Online dating has become a firm fixture of the Pakistani dating scene, despite some dating apps like Tinder and Grindr being banned. Far from decreasing the popularity of online dating the Pakistani government’s ban only propelled Pakistanis to migrate to other dating apps, like Bumble. In 2020, between the months of January to September, Bumble was downloaded 10, 000 times in Pakistan, according to data analytics company Appfigures. This pales in comparison to the popularity of Tinder in the country, which based on data from analytics firm Sensor Tower, was downloaded 440,000 times in the 12 months before its ban. But with Tinder now banned, many Pakistanis have started swiping away on Bumble.
There is always the danger of exposure, and subsequent scandal, lurking over traditional routes of dating, in Pakistan, especially for women.
The increasing popularity of dating apps in Pakistan can be credited to the fact that they offer people an alternate avenue to meet and date new people, instead of having to search for relationships in their social circle or through ‘rishta’ (arranged marriage) agencies. In a country like Pakistan where friendships between men and women are still frowned upon, dating is obviously considered taboo. However, Pakistanis still date despite this cultural taboo, but they do so in secrecy. And, for that purpose dating apps are unmatched. Through apps like Tinder and Bumble people can meet potential partners without the fear of being exposed. There is always the danger of exposure, and subsequent scandal, lurking over traditional routes of dating, in Pakistan, especially for women. Zehra, a 26 year old psychology student in Lahore, says, “If you’re having someone set you up, or meeting people through your mutual friends there always a part of you worrying about someone in that chain blabbing, like everyone knows everyone in the uni bubble, and I don’t need my family finding out about my relationships, especially if it’s just a casual one.”.
So dating apps are allowing Pakistanis the opportunity to have partners that don’t come from their clique-y social circles or are offered to them on a platter by their parents. This increasing sexual agency and intermingling between the sexes could be a reason for banning Tinder, Grindr etc. But if we look at the data, these apps simply aren’t being used widely enough to throw the Pakistani public’s self appointed guardians (PTA) into a moral panic. Out of a population of 212.2 million only 440, 000 people were using Tinder and another 300, 000 using Grindr. Thus their ban probably has more to do with the reputation of the apps themselves, and the greater political aims of the government.
Bumble has positioned itself as a space to find more wholesome relationships, and this image is helped by its women led user interface. This reputation and its relatively low Pakistani user base is what helped it slip under the government’s radar.
The government of Pakistan is no stranger to censorship, the country’s previous Youtube ban is evidence of this, but that exercise in censorship was fruitful for the government because eventually Youtube caved and released a local version in which it is obliged to remove content the government wants it to remove. So banning dating apps might have been the government flexing its muscle in front of the social media giants it is now trying to force into submission, in the country.
However, the rise of Bumble and the fall of Tinder and Grindr can also be credited to their international reputations. Tinder has acquired a reputation as just a hookup app. It is generally believed to be for one night stands only, and that image isn’t helped by the married men using Tinder to cheat on their wives, according to a survey conducted by The Express Tribune 39% of men on tinder were married men looking for companionship. Whereas, Grindr by virtue of catering to the LGBTQ+ community is automatically seen as “immoral” by many in Pakistan and abroad. Therefore the optics of banning Tinder and Grinder are great in a religiously conservative country like Pakistan– the government earns brownie points from both conservative and far right elements in society by curtailing people’s burgeoning sexual agency, and demonstrating it cannot abide queer people. Bumble which has cultivated a reputation–much like dating app, Hinge– of being a place to meet serious life partners, seems tame in comparison to the other apps. Bumble has positioned itself as a space to find more wholesome relationships, and this image is helped by its women led user interface. This is not to say Bumble won’t be banned for these exact reasons in the future, only that this reputation and its relatively low Pakistani user base is what helped it slip under the government’s radar. And now that it is the prime dating app in Pakistan, it has added its own flavour to the dating scene.
Bumble is the new app of choice for Pakistanis, though they may have been forced to jump ship to it after Tinder and Grindr were banned. But, now for many Pakistanis, especially women, it is a welcome upgrade from Tinder.
Zain Qureshi, a 30 year old engineer in Islamabad, stated that he uses Bumble for casual dating and, “so far the experience has been better than Tinder”. He believes that is because he met a few women from the app and they turned out to be exactly who they said they were on the app. Qureshi said, “Tinder is usually full of fake profiles, however so far I haven’t found the same in bumble. It’s all about experience, isn’t it? If you’re going to a restaurant, watching a movie or scrolling through profiles for dating then experience defines the moment. So yeah, you’d always prefer a platform with authenticity.”.
These problems plague Bumble as well, but so far it has escaped what was Tinder’s biggest problem– predators.
Tinder had a persistent fake profile problem, many local users reported that they frequently unmatched people after it became clear they were being catfished. There are many anecdotes still told about men pretending to be women in order to blackmail other men for money, or enterprising sex workers who joined the app to broaden their clientele. These problems plague Bumble as well, but so far it has escaped what was Tinder’s biggest problem– predators. Zehra reported that she had been sent multiple unsolicited ‘dick pics’ on Tinder, and often men on the app would try to pressurise her to have sex with them and meet them in person, very soon into the conversation. She recalled, that one man she had rejected because of the aforementioned behaviour made a fake profile and matched with her again just to threaten her with bodily harm, he said ” G******, I was asking nicely, ab I’m going to rape you”. In contrast to such abhorrent behaviour, Zehra said she has had a much better time on Bumble. She said she the fact that women have to make the first move on Bumble, and men can’t contact them otherwise makes her feel “safe”. ” I like having the control to message who I want, on Tinder anyone could slide into my dms like I know I could still unmatch them, but it just feels better knowing its my choice, I get to decide, totally, who can talk to me.”, Zehra said.
Zehra said she’ll continue using Bumble, because she has had a positive experience on it so far. For Zehra, and women like her Bumble affords them a slight feeling of safety, which Tinder didn’t. “I actually recently decided to use just my own picture on Bumble. On Tinder I never used to post solo pictures, they were always group pictures with friends or with just half my face showing. And, after that fake profile incident I removed all pictures of my face.”, Zehra stated.
But while women like Zehra are enjoying using the women centric dating app, some people are yearning for the return of Tinder. Bumble’s policy of only allowing women to make the first move has certain people feeling left out. A second year undergraduate student at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), who wished to remain anonymous, said “Honestly, Tinder was far better than bumble or any other dating app. I use bumble for fun, to meet new people and to kill time. But, I haven’t met anyone yet. I actually don’t even get much matches. Bumble is one hell of a shitty dating app.”.
Bumble is the new app of choice for Pakistanis, though they may have been forced to jump ship to it after Tinder and Grindr were banned. But, now for many Pakistanis, especially women, it is a welcome upgrade from Tinder. While others are begrudgingly present on it hoping to have continued access to the dating pool. When Zain learned this piece was going to be published he quipped, “Are there other dating apps in Pakistan? Because, if you’re going to do a piece on this, we should be ready to say goodbye to Bumble as well? Shouldn’t we?”. So, whatever their reasons it’s safe to say Pakistanis are unwilling to let go of online dating, whether that’s Tinder or Bumble.