The Vagrancies of Modern Love
Indian writer Mudit Mohilay (above) comments on how the dating app culture, while making it easier to form superficial connections, may have damaged our capacity to form deep bonds. (photo provided)
By MUDIT MOHILAY/Special to India-West
The world we live in today is all about freedom: Freedom of expression, the freedom to be who we are, the freedom of choice. The impact of this ideal of choice on our civilization has been staggering. The average consumer is spoiled for choice by businesses and brands competing for their attention and patronage and egged on in their search for perfection in everything.
Speak a word against the ideals of freedom and choice and you are a pariah. However, sometimes I wonder if the wave of commoditization created by the overabundance of choice is always a good thing?
I first started thinking about it while speaking with a dear friend. Successful, intelligent and witty, he is doing very well in his life. However, he is lonely, to the point that he calls me up every time he gets drunk to talk about his latest romantic misadventure. These calls are a weekly occurrence now, and on every call I find that the subject of his affection and subsequent heartbreak has shifted.
“She was a wonderful person really, but our schedules didn’t match.”
“We had so much in common, but our political views were completely different.”
“I thought I had found the one this time, but she told me I was too cold.”
After every such conversation, he dives back into the latest trending dating app to continue his search for perfection. Ironically, while each of these heartbreaks chips away at his faith in finding his forever, they also make him more grimly determined to push on.
Paradoxically, because almost everyone puts their best foot forward in the initial few days of the relationship, he and others like him find themselves in a position where their list of what they want and do not want in their partner continues to grow, courtesy of their growing list of experiences until now, where his expectations from his would-be partner are so extensive that I honestly and regretfully doubt anyone’s ability to fulfil them.
I tried gently pointing it out to him once: “Life isn’t like legos, you don’t just find someone who fits you. You have to be willing to work with them to mold each other to fit each other, while giving each other the time and space to grow and evolve in your own right. There will be challenges and even fights, but you have to be willing to work through them.”
“But it is hard, and what if the person you spend all that time and effort on is not the one? There are so many options available on these apps, why not rather spend that time finding someone who fits me as closely as possible?”
In short, modern dating apps are like the lottery or a get-rich quick scheme. You can strike luck, but unless you are willing to put in the work on strengthening your connection, prioritizing the other person and working with them to get to a point where both of you add value to each other’s life, you are just setting yourself up for disappointment after disappointment.
And unlike the lottery, the costs here can very well be higher: Not just your time, but also your emotional capacity and mental well being, as like Sisyphus’ labor in the underworld, we window shop and skip from person to person in a fruitless search for true love on dating apps.
I recall a line from Anurag Mathur’s delightful book ‘The Inscrutable Americans’, where a naive Indian student on his first trip to the States is advised by his much more experienced American friend after his first heartbreak to “staple the pieces back together and move on, just don’t do it too often!”
Of course, dating applications have a lot to recommend them too. They are an easy way to find love, and get the opportunity to connect with diverse people. However, the way they have commoditized one of the strongest and most vital human emotions has brought us to a pass where we wouldn’t recognize love if it was staring us in the face. Our generation is much more likely to move on to swiping right again at the first sign of trouble, instead of putting in efforts to make things work with the person we are with.
This is not a call to stay in toxic or unhealthy relationships, merely to recognize that relationships are like seeds, they must be nurtured and require effort, time and care to grow, a fact that is increasingly being lost in a world of super likes and boosts, and temporary infatuations that end in a moment of anger. And in a world where everyone is rigid, where everyone thinks they are right, and where everyone wants to win, the victory can often come at the cost of this true love all the poems and stories talk about.
I will leave you with an excerpt from a poem by Frank Mandarano:
“Trials are not easy, and you feel there’s no hope.
“There are times when you feel you’re at the end of your rope,
“But you must go down deep in the pit of your heart.
“Let it stop your despair and give a new start.
“For true love for each other is a gift some never get,
“So when that trial comes, don’t ever forget
“That there is a rare thing we share that had to come from above,
“And those trials will end; what got you through was pure love.”
But hey, what do I know? I am a loser too!
(The author is an entrepreneur, author and technology journalist. Currently working as a corporate marketer and consultant to various Fortune 500 firms, he also writes about the challenges of growing up in the 90s India, and as a millennial, keeping pace with the changes sweeping across our way of life. A well-known name in technology circles, he is a frequent contributor to other top publications like TechInAsia, VentureBeat, Business Standard, Financial Express, etc. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author.)