Last year, I had the opportunity to work closely with a team of young journalists and interns. Almost all of them were born after Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge was released (that is, after 1995), and boasted of prestigious liberal alma maters ranging from Jadavpur University to Ashoka University.
They all had another thing in common: Dating lives most older Indian millennials could only have dreamt of in their 20s.
From meeting scores of new people on Tinder to being unabashed about sex, the spring chickens had stories that evoked everything from curiosity to outright envy among older bosses in my office. And, this seems to be a pattern across industries.
A married 38-year-old banker said he feels “massive jealousy” when he hears about the dating lives of his juniors. “I never had a one-night stand in my life,” the Bengaluru-based IIT graduate said. “And my younger colleagues seem to hook up with seven to eight people in a month.”
This feeling of disappointment over not having met enough people is common among urban men and women in their 30s. Most millennials born before liberalisation in India grew up with an awkward attitude to dating and sex—westernised enough to pursue pre-marital romances but not bold enough to do so openly and nonchalantly. The rise of dating apps and social media changed that. The entry of post-millennials into the workforce, wherein the two generations began interacting regularly for the first time, has shown us just how massive that change has been.
So how exactly is this change manifesting itself?
To begin with, it is way easier to date and meet new people now.
Before dating apps became ubiquitous, our hunting grounds for potential partners were restricted to where we studied, lived or worked. “At MakeMyTrip, when we started off, there were so many couples who met in office and even got married,” said Sachin Bhatia, who co-founded the travel and ticket-booking site in 2000 and, 13 years later, launched dating platform TrulyMadly.
Now, as swiping right becomes second nature, not only is it easy to access a mind-boggling variety of people, there is also no need to stay in a bad relationship for a long time.
“The younger generation today is more confident about taking risk and seeking more clarity, be it in career or relationship,” explains Rajesh Choudhary, 38, who works for a logistics firm. While many in Gen Y stayed on in lacklustre relationships due to a lack of options, those in their 20s today move on more easily, the IIT-graduate said.
Corridor conversation is also changing. While the older generation was more discreet about its romances, fewer people in Gen Z see the need to hide their sexual lives, be it from parents, colleagues, or Facebook.
“I told my mom ‘blowjobs are so hard’ after my first time,” one of those aforementioned journalists once told me. On the other hand, I still cringe when I recall the only sex scenes my parents and I saw together—Kate Winslet’s Rose removing her robe in the drawing scene in Titanic, followed by lovemaking in the back of the car.
However, this isn’t merely about the healthy discussions that English-speaking 20-somethings can have with their parents about dating. It is also about what sex means to them, which often comes attached with words such as “casual,” “meaningless,” “experimental,” or “non-exclusive.”
I was pleasantly surprised at the ease with which those younger female journalists talked about their desire—in office, over a cup of coffee! This casualness is helping a lot of older millennials—especially women—confront their own hangups about sex.
Ankita Anand, a Delhi-based writer, was taken aback when a 28-year old woman colleague declared, “Oh! I can totally tell your bedroom personality.”
“I felt sheepish but also intrigued. She said this four days after knowing me,” the 34-year-old said. “I do feel reticent about discussing my bedroom personality, but I also don’t want to feel too squeamish and am trying to get over my inhibitions.”
This new sexual world seems to have an impact on everything from career trajectories to office romances.
“A decade ago, when I chose to enter the finance field, I knew it is male-dominated and I would hardly get to meet women,” an investment banker said on the condition of anonymity. “I married my college girlfriend, and even though my life is great, I regret not meeting other sexual partners during my 20s.”
Without dating apps and WhatsApp, the time and effort required for dating was intimidating for those in demanding careers. From even mustering the courage to ask someone out to regular phone calls and text messages, old-fashioned dating often required investing a lot of time. “When we were at that age, there was no time to look for companionship…I would over-intellectualise even a coffee date,” said Saumya Baijal, Gurgaon-based adwoman and writer. “Also, we often had an end-goal in mind—maybe a long-term relationship or even marriage. For my young colleagues, it is all about being in the moment,” the 35-year old added.
Yet, the lack of pressure to look for a soulmate, and the freedom to simply hook-up, also means there is plenty of time to focus on career growth or other activities. “I see people finding dates online while preparing financial models now,” the investment banker said, rather sadly.
MakeMyTrip’s Bhatia now runs shopping app Bulbul and says he has seen office romances reduce over the years. “I have 150 employees, but I hardly know of any office couples now,” he said. And, why would they? “Guys and girls in my office are meeting new people outside every week.”