Is Instagram the new Tinder? Social media and dating seem to be a match

Karishma Jangid
Updated On
New Update
“Instagram is the new Tinder” and other myths about dating on social media

As the lines between social media and dating websites blur increasingly, we look at the factors at play behind virtual relationships.

“Instagram is the new Tinder,” an ex-friend said to me once.  I remember this sentence every time I see a #WeMetonTwitter tweet or “How it started vs How it is going” post. Every time I see the lines blurring between social media and dating websites, I wonder, "Is Instagram the new Tinder? Is Twitter the new Bumble?" Social media has existed for years now (Six Degrees, the first social media platform was invented in 1996). Is dating on social media a new phenomenon though? I spoke with people across countries, ages, and genders and it turns out that social media has been making romantic matches for years. But how does social media create connections between two people sitting behind screens kilometers away? How do a few clicks on the internet give you that euphoria-filled dopamine rush making you fall for someone you barely know? Is it safe? Many look down upon online relationships due to their virtual nature. Relationships that begin and end on the internet are rarely taken seriously. In the face of such predispositions, are such relationships ideal? Conversations with dozens of lovers who found love, trauma, and everything in between on social media, gave me a world of revelations.

“I met a bloke on Faceparty (a UK-based social media platform) many years ago. We’ve been together for 16 years, married for 9, and have 2 kids!” says Kaylee. India got the internet later than the West, but we didn’t wait long before joining the dating-on-social-media club. “I once met someone on a Yahoo Messenger group chat. I’m an online dating veteran,” jokes Vidushi. “I was browsing on the chat room ‘Britney Spears fan club’. I got chatting with this fellow about “I Love Rock N’ Roll”. We dated for 2 years on the phone. It was a juvenile toxic relationship with lots of fighting and phone erotica,” she adds. Then came Facebook which is home to many living love stories. Perhaps this is why Facebook launched Facebook Dating in the USA in 2019. While the endeavor didn’t really turn fruitful, Facebook continues to be a dating ground. “#WeMetonFB” jokes Dinesh* (name changed for privacy purposes). “I had an "SMS pack". LOL. I would send her PJs (poor jokes) and even chat on SMS. Later, we used FB and WhatsApp synonymously. Calls were rare. And oh back then WhatsApp had no calls. Only apps like Dingaling, Viber, and Hike provided calls,” he reminisces. 

Cut to 2020, when Instagram is all the rage and memes are a love language. As per an Instagram report, "Nearly half of Gen Z social media users answered “yes” when asked if they’d ever send a meme as a first message to a match in a dating app." Ruchi Chandrawanshi and Arjun Ghimire first met when a mutual friend added them to a meme group on Instagram. “I sent him a dog emoji and said, “Oops, ye chalte chalte tumhare paas aa gaya,” laughs Ruchi reminiscing how she first spoke to Arjun, her partner of 2 years now. “We used to talk on the Instagram group. I started liking him because of his sense of humor and looks. So, I sent him a DM (Direct Message),” she informs. Arjun gave her his phone number when he decided to take a social media break. Their chats then moved to WhatsApp bringing them closer. “We talked about a lot of stuff- each other’s past, who we are, where we studied, everything. Eventually, we spoke on call. Later, we started following each other on Facebook and Snapchat,” she elaborates. Today they jointly run a visual-effects company. There seems to be a hierarchy of social media apps, actually. People who find dates on social media usually meet on Facebook or Instagram. Once comfortable, they move to apps like Snapchat, Twitter, and even LinkedIn! Anushree, 20, who met a “situationship” on Omegle, says, “Before him, I had never met a guy who reads romance so I was very impressed. We stayed in a situationship for 5-ish weeks, flirted on LinkedIn, then exchanged snaps. I asked for his LinkedIn to cross-check his educational and professional background. After 2 weeks, the spark started to vanish. So, I told him that I feel like we should stop texting.” 

Social media often gives people a window into the other person’s interests and beliefs. It is also a great place to find and connect with people of similar interests. For instance, cinema introduced 27-year-old Farooq, a Delhi-based filmmaker to his ex-partner. “In 2019, in the Film Companion Facebook group, I saw a post by a girl who was researching propaganda films. So, I texted her to help. Soon, we began chatting about our mutual love for cinema. When we finally exchanged our numbers, she shared a long voice note on WhatsApp about her other project about Ritwik Ghatak. I was listening to her with a stupid smile on my face. I knew at that instance that this was more than friendship,” he says. Similarly, politics brought Viren and Krutika together. “This one account used to like all my comments on a political page on Instagram called ‘Andheri West Shitposting’. So, I sent a request. Turns out it was a girl behind that account, Krutika,” says Viren. Krutika adds, “I usually don't accept requests from unknown people, but I noticed that he also followed me on Spotify. Music plays a big part in my life. So, I followed him back. His DP was super cute and he had an interesting bio (a pun on 'Heer toh badi sad hai'). Later, I reacted to a meme on his story and we started talking.” 

