Dating in Bangladesh is no easy task. The lack of activities, social restrictions, lack of familiarity between the sexes, the 2-degrees of fraternity between everyone, the moral police in parks, and of course the traffic, are all definite setbacks. Do any of these barriers translate into the digital dating playground? A cousin is still a cousin, and a married man is no less married on Tinder, but does dating-tech make it easier to find love in a city that is brimming with lonely people tucked away into social norms?
THE ECONOMICS OF LOVE
The basic idea of the Sexual Economics theory is that sex is a female-controlled commodity that is used to buy non-sexual materials from men. The rate is set by the attractiveness of the women, and while the exchange is not money directly, it can come in the form of access, status, favours and gifts. “Women’s emancipation reduces the price of sex because educational opportunities and paid employment give women other avenues to provide for their needs. The model predicts that the price of sex is higher in traditional societies, where women are shut out of political and economic life”, writes Kristen R. Ghodsee in Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism.
In Bangladesh, the price of sex for the majority of the heterosexual population is set pretty high at marriage. We use the word sex here loosely to mean anything from an intimate emotional commitment to intercourse. However, for a small, but growing number of women and men in urban centres, sex is becoming more accessible via dating tech.
Five years since Tinder entered Bangladesh, there are plenty of stories- good, bad and ugly. These are the awkward teenage years where all interactions between the sexes are marred by misunderstanding and anxiety. There are endless ridiculous profiles, scams, sex, wrong swipes, and, of course, love. It is by far not perfect, but human interactions rarely are.
Here are just a few stories of Dhaka Tinder Nights….
Thrust into Tinder by his friends, Bhaia was compelled to stay on by all the unusual things that kept happening. In his early days of Tinder, he literally matched with the Doitto from Alif Laila. Unfortunately Ms.Doitto didn’t seem to be too keen and didn’t respond to his casual “Hi”. What attracted him to swipe right? “You just don’t swipe left on Alif Laila’s Doitto”. Fair enough.
This was not the first instance of identity swap that he encountered while using the app. Another match turned out to be more talkative, but a completely different gender. From the first “hi”, the girl was open about the fact the she was, in fact, a guy who liked to cross-dress. Our protagonist applauded her courage and in turn received a “Thank you Bhaia” sending him into the dreaded Bhaiazone.
Some Tinder interactions will forever be a mystery, like the time he matched with a girl and she asked him how long he had been single. When Bhaia replied that it was about a year, she unmatched him. What the right answer for her was, we will never know.
These and other encounters have pushed Bhaia into the realisation that “Tinder in Dhaka might be a bit broken”. Some popular misconceptions are that Tinder is solely a hook-up app, and it somehow lowers your social values; when in fact it is what you make it. What surprises him is how few professionals from the advertising industry are on the app. Perhaps there is a demand for some specialised industry-focused dating apps here.
“There is a lot of stuff you have to ignore. I went through maybe a million left swipes before, I matched with my fiancé”. Knowing what you want is rule # 1 to matching on or off-line. Rule #2 is communicating it clearly. PrudentSwiper followed both rules, stating clearly in her Tinder bio that her goal was marriage. No casual hook-ups, no aimless flirtation.
Back in 2016 Tinder showed the Facebook friends you have in common with your match, bringing up a map of social connections chockablock with history. In one sense this was a safeguard, to prevent Dirty John’s and serial-gold-diggers. In another, it made the pond seem even smaller. For PrudentSwiper it meant she could cross-check.
So the story goes that one autumn day PrudentSwiper swiped right, scanned the friend list, and started a conversation that, for once, had flow. Fast-forward to a few years later, she said ‘YES’ and they are now living happily ever after. “It wasn’t easy. Like all couples we had our mad differences and people obviously judged that I met a guy on Tinder and was so open about it. But it worked for me. And I told others about it and encouraged them, and it worked for them too! Just putting yourself out there is the scary part. The rest you can control. There are a lot of creeps out there. You need to know how to handle it. Just set some boundaries and rules and you are good to go.”
Did her parents know she used Tinder to meet her husband-to-be?
“My mom thinks it’s a modern version of shaadi.com”
Have you ever wondered what Tinder is like for foreigners living in Bangladesh? A blur of misconceptions, judging by Bideshi’s experience. At first she was pleasantly surprised to learn that here she is a perfect 10; all her right swipes were matches. “Suddenly, my paleness was hot. It initially felt exciting,” she recalls, immediately following it up with, “Soon I realised…it was not.”
One first date stands out in particular. It started off on the wrong foot when he showed up in sweat pants. Conversation was forced, an exchange of information. Bideshi was ready to say bye and move on, but her date had other ideas. He invited her to come meet up with a friend of his, a powerful ‘senior’ in the Army. As fun as that sounded, she said she was busy. This he took as an invitation, and said he will join in half an hour at her house. Bideshi is British, and had no qualms being politely firm in telling him that she was not comfortable telling him her address. He then asked to drop her. She said she had a bike. He said it would fit in his car. She said NO THANK YOU for the umpteenth time. At which point he cut to the chase.
“So we’re not sleeping together?”
“What about tomorrow?”
“I don’t think so.”
When she rode away on her bike she came to realise the guy was following her! And for once, traffic came to the rescue. He got stuck, and she cycled away, taking the long way home.
