Whether it begins with a right swipe or by sliding into someone’s DMs, online dating is widely prevalent in queer circles in urban India today.
Thirst traps, a witty bio, a carefully-curated profile, strategically woke comments, and online associations – all these make it hard even for an internet veteran like me to get a read on someone before getting entangled further.
Perhaps that's why, according to Tinder's recent survey, 43 percent of young people (18-30 years) in cities are interested in learning about navigating consent, while meeting someone online.
Six in 10 of us are actively looking for resources and forums to discuss consent, with many believing that dating apps themselves should take charge of raising awareness about it.
Recently, I found myself in an intimate relationship wherein we relied on social media and messaging platforms for nearly all our communication.
Although I am terribly private and shy, I have learnt that my queer partners often feel affirmed when our relationship is celebrated online through expressive stories, posts, and photographs. Given that many of us grew up hiding our queer lives ‘in the closet’, this is seen as a public and proud declaration of queer love.
But for someone like me, this also brings up feelings of overwhelm and discomfort.
Getting Texts & Photos: The Mix of Pleasure & Discomfort
Something endearing like my partner sending me pictures and videos of themselves, moving through their day – photographic evidence of a good hair day, a video of them rubbing their pet’s tummy, a thirst trap from the gym, a boomerang of them blowing me a gentle kiss – can all be causes for me to grin at my phone.
But at the same time, they also often invoke intense emotions like that of yearning and desire, which might distract my brain from my daily schedule like regular meals, bedtime, and the need to set aside my phone and rest my tired fingers!
I am certainly not alone in this mixed experience of desire tinged with discomfort. In fact, survey results show that 60 percent of young adults hesitate to ask for and explicitly give consent when with a date or partner.
Even more struggle to withdraw consent once given, which is perhaps what has led to 8 in 10 of us either having personally experienced or heard about a friend's experience of something uncomfortable while with a date or partner.
So, I learnt to check in with my body. I noticed that my breaths grew shallow when our text conversations became tense, I felt my heart race when my partner shared tough emotions, and my sleep was interrupted by nightmares when our relationship grew rocky.
Conversations With My Partner About Consent & Pleasure
Besides consciously checking in with myself, my partner and I would also have regular conversations about consent and pleasure, which made me aware of my agency in shaping our relational dynamic. We would often ask each other curious and thoughtful questions like:
“Can I send you a picture of myself? I think you’re gonna hit tap to replay this one *wink wink*”
"What sort of compliments feel affirming for you?" (In the process, I learnt that I loved it when they said that I was looking lush and they liked to be called handsome and fascinating).
“Texting happens on the go and doesn’t feel like I have your full attention. Could we do date nights over video calls once a week? That way you can tell me about your stressful work situation in detail, as well.”
“Would it be okay if I told my friends and family about you? We have been dating for 3 months now, and you’ve grown significantly in my life.”
“You said you like Venetian Roast coffee and I want to send you some. Would it work for you if I scheduled its delivery for tomorrow morning? I don’t want to interrupt your workout though.”
Such questions may seem simple, but they demonstrate the intention of wanting to be on the same page as one’s partner. It helps gauge if the other person is ready to receive the information and energy that I am bringing to the table.
It opens up space for conversations about personal limitations, painful memories and triggers, and ideas for experiences that can feel mutually intimate and pleasurable.
Building the Practice of Checking-in
Building this gentle and intentional practice of checking in not only helped me learn about my long-distance partner but also about remaining emotionally available in the relationship.
It serves as a foundation to address conflict in the relationship and may be helpful when talking about tricky topics like sexual desires, past relationships, and future expectations.
Given how new the phenomenon of online dating is in our culture, it is no surprise that close to 70 percent of the respondents to Tinder's survey believe that there is a need for consent education to be part of school and college curricula.
Young people are seeking guidance as they encounter new ways of relating to one another, but we don't have institutions and systems invested in producing resources that they can work with.
As alluring as it feels to dive into the world of endless choices on dating apps, it is important to engage in it mindfully and communicate with openness. Or it can just as easily devolve from a thrilling new connection to an embarrassing hot mess of trampled boundaries and hurt feelings.
(Tejaswi Subramanian (they/she) is the digital editor of Gaysi Family, a queer-owned, queer-run media platform. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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