In a country with no culture of dating, exclusive websites and online groups are helping youngsters mingle and, sometimes, marry.
When Angie Mahtaney, 32, an MBA graduate from Columbia University, returned to Bangalore eight months ago, she wanted to make new friends and seek out a soulmate, but decided to stay away from dating and matrimonial websites.
She had tried that route in the US and, over five years, had never had more success than a few "awkwardly formal" dinner dates.
"Most of those websites are just random databases of hundreds of single people," says Mahtaney, who works in her family's garments business. "How are you supposed to find a potential soulmate in such chaos?"
Then, in March, a friend recommended Floh.in and Mahtaney signed on.
That's because Floh is not your average singles' website. The year-old Bangalore-based network is open only to urban, educated singles, with each new member interviewed before being allowed to sign up, for a quarterly fee of ₹7,500.
Floh also helps members fraternise by organising events such as art gallery tours, cooking sessions, vintage car rallies and dance classes. Floh is among a growing number of premiere singles services and niche dating websites that have mushroomed in India over the past few years, helping busy young adults meet and date in a pressure-free environment.
DATING, MADE EASIER
India, unlike the Western world, has no history of casual dating; men still find it hard to ask women out unless they know them well and most women would not consider asking a man out at all.
In such an atmosphere, relatively secure online platforms have become a vital meeting ground and help ease the initial awkwardness that asking out a relative stranger would otherwise entail.
For time-pressed young adults, it also widens the social circle in a structured, meaningful manner.
"Many urban Indians in their 20s and 30s are busy pursuing demanding career paths," says sociologist Gita Chadha. "They find it difficult to build sustainable romantic relationships, so it is natural for them to come up with innovative ways of using technology to meet each other."
PAYING THE PRICE
Well-heeled, young urban Indians do not mind paying a premium or even being screened before gaining entry to these exclusive clubs. Mahtaney, for instance, was interviewed by Floh founder Siddharth Mangharam before she was accepted into the closed network.
After three months and four events — a paintball match, cocktail evening, golf coaching session and bowling session — Mahtaney is glad she signed up, and is hopeful of finding her intellectual and romantic partner through Floh.
SirfCoffee.com, another selective singles' club, charges as much as ₹15,000 in annual fees but has still found 1,400 members in the four years since it was founded by Bandra resident and journalist Naina Hiranandani and her brother, Sunil.
"It's hard finding someone suitable to date," says Hiranandani. "People are outsourcing everything from domestic chores to childcare, so why not this? They have high-pressure jobs, demanding schedules and often end up hanging out with the same group of friends, so they need help finding a long-term partner. And no, it doesn't always have to culminate in marriage."
SirfCoffee.com also screens each applicant before admission. With a more intensive approach to matchmaking, this database is not open for perusal by members. Instead, the website managers match potential couples and arrange a series of dates for them.
DRAWING THE LINE
One of the key criteria for membership to such websites and networks is a particular educational and social background, to ensure that members are not flooded with 'friendship requests' from all and sundry.
Some websites, however, are treading a fine line between selective and near-discriminatory.
MyMitra.com, for instance, caters exclusively to students of the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Management and top international universities.
"I had tried regular dating and matrimony sites but found that many of the women were simply attracted to the IIT tag," says MyMitra member Deepankar Boro, 26, of Guwahati, a student at IIT-Bombay. "Besides, a person's upbringing, education and achievement are all important factors. That's the main reason I registered on this exclusive website."
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