Dating apps cater to South Asians looking for love

Most love lovers on a dating app know how to do it.

Write a compelling description of yourself strategically. Select filters – age, geographic proximity – for potential partners. It is possible to announce intentions: Looking for something serious? Something everyday?

Mirchi’s dating app offers another possibility: “My aunt made me sign up.”

This variation is part joke, part nod to its audience. Unlike popular apps like Tinder or Bumble, Mirchi is part of the growing world of dating apps created and targeted at South Asians. More than 5 million South Asians — people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal and the Maldives — call the US home, mostly on the west and east coasts.

For many South Asian immigrant children, the apps offer a practical tool to navigate the winding paths of loving their culture, loving their families, and finding the love of their lives.

Mirchi, meaning “spice” in several South Asian languages, launched 2020 in Los Angeles. Before Mirchi was Dil Mil, launched in 2014 in San Francisco. Dil Mil translates as “meeting of hearts.”

The platforms have dropdowns attempting to capture and categorize the vast diversity of South Asia, offering checkboxes for Tamil, Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi (the list goes on). They also ask about religion: Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains (the list, again, can be continued).

It was through questions like these that Sumitra Tatapudi found love.

Tatapudi grew up living between Mumbai and San Jose. The parents of the 31-year-old man, like many South Asian immigrants, had an arranged marriage. The process of arranging a marriage varies, but generally this means that your parents or relatives help you choose a life partner.

Column 1

A showcase of compelling storytelling from the Los Angeles Times.

Having plunged into the process of marriage by agreement, Tatapudi could not plunge into it. “During a conversation with a guy from an arranged marriage organization, I realized that it would be very difficult for me to determine when we would say yes. For example, at what point? she said. “If our goal is not just to somehow fall in love, then how do you know?”

She then dated someone outside of her culture. “He was a cool guy, but he was Caucasian and that opened up this whole can of a lot of really hard times with my parents,” Tatapudi said.

Her parents asked, “Will it be convenient for us to come? Will you be comfortable bringing your music, your dance, all these other aspects of yourself?”

Eventually, the severity of their cultural ruptures and the need to act as a bridge between her partner and her parents, exacerbated by the natural ups and downs of the new relationship, became unbearable. “The questions we had were that I had to explain a lot,” she said. “There is no natural understanding of things, right?”

Then Tatapudi did what many 20-year-olds would do: she turned to dating apps.

She was familiar with Coffee Meets Bagel – and had “like a million dates”, but downloaded Dil Mil on the advice of a friend. She has already admitted that she has dated Indian guys anyway, and the dating app has made the process more efficient.

Dil Mil encourages communication through culture. When users are asked to highlight personal qualities, descriptors such as “tea drinker”, “Bollywood lover” and “bhangra dancer” are scattered among common adjectives such as “carefree”, “charismatic” and “attentive”.

In some ways, the dating app scene was not far from her parents’ arranged marriage tradition. According to Tatapudi, you can talk to several people during the arranged marriage process before settling on someone.

Dil Mil may still require a small leap of faith, similar to a marriage of convenience: the app offers options across the country, not just in your region like regular apps do. This means you can talk to someone for weeks before meeting them in person.

For Tatapudi and her current husband, this was not a problem. She met Sandheep Venkataraman in 2018 after six months on the app. (His profile said that whoever swiped right would have many Costco rides, and she shared her story while in the Costco parking lot.)

“While we were chatting, he talked about going to A.R. Rahman concert, and I thought, “Oh my God, this is great, there is hope, he likes A. R. Rahman,” she said, noting her love for the popular Indian composer.

About two months after meeting on the app, they met for coffee in San Francisco. A few months later, he met her parents for dinner in San Jose. By April 2019, they were engaged. They got married in November 2021 in her parents’ backyard in San Jose.

“You can communicate very, very well with a person who is from a completely different culture, I 100% support that,” she said. “But I wanted to make it easier for me. It is so nice to have a person next to you who can articulate the emotional nuances of belonging to two different cultures and feel understood and accepted in this.”

One of the first online dating behemoths in South Asia is Shaadi.com. Founded in India in 1996, its name translates to Wedding.com.

By their mid-20s, South Asians in the US and abroad often shy away from offers to create a profile on Shaadi.com, and jokes about mothers creating profiles for their children remain forever.

However, the website and new apps serve an ongoing need. As with most immigrant communities, the generation of South Asians who grew up in the US often finds themselves in perpetual negotiations to connect their homeland with the current land.

“American society is very individualistic. And so the idea of ​​an arranged marriage is the furthest thing you can get from American expectations of dating and life. This “should” be your own decision, right?” said Rifat Salam, an associate professor of sociology at the City University of New York.

“In South Asian culture, you consider your family in the choices you make,” Salam added. “Having an app gives you real autonomy. You can filter the options yourself, but you can do so without going too far from them. [family] expectations.”

