Dating in India – Is it finally happening?

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“Yeah that’s right. Don’t let your parents arrange your marriage. Don’t let your auntie/cousin create your matrimonial profile. How on earth am I supposed to get married if I happen to have not been lucky enough to just run into my soul mate accidentally??”

My vehement advocacy of freedom of choosing one’s life partner has landed me in trouble not once, not twice, but several times. To be frank, I kinda don’t mind.

But this was serious. My follower-cum-friend T wanted a real solution to a real problem: What about those who don’t “accidentally” find someone to fall in love with?

“Well, that’s why we have dating.” I offer, as we sip coffee together on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Separated by a few thousand miles. Typing away fiercely.

“Which doesn’t exist in India. Let’s be honest.”

Dating … What?

Well…er…right. Indians do marry for love. But these matches are usually based on people “accidentally” finding each other through work/school/mutual friends and relatives. No nonsense, goal-driven dating is still rare.

“But what about online dating?”

“You try it. The profiles are mostly either fake or of sickos looking for new ways to get off.”

“You’re right. I would probably not go out on a “date” with a guy I didn’t already know and/or like,” I was thinking aloud. “You can’t really trust people you don’t know.”

“See?” I could almost see the look of huffed triumph on T’s face.

The conversation stuck with me. Indian girls are simply put off by online dating. Strange men are usually seen as sources of potential danger in our culture, and for good reason. So what are the options of the young, urban(ized), upwardly mobile singles who’re bored of matrimonial websites and are ready to write the Indian Dating Story?

I did my research. I was surprised to find how many Indian dating portals and apps exist. While each was unique in its own cool ways, none of these apps answered my basic question: Am I sure I’m not wasting my time?

In other words, how sure am I of the quality of the member community?

One of the apps which stood out is called Woo – A cool mobile meeting platform for interesting, young, progressive singles.

Keeping it real

So what’s Woo’s answer to my question? And why is it special?

The answer is simple – a flat rejection of my sign up request. And it’s special because it irked me and wowed me at the same time.

What characterizes Woo is its commitment to keeping things real – creating opportunities for you to find a person you can actually go out on a date with. The platform intends to actively discourage “casual” flirting and thrill-seeking by people not looking for a serious relationship. For starters, when you try to sign up it screens your Facebook profile to check if you’re married or in a relationship, and politely declines to have you on board if you are. Woo rejects a substantial proportion of the sign up requests that it gets. It calls itself a “curated community” of real singles, looking for a real connection.

But being single on Facebook isn’t your sure-fire ticket on to Woo-land.

Woo auto-creates your profile photo album from Facebook.

Woo pulls in what you do for a living from Linkedin.

It even auto-populates your interests (in the form of pages you subscribe to) from Facebook.

That’s how real your Woo avatar would be once you’re past the sign up stage.

Woo

This approach isn’t free of its glitches though. I, like most of you, subscribe to many pages on Facebook, without giving a lot of thought to it. Like humour pages, friend’s photography pages etc. Woo picks two pages out of those under “interests” and shows it to one’s matches, which may not at all be representative of one’s actual interests. (In my case “Neha G Photography” showed up as one of these two. What the ….?)

However, the bottom line remains – no faking customizing of interests in order to attract people you like. No “enhanced” profile pictures for dating purposes. No padded up resume. Just the real you. That’s all you get to bring on to Woo.

Liar liar…

Between you and me – the rejection didn’t feel great. That ensured I was all the more curious to find out what exactly Woo offered me in return for demanding such high standards of authenticity.

Here’s what I did. I signed up through the Facebook profile of a single friend. :D

First surprise after you’re past the profile creation stage – it’s telling you to turn on your GPS.

Woo

My GPS?? I almost checked again to make sure I was not on Google Maps.

This was wow. This was truly unique. In keeping with Woo’s commitment to “keeping it real”, it gives you match suggestions of people only in the same city as you – people you can date in the real world. True to its principle of accepting nothing but the truth, Woo doesn’t trust you with disclosing your true location. It would rather believe your GPS.

Woo sometimes takes this mistrust of its users to a pesky level. For example, you can’t write what you want about yourself in the “About me” section. Users are allowed only to pick from a list of pre-defined adjectives which describe them, such as “wanderer”, “music maven” etc. Trolling-proof as they may be, standardized interests for everyone with no scope for expressing oneself freely takes a whole lot of the fun out of a dating app.

The final move

When it comes to match suggestions, Woo takes into account your mutual friends on Facebook, which increases credibility. If you like someone and are too shy to just kick it off by sending them a message, you can even ask mutual friends to introduce you.

You can open up a chat only if the attraction is mutual, i.e. if you confirm that you like someone and they return the favour. That takes care of spam. As a further measure against spamming, Woo also lets you “hide” your profile from being displayed publicly, if you want use the app to chat only with your existing matches.

Woo

You can continue to chat on Woo’s plush red-and-wood themed IM platform till you’re comfortable to take things to real life. (Oh btw, Woo’s Indianized humour emoticons are the coolest I’ve EVER used. And that includes Facebook. And Whatsapp.)

Woo

So if you’re a young adult, out there looking for a real relationship, Woo might just be your perfect start. If you’re a woman, with the whole suite of security tools from anti-stalking to anti-spam features, this is also one of the safest it’s going to get on a dating app.

Real matches. The real you. A real connection.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post.