Seema Punwani tells you how to separate the sleaze bags from the good men on dating apps.
Our world today exists on our mobile phones.
We keep up with the gossip about college boyfriends on social media, then discuss the findings on private WhatsApp chat groups.
Amazon and Flipkart offer us innumerable choices and the option to compare items against one another based on price, style, brand and even reviews.
Aggregator sites help us find best flight deals for a surprise visit to our bestie for her 30th birthday.
We can even get flowers delivered to our moms with a light touch of our perfectly manicured fingers -- the appointment for the manicurist would've also been booked through an app.
So why not resort to dating apps to find love, or at least a couple of dates?
My friend who is a data scientist by profession explains that dating apps are all about algorithm. There is data input and then the software recommends best suited matches. As opposed to traditional matrimonial sites where the algorithm is equal to two village aunties fixing a match like it's still the 1960s.
A popular matrimonial site once rejected one of my photographs because 'sleeveless' dresses are not allowed.
But the one with a spaghetti strap sari blouse and midriff exposing translucent sari was perfectly acceptable. Double standards exist even in cyberspace.
In the spirit of trying new things, or doing old things in a new way, I recently got on several dating apps. Tantalizing Tinder. Appetizing Coffee Meets Bagel. Keeps-me-busy Bumble. And OkStupid, oops, Cupid.
I hope my experiences will help ladies everywhere weed out the proverbial wheat from the chaff.
- Good morning, Good evening!
Incessant chatting punctuated with random 'heys' and 'hellos', but no plans to meet, usually are an indication that you are one of the many open chat windows.
Lesson: The good guys will engage in conversation and not boring 'hello gorgeous' stock messages.
They will be open to meeting you on your terms. And won't suggest 'Netflix and Chill' on the first date.
Instead, they will be happy to chat with you in the real world, over a simple coffee and taking things from there.
- Fake it till you make it
One of my first interactions was with an architect. Handsome. Good conversationalist. He claimed to own a sailboat. Chatting came easy. He said all the right things. And he looked good. He was perfect!
Till I realised he was a perfectly created fictitious profile!
I only found out as when I showed the picture to a friend and she told me that he was a small time TV star.
How am I supposed to know every joker who has appeared on Balaji TV Shows?
A few days later, his profile was taken down by the dating police. Guess others girls are less gullible than I am.
Lesson: If he is too good to be true, he is probably fake.
Get his last name or place work and cross reference the information with other social media sites like Facebook or LinkedIn.
- Lame pick-up lines
'I may not be Brad Pitt, but am not Brad Spit either.'
'If I had a star for every time you brightened my day, I would be holding a galaxy.'
'Did your license get suspended for driving all these guys crazy?' And I could go on and on.
Lesson: If you come across cheesy pick-up likes, don't engage. Not even a smiley face.
Opening lines like: 'I woke up thinking today was just another boring Monday, and then I saw your photo on my app' can make you go 'awwww'.
In all likelihood it is a stock phrase obtained through a Google search of best pick-up lines.
Give the benefit of doubt, but if there is no follow up with a regular conversation, move on.
- On his terms only
'I loved your profile. I really want to get to know you. But I would like to make it clear upfront. I am married and only looking for some fun on the side.' True story. Full points for honesty! But many are not forthcoming as this generous soul was.
Lesson: Look out for patterns. Does he only message at specific days or times?
Is he reluctant to impromptu meet ups?
Does he always call the shots on the meeting venues?
Chances are that he is married or attached, and is only meeting you when his other half is away.
This is by no means a foolproof gauge, but it does mean you should try taking control of the meetings and see how he reacts.
- You are so sexy
If the message stops at that, it's fine.
But if it continues with 'that I want to', beware, the sexting has begun. Sometimes accompanied with visual aids.
Lesson: If the sexting starts even before the first meeting, block him!
Unless you are game for some saucy cyber chatting, then carry on.
But don't expect the encounter to transform into something meaningful.
- Bold moves:
Because interaction on dating apps is through screens, users develop what I call 'M courage'.
This is a new form of Dutch courage which does not need any kind of alcohol.
M courage involves flirting, as incessantly and boldly as one desires.
Users can hide behind the screen and type a lot of things they probably would not have the courage to say in the real world.
M courage lets you get away with a lot more than you normally can, while providing an easy out.
A very comprehensive insurance policy indeed. It's sometimes tough to fathom the true intentions behind the typed words.
Lesson: Find out about more the person, separate from the persona.
Try and get the conversation to normal levels and get him to talk about his day, his work, his travel plans. This will help you find common ground.
Love them, hate them, or simply tolerate them, but dating apps are here to stay in their current or new avatars.
My recommendations would be to get on them. But take it S-L-O-W, especially if you're an app-virgin.
At first the attention can be flattering, overwhelming even.
And then you may spot your friend's husband or college crush on the app (which may or may not be one and the same person).
Such encounters can be daunting but don't get disheartened.
Start with coffee. And remember we all have to kiss a lot of frogs, before we can make love to our prince.
Seema Punwani is the author of the recently released book Cross Connection.