Issue 9

Dating From A Distance

“I was going back home for the mid-semester break in March 2020 in our college shuttle and had the usual daydreaming to my playlist planned for the ride. Once the journey started, I noticed the person sitting next to me tapping their feet and lip-syncing to all the songs I was listening to. I couldn’t help but start a conversation. Even though it has been almost a year since we have physically seen each other, we have been together for 8 months.”  

Dating has been one of the ways in which individuals satisfy their need to form personal connections with others. It can usually start with anyone from their seventh-grade desk partner, college classmate or their Bumble match. While the concept of dating began with the ‘gentleman caller’ in the 20th century, with men having to follow proper protocol to pursue the woman they desire, the aim of dating and wanting to establish a long-term relationship, either bound by marriage or other types of commitment, hasn’t transformed as much. 

This human condition of craving connection did not change even when the pandemic struck. Now confined to four walls, physical interactions limited only between family or with oneself, there is no doubt that individuals are experiencing extreme loneliness. How has the world of dating adapted to these circumstances?

1. RIP Meet cutes

One majorly fantasised aspect of dating is the ‘meet-cute’ that represents the start of an attraction between two individuals who later delve into a relationship. Rom-coms have encouraged these heart-throb fantasies of two hands that happen to reach out to the same book in the library or the intense eye-contact between two characters bumping into each other in the corridor. They feel heart-warming because they play on the aspect of ‘fate’ that gets two individuals together for the first time, resulting in a bond. 

With COVID-19, this fantasy surrounding ‘fate’ is crushed, as the only meet-cutes that are acceptable are ‘accidentally’ sliding into someone’s zoom chat. While dating apps were considered the last resort to finding a relationship since they defied the idea of ‘fate’, they have now showcased a massive increase in users during lockdown with individuals hoping to find their potential someone. In fact, these apps were one of the crucial means through which individuals were able to meet new people, in order to deal with the increased loneliness caused by physical isolation.

2. What is even ‘casual’ anymore?

Dating apps were treated as the last resort to find ‘love’ also because they were stereotyped to form superficial connections based on physical attributes hence, those who enrolled on such apps were viewed as aiming to be a part of the ‘hookup culture’. In contradiction to this, a study conducted in Switzerland found that those who swiped right were actually more likely to settle down in stable relationships than those who met by chance. 

Hookup culture implies engaging in casual sex, one-night stands that do not require one to be bound by emotional intimacy and commitment. However, thriving on physical attraction, and many still choosing to avoid meeting, what does it mean to be ‘casual’ in times of lockdown with the fear of catching an infection? 

3. The ‘jaana’ before the ‘dekha

With hookups out of the way, dating apps have now attracted a wider audience that wished for something ‘serious’ bound by commitment. However, if one is aware of the inability to physically meet the individual, why enrol on such apps in the first place?

While the ‘health benefits’ of flirting are a given, it is observed that ‘the physical’ is now kept aside with phrases like “when the pandemic is over” and individuals are strengthening their emotional connections, becoming more vulnerable than usual. With texting being the main source of communication, hiding behind our phones allows us to be more vulnerable easily, especially during times of distress and uncertainty. 

In addition to this, the fear of rejection also seems to have reduced when it comes to ‘shooting your shot’. While making the first move is equally terrifying, since there is pressure to be interesting enough for the individual to reply, public embarrassment of assuming one’s sexuality and availability can be avoided on such apps. We now have the upper hand since a match indicates that there exists a certain level of attraction between the two individuals and establishes compatibility. 

Finally, texting was usually treated as a stepping stone to actually going out on a date with an individual. However, with no such goal visible due to current circumstances, phone calls and Zoom Dates have become the norm, where the ‘physical’ seems to have taken a back seat. 

In contrast to this, pre-COVID, the butterflies for the physical attraction were a prerequisite for strong emotional bonds, and ‘tumhe jo maine dekha’ was before the ‘tumhe toh maine jaana’. Has physical attraction and proximity receded in importance when it comes to relationships? 

4. One-night stands—but make them emotional

Speaking of emotional connections, an interesting concept while not formally addressed was brought to light in conversation with various dating app users from the college-going age group, which is termed as ‘emotional one-night stands’. Here, individuals have begun to match with people only to share their share of struggles and deep insecurities for the night and un-match with them the next morning.

No doubt the pandemic has been a source of immense distress and anxiety, and this is just one of the mechanisms people have adapted to in order to cope since it is often said to be easier to talk to strangers than to peers and family. 

5. The Zoom Date

Previously, the notion of going out on a date didn’t just involve eating out in a restaurant, there were other underlying routines behind it that made it an encompassing experience. You would start with actually having a date, planning logistics, informing friends, deciding outfits and constructing white lies for parents. It’s about being nervous to see them for the first time, awkward pauses, reading their body language, judging and responding to it and just praying you don’t have spinach stuck in your teeth. An important means to reduce nervousness has always been discovering points of commonality, and eating together and sharing the same food that creates a common experience unique to the two individuals, thereby allowing for a starting point in the conversation. Now, the point of commonality has shifted to the pandemic, a common experience for all, with its varying repercussions for many. 

