We Found Friends in a Hopeless Place

Pop Culture

We Found Friends in a Hopeless Place

Illustration: Shivali Devalkar/Arré

When I decided to swipe into the world of Tinder, my ears sang with the alarm bells that went off in my friends’ circle. Advice on how to avoid trauma, poured in from all quarters. Cautionary tales were vended out with alarming regularity at hangouts with girlfriends.

“One guy fat-shamed me,” a friend said. Another one complained, “I didn’t feel a spark with this Tinder chap I met. He kept trying to kiss me after I told him I’m not interested. Why can’t men take ‘no’ for an answer?”

I thought I knew what to expect of the app, and with my expectations suitably tempered, I proceeded to swipe right and left – but mostly left. A year ago, I could not have imagined that a platform known for hook-ups and engendering shallow entanglements at best, would actually yield fabulous company, cherished friends, and a wave of wonderful men I’ve laughed with and loved. Yes, I am the fabled 0.1 percent of the Indian Tinder sisterhood with only pleasant experiences off the app.

I had a few fun tales to contribute to Induviduality, a project to illustrate crowdsourced Tinder tales. One is about my rendezvous with Aniruddh*.

One of the first conversations I had on Tinder was also one of the most intense. We were texting away for nights on end, the terrible UI notwithstanding. When I met Aniruddh the first time, we decided to meet at Starbucks for a quick hot chocolate. I frowned.

“Seriously? Starbucks?”

“Hot chocolate and run,” he replied.

I went with it but we never ran. We were as immersed in conversation in person as we were on text. We gave the barista mythological names for our order. I’m unlikely to forget the moment when the barista yelled, “A GRANDE HOT CHOCOLATE WITH WHIPPED CREAM FOR DURYODHAN!” Our laughter was too unbearable for the corporate folks around us and we exited, two very happy people. We never apologised to the barista.

Another time, I went for dinner with a guy who turned out to be a gentleman after my own heart. I’m thoroughly discomfited at having to fight over the bill at the end of a good evening. I wanted to pay and as I reached for the bill, I saw said gentleman move to stop me, but deciding against it. Instead, he waited until it was in my hand, leaned in, and asked politely, “I’d really like to pay for tonight. Will you be alright with that?”

I’ve been on so many dates where what I wanted has been bulldozed. Men have just yanked the bill out of my hands, telling me – in a sometimes shrilly, sometimes coaxing tone – that they would take care of it. This gentleman, on the other hand, had involved me in the decision without being overbearing. I hadn’t realised until the end of the meal, that I’d had dinner with a true feminist.

I didn’t join Tinder expecting to be overwhelmed. But overwhelmed I was, when I met Benjamin. He was sweating bullets at the bistro where we first met. I sensed his social anxiety and tried to do most of the talking myself. Slowly, his bullets slowed down and the monosyllables showed themselves out. Before we knew it, we were yapping away about Radiohead. He’s far from a fan and I worship the ground the band walks on. But we had a lovely conversation about our differences.

A month later, Benjamin moved to London. Soon after, I received a package. In it was the deluxe vinyl edition of the Radiohead album A Moon Shaped Pool, accompanied by a note from Benjamin. An hour of shock and blinding tears later, I calmed down enough to question what I had done to warrant this priceless, thoughtful gesture from a person with whom I didn’t make it past the fourth date.

Did my shock stem from my cynicism of Tinder? Had I overlooked the possibility of a sincere moment in my blanket dismissal of the platform?

For me at least, Tinder has been a doorway to entirely new friends’ circles. Not only have I remained friends with everyone I have dated, I have also managed to infiltrate the extended groups of those people.

As it turns out, the 0.1 percent of the Tinder sisterhood is not as tiny a margin as I’d imagined it to be. As recounted on #100TinderTales, Tinder, for many women, has become an opportunity to explore their sexuality, test moral borders, overcome personal limitations, be more sexually forthcoming and even deal with mental illnesses. The unquestionable takeaway from every story is that women are using the app to voice themselves as sexual beings and not sexualised ones.

But for some of us, the app goes beyond being a platform for hook-ups or short-term casual dating. For me at least, Tinder has been a doorway to entirely new friends’ circles. Not only have I remained friends with everyone I have dated, I have also managed to infiltrate the extended groups of those people. One guy opened his people up to me and to my surprise, I found we were of the same ilk. If I hadn’t had tequila shots in pyjamas at his house party, I doubt I’d have been able to count a few of his friends among my confidantes today.

Most women I meet are downright shocked to learn of my sunshine experiences, which is a reflection of how uncommon it is for a lot of sexually forthcoming women to be at the receiving end of decency and respect, without having to demand either. A male friend recounted this one time when a girl came over to his place and sent her GPS location to her friends back home, “just in case”. The five layers of caution we apply before and during a date is exhausting.

So I must be especially lucky. But if luck was involved in introducing me to wonderful people, there was certainly effort involved in turning those fleeting encounters into solid friendships, with or without the intention of them lasting. Not all men (the only context where I don’t hate those three words) have crossed the acquaintance threshold, but I count many among my friends and a couple in the Brady Bunch.

I haven’t quite figured it out and maybe my views will change with time. But I do think that once the tension and awkward dance of desire is passed (whether or not you end up having sex) there is an opportunity for a fulfilling relationship. One Tinder guy and I struck up a professional rapport after the second date. We now continue to exchange notes in musical writing.

Even in a landscape of shallow connections, there is potential to harbour relationships with meaning, whatever their nature. These are diamonds in the rough, and just as with real ones, they need to be honed – with time and a little bit of love.

* Names have been changed to protect privacy.