Click. View. Match: Looking for real love in a virtual world
In the anonymity and the possibilities of connections, people manage to bare their soul to strangers; which, at times, blooms into lifelong associations.
Computer algorithms have eased our lives. We find jobs, book travel tickets without needing to stand in long queues, we even find a house for rent online. It’s taken away the need to interact in person with another human being. That saves a considerable amount of time, and energy which is exactly what we need.
Ask someone who's lost her way in a strange city. If there is a choice between asking a stranger for directions or using GPS navigation, she'd prefer the latter. Or call someone she trusts.
But when it comes to online dating, the equations change. Tempted by the possibilities of connections amidst the anonymity, people bare their souls to complete strangers. At times that blooms into lifelong associations. At times it blows up in their faces. The pursuit of romance, love, and intimate relationships throws up surprises that baffle us – pleasantly and sometimes, unpleasantly.
Click. View. Match.
As much as we'd like to deny it, intelligent algorithms have their own limitations. Job portals may be responsible for much of the hiring happening now. But if the best fits were unerringly identified through algorithms, there wouldn't be a recruitments department in most organisations. Moreover, the average tenure of employees across industries would be much longer as it was in the good old days. If anything, technology enables you to do more. The same technology that allows you to find one job can offer you dozens more options anytime you like. If you want to render help, it'll help you do more. If you want to cheat, technology helps you scale up on that front. Technology just accelerates what you truly are.
As admirers of technology, we're quick to appreciate its advantages. But we ignore the impact it has on human life. The term p2p has probably just taken away the humanness from our interactions. Data packets, contributed from seeds and leeches that stay anonymous. Torrents are popular. But 'people' aren't. Individuals are reduced at times to an IP address. Random chats over Chatroulette are a good example.
Alter egos have taken over real faces. Notifications have taken over face to face conversations. When conversations happen, vibrations or blinking LEDs interrupt what could have been perfect bliss.
Technology is playing a dominating role in human relationships. Given the long work hours with modern professional life, normal relationships and long distance relationships aren't too different. The one thing technology cannot provide is an embrace. Technology cannot change what someone truly is. It can help a couple harness their love, but it cannot prevent someone from cheating on their partner. In fact, it might help facilitate it.
Taking it offline
Love is a beautiful feeling. Psychologists believe it's the most powerful emotion in humans. As New York Times best selling novelist Jessica Sorensen puts it in The Evanescence, "I swear love is the most powerful emotion that ever existed. It opens people and devours them, tears them open and bleeds them out from the inside, making them defenseless to everything." And people want to experience love. And there are a myriad ways to discover love. It all depends on your idea of connecting with someone. For the sake of simplicity, we’d call it people discovery. Technology certainly accelerates this discovery process that precedes a relationship.
Nigel and Reena met each other over Orkut 8 years ago. Neither of them really liked the social network. It was by chance that they stumbled across each other thanks to common interests, similar professions and shared aspirations. They just wanted to understand the medium. Soon they shut down their respective profiles. But they continued to stay in touch over instant messaging.
Once phone numbers and email addresses were exchanged, communication went on over the next 8 years. Discussions ranged from opinions, philosophies, professional life, food and everything under the sun.
Nigel was based in Mumbai, while Reena was living in a south Indian city and worked at an IT company. In a few months, there was an inclination from Nigel to take this into a relationship. When Nigel mentioned this to Reena over a call, it came across a shock. She felt it was too fast. And she was scared about the response from her ultra-orthodox family. Other than the hours of conversations they were having each day, everything else seemed to be uncertain. There were differences in background, food preferences, language, communities and much more.
It took an ugly turn when Reena’s family discovered that she was talking to a guy in another city and was using words like “love”.
“What love?” She was questioned. “Some fellow is having a nice time with you online, and you fall for it?” Get to your senses and stop talking to him!” She stonewalled. After staying on and off in touch over the next three years, through some strained times, Reena got the opportunity to work in another city – Pune.
Communication was sporadic and given that her family dissuaded the relationship, marriage wasn’t quite an option either.
Although legally, the two could get married, they chose to wait it out. To get an orthodox family to come to terms with the daughter having made her choice – of marrying a 'stranger online'. Differences in family, regions and religion were all obstacles.
Times were difficult for Reena. There would be times she’d just want to catch a glimpse of Nigel. Get into an embrace when the isolation would be a little too much to bear. The two would get on to a quick chat on Hangouts to reassure each other that they would see light at the end of the tunnel.
Sometimes after a dull day at work, a smiley from the other just took away the pain of endurance. Sometimes even when one of them was hurting bad, the best response they could pass on would be a LOL! Yet another conversation that's been altered over time, thanks to technology. When you get a response ROFL, you certainly don't believe that, do you? Sometimes the person on the other end might just be going through a painful phase in life.
Having been in touch across cities, it was getting quite difficult for both of them. Nigel began travelling to Pune over the weekends to spend some quality time with Reena. They’d meet over a cup of coffee or a pleasant meal with an eye out for anyone keeping tabs on them. As fate would have it, one fine day, the families got talking. It was something they had dreamed about for years. Nigel and Reena were ecstatic. Before they realised it, marriage plans were in full swing.
The initial days after marriage were a bit stressful. Settling in with the changes in life, adapting to the new environment, home, family, food, neighbours, schedule, and so much more. Reena had to adjust to quite a bit.
She took a break for a few weeks and spent time at her home. And then got back. It was like the whole 8 years they knew each other, was being re-lived, albeit in person. They rediscovered each other offline after knowing each other's online personas for 8 years!
A recipe for marital disaster
Jay and Shweta met through a matrimonial portal, and began messaging. The idea was to ‘get to know each other’. Shweta appeared very 'homely and kind' when they used to communicate online. Jay felt she was the one he was looking for all along. He wanted to marry someone who would look after the home and family. He wasn't opposed to her pursuing a career, but preferred someone who could cook, care and nurture the home.
Before they realised, marriage happened. And then came along the shock of his life. She didn't know cooking. All those recipes she'd describe when they chatted or spoke about were from Internet searches. At the mention of having to cook dinner, Shweta would get into bitter arguments, and they'd just end up calling in for food.
It's later that Jay discovered it was all a big lie he was part of.
'She'd been a part of several conversations with several guys during the time we were courting,' Jay adds. Justifying the reason to part ways, he adds, 'it's not just about fun, holidays and partying. Life is tough and I'd like my wife to support me. It felt like a bad deal, and we parted ways. Six months after the divorce fell through, she moved on with a common friend. It took me two years to come to terms.'
Jay is now married to a girl who had been part of a common group in college, but they were re=connected by their parents who were friends for years. They've now been married 3 years.
The tech stereotype and breaking it
Aroon and Madhurima have known each other for a little over 4 years. Aroon is the quieter of the two. During the initial phase of the relationship, they would frequently text each other. That's because Aroon owned a feature phone. As Madhurima puts it, “he was more technologically challenged than me.” Eventually, both of them switched to iPhones because it gave them the privacy to chat away on iMessage instead of being visible to the rest of the world on WhatsApp. Those were the days when privacy settings didn't allow 'the last seen at' to be hidden.
What's interesting though is that Aroon discovered more about games, gadgets and technology from Madhurima.
Indeed, technology doesn’t change the inherent character of an individual. If anything, technology augments, enables and scales our capabilities, abilities and inclinations. Those looking for love, could find it in the databases out there on the web. But it needs devotion and dedication in person to sustain it. Those looking for a fling, would in all likelihood find it as well, but eventually, it’s love that matters. For some, online works. For others, it scars. In the end, to each his/her own.
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