Love in the Time of Social Networking

AR Hemant
Yahoo Lifestyle Entertainment

1 — The Socially-Sanctioned Social Network

B is 31. She works at an IT firm in Bangalore. She’s single.

“There are three kinds of men on matrimony websites,” she says, describing her unfruitful attempts at finding a match through the one socially acceptable medium for online hook-ups in India.

“There are those who think that people on matrimony sites are social ‘leftovers’ who couldn’t find a match elsewhere.” Note the irony.

“Next, you have the creeps and weirdos — people who reveal little about themselves.” Their profiles don’t say much. They leave no Google footprints. They’re not on Facebook. You can’t verify their career claims because they’re not on LinkedIn either. These weirdos, she says, are there to source casual hook-ups. And you know this as soon as you share your chat ID or phone number.

The third are men genuinely interested in finding a match. “They’ll ask you the right questions. They’ll provide you the right answers,” B says. “And then they’ll ruin it all by going on and on about the four Cs — career, clothes, caste and complexion.”

With the tools of online documentation, you could upload your life’s history for the world to view. You could post photos, videos and audios along with your bio-data. But all that comes to naught when the parents of the prospective groom want to see you in a certain light.

For example, take P, a very fair-skinned North Indian girl. She shared photos of herself in a bright red dress. Her prospective in-laws couldn’t trust the evidence on offer and got curious: “Are these pictures Photoshopped? Is it the studio lighting? Is it the make-up? Can you ask her to pose in a dull-coloured dress so we could see her complexion better?”
Meanwhile, B’s search continues.

II — The Radicals

In its heady days, Orkut helped people find love with a neat feature called the crush list. It allowed you to privately list a friend as your crush. The friend would not know about this, unless they added you to their own crush list. Orkut would then notify both parties with a poetic email: “Orkut has unmasked a shared affection / And shown twinned wounds from Cupid’s darts / But while he aid in love’s detection / Its future path lies twixt your hearts.”

In January, three anonymous developers from California — all men — expanded on Orkut’s idea and took it so far, it puts the Facebook Poke to shame. They have created a Facebook app that leaves nothing to imagination and gets straight to the point. It is called If matrimony sites are deemed safe-for-family, this website lies on the other end of the spectrum.

Maxim, that wonderful chronicler of manly interests, describes the app as ‘the worst thing in the world’. “Bravo to the creators of this thing for taking all the mystery, subtlety, and effort out of getting laid,” it says. One of the developers says that within a week of going live the app registered 260,000 users from which 24,000 found a match. In the second week, the app enabled same-sex pairings on popular demand.

Here’s how the app works. Just like the crush list, Bang With Friends allows you to browse through your Facebook friend list. If you see someone you like, you hit the “down to bang” button below their photo. If that friend is also using the app and puts you ‘down to bang’, you both will be notified of your pairing with a not-so-subtle email which goes: “Hey there, sexy! You've got a bangin' match! Your friend XXXXX wants to bump uglies with you! Send a message from Facebook now and get some from your new friend with benefits :) This f*** brought to you by” (NOT SUITABLE FOR WORK)

I shared the link with three single male friends. The first immediately took to marking down his attractive colleagues. The second responded mono-syllabically with the word “dumb” written in upper-case. The third removed the app immediately after installing it since he didn’t want to be caught dead with it.

A Christian collegiate network in the US has described as ‘the evilest app ever’. But there will be plenty out there wondering why it wasn’t invented sooner.

III — Serendipity

V describes himself as a quiet, reserved twenty-something with a small social circle and a big affinity for books. “I had a hard time connecting with the opposite sex in school and college,” he says. “There were boys and girls hooking up all over the campus – and there I was, tongue-tied and disoriented each time a girl would as much as attempt to make small talk with me.”

There’s an internet meme called ‘Forever Alone’. V says he completely related to the character’s loneliness and disappointment. “There was this one time I fancied this girl from a junior section,” he says. “I once approached her to offer her help with her course. I thought it would be a sweet thing to do. But the words came out all wrong. And she ran!”

“It was embarrassing. I thought I was never going to get lucky in love!”

V is a part of the large network of contributors and editors who manage Wikipedia. “It was while moderating an article on Thoreau that I met D. She was part of one of the backend debates that happen at Wikimedia,” he says.

It’s at these debates that Wikipedia’s articles are given their final shape and contentious issues settled through consensus between editors.

D thought the whole ‘I went to the woods...’ bit by Thoreau was overrated. “I love Thoreau’s writings and had a huge argument with her,” V says. “At the end of it, we became acquaintances and started

exchanging mails and chat messages.”

It was then that V realised he had much in common with D. “We discovered that we had a thing for poetry, microwavable food and European cinema,” he says. And it soon dawned on them that their bond had got stronger over time, not mitigated by the distance that separated them.

“So two years and 27 days after first meeting her online, I met D. She was a little shorter than had appeared in her pictures,” he says. “And just as pretty.”

V and D have been seeing each other for three years now. And it all started because they happened to be on the same Wikipedia entry one fine day. If matrimony sites and sex apps aren’t your thing, you’ve got to believe that good old fashioned love can happen online.