Being alone in another country is not as easy as a foreign student. To cope with my feelings of loneliness and boredom, I created a Tinder profile to meet new and interesting people in India.
I remember the first time I saw a profile of a married couple and wondered how they used the app to find sexual partners.
I had thought Tinder was only for singles!
My curiosity led me to a swipe right spree and what I found completely changed my perception about Indian marriages, sexuality and Tinder.
After a few days of swiping, I matched with a married couple. Let’s call them R and A. R texted me on Tinder after we matched. After chatting for a few days, the two asked me to meet at a cafe near my place. The first time that I saw them, they looked young and modern.
We talked about work, education, backgrounds, etc. They told me they were newly married and had only seen each other a month before their family arranged the marriage. I was surprised at how they exhibited both tradition and modernity at the same time.
We then talked about their sexual orientation. R told me he was straight while A identified as bi-curious. They had similar experiences with other women before.
Later that evening, they asked me if I liked them or not. They were unsure, which is why they didn’t ask me to accompany them back to their house. I told them I liked them. Despite promises of seeing each other again, maybe for something more, we couldn’t.
I remembered one day R texted me without A. He asked me if I was interested in having sex with him because A wasn’t home. I declined because I thought a clandestine meeting would mean cheating.
Later, A too texted me in R’s absence. She talked about her desires and her fantasy to have sex with me while R watched us from afar. She told me how they sought only female partners to have sex with, never male.
Later, I got busy with academics and stopped using Tinder for some time. They both, too, disappeared from WhatsApp.
A couple of months later, I rose from my Tinder hiatus and began my swiping adventures again. My Tinder bio now read: A pansexual woman looking for Indian married couples.
Soon, I found S. He was a married man with a kid. Initially, he agreed to meet me with his wife but later insisted, to my annoyance and fear, to stay overnight with him. I declined.
He persisted and asked me to make a video call so I could assure myself of their existence. His wife was with him during our video call but didn’t speak much. S dominated the conversation. I asked them about their experiences of using Tinder as a married couple. S spoke about how they took a break from Tinder after the birth of their child. S was desperate to have sex with me. He kept stressing on meeting at his house, or somewhere in private.
But I said no, and never talked to him again.
Hunting the unicorn
I later found out that there is a specific name to call this kind of sexual activity. When a monogamous couple opens up their relationship only to an attractive and bisexual woman they intend to have a sexual relationship with, it is called “Unicorn Hunting”.
When couples make a joint dating profile and invite bisexual girls to join their relationship, they are typically unicorn hunters. Here’s how the bios of unicorn hunters read, “Girl who would like to join us as a third wheel is most welcome” or “We are a couple, He is a straight guy. I am a bi-curious girl. We are looking to spice up for our sex life. Looking for a Bi Girl interest in FMF 3some”.
Single men are not welcome!
From my multiple interactions with couples on Tinder, I noticed that single men weren’t welcome. Several profiles read: “Men and uncles stay away”.
The fact that only bi-curious women were allowed to have sex with a couple is connected to the idea of masculinity and the unequal power relation between men and women.
There is a sense of ownership as husbands might want monopoly over their wife’s body. Allowing a man to have sex with their wives might imply sharing their property with another potential claimant, therefore, losing control.
Another reason is the sexual orientation of the couples: a bisexual/bi-curious woman with a straight manhunt unicorns. Added to this is the common male fantasy of watching two women having sex with each other or with him.
While men have avenues for exploring their sexuality, women don’t. Hunting for only female unicorns indicates, very clearly, the power imbalance between men and women in relationships.
Tinder maintains the power relationship between men and women
It is true that most couples, who use Tinder together, can play out their sexual desires. But my interaction with several couples says that it is always the men who operate and communicate with the unicorn. In cases where women lead the conversation, it is usually because they are older or come from an equal socio-economic background.
Therefore, the general perception that a digital space like Tinder is absolutely empowering is not really true. The power dynamics in the virtual world are closely tied to the power relationship in the real world.
Usually, most of the profile photos of couples on Tinder show either a blurred image of the couple or a random female body, focusing on her breast, leg or naked body parts. One can say that women’s bodies are used as a mode of attraction.
Exploring Tinder with Indian married couples gave me a lot of perspective about sexuality in India.
As an outsider, who thought Indian marriage traditions were strict, I was surprised to see married couples alternating between modernity and tradition. On one hand, they use Tinder to find another sexual partner and on the other hand, they don’t mind opting for arranged marriages.
However, using Tinder doesn’t guarantee equality. Women remain under male control as they cannot look for male unicorns and therefore, the power differences remain intact.
As a unicorn, I realised that couples didn’t treat me like a human but as a free commodity which they use to fulfill their desires. As a young, single woman, the unicorn is always in a position of vulnerability vis-a-vis the couple. The risks involved in being ‘out-ed’ are far greater for the woman than the couple.
Although sexualities are being explored within morally bound relationships, male domination seeps in. That way the world of the online and the offline share more than they do not.
Daranee Thongsiri is a human rights activist from Thailand who is presently pursuing her Master’s degree in gender studies.
Featured image credit: Reuters