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From City Lights to Frequent Outages: The Divided Dating Culture of Big and Small Towns

Imagine being 16, moving from a small town in Madhya Pradesh to capital city of Delhi, and being warned by your friends to beware of the dating scene of big cities. Basically, not to end up as an inspiration to one of those creepy teenage crime shows on MTV. Sounds like a very healthy start to a budding dating life of a teenager, doesn’t it?

If an institutional body were to start a Dating Index in one of their whimsical initiatives, India would proudly sit at the bottom on the awareness, acceptance, and satisfaction parameters. Where some are getting a lot, and a lot are barely getting some, inequality lies at the core of India’s dating culture. Ours has largely been a conservative society where finding a suitable partner has always had a communal agency rather than an individual agency. Like most developmental stories where concepts have trickled down from the west, dating culture in India lacks foundation and gentility that is required to bring out any positive behavioural change in the society.

Without getting into the good and bad of dating apps, they have no doubt revolutionised dating in India. You can be a bumble bee with multiple options, be unhinged and have autonomy over your dating life or just truly madly fall in love. They provide the much-needed privacy and space for experimentation for people from all communities and sexual orientations.

The problem lies not so much with mode of dating but with the whole narrative being built around modern Indian adults taking charge of their love life. What you see through pop culture, social media and influencers is largely based on the experiences of a certain privileged population, clustered in Metropolitans of the country. This representation popularizes the idea of dating rather than normalizing it. That’s where the fault lies, because it makes dating yet another FOMO bus that all the hormone rangers are waiting to get on, just to feel they have made it in life.

Thus, this urgency of dating and using it as a benchmark of self-worth makes it very difficult for youngsters of today to navigate this newfound dating independence, while keeping their mental health in balance. Bullying, cybercrime, mental and physical harassment become rampant as we keep busy in catching up with latest terms in the dating dictionary.

Both Big towns and small face their own set of challenges, with the former circling around in the woke echo chambers of Instagram and the latter being lost as “entertainment stories” in the middle pages’ of the local city Dainik Bhaskar. And everybody is equally lost in this circus, because we have never seen dating as a normal lifestyle phenomenon in any of our elder generations. This stark disparity in education and awareness makes an obvious and much needed case for understanding bodily autonomy, consent, handling attractions and setting boundaries right from adolescence.

Before the young generation of today dips their toes in the dating pool and take charge of their dating life, they need to be educated about their own bodily rights, autonomy over sexual orientation, their sense of self and how they can positively build healthy relationships with self and others. Through the happy highs and the heart-breaking lows of dating, they need to have the right tools to process their emotions and seek help wherever needed.

There is no denying that finding love or a partner one chooses to share some or whole of their life will always be a game of luck, but its important to educate this new crop of daters in India before they sow the seeds of what will become our societal dating culture in future. Whether it’s a samosa stall in Rae Bareli or a fancy café in a city nook in Bengaluru, let's normalise dating and make it a safe space for everyone.

P.S. While we are at it, can we all unequivocally cancel the practice of ghosting in dating? Even 5-year-olds are better than that.

Written by,

Ridhima Kukreja

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