This past weekend, Tinder released a video ad on Facebook, presumably geared toward potential users in India. Unfortunately, it revealed how little the company knows about Indians already on the app.
(And that’s a considerable number of people; a representative told BuzzFeed that India is among the company’s top 5 markets in the world.)
The ad opens with a young woman getting ready when her mother enters the room. The scene that plays out is all-too-familiar: Where are you going? Are you going with someone? When will you be back?
The daughter doesn't mention she’s going on a date. Instead, she mutters something about “stepping out for a bit” and a theatre festival nearby, and asks for her mother’s opinion on her outfit.
On her bed, the daughter’s phone lights up with incoming Tinder messages from a Samrat. Noticing them, the mother’s expression changes from one of blank curiosity to the Indian-ad-staple-concoction of softness, affection, and hope. She gives the outfit a verbal right-swipe.
(This isn’t a cute metaphor; she literally says the words, “right swipe.”)
As the mother leaves, she lingers in characteristic mom-fashion to say, “Put on some kajal; it has its own charm.”
The word “Tinder” flashes on screen, overlaid on footage of the daughter looking in a mirror, obliging her mother’s advice.
Presumably, this is the point at which we’re supposed to wistfully ponder the beautiful mingling of old ways and new. Dating app, meet mom’s approval. Swipe-based-romance, meet kajal-for-nazar. 21st century sexual liberation, meet sanskaar.
Except: Fuck that.
The ad, no doubt, was borne of the insight that a chhi-chhi-yucky-yucky-sex-app reputation isn’t ideal for a log-kya-kahenge kinda market. Good move, ad agency suit.
So then why are my Twitter and Facebook timelines in such clean consensus that it feels wrong? How come the Indian internet, which notoriously refuses to ever agree on anything, agreed that this was weird as hell?
I did a casual survey of a few extremely active Indian Tinder users – i.e. I introspected and then I WhatsApp’d some friends – for reactions to the ad. Across the board, the introduction of motherly hopes and approvals into this universe of low-stakes flirting and low-lighting bar-dates has made us, in unison, balk.
Left-swipe. Superhate. Unmatch.
“Tinder wants me to believe my mother would "right swipe" my going out on a date with a complete stranger,” one colleague wrote to me. “My mother doesn’t know what Tinder is.”
“If ma knew her daughter is on a hang-and-maybe-bang app, she’d kick me outta the house, not sweetly send me off to drunk-make out with a rando,” another said.
“My parents think I’m actively looking for a wife,” a dude-friend said, laughing off the possibility of his mother condoning the casual relationships that he turns to the app for.
Here’s the thing. The dissonance between our parents’ mindsets and ours is why so many of us are on Tinder to begin with. It’s why we tolerate the misleading group photos, the extra-cheese-wala pickup lines, and, on occasion, the accidentally ruined social dynamics.
For urban middle and upper-middle class twenty-somethings (as far as I can tell from being one and knowing many) dating with parental approval means dating with the intention of marrying, not dating at all, or dating within a strict set of requirements. And by “requirements,” I more or less mean prejudices.
I asked my colleagues if they’ve had any positive Tinder experiences with someone their parents would’ve swiped left on. One colleague got along and stayed friends with a Muslim girl, a dalliance made possible by his Hindu parents’ ignorance of it. Another colleague did some casual happy flirting with a French dude, despite her parents’ lifelong insistence that foreigners were off limits. A third colleague got involved with a filmmaker, ignoring her parents’ bias toward “stable” (read: conventional) career trajectories.
A majority of my generation of Indians may well have internalised their parents’ mindsets about matrimony and romance. But, for very many of us who grew up with equal access to our parents’ values and those on display on Friends and Sex And The City, the latter option felt much more palatable and, honestly, much more fun.
Left now in an Ajay Devgan-style two-car straddle between “Mummy, main tayyar hoon” and “How YOU doin’?”, we’ve turned to Tinder to lead the latter life without having to explain it too much. To swipe right on people of wildly faraway regions, of laughably unstable careers, of religious beliefs and political stances and personal ambitions that would make Sheila aunty’s head spin. In every wrong-side-of-the-tracks right-swipe, there is subversion. It’s goddamn beautiful.
Tinder, and other apps like it, are in the unique position to free more Indians from century-old prejudices, biases, and arbitrary spousal prerequisites every single day. For the first time, such freedom comes with the privacy of a passcode on a personal device.
The popularity of the “Simran, babuji kabhi nahi manenge!” premise that dominated Bollywood’s plot lines through the nineties is evidence enough that feeling restricted by our parents’ requirements for our romantic partners isn’t, by any means, a new emotion. But for the first time, opting out of that pressure (or at least easily delaying the age at which we succumb to it) is an option.
Tinder is positioned to help a generation internalise this fact: we can really like people who really aren't like us.
Don’t bring the fam into this.