While dating apps have adapted to the technologically dependent world with video calls, does the Zoom date capture the whole experience? 

In conclusion, while the ambiguity of dating cannot be replicated online, it has produced certain new experiences that are different from before, allowing people to be more vulnerable with the other person and going at a slower pace. Exchanging your phone numbers and informing the other that you are “deleting the app” is now the new form of showcasing commitment. 

P.S, you can now always blame your internet connection in case you end up with a bad date. 

 Harshita Bedi is a student at Ashoka University pursuing her Psychology major. In her free time, you would find Harshita catching up on her sleep.

Picture Credits: Verywell / Alison Czinkota

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 9

On Building A Virtual Therapeutic Relationship

Students training to be therapists often wonder how to translate psychotherapy training from one cultural context to another. I find there are two key elements that help a therapist with this process. First, creating a framework for the work of psychotherapy, or in other words, establishing the boundaries and expectations of therapeutic work. Second, developing a relationship with the client. 

These two elements also helped me when I first began working with clients online almost three years ago. My decision to see clients in therapy online was guided by two reasons. One, I was able to offer therapeutic services to those living in parts of India without access to psychotherapy. Two, online work allowed me to continue to work with clients who were likely to face challenges in connecting with another therapist while I was in the process of moving cities. Of course, with the advent of the pandemic, many (if not all) therapists in India have found themselves working across a screen. My colleagues and I conducted a recent survey on a nationwide sample of therapists in India and found that most therapists reported transitioning to video sessions as a result of the pandemic. Well, in the web of all the relationships the world is now negotiating online, where does the psychotherapy relationship fit in? 

It is often more clear to see what we lose through online relationships. There is data to support the presence of zoom fatigue, lack of motivation, challenges in terms of negotiating space during the lockdown, and the difficulty faced by women, especially mothers, in managing family and work-related online spaces. The field of therapy is not free of these issues. Still, one has to acknowledge that online therapeutic work seems here to stay. It offers an important way to tackle the barriers faced by many in India to access mental health care. In efforts to determine how to make online therapy effective, I believe therapists need to consider what they are able to discern through these online experiences. 

Psychotherapy has always been about entering the client’s world. In the traditional face-to-face model, the therapist utilizes the presence of the client in their room to learn about the client’s life. Through online work, the therapist quite literally enters the client’s world and joins the client in a space that is often the very source of their distress. Creating a framework for therapy now includes helping the client virtually enter and exit the therapeutic space, without the physical presence of a therapist’s room. This endeavour becomes a clinically meaningful goal in itself, and it also offers ways for the therapist to understand the client more deeply. In my online work, I have worked with clients who meet with me from the same corner of their homes week after week, highlighting their ability to carve out a consistent safe space even in the midst of chaos. I have others who move from one form of data to the other, one device to the next, and room to room, communicating perhaps the motivation, difficulty and despair to establish a connection with another. What I have learned through these experiences is the need to tend to these issues as meaningful information about clients, and use this to work with the client on creating the boundaries and expectations of our therapeutic work online. 

In psychotherapy literature, the relationship formed between the therapist and client is recognized to be paramount in contributing to favourable therapeutic outcomes. Different forms and models of therapy emphasize different aspects of the therapeutic relationship. I have especially been drawn to the real relationship, one such element of the therapeutic relationship, in my online work with clients. The real relationship captures the extent to which the therapist and client are genuine with each other and are able to perceive each other for who they really are. It makes sense to consider the ways in which one’s authenticity is bound to emerge during the pandemic, not just through online work, but also through the conditions of lockdown. Not only does the therapist see the client in their living environment, the client too gets to engage with the therapist in theirs! At some points during my sessions through the lockdown, my clients have heard my rambunctious toddler on the other side of my study door (despite my best efforts to schedule sessions during nap time). During a session with a young mother, the moment of hearing my toddler laugh was marked by a shared smile and understanding of our identities as mothers, undoubtedly strengthening the real relationship between us. 

However, another client expressed feeling angry as she heard my toddler laugh. She wondered if I could even understand her reports on the struggles she was facing with her children. These reactions too become significant aspects of therapeutic work, often highlighting the client’s patterns and conflicts in close relationships. In this case, the client’s reaction to me was similar to how she was feeling towards others in her life, misunderstood and angry. In psychotherapy literature, these reactions are termed transference and are believed to be an unconscious carryover of how one experiences others onto their relationship with the therapist. I have appreciated the way online work allows therapists to tend to these interpersonal patterns. For example, a therapist might consider if the client feels comfortable with online work because it gives the client the emotional and physical distance they are used to in their other relationships. In another situation, a client’s frustration with connecting with the therapist via video might also be mirrored in their sense of wanting more in relationships outside of therapy. 

