The Lost Art of Meeting People

Love and Sex

The Lost Art of Meeting People

Illustration: Shivali Devalkar / Arré

I

fought a wave of depression the day I downloaded Tinder. I felt defeated even before I had started using the dating app. To me, Tinder was where the degenerates and losers congregated. It signalled a personal failure.

My attempts at driving a romance the old-school way had nose-dived spectacularly. Friends had been unable to set me up with anyone, in a world where friend circles are shrinking, friends with benefits are increasing, and everyone comes with baggage and backstories that are complicated.

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So I chose instead to download Tinder and bemoan the end of old-school romance and the cheapening of human existence, as we swipe right or left based on carefully curated selfies and a bio that may or may not reflect the person’s true identity. I was ready to play this contemptible game where the steady stream of players allows for very little mercy and fewer second chances. Even though my heart was not in it, I knew that in an age of immense loneliness, Tinder is awfully convenient.

Imagine coming back home at the end of the day, tired to the bone. The TV showing nothing interesting besides reruns of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. You let your dinner go cold, and just as Phoebe explains to the gang what finding your lobster is like, it hits you – you’re very far from finding your lobster. Or even a crustacean you can temporarily lock claws with.

For me, as for a whole lot of people, it’s that undeniable sense of loneliness that drives us to download dating apps. What better way to find instant company?

We routinely refuse to engage with people we meet in our daily lives, complain about being lonely, and then make no substantial efforts to dispel this loneliness.

As a generation that depends on its apps for everything from movies to food to fitness, it was only a matter of time before we started ordering in love. Who wants human interaction when ordering a plate of biryani? We’ve come to a point in human evolution when we seek the very thing we deny. A cocktail of avoidant behaviours afflicts us.

Even as we look for affection in an endless pool of online strangers, we find ourselves averting a friendly gaze on the local train, or refusing to make conversation with the amiable general store manager in our neighbourhood. We routinely refuse to engage with people we meet in our daily lives, complain about being lonely, and then make no substantial efforts to dispel this loneliness. Instead, we attempt to fill this strange void by simply swiping away.

I’m just as guilty. My phone had been buzzing incessantly for at least an hour last Saturday. An old friend was back in town, and she wanted to meet. “U free at 6?” read her message. I would be. However, the thought of dragging myself out of bed and taking a shower, to eventually have a tedious conversation about what we’ve been up to in the last few years, discouraged me. (Hey, don’t pretend like you haven’t done this too.)

Yet in hindsight, I find myself riddled with regret for not making that effort. At worst, it would have been a dull schmooze. But at best it could have helped allay my growing isolation.

It’s as though our generation has forgotten how to do this “meet and greet” thing. We’re perpetually exhausted in social interactions, settling for online friendships because they’re far less taxing. Unless, we’re propelled into a situation that compels us to pursue new friendships, we don’t see ourselves taking that important step out of the digital space.

The existence of dating apps like Tinder is perhaps one of the most awkward things I’ve ever had to explain to my mother. For someone who met her to-be husband when he moved in as her next-door neighbour, the concept of dating someone you’d first met on the internet seems absurd. But things aren’t that easy for everyone, mum. People just aren’t conveniently hanging around when you need them, and serendipity only happens in movies starring John Cusack.

The rest of us have lost the art of striking up meandering conversations on the fly. We no longer know how to buy an attractive person a drink. And we no longer have the guts to walk up and take our chance without knowing for certain that the person we are walking up to will also swipe right on us. We have turned into social savants who may find themselves at a hot party with many available singles – but who will not have the faintest clue on how to proceed.

Even after telling myself that it’s only temporary, I’ve returned to the app, time and again, swiping left, right, and centre and acknowledging that we are a generation of cowards, hiding behind our phones.

We’ve got to realise though, that one has to take the trust fall, again and again and again. It’s exhausting and terrifying and a lot of work until we finally find the one. For everyone else, there’s a plethora of cats to adopt.

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