Dating in Indian culture – When did it start?
On the surface, dating is a new concept in India. India is one of the few countries where arranged marriages are still popular.
Just look at the stats.
74% of Indians believe in an arranged marriage – NDTV Ipsos survey. Other research studies have generally supported the idea that arranged marriage are still preferred over dating as a means to find a partner.
However, the idea of couples getting to know one another and eventually falling in love or getting married is widely prevalent in Indian mythology and cultural history.
Here are some examples:
Kamadev and Rati were hopelessly in love with each other. By all accounts, they weren’t married. The fact that Indian mythology had a character who is considered as the God of love is a recognition of the fact that it is natural for men and women to get into a relationship outside marriage.
Radha was a married woman who fell in love with Krishna who was younger than her! While there are philosophical explanations on how divine their love was, these relationships were never seen as a taboo.
If you need an example of speed dating, look no further than the Ramayana. Seetha’s syamwaram was all about a bunch of men showing off their skills to win her heart!
Ever heard of a temptress who falls in love with her target? Look no further than the story of sage Vishwamitra and Menaka. She confesses the truth to Vishwamitra eventually only to see Vishwamitra break up with her for good!
Shiva’s relationship with Sati and the subsequent marriage to Parvathi who happens to be a reincarnation of Sati is a plat worthy of a Hollywood romantic movie!
A more modern history of dating in Indian culture can be found through Bollywood movies. Movies have always reflected the changing social norms with respect to dating and relationships.
The 1950s and the 1960s
The early Bollywood hits in the 50s and the 60s such as Awaara, Shree 420, Kaala Bazaar were about sending a social message with the love story or romantic relationship in the background. The hero and the heroine hardly came close to each other even in supposedly romantic songs.
Movies of that time reflected a widely held cultural norm in India about how a man and woman should interact outside the norms of marriage. Dating was unheard of and frowned upon even in major cities.
There we expectations even then. The Guide, that screened in 1965, was ahead of its time. The storyline involved a woman who leaves her unfaithful husband to stay with the man she falls in love with!
The 1970s and the 1980’s
The 70s and the 80s were characterised by the angry young man. Romantic stories took the backseat as the focus was on social justice, corruption, and anti-national villains. Love and relationships were just a sidekick in most movies as most movies were action-oriented.
There were some notable exceptions that touched on relationships. Bobby was a standout hit in the 70s and its focus was on teenage love.
Towards the end of the 80s, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak changed the rules of the game. The movie was all about how a young couple falls in love and go against the wishes of their family to get married.
Hum Aapke Hain Kaun and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge are two popular movies from the 90s. The theme was all about love culminating in marriage with the approval of parents. It was a dating (in some cases stalking) that turns into love and then eventually gets the blessings of the parents.
2000 and beyond
Till the 1990s, Bollywood was churning out movies where couples belonging to different economic backgrounds, religions or caste fall in love and eventually get married. With economic liberalisation, India started witnessing changing attitudes towards relationships.
With rising income levels, growing employment opportunities for young men and women, exposure to foreign culture via TV and the Internet, exponential growth of cell phones/smartphones, dating as a concept started growing roots in the metros.
Storylines in movies also changed tracks to dating, the dilemma of commitment, live in relationships and break-ups. Several Bollywood movies even show the hero and the heroine using dating apps.
So what’s unique about dating in India?
Before we answer this question, let’s define dating.
Dating is defined as a process where two individuals evaluate each other for a possible long-term relationship such as a live-in relationship or marriage.
Here are some of the characteristics of dating:
Couples seek out suitable dating mates at work, friends network, at social places (such as a bar or a restaurant), or through dating apps or websites.
They go on dates for as many times as they want till they either choose to call themselves to be in a relationship (boyfriend/girlfriend).
They may or may not move-in together. Sometimes they even have a child out of wedlock. They may break up or choose to get engaged or married.
However, dating in India is not necessarily seen as a casual pursuit of a relationship that may or may not end up in a marriage.
There are five unique characteristics of dating in India.
1. Indians have a tendency to equate dating with love. That includes people going on a date!
2. Most Indian women are looking for a serious commitment (i.e marriage).
3. Dating apps in India are seen as a matchmaking platform without the guidance of parents.
4. Casual dating is still limited to large cities and people below the 26 year age group.
5. Small town India is witnessing a lot of growth in the number of users of dating apps.
There are over 37 million Indians using online dating today and this user base is growing at about 6% per year. While dating is still a virgin concept in India. As the country opens up, societal norms about dating are changing rapidly.
How to start dating in India? 3 Practical tips
The idea of having a casual relationship before marriage was never a socially acceptable concept in India. While attitudes towards dating are changing, getting into the dating scene is quite challenging.