The next date confirmed her theory that “most Bengali men think I am promiscuous because I am foreign”. This time she met her match at a coffee shop. She was dressed in slim-fit jeans which, she suspects, could have triggered the crazy in him, because halfway through the date he inexplicably leaned forward to say “I bet you’re really filthy in bed”. She thought she misheard him, and he was glad to repeat it. Needless to say, he never found out. Bideshi took the long way home that day too.
The swipe that broke the camel’s back was when a previous date that she had friendzoned came by to pick up a book and tried to forcibly kiss her. “I stopped using Tinder then…it was safer that way”.
RiskiMan, a former Tinder user, explains why he stopped completely.
On one of his Tinder dates, RiskiMan had to wait for nearly two hours before his date arrived. They had agreed to meet at a coffee place, but right after she finally got there, she wanted to go get pizza. “She ended up ordering the most expensive one,” he reveals. By this point RiskiMan had realised that she was actually a freeloader. Later he found out the same girl went out with a friend of his, and had him book a resort in Gazipur. “That’s just her way around in life, I guess.”
Despite several pitfalls and ‘casual encounters’ of the physical kind, he has made more friends than lovers on Tinder. One right swipe romance ended with him donating blood in the middle of the night, never to see the girl again (she is fine). Another, with an abrupt SMS along the lines of “I am moving to the USA and I don’t need you anymore…”
He met his current girlfriend the old-fashioned sit-com way, in a coffee shop. No swiping, no matching. Looking back, Tinder does not make him feel good inside.
“Nah, it’s terrible. You end up pretty much seeing the same people you grew up around if you are from the city, and it can get awkward in a society like ours. Given hookup culture isn’t a big thing here yet, you kinda look like a loser being there looking for someone”.
He also felt that swiping made him respect girls and himself a little bit less. It allowed him to be someone he did not imagine he could be. Perhaps the price of sex dropped so low it felt cheap.
“When you can literally swipe left on someone if you want to, that’s a lot of power and it boosts your ego the wrong way…”
At her age range (35-50) TinderVeteran says the most annoying group of users are the married men confusing Tinder for Ashley Madison, the online married hook-up platform. She was smart in her vetting-process, saving herself from groan-worthy awkward experiences. The most uncomfortable thing about Tinder-ing in Dhaka is that the “I Saw You On Tinder” thing happens a lot. The process goes as follows:
First, she looks for nice guys in the area (3 km radius). Then the photos they choose to put up “Body shots, or ab shots make me think the guy is just interested in sex. Pics of their cars and watches are gross. Pics/extensive discussion of alcohol or pot are red flags,” she follows this up by saying, “I’m not against that stuff in general, but if that’s a defining feature, that guy is probably an addict”.
She also checks for pictures of other women on his profile. Regardless of whether it is someone’s sister or just a friend, a picture with just another woman just shows bad communication skill. Although, always being quick to judge can result in missed connections. “There was one guy who had lots of pics with modelesque girls, but he wasn’t being sleazy in them so I swiped right. Turned out he MC-ed fashion shows and events as a hobby. So there are exceptions”.
After the initial evaluation, she moves on to the details. She swipes left if someone doesn’t live here, saying, “I don’t want to be someone’s vacation fling.”
“Messages need to be energetic,” she says. This weeds out the apathetic or unenthusiastic people, because where is the fun in dating someone who isn’t excited during the very first conversation? Another red flag is if the Tinder match freaks out if the responses do not come quick enough. Everyone has their own online communication pace, and it is important to be considerate of that.
A common thing to happen in Dhaka’s small dating pool is girlfriends matching with the same guy. Here too TinderVeteran has a rule – The Chinese Wall. They don’t share details of the dates, and don’t tell the guy that they know. “We let nature run its course, my friendships are more important to me than some guy I barely know.”
She still uses Tinder to navigate through the dating scene in Dhaka. “It’s just easier to find people. When I was younger, the old fashioned way was the easy way because most people were single. Now, most people in my social circle are married, so I have to be more careful who I start flirting with / allow to flirt with me. So where am I supposed to meet people? I really miss the feature on Tinder that showed common friends. My favourite way to meet people is still being set up by friends. But Tinder allows me to expand beyond that circle, and also to find older men, which is what I prefer. Older men are gentlemen, even on Tinder. Even though the younger guys are hotter… especially these days now that everyone works out”.
Age and occupation can make dating IRL challenging. For those of us stuck behind computer screens for long hours, meeting people is only possible virtually. An architect and designer in his early 30’s, ProSwiper spends most of his time on the computer and doesn’t get to socialise much.
He was one of the first people to sign up when Tinder showed up to Dhaka in 2015, seizing the opportunity to socialise. The appeal of the app for him was to minimise the small-talk and get to know people. Tinder cuts out the “farming” stage, as the first encounter flirting stage is called in local slang. He became such a loyal user that Tinder actually offered him a job through the app, which he had to turn down because of work and school. Perhaps the app detected that he is one of the few users who understand the purpose and etiquette of the platform, because the Dhaka the Tinder scene is weird and not “normalised” like elsewhere.
The main purpose of the app is “Accepting yourself and your needs as a human being – to be social, to need company“.
This basic need is something people struggle with, leading to fake profiles, people who pretend that they aren’t on Tinder, or strange, subverted interactions.
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