Earlier this year in January, Samarth Bhalla, a 24-year-old marketing professional from New Delhi, had barely landed in Goa for a month-long staycation when he got into an unexpected motorbike accident. His knees got scraped, while his friend who was riding the bike needed to get stitches on his chin. Since Bhalla was new in town, he wasn’t sure what to do or who to go to. “The hospital we found turned out to be shady and didn’t do a great job of dressing our wounds,” he told VICE. “Then, I began swiping on Bumble and matched with a girl. I normally wouldn’t have swiped right on her because she wasn’t my type, but I noticed her bio said she was a doctor. While chatting, I told her we were hurt and asked if she wanted to come hang out with us. The next thing we know, she has gone to the pharmacy, bought ointments and bandages, and come over to properly dress our wounds. And we didn’t even have to pay her!”
As dating apps continue to offer solace to young singles struck by the loneliness 2020 left behind, their usage is evolving. Many users on these apps are no longer just swiping right to find someone to pay for a nice meal or even chance upon other horny singles using the app for its true purpose (aka sex).
There’s a significant shift towards dating apps emerging as the ultimate networking platforms, allowing users to access a prolific playground of people to match different purposes, much of which can be attributed to the aftermath of life transitioning from the trappings of quarantine dating to a brave, new world.
“Since shoots are still fairly restricted, it’s becoming important to build portfolios of potential models or real people we can cast within a city’s limits,” Sanam Soni*, a 32-year-old casting producer for an agency based in Mumbai, told VICE. “Dating apps, which allow you to set specific locations, have been incredibly helpful to find them.” Since August last year, Soni has been scouting for talent across Bumble, Tinder, Hinge and Grindr to find people who fit the profile his clients demand. “It’s not just convenient in terms of location. People will usually list out their interests and skills on dating apps, as well as post their best photos. So purely in terms of research, it’s a huge hack.”
While these apps have been hosts for parasitic serial networkers for years, there’s a renewed interest in people using features like the bio (which is basically just an abbreviated CV for most people) and location settings to find people that fit the bill.
Even Bhalla, who has been using dating apps for the last two years, reports an increase in people contacting him for reasons beyond going out on a date. “Initially, I saw dating apps just as a way to find people to hook up with,” he said. “Now, it’s become a larger way to network and meet interesting people, especially if I’m travelling to a new city. Last week, a girl I matched with told me she wasn’t here to date, but was actually the marketing manager of a streetwear brand and wanted me to get involved in a shoot for a reputed magazine. So even professionally, it’s become a great place to be seen.”
While many dating app users have experienced a tangible shift in other app users connecting with them to make professional offers, some are even turning to dating apps for recreational purposes.
“I travelled from Pune to Goa to party at a psytrance music festival in February, but my usual dealer in Goa wasn’t responding to me, and suddenly I was left with no party favours,” Anushka Sharma*, a 21-year-old student, told VICE. “I asked my friends if they could help me score some hash and MDMA, but no one was able to help. Then, I matched with this guy on a dating app, whose bio said ‘420 friendly’, and asked him if he had a plug. He helped connect me to his dealer, and within the next hour, I had what I needed.”
In fact, as lockdowns and crackdowns pushed drug dealers into a downer phase, many of them tried to bounce back by venturing into the relatively untapped market of dating apps. Last October, police in Chennai even busted a drug network operating through a dating app targeted at queer people, to sell methamphetamine.
Sharma herself was inspired to head to dating apps to score after a friend told her she’d connected with a weed dealer on Hinge last November. So, even though she’d been largely inactive on the apps for most of 2020, she checked in once again as a desperate last effort to score. “More often than not, though, the people who would say they are dealers in their bios may be spam or phishing accounts,” she warned. “If you want to use a dating app to score drugs, I’d recommend you use it to match with someone who can give you their dealer’s number instead.”
For Sharma, and probably many others, dating apps have become a one-stop shop for finding things they wouldn’t be able to dig up on the internet. “One of the guys I matched with ended up having guest list access to a secret beach party during my trip,” Sharma said. “We never hooked up because I didn’t find him attractive, but this is something I could've never done by sliding into someone’s DMs. When you hit up people on social media, you have no guarantee they’ll respond. But on an app, people are there to talk or meet new people anyway.”
In a world that is slowly inching towards normalcy, the absurd reality is that nothing is what it seems anymore. And as lockdowns taught people to embrace the art of innovation, many migrated to platforms like dating apps, especially local ones that serviced specific areas or communities, to circumvent social media’s gaping privacy concerns.
Dating apps became especially important for protestors, allowing them to match with like-minded people in an attempt to mobilise them. Even back in 2019, apps like Tinder were essential in assisting Hong Kong’s student protestors to organise people for a common purpose, especially since most users explicitly mention their political inclinations on their dating profiles. In 2021, dating apps evolved into a way for residents in Washington D.C. to identify and report right-wing extremists who were involved in storming the Capitol, often even identifying them through photos of them clad in MAGA tees.
What sets dating apart from social media is that despite the common cases of catfishing, wokefishing, and fishing for answers from that person who ghosted you, people are usually unafraid to publicly display their opinions or lifestyles, even if it’s so they can find someone else who feels the same way or will at least be willing to work it out in the bedroom. Other times, it’s so they can just find someone to work out with.
“I needed a gym buddy, and I wanted to vet them properly before I confirmed anything,” Saili Desai, 25, a Delhi-based business professional, told VICE. For Desai, the ability to chat with a stranger and establish a boundary before giving them her details, serves as a major advantage. “There are also apps that help you find workout buddies, but most people in the circles I’m looking for wouldn’t be on them. Dating apps, on the other hand, are so universal that you have a higher chance of finding someone from your community or social circle.”