Follow our three practical tips to start dating in India.
1. Focus on yourself first
The first step to start dating in India (or anywhere else) is to make sure you are ready for a relationship. Being ready implies a combination of factors such as your attitude, health, and outlook on life. Most importantly, you should feel good about yourself.
Here are some practical suggestions to help you get started with the dating adventure.
Get your grooming game on
Dating is all about creating a good first impression and you need to be well-groomed to get people interested in you.
Indian men are guilty of runaway facial hair, body odour, sweaty armpits, wild or unkempt nails, and total lack of dress sense.
Indian women are guilty of a poor choice of clothing and accessories, patchy makeup job, not taking of facial hair (especially those on the upper lip), ill-fitting clothes to name a few.
Follow our guides to get some video tips and demos to help you go from shabby to handsome or beautiful!
Is this the right time to meet people?
How do you know you are ready to meet people for dating?
Just answer these questions:
Would your parents be OK if they know you are dating?
If they are not OK, do you know what you want from a date?
Do you consider religion caste or other traditional matchmaking factors
Would you be OK if you get harassed by the police or local goons when you are on a date?
Do you have the time to meet people and sustain a relationship?
Can you confidently talk about yourself?
How do you handle rejections?
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, but they are meant to bring out some of the practical challenges of dating in India.
Are your finances in order?
Dating can be an expensive proposition in India because of the lack of public spaces that allow couples to mingle and interact.
Even in big cities, some girls hide their faces when meeting their boyfriends and couples do their best to find a secluded spot to meet. Public display of action is considered a taboo in most places even though there are no laws against it.
Movies, restaurants, malls are safer places to go on a date but they don’t come cheap.
That’s not all. Birthdays, valentine’s day, festivals require gifts and special outings.
Relying on public transport may also not work in most places in India. You need to own a vehicle to get around.
The bottom line is simple – get your finances in shape before you think of going out on dates!
Do you know what you want?
Describing the vital statistics of the person you want to date is pretty easy.
What’s really important is whether you know what you are looking for before you go on a date.
Are you looking for a casual relationship or is dating about finding a potential match for marriage without the pressure of dealing with parents? Your answer to this question will help identify where you want to find your date in India.
2. Start looking at the right places
The art of finding date requires a combination of focussed search as well as forgetting the fact that you are even looking for a date! Sometimes, when you are truly passionate about something, you become a magnet for others who have similar liking or interests. Let’s look at some of the ways you can find the right people to date in India.
Local meetups and groups
In India, you will find diverse opportunities to mingle with groups of people who share a common passion. The best way to find them would be online.
Here are some of the options to work with:
Join Facebook Groups. Facebook Groups have engaged members who are passionate about something. Typically, local groups organise in-person meetings as well. Join a group that is active, has a positive reputation in the media, and has members who come from a similar background as yours.
Meetup.com is also an emerging platform for local meetups. You can easily search for meetups near you and apply to become a member.
Volunteering with local charities is a great way to spend your free time and also meet like-minded people.
That’s not all.
You can do a lot of offline activities as well to pursue your interests and meet people in the process.
Join an art class, Zumba class, gym, photography classes, language classes, cooking classes to name a few.
Tip! Don’t join these groups or classes with the sole intention of finding someone interesting. Let it happen naturally.
Dating sites and dating apps in India
India has caught the attention of global dating apps and Indians have the option to try everything from homegrown apps to apps like Tinder. We curated a bunch of dating sites and apps in India and here is the list to get you started.
Tinder – A clear leader in the Indian market and possibly the best option to find a real date.
Bumble – This is a new entrant in the Indian market and is designed to let women make the first move in establishing contact.
OKCupid – OKCupid also launched recently in India and is known for its successful matchmaking algorithm.
Trulymadly – One of the pioneers in the Indian dating market. Trulymadly is designed for people looking for a serious relationship and is possibly poles apart from apps like Tinder.
Woo – This is another India focused app that is designed to make it easy for women to control their privacy. Woo also acquired Los Angeles based dating app (Dus) that caters to South Asians.
Hinge – This app claims to be better than Tinder-style swipe apps and claims to focus on creating meaningful relationships. The app has a reputation for being slow.
Happn – This is a location-based mobile app that lines up matches that have actually crossed your path! Works only in major cities where there is a critical mass of Happn users.
Click below to read in-depth reviews of popular dating apps in India from the perspective of women.
Dating Sites in India – What Women Should Know!
Tapping the real social network
If you are someone who already has an active lifestyle and a big circle of friends, finding a date should be fairly easy, especially if you belong to the upwardly mobile crowd living in a metropolitan city in India such as Mumbai, Bangalore or Delhi.