Online therapeutic work is challenging and most would agree it does not replace an in-person therapeutic encounter. In my opinion, the more relevant question is not one that pits in-person and online therapy against each other, but rather the one that addresses how we can use online therapy effectively. A step in this direction seems to entail recognizing the privilege of being able to learn more about, and show more to, our clients as therapists. My experiences with online work have made me value the opportunities one has as a therapist to continue to work and connect with others, through these changing and challenging times in the world. 

Avantika Bhatia is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Ashoka University. Her research focuses on the process and outcome of psychotherapy. She is also drawn to the study of mental health concerns in college students and mothers, and women’s career development in India. As a therapist, she follows a psychodynamic approach and works with college student concerns, trauma, maternal mental health and interpersonal concerns. 

Picture Credits: Paige Stampatori for The Washington Post

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).


Online Work and No Play: Implications of Online Education on Young Children

By Aradhya Sharma

Young children have been stuck within the walls of their homes for almost six months now. Even now, these children will not be able to meet their friends, go outside to play or attend their preschools for a couple more months. This is likely to hinder their cognitive development and impact their social growth. 

Most children have been used to spending time outdoors, whether they were busy coming up with their own games or just strolling around. While recent years have seen a decline in the number of children taking part in outdoor activities, 2020 has only made it worse with the introduction of online schooling. Children are left with very little play and very little agency. This is going to be the first generation that will be growing up in an environment so vastly different from previous generations. Thus, it is important that we explore the consequences this could have on them. 

Play is a critical part of a child’s healthy development, making it an integral part of all early childhood education curriculums. Why is play important? Play catalyzes the cognitive, social, and emotional learnings of a child. It helps a child learn how to share, negotiate, regulate emotions, practice decision-making skills, and provides children with a means to understand the world around them. Simultaneously, it also builds language, memory, and other cognitive abilities such as fine motor skills. When a child pretends to be a mother by taking care of her barbie doll, this requires children to carefully observe their mothers, understand the norms and rules of family-functioning, and replicate it. Similarly, when a group of children decide to build a fort together, they learn to work together, negotiate and make decisions while working on their fine motor skills simultaneously. 

Now that our children are unable to attend any kind of early education centres, their cognitive and social development could be severely delayed and can even impact other parts of their personality. According to a study in Karnataka, the cognitive development of children attending preschools showed a 0.82 standard deviation. This study showed that cognitive skills such as memory, reasoning and creativity, were almost doubled after attending preschools compared to children who did not attend. The impact that play-deprivation has on social and emotional learning is much more detrimental. Without enough peer interaction, young children may have trouble fostering a sense of self, especially in relation to others. In later stages of childhood, these children may have more explosive reactions to circumstances and behave in asocial or antisocial manners. They may also have more difficulty feeling comfortable with new kinds of people and experiences as they grow up. Studies have found a correlation between play deprivation and poor early childhood development suggesting that it leads to issues such as isolation, depression, reduced self-control, and poor resilience. This is because the rumble and tumble, inclusion and exclusion of complex play provide nuanced social learning to children, and those without these experiences will lack ambiguity, openness, and empathy in their way of socializing. 

Even if you are lucky and your child’s preschool has managed to conduct online classes, they won’t be very useful. Online education could be helpful in teaching numbers, alphabets, and a few other educational purposes, however, it cannot replicate play. Social interaction, motor skills, and pretend play will probably be difficult to replicate during online classes. This is an important point to note for parents. Educational TV shows, games, or videos are not the same as play. It’s common for parents to be inclined to keep their kids busy by turning on educational digital content, especially now as most parents are trying to navigate work from home. This, after a certain level, is useless and may even be harmful. Digital educational resources cannot spur the same kind of imagination, creativity, or action that ends up being the means of social and cognitive development. Furthermore, with children being dependent on parents on controlling the device, online classes take away one of the most important requirements of play – autonomy. Being in control is one of the main features of young children’s spontaneous play. They are supposed to be able to self-initiate and self-regulate their play sessions. With adults controlling devices, this autonomy is taken away. In fact, according to Josh Golin, the executive director of a children’s non-profit organization, “It just goes against everything we know about child development and what’s best for children. Children at this age learn best when they’re engaging all of their senses, when they’re using their hands, when they’re in social situations with peers and teachers, none of that can happen when a young child is on a computer.”

The situation at hand is serious, but there is one silver lining to all of this. Even though the world has turned upside down, it is also the first time in years that parents have had the opportunity to spend so much time with their children. Instead of resorting to TV or iPads to keep children engaged as parents work from home, parents can spend time with their children. This time together will hopefully not only strengthen their relationship but also help prevent or lessen the impact of play-deprivation on children.

Aradhya is a psychology major at Ashoka University. In her free time you’ll find her reading books, drinking chai and cycling at odd hours.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).