Are women being more adventurous and open in how they date? Seeking an answer to this question, Indu Harikumar, an artist, illustrator and storyteller, partnered with Tinder. The hashtag #HowWeDate did its rounds on social media, and Harikumar crowdsourced stories of dating, love and relationship in this digital age.
She used this for inspiration and made illustrations to portray the attitude towards dating by Indian women. Taking us through her project, Harikumar says, “In 2016, I decided to start a 100-day project titled #100IndianTinderTales in an effort to crowdsource stories on how Indians use Tinder, the way they date and to illustrate real life Tinder experiences. Given the resounding success of user submissions, partnering with Tinder for more insight seemed like an organic extension; we started #HowWe Date, an attempt to capture India’s perspective towards dating — How we date, where we date, what we like and dislike, our experiences on Tinder, what we’re looking for when it comes to dating/love/relationships, and most of all, what makes us swipe right on Tinder.”
The concept of dating
“I grew up in a time when Bollywood dictated romantic notions, set the precedent and embedded the age-old Ek ladka aur ladki dost nahi ho sakte, and Pyaar toh ek hi baar hota hai narrative. Like most women of my generation, I bought into this idea, and wasn’t looking to meet men outside of checking the long-term commitment/marriage box,” says the artist.
Through #HowWe Date and having the privilege of hearing a plethora of stories, she is slowly learning that love is not linear, but a complex yet beautiful emotion. “At the risk of generalising, I would say that all we’re really looking for as humans is connection: the difference lies in what people want to do with that connection. Some don’t want to take it offline, others want longer connections, some brief connections, and some are online only for sexual connections and intimacy. Everyone is seeking connections, and technology is a useful tool in fulfilling this desire by providing a controlled, private, personalised and judgement-free space. As humans, we want to feel valid and what better space to find that than by dating,” she says.
Selecting the stories
“Someone who follows me on Instagram said, ‘Vulnerability is your special sauce’ and I have appropriated it. My work comes from a very personal space, most of the questions I put out to people are problems either I am thinking about or have encountered or am building off a friend’s experience,” says Harikumar, adding, “I have felt safe being vulnerable online and I guess when I share, it becomes okay for people to do the same.”
She shares that from all the stories she could gather, the ones that reflected a diversity of thought, captured the essence of vulnerability, human connections and the endless possibilities of it and displayed the lack of a singular contained definition of dating, love and relationships, found expression through her illustrations.
More than long-term relationships
Harikumar talks about how the structure of our society makes it difficult to meet people outside family and immediate friends. “The generation before the millennials, who dealt with aberrations like gender segregation and sexual taboos believed that they had limited choices. But all that has changed since the dawn of social media. Their desire for control, choice and independence is very apparent to me. Women have elucidated if I am an engineer, the only men I get to meet are also engineers. These physical barriers are amplified further by the fear of rejection, judgement, unsolicited attention and the taboo label attached to dating. Interestingly now, there is less shame associated with romantic relationships. Women are expressing the desire to meet new men not just for the possibility of love but also to discover themselves and some are candid about their desire to explore their sexuality. Technology, smartphone accessibility and the private, judgement-free space dating apps provide, is reflected in the way the dating scenario is evolving,” says the artist.
She shares how women have written to her about their changing relationship with themselves, the abandoning of the traditional but ‘will you marry?’ narrative, and the advantage of learning how to talk to people and discovering what works and what doesn’t. “Users wrote in with all varieties of stories to affirm the above, and the following deserve particular mention. ‘When I go out on a date, it is with an open mind. I no longer look for compatibility and neither am I closed to the possibility. I just don’t want to define the course of relationship beforehand. Dating to me is spending quality time with someone you are interested in. It doesn’t necessarily lead to love or relationships.’, ‘It made me question and understand so much of what was going on in my head. As the relationship ended, I felt like I turned into a woman — independent, confident and steady.’ And ‘There were other factors that contributed to the curiosity about this dating business, acknowledging that I’m a woman with emotional and sexual needs. Finally having some self and body confidence.’
Stories that linger
Here are some stories that have left a lasting impression on the artist...
1) ‘Tinder is almost the only form of dating I’ve been successful at so far. I met many people. Made a few good friends there and also dated around... It was the New Year’s, and I had no plans but someone charmed me into making plans for the night. He picked me up for dinner and we were gonna smoke up and spend the new year riding away. I dropped the leftovers that we had carried home. He had been taking care of a litter of puppies who seemed more than happy munching on the food on the road. He let it slide by. We sat in, smoked up and had a few beers and soon, the New Year began.
We forgot to kiss. One thing led to another and soon we diverted to the good stuff of course. It was the first time ever somebody took care of me so much. I did a lot more of random clumsiness that day. Spilled beer, dropped a few things, broke my specs and such other things. I was particularly surprised how calm he was with all this, considering he had major OCD. But I loved that little thing about him. He was funny and kind. Enjoyed my time. I felt so safe and happy. I knew it wouldn’t go anywhere but I knew it was the right place to be that day. It was beautiful.’
2) ‘This is probably the least romantic relationship I’ve ever been in by the usual metrics. Both of us know that permanence can slip away just like that, and that you can get over anything, really. It’s not all roses. We fight about space and monopoly and social media and why the f**k must he be so rigid and and why the f**k must I skew towards believing in humanity. We try for honesty. We live in the age of shifting geographies and uncertainty. Right now though I’m happy to co-exist in this little Venn diagram of possibility, this little corporate-sponsored accident of love.’