This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA and is part of a wider editorial series, Coming Out and Falling In Love is about the queering of our relationships with others, and the self. This month, we look at Asian attitudes to sex and porn, dating in the digital era, experiences of LGBTQ communities, unconventional relationships and most importantly, self-love. Read similar stories here.
Honestly, who has time to meet new people IRL nowadays? While browsing on Tinder (or Grindr or Bumble) is usually very frustrating, it’s also by far the easiest way to date. With a glance of a profile, you can already tell if a person’s qualities fit your requirements. Not too old but not underage? Check. Compatible with your astrological sign? Cool. Must love dogs? Always. No matter how curated they are, these bios help get rid of the awkward silence you dread during the first date.
And they’re not just for hookups either; some people have actually met their life partners on these apps.
Despite this becoming a norm for millennial and Gen Z couples, boomers still can’t seem to get behind it. And here in Asia, where conservative parents still have a say on who you date and catfishing is seen as a real problem, many choose to conveniently leave out the fact that they met their S.O. online. Some come up with fake stories about their first encounter, while others don’t tell their parents at all.
Amanda, 25, Singapore
Amanda met her partner on Tinder in 2015 and they clicked in an instant. Five years later, they’re now set on marriage, but her family is still in the dark about their online origin story.
VICE: What was it like finding love on a dating app?
Amanda: Being on the app and just swiping was pretty fun in itself because this was back in 2014, when Tinder was really popular in Manila, where I was living at the time, and among friend groups. It was a way to meet people that you wouldn't have met in person but who you had mutual friends with.
There were just hundreds of people there at the time, so matching with someone I clicked with instantly was really lucky. We've been together five years already and it's still insane to think that we just met on a dating app.
How do you think this has affected your relationship?
Amanda: It hasn't, really. At first, we were kind of proud of how we met. We wouldn't feel embarrassed to tell friends the truth and they never would've guessed we met online because of how much we got along. But at this point in our relationship, it doesn't really matter anymore.
Why haven’t you told your parents about how you met your boyfriend?
Amanda: My parents are chill, in terms of personality, but also very old-fashioned, so I don't think they would approve of online dating apps. Basically, when my partner and I started dating, we came up with a "how we met" story that we could tell both our parents and other family members.
So what do you tell them instead?
Amanda: We told them we met at my brother's gig and got introduced by mutual friends.This is technically not far from the truth because that’s how we first met in person. I went with my brother to the gig and invited my now-S.O., thinking we could hang out there but, apparently, it was a private event, so we ended up staying at a McDonald's, drinking coffee and talking for two hours.
Do you think it's more of an issue with your parents or society, especially with Singapore being a very conservative country?
Amanda: I think maybe it's a generational thing too. Millennials obviously grew up with the internet and all that, so it was kind of easy for us to accept it, as compared to the older generations who had to meet everyone the old-fashioned way (aka in person). Also, there's that fear of "what if that person wasn't who they said they were?" which is understandable, especially with all the catfishing going on nowadays.
But yes, it's also because we live in a conservative society. Because when you think “dating app,” you immediately think “sex,” so I can see why my parents wouldn't approve of it.
Do you think this is something you could eventually tell them in the future?
Amanda: Probably. We've been joking that if we get married, we would reveal it during the reception like, "by the way, we met on a dating app called Tinder, not at a gig like we told you. Oops. Shots anyone?" I'm still kind of scared to tell them just because I would never hear the end of it, but I think my partner and I are at that point in our lives where we're kind of set on each other — I hope — and it wouldn't really matter how we met, as long as we love each other.
Syarifah, 28, Indonesia
Aside from facing the taboos of online dating, Syarifah also can’t tell her mom that she’s dating a girl, who she met on Tinder.
What was it like meeting your partner on a dating app?
Syarifah: We bumped into each other before meeting on Tinder but the app is where we chatted. My experience with the dating app started in 2017. Before that, I used conventional methods. I’m not the type of person that likes to text so I prefer meeting up with them.
How did your Tinder dates with different people usually go?
Syarifah: First, I ask if they’re comfortable to go out and if they say yes, then we go. I enjoy meeting a lot of people because I’m new to the queer community. I used to date guys, so with the app, I got to test the waters with this community and see how it worked out. It’s kind of exciting.
What’s online dating like as a member of the LGBTQ community?
Syarifah: My work environment and friends are usually all straight but I’ve always been bi-curious. I’ve always known that I fancy the same sex but it’s been a long journey for me to realise that I wanted to be emotionally attached to someone of the same sex. I wanted to know about the culture too and who was in it.
So with the app, I was able to get into this new world. It has been really effective for me. Now, I’m more confident in approaching members of the queer community, unlike before when I was always unsure.
How do you think meeting online has affected your relationship with your current girlfriend?
Syarifah: It’s pretty much the same (compared to conventional dating); it was just a tool to meet new people.
How is your relationship doing now?
Syarifah: We’re pretty much monogamous now and have returned to being a ‘normal’ couple. It was much different at the beginning because my girlfriend was in an open relationship when she matched with me online, but we’ve since deleted the app after committing.
Have you told your parents about your girlfriend?
Syarifah: No, I haven’t. My family is a traditional Muslim family, and they lean towards the side of homophobic. I don’t want to start any issue regarding my sexuality or how I met my partner.
What do you tell your parents instead?
Syarifah: I have a sister who’s older and hasn’t married yet so they aren’t really rushing me. I’m closeted, so I just tell them I’m single.
Do you think you can eventually tell your parents about your girlfriend and how you met?
Syarifah: I’m not sure because I don’t find it necessary to marry either, even if I were straight, so I don’t see the need to tell them. They’ve always known me to be single. For now, I don’t think there will be any problem but in the future, maybe. Of course, asking about marriage is something they will do, but I can always answer their questions so it’s no big deal.
What do you think your family would do if they found out?
Syarifah: I’m out to my friends but not my family, so I feel comfortable taking her out with them. I’d like to think I’m more comfortable now in this relationship, but I think my mom would be furious — she’s a real matriarch. My father has passed away and we’re all girls.
She would probably kick me out, but I would like to think she couldn’t. She’s really tough but I know she’s kind. She might ask me to call off the relationship and perhaps marry me off. Although I think she could be open to talking about it and understanding, her first reaction will probably be very furious.
Arianne initially used Bumble for hook-ups but eventually found a partner. She isn’t pressured to marry but her parents are worried about her dating life because they think she’s too young.
What was it like meeting your boyfriend on a dating app as a teenager?
Arianne: It was like dating for dummies. There was no need to agonisingly overthink, “do they like me?” because if they’re in your matches, there’s a good chance they already do.
Are you comfortable sharing how you met with your peers?
Arianne: It’s a fun couple story to tell to weed out which of your friends is most outdated.
What have you told your parents about how you met your boyfriend?
Arianne: Telling them I had a boyfriend was the first challenge. Then, I said we met at a gig. They don’t ask anything past that because I think that would be weirdly suspicious and intrusive of them if they did. We’re not that close but they are very strict. They always need to know where I am, so I usually cover that up too.
Do you think this is something you could eventually tell them in the future?
Arianne: Never. Their judgy, judgy eyes — they scare me.
Having strict parents who watch over you a lot, have they been suspicious about how you met your boyfriend?
Arianne: The only people who know are those I used in our cover story, so whenever they question them about the gig where we supposedly met, they can state actual facts about it (the gig) so it sounds real enough.
Do you think it's more of an issue with your parents or society?
Arianne: I would say it’s definitely a society or ideals thing, because they (parents) already judge me for dating at my age.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.