Changing Dating Patterns in India

I was introduced to an American entrepreneur in the social space who may just have stumbled upon a huge, current trend for tweens and college kids in India.

Before I explain the idea, it’s worthwhile to backup in history. My parents were born and raised in India. They were wed through an arranged marriage, like many of their peers. Since they wed in 1973, dating norms in India have of course changed. There are more “love marriages,” where the participants pick their mates. Matrimonial sites like Shaadi and Bharat Matrimony generate huge traffic and returns for investors. Mommies and daddies still play matchmaker around the country, around the world. And, while “love marriages” become more common, the age at which youngsters begin to pair off has actually increased. People are getting married at older ages relative to before, and the dating that leads to this end result has taken a different form. Here’s a short explanation:

In my parents’ day, there was no “dating.” Their parents arranged “dates” and eventually the participants had a chance to voice their preferences. In today’s world of more “love marriages,” today’s parents are starting to accept the fact that a young man and woman may actually prefer to know their life mate for some period of time longer than a few afternoon tea sessions. In order to make these choices, kids end up pairing off a bit later than their parents did, usually meeting through school or friends. They get the luxury of getting to know someone over time.

However, this doesn’t mean that dating is exploding everywhere in India. Whereas in the United States it is common for a high school kid to pick up a girl at her parents’ house for a movie, this does not happen in India today. And, with real estate prices so high, and families so big, Indian kids still live with their parents for a lot longer than they do in the U.S. What is more socially acceptable, however, is hanging out in groups with friends. It’s normal for a teenage girl to go out with her friends, and likely that group will involve boys, too. But the boys don’t come over to the house to pick up the girls. That would be a no-no.

This company I met — Ignighter, — was started in the U.S. for group dating. It’s actually from TechStars, which is arguably one of the hottest startup incubators in the world right now, along with Y-Combinator. The premise was to build a group dating site to fit in between the likes of Facebook (casual) and eHarmony (too serious). What Ignighter’s founders didn’t realize was how this concept would catch fire in Asia, particularly in India, where they see 5,000-7,000 registrations a day. Read that again: “5,000-7,000 registrations per day.” They even eek out a bit of revenue from India, which is not an easy task.

At first, I was blown away by this, but quickly I realize that it’s a great product fit for India, based on what I’ve seen first-hand. My little cousins all huddle around the one computer they share. They all have mobile phones, but most of them are not smartphones, and the ones that are smartphones are not hooked up on the data plans yet. They want nothing more than to eat dinner at home and then go hang out with their friends in coed groups. You can be sure they pair off a bit during these excursions and have their time before the curfew bell rings. When U.S. students typically leave for college and taste residential freedom (and dating turns into pairing up), Indian college kids for the most part still live at home, and the same constraints persist. If a girl’s boyfriend doesn’t have the means to eventually get his own apartment, there’s a good chance that the wife will get to know her mother-in-law pretty quickly.

Group dating therefore is a middle layer in the social fabric reality these kids face in their teen years. They don’t want Bharat Matrimony — their parents do. They want to leave home for a few hours, hang out in the comfort of a big group, and let the group dynamics help them pair off slowly, at their pace. It will be interesting to see how Ignighter fares.