2020 Oct 9
A single, young woman in Sri Lanka, experiencing independence for the first time and eager to fall in love. Fresh off her very first job abroad, her ditsy head filled with the story of a colleague who had fallen hopelessly in love with a guy online and ended up moving to America with him, after a big, white wedding.
Yeah. I had high hopes for dating apps.
Dating culture in Sri Lanka is relatively new. Evolving from a world of marriage proposals, where dating was “courting” and carried out with the consent of the families of both parties, there are still a few elements of the olden days that still remain today. Hiding from parents and sneaking about for example. “For better or for worse” was a given, with couples sticking together and working through their problems, no matter how stormy things got. Bars and pubs were fewer too, which meant you were highly likely to meet your beloved through mutual friends or going about your daily life.
Locking eyes on a crowded bus could potentially (and often did) lead to happily ever after.
My parents’ marriage had a lot to do with me becoming a hopeless romantic. Evenings were spent cooking dinner together to the sounds of their favourite Sinhalese songs and I was the centre of their world. As a result, I grew up fantasising about romance, my favourite of which is that I would be sitting in Independence Square, when an escaped dog comes running up to me, followed by its tall, handsome owner.
Tall, handsome and a dog lover. What’s not to love?
Needless to say, when I discovered dating apps, I was over the moon. I could choose exactly what I wanted in a man!
But there lies the first problem. Dating apps have a superficial nature. You get to choose from looks, personality and many other things. I like to think that the canine enthusiast of my fantasies would have a bio that went something like this:
Meaningful connections only
An excellent cook and looking for a girl to share it all with.
Instant swipe right! And I did come across plenty of these, in many different variations. What I didn’t expect was the following:
1) Conversations that didn’t progress beyond “Hey”.
2) First dates that were mostly spent in awkward silence (and I am an EXCELLENT conversationalist).
3) Being ghosted or ignored after an average of 3 months of pure bliss.
4) Falling hopelessly in love and getting my heart dashed on the rocks after I found out he was getting engaged to someone else (true story).
The story of my colleague who found happiness through a swipe was one that I clung onto desperately, even in the depths of my heartache. But after introducing myself to someone new many, many times and after a number of disappointing dates, I was exposed to the harsh truth.
Dating apps don’t always mean happily ever after. They are also for one-night-stands, meaningless flings and hook-ups. Which is great if that is what you are after. But as a single girl living alone in Colombo, I received many raised eyebrows, double takes and subtle leers after revealing my presence on those apps. There’s also the question of safety. After all, you are off to meet a complete stranger; a circumstance that has often gone horribly wrong for an unfortunate few.
There is a stigma surrounding these apps in a country like Sri Lanka, that prevents anyone from finding a meaningful connection. Because how could you possibly tell your parents that you found the love of your life online? And so people take to these apps, looking for a little excitement (some even lying to get what they want) but too afraid of the possible formation of emotional attachment.
But dating apps really aren’t all that bad. They open up opportunities for those with social anxiety, people who express their feelings better in writing than through speech, making a connection possible, in an otherwise unlikely situation. Even if romance doesn’t work out, it still facilitates the meeting of many interesting people. Through the removal of romance from the equation, a lot of pressure wears off, leaving nothing in the way of forming a meaningful connection.
In a world where we do everything through apps, why not date too? You do find love or at the very least, a good friend. If not, it will always make for a funny story for the next time you are grabbing drinks with the pals.
Ever heard of the saying “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”? Looking back in retrospect, I find that this rings true throughout my search of romance that spanned over two years. And although I’ve long since deactivated those accounts, I still look forward to the stories of people meeting their significant other, whether it’s by locking eyes in a crowded room or through a bio of an online dating app.