Sonia, who considers herself quiet, introverted and often awkward in crowded social events, always imagined that a man who is an extrovert, an outgoing people’s person would complete her. The 29-year-old architect from Mumbai took the notion of ‘opposites attract’ quite literally. That was until the lockdown hit her. After two months of living a life stripped down to basics, she started feeling that it was important to have a peaceful relationship, even if it was not with someone who’d be the centre of attention at a party, like she used to hope.
“During this pandemic, I saw many couples go through a rough patch during the lockdown. Often, these were because they were very different people, with completely different personalities, which led to several differences of opinion,” Sonia said. It made Sonia contemplate how being with someone very similar to her wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all.
Clinical psychologist Ruchika Kanwal said this lockdown had changed how single women perceived romance and dating. While candlelit dinners felt appealing before, simple video calls to discuss house chores or recipes appeared more tempting during lockdown.
“Some of my clients said it was refreshing when men told them about house chores they had finished. Some even found cooking together while on video calls romantic,” Kanwal said.
“Clinical psychologist Ruchika Kanwal said this lockdown had changed how single women perceived romance and dating. While candlelit dinners felt appealing before, simple video calls to discuss house chores or recipes appeared more tempting during lockdown.”
We spoke to experts and single Indian women to understand how the lockdown impacted their perspective on dating.
Look forward to conversations
Dozens of single women HuffPost India spoke to confirmed there seemed to be a common trend on dating apps during the lockdown. While they were looking for a ‘real’ conversation — about this new life, fears, chores, apprehensions — men they matched with were mostly interested in sexting, virtual sex or just any kind of ‘action’.
Purvi Shah, a counsellor and mental health expert from Mumbai highlighted how emergencies or crises often transformed people. “We all keep evolving over time and this brings in a shift in our personalities, attitudes and values. The lockdown and pandemic led to incomparable changes in our lives and mindset, and with all their newly-gained experiences, single Indian women started placing their trust on ‘meaningful’ conversations with men,” she said.
Debotri, a writer from Kolkata, agreed that companionship and the ability to talk to a guy about almost anything had become the most important requirements for her after lockdown. “Silence can be deafening and so partners must never run out of words!” she said.
Even the thought of having to spend this lockdown with a man who had nothing to say was scary for Apurva, a dancer and fitness trainer from Mumbai. The realisation that a non-communicative man was not her cup of tea made her even more determined to first find a friend, who could and was interested in holding long, introspective and fun conversations with her. That would be the first step of contemplating a relationship for her.
“This lockdown made us recognise the importance of being able to talk, as there were just long stretches of a day when you just pined to talk to someone who got you. I would want to be able to speak about my work, my friends, my personal life with the man I choose to be with. Also, he should be able to initiate conversations with me,” she said.
A man whose politics matches yours
As single women did their best to successfully navigate between office work and house chores amidst a pandemic, the last thing they wanted to do was welcome a judgemental man into their lives. They also realised — thanks to the government policies that affected them in immediate, real ways now — most of them were political and would like a man whose own politics aligned with theirs.
Kanwal said that most single women started looking beyond the stereotypical checklist of ‘higher education and financial stability’. So, men who believed in gender equality and were able to work from home and also do house chores without making a big deal about it became important.
Although for Gulshanara, while physical compatibility continued to be essential, she wanted more after the lockdown. The Kolkata-based actor said she wanted a man who was liberal and a feminist. “How difficult is it to be kind-hearted and unbigoted? I want my man to be aware of the current social and political scenario and be an advocate for animal rights,” she said.
Gulshanara had to spend the lockdown all by herself and it made her crave for a meaningful relationship. She wished she had someone to share her thoughts on feminism, equal rights and preservation of nature and wildlife with.
Janki Mehta, consulting psychotherapist and co-founder of Mind Mandala, Mumbai, told HuffPost India that not all these needs were new. “They were probably pre-existing, but the lockdown and the pandemic amplified them. What were wishes before became deal breakers,” she said.
According to her the lockdown gave single women the time and space to analyse life and dating, which brought to surface latent emotions. Many women, she said, might not have expressed their true needs due to social appropriateness. “These needs were to have a companion who could understand you better,” Mehta said.
“Janki Mehta, consulting psychotherapist and co-founder of Mind Mandala, Mumbai, told HuffPost India that not all these needs were new. “They were probably pre-existing, but the lockdown and the pandemic amplified them. What were wishes before became deal breakers,” she said.”
Consultant clinical psychologist Sahely Gangopadhyay said that while our partner’s characteristics were our area of concern, our area of control was how we behaved or responded to these traits. “When these two areas come together, there is harmony and balance in the relationship, something most women want and expect,” she said.
Respect personal space
While most single people, men included, always wanted a partner who respected personal space, if they ended up liking each other, having fun together or just being attracted to each other, opinions on personal space often took a backseat. Growing up in Indian families where personal space is rare and often not respected, the requirement often became less important in a relationship.
Not so, after the lockdown.
Kanwal told us of a client who discovered she could not be with a man who had no understanding of the concept of personal space. “Sure, she always wanted someone who respected boundaries, but that was never the only criteria. Stuck at home during the lockdown, she dreaded the thought of sharing her space with a ‘clingy’ and ‘emotionally dependent’ man. Even the thought of being with such a man suffocated her,” she said.
For Debotri, the lockdown reconfirmed her need to be with a man who enjoyed spending time alone. She said she had her own interests and wanted someone who could cultivate his own hobbies without needing attention from her all the time. “The lockdown amplified the need for feel-good activities that could be done alone. I would rather have my man enjoy a hobby and nurture it by himself, as I understand and respect the value of ‘me time’,” she said.