Love stories on social media often start like this. In the words of R. N. (initials used for privacy purposes), a 21-year-old writer, “One day they reacted to my story. That’s how every Instagram love story starts.” It can start with a reply to a post like Farooq, or a reaction to an Instagram story like Krutika. In Muskan’s* case, an update on Mumbai’s COVID-19 situation made her contact her now partner Madhav* on Facebook. “After COVID-19, I decided to move back to Mumbai in January 2021. We decided to meet in February because of our packed schedules. However, he surprised me by showing up at the airport on January 4. It was really sweet, but it felt a bit awkward as I usually like to take my time before meeting a virtual friend in real,” says Muskan. She is not alone. Dinesh also prefers talking to people online before meeting them. He explains, “I love making friends, but I am an introvert. So, I would rather befriend them online and fir interact karu.” In fact, he kept his ex-relationship confined to the virtual world courtesy of his introverted behaviour as well as the gossiping neighbours. The above mentioned Instagram report also stated that more than half of Gen Z social media users too feel more comfortable being vulnerable online and over text than in person.

It also helps one to get to know someone thoroughly so as to minimize chances of danger when they meet the other person. The information you find about them on social media helps build trust. It assures you that you know them. Muskan says, “I initiated the conversation about meeting, but he planned to surprise me. Some might consider it scary, but for me, it was just awkward. Partly because we had already become good friends and were looking forward to meeting each other. I took a close look at his profile. His cousins and friends said only positive things about him. The comments on his pictures showed how loved and respected he is,” she says. Ruchi met Arjun after 6 months of knowing him. She informs, “Given we were miles apart, safety was the least of my concerns because he was just a random guy on the internet until I decided that I really like him.” 

Safety is a significant concern given that incidents of abuse are commonplace. R.N.’s first relationship was on Instagram when they were 18. “I was with them for 1.5 years, and then they cheated on me. I no more trust people on social media,” they say. Speaking specifically about dating within the queer community, they inform that while virtual queer communities help queer people find potential dates online, fear of abuse can hold them back. (Trigger warning: sexual abuse) They inform how a friend went to meet an online hook-up, but was instead sexually abused by three men. “There’s this joke na, that the person you’re meeting can be a serial killer also.” Even within the queer community, discrimination based on one’s look on their Instagram feed can thwart the possibility of finding a date. “Some people say that, Oh, he looks so masculine. He doesn’t look gay. So, let’s not date him,” they add.

Not just physical danger, sometimes, social media itself can come in the way of dating on social media. Social media is not only a venue for finding love, it is also a place for displaying love. The way two partners use social media to talk about their relationship can affect their equation. When asked whether Arjun’s constant breaks from social media affect her, Ruchi says, “Earlier he was expressive on social media. When he was active online, he used to share our pictures, but he was not as constant as me. It used to affect me at first but I made peace with it because I realized what kind of person he is. I am out and open, he is a private person. He isn’t a consumer like I am, and that’s okay.” Similarly, 27-year-old S.C. finds it funny as well as weird that her partner doesn’t use social media. A mutual friend set up her and I.D. on a date. But when the friend informed her that I.D. doesn’t use social media, she went, “What? Is this person catfishing me?” Even after almost a year of being a couple, she finds I.D.’s absence from social media “new”. “It’s very new to me. I am an open book on social media. I am the kind of person who screams from the rooftops about their partner. So, not being able to tag her, even in cute posts, is kinda weird,” she says. However, they chat on WhatsApp. Apparently, in the previously mentioned hierarchy of apps, after Snapchat, Twitter, and LinkedIn comes WhatsApp. WhatsApp lets you focus solely on chatting with the other person removing other distractions, unlike social media websites like Instagram, Facebook, and others that are filled with millions of photos and videos.

Wherever a social media website is on the hierarchy, it has its pros and perils just like dating websites. It is difficult to gauge what a romantic connection has in store for you. But isn’t that how relationships work in the offline world too? Discrediting a relationship simply because the internet connects the partners is unfair, isn’t it? Think Saajan and Ila in ‘The Lunchbox’ or Sita and Ram in ‘Sita Ramam’, didn’t they find each other via letters? Sure, DMs don’t have the charm of handwritten letters, but when were feelings limited to aesthetics? There is no way of knowing which connection, even if fleeting, will give you an experience that is worth it. Why do we find virtual connections less credible than offline ones? Love reigns all across the world. If you are yearning, and determined to find love, the entire world, including social media, can be your dating portal. 

Instagram Tinder online dating #WeMetOnTwitter social media dating virtual dating virtual relationships