How far ‘swiping right’ can take you?

By Buraq Shabbir
Tue, 03, 22

Despite strong social resistance and judgement on dating apps, they are still popular among youngsters in Pakistan. The question is how safe are they? You! takes a look…

How far ‘swiping right’ can take you?

dating apps

“I’m only here for hook-ups.”

“Serious for marriage, no time wasters please.”

These are few lines that one most commonly comes across on dating apps in Pakistan. The concept of dating is not a new one in Pakistan yet the idea is enough to get you all the haw-hayes if you are dating someone by any chance. Adding insult to injury are dating apps that you would rather not tell anyone about even if you are using one or two or more. The haw-hayes are because dating is unacceptable in our part of the world due to religious and cultural reasons. However, there is more to it when it comes to having a profile on a dating app particularly for a woman. How safe does a woman feel while revealing her identity on a dating app? What sorts of comments she receives from men on dating apps? Do men also feel harassed while using these apps? Does the Cyber Crime Cell have any accountability for harassment that takes place via dating apps?

This article focuses on finding answers to the above, incorporating responses from eight dating app users (4 women and 4 men between the ages of 27-33). There are various reasons why one chooses to make a profile on a dating app and these include socialising, finding a partner, having fun, speaking their hearts out or simply because they were getting bored.

In the past decades, landline conversations served the aforementioned purposes, followed by dating apps that have gained traction in recent years, according to a report by Deutsche Welle, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. A study by Indonesian Journal of Communication Studies concluded that most Pakistani Tinder users come from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad and are aged between 18 and 40.

While Tinder is a global app and got banned in Pakistan, Salams and Muzmatch are specifically designed for Muslim men and women. Bumble, on the other hand, serves non-Muslims and the Trans community as well, while allowing women to make the first move. However, does that guarantee that a woman won’t be harassed or perceived as ‘available’ for just about any and every sort of conversations and actions?

In response to a poll on my public social media account, 55 per cent of people shared that women shouldn’t reveal their identity on dating apps owing to honour and safety related reasons. 45 per cent felt it was okay to reveal their identity. However, the men and women I spoke to for the sake of this story, reveal their identity on dating apps and do not find any point in hiding it. Nonetheless, one of these women, who is a 28-year-old journalist based in Karachi and is using the app for a few months, feels that revealing the identity on the app is safe abroad but she is not sure about the same in Pakistan. Once, her work associate took a screen-grab of her profile from the app and sent it to her on Bumble, after which she deleted the app.

How far ‘swiping right’ can take you?

Two of the men – a 28-year-old Realtor and a 32-year-old Consultant from Karachi, however, feel that it is safe for women to reveal their identity while the other two, a 31-year-old Product Designer and a 33-year-old journalist think that they are not sure about it, as a woman would know better. In contrast, one of these men did share an instance where he felt harassed or somewhat uncomfortable at the hands of a woman he matched with on the app.

“I matched with a couple of women who made me feel uncomfortable if not harassed. Some of them literally jumped to the bed without even having any conversations and when I refused, they questioned my abilities. Some misbehaved, used foul language, and some would just say mean things putting their baggage on me,” shared the 32-year-old, Karachi based consultant.

Speaking in terms of accountability for a man or woman who harasses another individual on a dating app, the Cyber Harassment Cell takes care of that. However, there is no specific rule or punishment pertaining to dating apps specifically; they deal with it the same way as any form of harassment taking place online, under Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (PECA). The complainant, who can file a complaint via their website as well, is called for inquiry in person and is asked to show evidence in the form of screenshots, pictures, etc. The case is then formally registered and is handed to the court for further investigation. All of this information is kept confidential.

How far ‘swiping right’ can take you?

It is not just safety concerns that may arise while using dating apps, there is also a sense of discomfort or disgust when it comes to how men perceive women who use dating apps. While women feel independent and progressive when opting to make a profile on a dating app, some men look at these women as desperate and needy. A 31-year-old teacher notes that men would ask her if this was the only option left to her for finding a partner. Similarly, she also shared another instance where a man advised her to get off the app as ‘good women’ do not use it.

This is also one reason why people, especially women, choose not to reveal their identities and/or photos so that nobody judges them. In Pakistan, this phenomenon remains unacceptable or something to frown upon. This is why most people, including 6 out of 8 participants of this story, did not tell people that they use the app or just shared with a few close friends. There is strong social resistance and judgement on it.

In addition to safety concerns and being judged for merely being on a dating app, irrespective of one’s conduct on it, it is interesting to note that 7 out of 8 participants of this research haven’t had the purpose served yet. Whether they have been using it for months or over a year, they haven’t had any luck finding a partner. One man, who joined it for fun, also felt it was more of a disappointment as no one matched with him. The 27-year-old lifestyle and culture journalist, who used Tinder for just a few days, was agitated with men she spoke to on the app while the one man who was apparently decent ended up ghosting her.

Dating apps seem to cost people more than it looks like on the surface. It is fun and a good means of socialising for many but it also exhausts people who put in their time and emotions into it. One is always guarded when it comes to how much information to share with an individual they match with. And once that happens, one is afraid if they trusted the wrong person who could possibly misuse the information or simply disappear. In either case, it brings a person back to zero, leaving with nothing but a lesson. Are dating apps really worth all of this?