Isn’t dating rather easy these days? With a plethora of apps and websites available at the touch of a smartphone, your potential soulmate might just be one swipe away. Then why does true love (whatever be your definition of it!) still seem so elusive? Why are so many men and women still single? Just what do you do and where do you go to find the perfect match?
These were some of the existential dilemmas that my friend and I grappled with recently over breakfast when conversation veered around our love lives (rather, the lack of it!). We lamented how difficult it was to find someone to connect with, wondered if dating apps were of any use and grumbled why we didn’t bump into hot co-workers or neighbours, the way it happened in romcoms.
As if on cue, at our next table, a young Indian man started narrating his love story to a couple of awestruck guests, loud enough for us to hear. Excited and animated, he was all mushy as he spoke about the wonders of his relationship. Strangely, it felt as if someone was rubbing salt into our (un)romantic wounds. “Good for you!” we muttered inaudibly and left the venue.
However, escaping the love chatter was futile for it seemed to be all around us. Supermarkets and malls had stacked up heart-shaped balloons and cakes while hotels and resorts screamed juicy staycation offers for Valentines’ month. My social media feed too was dominated by news about people — celebs and ordinary mortals — getting engaged, married or having babies.
This brought the spotlight back to our million-dollar question: just how and where do you find ‘the one’?
As I realised over the course of interviews I conducted with made-for-each-other couples for this article, love often does not leave a regular address. Tinder, Bumble, Aisle etc may have given birth to millions of hook-ups but the real deal is often unexpected, unusual and unpredictable, found in the most unforeseen circumstances for seemingly mismatched couples.
Don’t believe me? Just read these remarkable new-age love stories that bloomed in seriously atypical ways.
“Let the Law of Attraction take over,” smiles Shom Pal, an Australia-based stylist, wellness coach and blogger narrating the way she met Aman, a musician from London.
Cupid, in their case, was played by Smule, the social music-making and collaboration app, often called the “Facebook for singers”. Emerging from a painful divorce, Shom, a single mother, was introduced to Smule by a relative. Shom had always been passionate about music but rarely practised it during the time she was married. “I decided to give it a try primarily to get over my loneliness. I love Smule — you can record live, sing solo, in a duet or in a group. Though normally shy about performing in public, this platform gave me the freedom to express myself,” she recalls.
Over time, Shom decided to team up with good singers who could help her improve her craft, and that’s when a singer she admired connected her to Aman. One thing led to another and soon Shom and Aman were matching tunes on the app from different parts of the globe — he from London and she from Down Under. “I was mesmerised by his talent, his humility and simplicity. Something about him made me want to know him better and I took it upon myself to make him famous beyond the Smule community,” she says.
The conversations that began as music tutorials soon became personal and the duo found themselves sharing their deepest secrets, heartbreaks and vulnerabilities over voice notes and texts. “In just two weeks of getting introduced, I knew he was my soulmate. His relationship status, distance, age [Aman is years younger than me]… nothing mattered,” she says.
Heady in love, Shom decided to take the first step and confess her feelings. To her pleasant surprise, Aman reciprocated. Despite being different as the proverbial chalk and cheese, the couple connected over music and shared life experiences.
It took a while for everything to fall in place but faith and love won in the end when Aman actually wound up his life in London and flew halfway across the world to Australia to start a new one with her. “I would often journal about the kind of love I wanted in life. Perhaps subconsciously the manifestation worked! Aman turned out to be exactly the person I had imagined. Who else would leave everything and migrate to a new country without thinking what people would say? I couldn’t have asked for more,” she says.
Now married for over three years, Shom says she never imagined a music app would bring a person from another part of the world into her life. “This was the weirdest platform for anyone to meet!” she laughs.
Technology and social media helped connect and then reconnect Mumbai girl Ritika Lalwani with her now-husband Sunil. A writer, educationist and blogger, Ritika first got in touch with Sunil in 2004 on a matrimonial website responding to a profile put up by his brother. “I actually began chatting with his brother first and then spoke with Sunil who was in Switzerland then. Emails went back and forth, and, after a few months, he came to India. I boldly went alone to meet him in his city, Pune,” she recalls.
Unfortunately, things did not work out. Sunil was in a hurry to get married but Ritika was hesitant to give up her career and move to Switzerland. They decided to get back to their lives, a potential relationship put on the backburner.
