The Lure of Vicarious Dating for Committed Couples

Love and Sex

The Lure of Vicarious Dating for Committed Couples

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Five years ago, I stumbled headfirst into the longest relationship I’ve ever had. It was an eye-opening experience. On the cusp of my twenties, after going through the usual teenage grind of school crushes and college girlfriends, I ended up with a person that I could actually see a future with. But this isn’t a sappy love story about how I found “The One”. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s about how finding “The One” made me a stranger to the love lives of my friends.

Here’s the thing: healthy, long-term, committed relationships come with many benefits like backrubs and care packages, but the one area in which they’re sorely lacking is novelty. As the heady rush of your first few weeks together settles into a stable holding pattern, the uneventfulness of it all adds up. You realise that you’re out of the dating pool for the foreseeable future, and that’s when you begin what I now like to call “vicarious dating.”

Vicarious dating is the nomenclature I settled for while reflecting upon why I felt the need to force my single friend to download Tinder on his phone. I coined the term to identify a behaviour I had seen not only in myself, but also in my fellow long-term relationship committed brethren. For some reason, once a relationship crosses the two-year milestone, the people in it become love gurus to rival Cupid himself. By virtue of the fact that our partners have managed put up with all of our shit for so long, we anoint ourselves the Masters of Love, Sex and Relationships despite having no training whatsoever. Now, we begin freely dispensing advice and coaching our single friends in how to remedy their loneliness. While we might say we’re doing it because we want to see our friends happy, the truth is that we feel like we still have so much to offer the dating world. Because you see, we’re the ones who got it right.

Vicarious dating begins with the act of flexing long unused seduction muscles to find a mate not for yourself, but for somebody else. The first time I realised my girlfriend and I were both practising vicarious dating was when we got home together after running into a former classmate and her new boyfriend. As we dissected our encounter, the boyfriend became the subject of more rigorous and unforgiving judging than any ROADIES contestant ever.

“He bums too many cigarettes.”

“She’s so out of his league they’re playing different sports.”

“That man-bun looks like his barber has a grudge against him.”

Every aspect of his personality, no matter how petty or significant, became fodder for our discussion. After weighing and measuring our friend’s suitor, the discussion turned to other single people we knew who could fill in as viable alternatives to Mr Man-bun. The whole affair snowballed into us trying to orchestrate a meeting between our two chosen lovebirds. It was quite ridiculous; we didn’t know whether our friend was happy or not in her relationship. We were playing matchmaker for our own sakes, and not for the first time.

In a world of Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Woo, OKCupid, and who knows what else, it’s OK to feel a little FOMO at having settled down before the big online dating revolution.

Vicarious dating is addictive because it operates on many levels. There is the Beginner level where we’re simply swiping through Tinder for a friend or egging them on to go up and say hello to the person they’ve been checking out at the gym. Then comes the Intermediate level, where we coach our protégés in the art of the chase. This involves composing replies to texts from the object of their affection, and other nuggets of wisdom like the best place for a first date and icebreakers to help conversation on said first date. The final level, Expert, is reached only when our test subject has managed to woo their paramour, and is now navigating the tricky waters of a new relationship. Here, we miss no opportunity to tout how our long-running relationship is a blueprint to couple’s paradise, of which we are the gatekeepers. We think our relationship advice is more valuable than Will Smith’s in Hitch (or Sallu in Partner, if you prefer), and dole it out liberally.

Why do we do it? Sometimes you’re happy in your relationship, but still miss the excitement of meeting someone new. It’s a natural response to the lingering “What If?” questions that start to sprout up once the reality of being with the same person permanently dawns on you. A huge benefit of vicarious dating is its consequence-free nature. Setting up dates is fun; actually going on dates is exhausting. When you’re vicarious dating, you never have to go through the ordeal of sitting through a nightmare date. Instead of a hellish first-hand experience, you get a hilarious story about that time your friend had to endure a “romantic dinner with cake” at a Monginis outlet. There’s also twin benefit to vicarious dating. When it goes well, you get to claim credit for the new couple’s union, and when it goes badly, you’re reminded that the dating pool is mostly full of piss and are vindicated in your choice of partner.

In a world of Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Woo, OKCupid, and fuck knows what else, it’s OK to feel a little FOMO at having settled down before the big online dating revolution. I’m here to tell you that this doesn’t mean you need to find a new partner to replace the one who’s been with you for so long even though you fart in your sleep. Cheating is so 2016, and polyamory is so 2017. Why not try vicarious dating instead?