I’ve reached an age where everyone I know is either married, engaged or searching for a partner. I fall into the ‘searching’ category. I don’t know when it was that I realised I was ready to get married. I mean, I’m just about 23. Most people my age would be making the most of their youth and embracing the freedom that comes with being single. But that’s not how South Asian culture works.
It’s not that I couldn’t do that. My parents are fairly liberal and would even invite my ex into the house (bedroom strictly off limits) with open arms. When we broke up, they were the first people to tell me everything was going to be okay and hand me a tub of Ben & Jerry’s. So, once I realised, I was ready to take the leap and find the person I was ready to spend the rest of my life with, I wasn’t sure where to start.
I downloaded every dating app, from Bumble to Muzmatch. For a while, I even considered shaadi.com. And so, began ‘The Husband Hunt.’ Most of my friends who aren’t brown didn’t understand. “You’re so young!” or “why do you even want to get married?” were comments I was frequently bombarded with.
But it wasn’t about just finding someone to post cute Instagram pictures with, it was about finding someone to start the next chapter of my life with. Don’t get me wrong, not everyone ‘needs’ to get married or be in a relationship to be content and living their full potential. Maintaining a relationship isn’t easy and add a legally binding contract to that, you’re bound to have your work cut out for you.
I was born in Pakistan. I moved to the UK when I was three. I’ve seen all kinds of marriages, from arranged to ‘true love.’ I’ve watched as my older cousins have had potential rishtas come over. Rishta is a term in Urdu and Hindi that means marriage proposal, so potential suitors are known as rishtas. I’ve been there while my friends stalked the Instagram of a guy they just started talking to. I’ve seen the good and the bad. And despite all the effort that comes into a maintaining a marriage, I still wanted it for myself.
So, I spoke to the guys on these apps. I made small talk with them and learnt how many siblings they had, where they completed their degree and how many kids they wanted. But something wasn’t right. I wasn’t clicking with them. It was like I had the same song on repeat, and I was getting sick of it. But then, lockdown happened. And the whole game changed.
Lockdown has in a way, revolutionised the dating game. Unless we’re lucky enough to be isolating with a significant other, many people have found themselves experiencing celibacy for the first time since they lost their virginity. And those of us who are looking for ‘more’ have been introduced to the world of virtual dating.
Since lockdown began, I have virtually dated 3 different men, none of whom I am still in contact with. But all these men made it further than most of the guys I have been on physical dates with ever have. And when I’m talking distance, I don’t mean further along the bases.
They got to know me on a deeper level. There was little small talk or awkwardness. Things seemed more natural. Conversation flowed more smoothly. Was it because I could hide behind a screen? Maybe so.
All I know was I preferred it and I’m not the only one. Lockdown has allowed us to get intimate on a whole other level. Aisha*, 22, from the Midlands told me that since lockdown has started, she’s had an increase in proposals:
“Due to the current circumstances I have so much more free time than I ever had before and it’s allowed me the time to think about rishtas.
“With our cultural traditions, you can’t really talk to the guy over the phone. You have to meet with the females in his family. It’s difficult during quarantine to stick to cultural norms so we had to adapt, and use Zoom for our meetings, which was normal for me, but for my Arab parents, it was unusual. They wanted to stick to traditional ways of meeting and because of that, I’ve had to turn a lot of rishtas down.”
So essentially, lockdown has had both its benefits and disadvantages when it comes to dating and marriage seeking. On one hand, we’ve seen people become more creative and really bring out the romance when trying to woo their dates. But at the same time, it’s not as easy for everyone.
Ammar, 33 from London, says his hunt for a partner is “on hold” as no one seems genuine online. And this is a problem, that many people are finding with online dating.
Sanjay Panchal hopes to change this with Elate, the new dating app he has founded. He says: “they’re all a bit too superficial and so even though you match with someone, you end up talking for a bit and realise you don’t have much in common or are looking for different things. It basically means people match, chat for a bit, fizzle out, ghost and repeat!
“My app hopes to change that. It matches you on personality as well as looks and most importantly, it only lets you talk to three people at a time. We’ve found it makes for way better conversation if you’re not both chatting to 10 people at once, as most apps are!”
I for one can say, that lockdown has really made me reconsider what I’m looking for in a future partner. Most dating apps tend to focus on the superficial and as my dad so frequently says, “you don’t really know what someone is like until you’re actually living with them”.
I guess looking for a significant other when you’re brown, is essentially just a game of luck. Like I said, no relationship is easy and maintaining them takes a fair deal of effort. So really, it’s just about finding someone you’re willing to make that effort for.
(*names have been changed for anonymity)