Here are a few things you can do to land a date quickly.
Learn to say yes if your friends try to set you up with someone.
Don’t come to any conclusions before meeting anyone.
Say yes (at least for a meeting) even if your parents or relatives try to set you up with someone.
Don’t judge a book by its cover. Always give people changes to reveal their true personality.
How to ask someone for a date in India?
Asking for a date in India is not an easy task.
So, how should a man approach a woman for dating in India?
If you are a man and you want to approach a woman you are interested in, the chances of getting a positive response are practically zero. You are most like to be called a creep.
If you are a girl interested in asking a man out, you must first overcome the deeply ingrained idea that only the man has to make the first move and wonder if the guy thinks you are ‘too easy’ or have no moral values.
The best strategy for asking a man or a woman for a date in India is to take the indirect route and not directly talk about going on a date.
Here are 4 ways you can ask someone for a date in India:
1. Dropping Hints
Start by asking harmless questions that will not make the guy or the girl uncomfortable.
Use questions like:
What’s your plan for this evening?
Anything interesting happening this weekend?
What are you planning to do on Republic Day?
They will respond with a plan or the lack of it. You can then suggest something you could do together.
Wow! I like to see the parade as well!
Hey, I know a nice restaurant that’s opening this weekend. Do you want to join me?
2. Use the power of observation
Learn to pay attention to people you are interested in. Find out what their interests are and what they are good at. If you happen to notice something interesting, use it as a focal point to create an opportunity for a date.
Here are some examples:
I heard that you are good at sculpting. Hope to see your work someday.
I am a foodie just like you but new to this place. What’s the favourite Mexican restaurant in this area?
3. No way out
If you are with a person you are interested in and you believe what you are asking is hard to be turned down, go for it.
Here are some examples:
I don’t think you are going to get a cab at this time. I can drop you as it’s on the way to my place anyways.
Since you have nothing else to do tomorrow, why don’t you check out my art gallery?
4. Help them discover new things
This strategy involves mentioning something nice that the other person should try and use it as an opening to set up a date.
Swamy sweets is the bomb. I can bet that you won’t find better Gulab Jamuns in Bangalore.
Did you check out the swanky new movie theatre? I am sure you will be blown away.
Depending on their response, you can ask to check out the sweet shop or the theatre together.
Pickup lines and clever one-liners are best left to dating apps like Tinder.
3. Learn how to manage dating relationships
While the foremost challenge of dating in India is getting a date, that’s not the end of the game. You need to know how to handle a conversation and possibly get someone to meet you the second time at least!
Holding a conversation
Holding a conversation on a date will make or break your budding relationship. Awkward silences will only invite excuses to bail out of the date.
The best tactic for keeping a conversation would be to ask the other party questions about their interests, passions in the context of the date.
The trick here is to not make it sound like an interview!
Steer clear of controversial topics unless you know you are both on the same side.
Don’t hesitate to show your vulnerability.
This is the first time I am going out on a date. Pardon my clumsiness.
This will help the other person ease up a bit.
Latch on to sure winners and expand on it.
For example, Your profile says you adore Elon Musk. I think he is the Iron Man for real!
Don’t rant about your past relationships or directly ask about the other person’s past.
Indian men should definitely avoid talking about marriage and meeting their parents on the first date. Dating is definitely not arranged marriage.
Who should pay for the date and why?
Bring a patriarchal society, Indian men expect to pay for expenses incurred on a date. Even in western countries, paying for a date is supposedly a gentlemanly thing to do! At least for some!
However, there is no hard and fast rule.
Letting men pay for the date and enjoying the attention may set the ball rolling on a future relationship that’s dominated by the man.
It is perfectly OK for a woman in India to split the bill or insist on paying for the entire bill. This could help her convey the fact that the relationship is still not yet finalised and you see yourself as an equal.
Both men and women should watch out for people who may be sponging off on the other person. This is especially true if the relationship is not yet defined and you are still exploring possibilities.
Should you tell your parents?
Informing parents about your dating life is really up to you. Your parents may think dating is just unsupervised arranged marriage and demand to talk to the boy or the girl or start asking for their horoscope. Be ready to face the music if they discover that you are going on a date behind their back.
If you are going on casual dates with no real intention of building a long-term relationship, you can keep it strictly your business. However, if you believe you have a future with the person you are going out with, you may want to think through how you will introduce the person to your parents.
We wrote an in-depth article on how to convince parents for love marriage. Check out strategies you can use to change your parent’s mind if they are hell-bent on an arranged marriage. You can read it here.
When should you have sex?