Mehta felt that while many preferred a person who could break the monotony with their conversations, some could not deal with the constant chatter. She said this depended on how different women looked at things, which had a lot to do with their upbringing and childhood.
If one grew up in a family where members were disengaged, which meant they were functioning from different parts of the house, then as adults these women needed to have a lot of space. On the other hand, one could have had a family that was completely enmeshed, where each member knew everything that was happening in the other person’s life. As adults, these women showed signs of dependency and the need to know everything in their partner’s or children’s lives.
Mehta said that for any relationship to flourish, partners must balance their ideas of space and individuality. “I advise my clients to talk to their partners to know what is okay for them and then work together to strike a balance,” she said.
Busy with her online training sessions, Apuorva said the last thing she wanted in a man was not be able to respect her space or his own. “There should be mutual consent when it comes to sharing of time and space. A man should be participative but also know when to let the woman be. I don’t know if such a man exists!” she added.
Don’t be a lazybone
Overwhelmed with office and house work, the lockdown forced every single Indian woman to question the need to have a lazy or thoughtless boyfriend or husband in their lives.
Seema, a single mother from Hyderabad, felt thankful that she did not have to take care of a grown man amidst a pandemic. “Most men I see are pretty useless when it comes to housework or hygiene, and my former husband was no different. I don’t think I would have had the time or patience to do his part of the job along with mine and my child’s,” she said.
Not a great fan of household work herself, Riya from Delhi never thought she would need a man to be interested and adept at doing work like doing dishes or cleaning the house. Riya, who would rarely also cook for herself at home before the lockdown, realised her partner should be able to share these chores with her if needed.
Kanwal told us of a client who had a unique revelation during the lockdown. She was interested in two men and wanted to know more. While she found one charming and physically attractive, the other man seemed more grounded, and initially she was drawn to the first guy. However, with time, she started forming a stronger bond with the second man. The two started exchanging recipes and he shared cute photos of his mother and him doing house chores together.
“The lockdown changed my client’s perception of a romantic relationship. She told me if it wasn’t for the lockdown she would have been more interested in the first guy. These two months of hardship taught her the value of being with a partner who would willingly take up responsibilities,” Kanwal told HuffPost.
For Bohni, a journalist from Delhi, the lockdown reaffirmed her need to be with a man who could take initiative when it came to household work and not wait for her directives.
Gangopadhyay felt the need to thank the lockdown as it gave everyone the scope to understand that only compassion could make relationships work. “If your partner is compassionate, you both can do wonders both at home and outside. It has the power to keep couples united,” she said.
Be more empathetic
With the ongoing economic instability, the need to speak on important issues like one’s job security, company policies and insurance surmounted and took over ‘small talk’ or ‘chit-chats’! “I really liked this guy I matched with on Hinge. He was smart and attractive and fun to talk to, but all that changed after lockdown,” said Farah, a 43-year-old ad agency executive.
He hardly showed any interest in her work or asked if she was worried about salary cuts or layoffs. Although he was aware of the ongoing pay cuts in her industry, all he wanted to discuss were his ‘silly memes and videos’. After multiple failed attempts of trying to extract some useful dialogue from him, she blocked his number from her phone. “The lack of concern or empathy in him was unacceptable,” Farah said.
Shah’s advice to single women is to ‘know what you need’ before looking out for a man. A man who enjoyed cooking or sharing chores would always do that, lockdown or otherwise. “If the man loves and respects you, he might try to inculcate habits that work for you. But what if your needs change once this pandemic is over? My advice to single women would be to focus on qualities that form the basis of any successful relationship, like trust, honesty, compassion, likemindedness and respect,” she said.
The lockdown made an emotionally dependent person like Debotri appreciate men who could empathise and remain calm even during difficult times. “It is true that the need to dig deeper is more important than ever before. I tell my clients that although the power to change for the better lies with you, it is not your responsibility to ensure your partner responds to that change as well,” Gangopadhyay suggested.
People who understood and valued mental health
As the lockdown impacted day-to-day activities, jobs, finances and interpersonal relationships, dealing with anxiety became the toughest reality in almost every single woman’s life. Several women HuffPost India spoke to, confirmed that they realised the need to actively learn about mental health and also take care of it, and consider professional help. They wanted a prospective partner to also know and care about mental health, illnesses and their impact on people’s lives.
While therapists advise being kind to yourself and to not expect to function, physically or emotionally, like you did before the pandemic hit, not all men understood or related to the anxieties of single Indian women.
As Seema’s mental health took a beating with the constant worry of ensuring a normal childhood for her son, men she matched with on dating apps wanted to know how soon she could meet them post lockdown. “While I was trying to balance my office work, house chores, my son’s online studies and his play time, the men appeared non-hassled by the realities of our current life. I found that revolting,” she said.
Struggling with anxiety during lockdown, Riya resumed conversations with a man after she realised he understood and acknowledged the unpredictability of life and its effect on people’s mental health. “It felt nice and strangely reassuring to talk to him as he was open about mental health discussions. He even shared an incident of him experiencing a panic attack with me. That made me open up to him without the fear of being misunderstood or judged,” she said.
Sonia always knew she wanted a kind and tolerant man, but the lockdown intensified that need in her. “A couple has to see through the highs and lows of life, together and as one, and there can no longer be any bifurcation based on our genders,” she said.
As per Gangopadhyay it would be shortsighted to think our needs have changed due to the lockdown or the pandemic. “There will soon be a cure for coronavirus. Will we go back to how we felt or dealt with relationships? I think to say ‘I want this now’ is yet another trap we need to avoid,” she said.
According to her, the innermost needs and emotions of single women have remained the same before and after the lockdown. “However, this is the right time to discover hidden needs that the lockdown brought to fore. I advise women to be aware of these needs and only associate with men who can match up,” Gangopadhyay said.