will there be a second time?”
Maybe, I did not care whether he said yes or no. All I wanted was a confirmation. An answer. Some solid ground to stand upon. But I reserved my silence, and walked away, without any declaration of love or anything else.
I wished I could have been “cool, casual, and chill” about it. I dearly wished to have the ability not to make a big deal of it.
Unfortunately, no avail.
It was made abundantly clear to me that I was, in fact, like other girls, like other people. I could never extricate sex from its concomitant feelings.
I tried reaching out to him later, but he never got back. It was bittersweet. The bitter part is rather evident, it was sweet, however, because it meant I could alter his memory, as and how I pleased. I could be as delusionally romantic about him as I wished. However, I decided that the next time, I would be better. I would have my wants and needs on the tip of my tongue. I would be vulnerable, but in a smart way. The next time, I would not hesitate. The next time, I would not get hurt. The next time, I would win. You see, it is quite easy to promise yourself a number of things, as long as you precede such promises with a, ‘next time’.
There was a next time, but with a different man, but with the same result. The same longing from my side, the same thirst camouflaged as affection from their end, the same dissatisfaction as the outcome.
Frankly, I was exasperated with being stuck in this rut of sleeping with people in the hope that it would lead to something more (spoiler alert: it never did). I had known that there exists no one-dimensional formula to cracking life or even dating. It is all trial and error. But in my case, it felt as though it was all, cent percent, most definitely an error.
However, I found immense solace when I was made aware of the fact that I was not alone in this disconcerting experience. A plethora of people I knew, both online as well as offline, denounced dating apps. Thanks to another love story which failed to take off, I took it upon myself to activate the self-defence of “intellectualisation”, and deep dived into the world of dating apps.
Soon, I was made cognisant of why dating apps “fail” to work, as so many claim during conversations and, ironically enough, even on their bios. Dating applications endeavour to fast-track and institutionalise the, typically long-standing, intimate process of finding love and romantic/sexual relationships in order to gain profits for the companies behind them. They are not there to really help us “find love” as they so lovingly claim.
As much as you would despise hearing it, it all really does boil down to capitalism. This is what is known as, “the gamification of dating”. This is why you, and the rest of us, feel forced to “stick to a script” in order to “win” the dating game in the 21st century. We have a few select pictures which we use on dating applications because we think it reveals our “best selves”. We answer the prompts in the same tired manner in order to impress the abstract other. We treat each other as commodities, who are immanently disposable, especially so when the next “newer, more attractive, more interesting” match comes along.
This also serves to explain why so many people do not even bother to actually start a conversation with a significant number of matches. People liken matches collected on a dating application to the number of “points” scored in the validation/dating game. To put even my dating application experience, in gaming terms, the result, as of yet, has been:
Love and relationships: 0
Thus, inadvertently, even I became a supposed happy participant in a unbridled hookup culture, even though I never quite had a predilection for hookups. Initially, it didn’t occur to me I could opt out of it. I had taken it as a given—one must do this for love.
Yet, without fail, each hookup left me feeling unsatiated. Physically as well as existentially. I did not want this, I could not even make myself want this. However, I was petrified of acknowledging such a thought. For could someone ever love me if my body was not part of the deal? Could love ever be non-corporeal?
Nonetheless, it would be rather blasphemous of me to draw a thoroughly negative picture of my time on dating applications, especially taking into consideration the fact that I am still on Hinge.
As conspicuously evident, I did find love, although unreciprocated, and it cannot be discounted.
A myriad of love stories would disappear from this world if reciprocation was the cardinal basis for a “real” love story. I also found unparalleled confidence and spontaneity. Turns out, if nothing, going on 78 dates with absolute strangers, prepares you for a lifetime of walk-in interviews; it also provides you with ceaseless anecdotes as well as content for articles. Also, honourable mention goes out to my interminable list of ill-defined relationships, aka situationships.
As of now, I act as the “love/dating application guru” because I have gone out with 78 people through dating applications. I maintain a long list of learnings in my head that I never fail to preach to the novices. Notwithstanding, to be honest, I have learnt nothing. For a potential chance at love, I am positive that I would, once again, happily let all these “learnings” go for a toss and chase love, as though I were an 18-year-old, away from home for the very first time.
Perhaps, then, when it comes to love, we are always 18-year-olds. We are always new and utterly inexperienced, dying to taste that first drop of tumultuous affection. Who knows?
Yana Roy is a queer, final-year undergraduate student of Sociology at Lady Shri Ram College (University of Delhi, India). She has a predilection for existing in liminal spaces and writing accessibly about as well as working for realms related to the conflation of human relationships and capitalism, artificial intelligence, media studies, and performativity.