Dil Mil founder and CEO K.J. Daliwal echoed the idea, stating that “with the advent of products like Tinder and Bumble, there’s a distinct opportunity” for a South Asian dating platform (without the looming marriage pressure that is associated with Shaadi. com). ).

In the original study for Dil Mil, the team found that “more than 80% of South Asians meet and marry in the same community,” Dhaliwal said. “They tend to look for partners with the same upbringing and cultural heritage because it gives them a deep-rooted need for identity, cultural preservation.”

He said that Dil Mil’s main market is in the US, UK and Canada, but declined to provide monthly active users. Dil Mil was acquired by Dating.com Group in 2019. The deal valued the company at up to $50 million.

After all, the app will serve more than just romance. “We are currently working on a community feature,” Daliwal said, adding that there is “enough demand” among South Asians looking for friends.

Dil Mil, Mirchi and Shaadi.com are free, although all three platforms offer advanced features such as the ability to “like” more profiles, for access to which users can pay.

Dating app Mirchi says it has 70,000 monthly active users, and Ali Tehranian, one of the app’s co-founders, said it aims to add a “new flavor” to the South Asian dating landscape.

The app weaves South Asian culture into its aesthetic. When you open it, you are greeted by a henna-adorned hand throwing red-orange flower petals, a practice found in some weddings in South Asia.

The light-hearted profile tells users which South Asian food they prefer over others (idli or dosa?), which Bollywood song is the “soundtrack of your life”, or whether they are big fans of Priyanka Chopra or Deepika Padukone (the two top Bollywood actresses).

The seeds for the application were sown at the University of California, Irvine, where Tehranian was a student.

Campus performances of bhangra, a traditional Punjabi dance, seem to have brought the entire Punjabi community of the university together to dance and ultimately just be with each other, Tehranian said.

“People are still adopting the traditions, values ​​of past generations,” he said. Even among the younger generation, he says, the culture remains “deeply rooted” and there is closeness to each other, and an app like Mirchi can make that process easier.

Adil Sheikh chose Shaadi.com dating platform. Or rather, it was his mother’s choice.

She created an account without the knowledge of the Sheikh (sometimes these are really no jokes), and that is where Safiya Gosla found him.

For Shaikh, 38, and Gosla, 39, Shaadi.com was just the vehicle they needed for their hybrid dating—not a marriage of convenience, but not exactly dating in the traditional American sense.

“Immediately after I graduated from college my mom created my profile on Shaadi.com and when I found out I was there I was like, OK, let me edit it all — like, oh my God, who is this guy who does she describe? The Sheikh laughed.

He tried other possibilities: Minder, a Muslim dating app; installations organized by his aunts and uncles; even local rishta-vali, or matchmaker. No one he met was a perfect fit.

Eventually, Shaadi.com started emailing Gosla suggesting the Sheikh’s profile. “Advertising exhaustion” eventually led to her liking his profile.

Adil Sheikh (left) kisses his wife Safiya Sheikh (right) on the cheek.

Adil Sheikh kisses his wife Safiya. Their first date was in July, and in November they got married at an Orange County mosque.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

“All emails will still go to my mom,” Sheikh said. “So when Safiya sent me a request, my mom knocked on my door and said, ‘Hey, this girl is interested. Check it out, she lives nearby.” In the profile, she was wearing a sari, and I thought, “Oh, this is a very cute sari on her.” ”

Their first date was in July (out of Houston in Irvine) and it turned out that their bond had been building up over the years.

“When I asked him where his father is from, his father is from the same small village that my dad is from, and they knew each other as kids, so our grandparents knew each other,” Gosla said.

Exactly 45 dates later (the couple recorded each date in a notebook), they married in November at an Orange County mosque.

And, Gosla said, ultimately, dating apps aren’t too different from local ones. rsta-vali; it’s just a virtual, algorithm-driven version. “Shaadi.com was our matchmaker,” she laughed.

Of course, apps aren’t magical for everyone. For 26-year-old Ria Jane, it’s a passive way to appease her wedding-hungry parents. For Deep Agarwal, 36, who is divorced, it’s a clumsy attempt to get back into the “very stunning” dating world after a ten-year hiatus.

And for Prince Singh, 27, dating apps from South Asia offered an opportunity to break down barriers. Women on mainstream platforms can have a preconceived notion about his choice to wear a turban, so when Dil Mil crossed his radar, he was hopeful.

But so far nothing has clicked. According to him, in this sense, there is no difference between South Asian dating apps and popular dating apps. You can worship in the same way or speak the same languages, but that doesn’t guarantee chemistry.

Until then, perhaps the remedy is simple: keep swiping across the screen.

Watch LA Times Today at 7:00 pm on Spectrum News 1 on Channel 1 or live on the Spectrum News app. Viewers of the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Orange County can watch Cox Systems on channel 99.