The answer is simple. You can have sex if you both believe it is the right thing to do and if you have the privacy to do it!
Being a conservative country, having flings through dating is not a popular concept in India.
This doesn’t mean that people don’t have sex before marriage. Just that it’s not associated with dating.
If you are just looking for a fling, call it out upfront and let the other person take a decision if it is OK or not.
Know how to handle break-ups
Dating is about exploring the possibility of a short-term or long-term relationship without parental involvement. Initial attraction and lust may not last long enough or you may quickly figure out there is a huge gap in expectations. Breakups are inevitable and should not be taken as a personal insult.
Unfortunately, the concept of ‘no’ being a ‘no’ and not a ‘yes’ is not well understood in India. Acid attacks on women is a manifestation of the Indian men’s refusal to take no for an answer. Men use violence as a means to regain their sense of control over the women as they cannot deal with rejection.
For a woman, dating in India might be risky if she ends up with a man who is easily offended. Read the section on dating tips to make sure you are safe when you are on a date in India.
Check out our in-depth blog on how to handle break-ups after engagement or relationships.
15 Things To Do When You Break Up After Engagement
Dating norms in India
Standup comedian, Kenny Sebastian, has nailed some of the dating norms in India.
On a serious note, here are a few important things you should know before going on a date in India:
When the girl’s parents or relatives call her on the phone while she is out on the date, keep your mouth shut. The reverse is also true.
Make sure you drop the girl at a safe place after the date especially if it’s late in the night.
Don’t try to kiss or grab her hands out of the blue even if it’s your third date.
Expect your date to show up late. Indians calculate time in blocks of hours (around 6 pm and not at 6 pm) and no one sticks to the appointment time.
Don’t be afraid to bail out if you believe the situation is hopeless. The same can happen to you.
Be prepared to hear, “sorry, I fell ill, or I met with a bike accident” after you have been left high and dry.
Be ready to fend off overzealous men who may end up stalking you after a date.
Use a number exclusively for dating that can be quickly discarded.
Young men and women may have multiple social media profiles just to keep the dating life separate from their “real” life.
Dating lingo and slangs in India
If you are new to the dating scene in India, here are some local lingo you should know about.
Senti – A guy or girl who is excessively emotional or sentimental.
Trippy – Heady experience or a strange date.
Bindaas (Hindi) – Translates to cool or doing well. Used in response to “how are you?”
Unkachalrahahai (Hindi) – Refers to a pair who are in a relationship.
Fanta/Fanti – boyfriend/girlfriend.
Jhakaas (Hindi) – The closest meaning is smoking hot.
Pataka (Hindi) – A hot girl.
Pakau (Marathi/Hindi) – A boring boy or girl.
Figure – A hot girl.
Avanoda Aalu (Tamil) – A girl who is in a relationship.
Waat lag gaye (Marathi/Hindi) – Got screwed because I got caught.
Of course, if you are moving with a western crowd, you need to catch up on all the western dating slangs such as ghosting, Netflix and chill, curving, monkeying to name a few. The complete list can be found here.
Dating in India – Frequently asked questions
Do women ask men out in India?
Yes, women do ask men out in India!
There are plenty of responses to the same question on Quora. Granted not all of them may be true.
There is an interesting article on whether Indian men are ready to be asked out by women. You can read some the opinions shared by men on being asked out here.
How popular is blind dating in India?
There are some dating agencies in India that have jumped on the blind dating concept.
Life of Line organises blind dating events across major cities in India. Considering the fact that dating is a new concept in India, blind dating or speed dating is not yet popular among Indians. It’s more of a novelty and less of a serious way to find dates.
A few local blind dating events are occasionally organised in metros.
Check out this article if you want a first-hand narration of someone who attended a speed dating event in Gurgaon.
Is dating legal in India?
Dating is definitely legal in India. However, unlike marriage, you are on your own if things don’t work out. You cannot obviously go to the court if someone breaks up with you. However, you can take legal recourse for scams, violence or any form of physical harassment.
Dating in India vs America – What’s the difference?
Here are some of the differences between dating in India and America.
Dating is a socially accepted practice in America and is probably the only way people find a match for marriage. In India, arranged marriages are preferred.
The purpose of dating in the US, especially among young people, is to have fun, casual sex, or friendship to begin with. Irrespective of the age, there is no intent to get married after a few dates.
Getting back to dating after a divorce or after breaking up with people after a long-term relationship is an accepted practice for men and women. In India, dating is typically confined to youngsters who are unmarried.
Group dates, blind dating/speed dating are all popular in the US. In India, some matchmaking companies use group dates as a matchmaking event. Blind dating or speed dating is rare in India.
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