Cut to 17 years later in 2021. Out of the blue, Sunil sent Ritika a message on Facebook and they started chatting again. “Thoughts were exchanged, dreams were revisited, plans that didn’t happen but could still materialise were discussed. Basically, we picked up from where we had left off 17 years ago,” says Ritika. Within a span of just two months, Ritika and Sunil felt close enough to get married! The couple had a lockdown marriage in May 2021, with only 25 people.
The irony of an almost-forgotten alliance unexpectedly working out after nearly two decades is not lost on Ritika who believes that embracing marriage was one of the best decisions she’s made. “It helps that we’re both at a nice, mature phase of our lives, compatible, settled in heart and mind, and willing to give the marriage our all,” she says. “Marriage is largely about giving the other space to grow and be their own person, being honest and trusting that your partner has your back just like you have theirs.”
Far from the earthly world of apps and social media, Lisa Maria, a content writer and marketing professional, found the man of her dreams in her dreams… quite literally! Hers is a story that has ‘serendipity’ written all over it.
After a nasty divorce, US-raised Lisa decided to downsize her life and set out on a journey to discover herself. She travelled around the US and Europe, pet-sitting and doing odd jobs before returning home to take up a job in marketing.
It was in the process of resettling that Lisa connected with an Indian man in Dubai on a dating app and their conversations piqued her curiosity about Dubai. “I felt a voice was telling me to travel to Dubai. I had a plane ticket credit to use and I decided to come to Dubai. It didn’t matter if this relationship worked out or not but I just needed to make my life overseas,” she says.
With just enough money to get by, Lisa landed in Dubai and met her online friend. However, there was no spark. “We did not hit it off in person but since I was going to make Dubai my home, I stayed on,” she says. Negotiating life in a new country wasn’t easy but the gritty Lisa managed to find her way, even bagging a job and some pet-sitting assignments.
And that’s when the magic happened. She had been in Dubai for just about two months, when one lazy afternoon, nearly dozing off at a café in Dubai Design District (ironically named One Life!), Lisa had a vision. “I saw him, a distinctive looking man with dark skin but silver hair and funny round hipster glasses. The silver hair was especially memorable. When I opened my eyes, I walked up to the top of the stairs and there he was standing — the man I had seen in my vision! I almost screamed!” she says.
The dream man in question was Markose, an Indian-origin Dubai-raised man who had spent nearly a decade in Texas. Lisa introduced herself to him and they became friends. After about nine months of knowing each other, they took their relationship to another level and started dating. “We have been together ever since. We have perhaps had fewer barriers than other cross-cultural couples but it’s been a wonderful journey that began with a dream,” she says.
My next couple was one whose mid-air meet-cute followed by a whirlwind courtship constitutes the textbook definition of an aww-inducing romance. Michelle Smith, a Lebanese national, was an airhostess with one of UAE’s leading airlines while Antony was her jet-setting Australian business-class passenger. They met during a long-haul flight from Sydney to Dubai when an enamoured Anthony tried to chat her up.
It could have been yet another cabin crew-passenger relationship but there was a catch. Michelle, who wasn’t looking for a relationship, didn’t reciprocate his overtures; that didn’t deter Anthony though, who wooed her until she agreed to be a friend.
“Once I was on standby and chatting with him when I was suddenly called for a Melbourne flight. He probably realised I was flying to Melbourne, for much to my surprise I saw him there when I reached. He had actually flown in from Sydney just to see me. That’s when I felt he deserved another chance,” she says.
The love story took off from then on with the couple meeting in places like Bali and Sri Lanka as and when time and flight schedules permitted. Months later, the families got involved. The cross-continent relationship did face its fair share of hurdles but Anthony, who not only learnt French for his lady love, but even moved to Dubai for her, won her family over. He proposed to her during a holiday in Paris and the couple tied the knot in Seychelles. “He says it was my simplicity and lack of materialism that made him fall for me. Of course, I have contributed equally to the relationship too,” says Michelle, when I ask her what makes her marriage tick.
From an unexpected phone call in January to acquiring a life partner in October — this sums up rapper and entrepreneur Mahmoud Shehada’s timeline of marriage. Mahmoud was introduced to his now-wife Sara through a family member but she lived in the UK while he was UAE-based. “The first contact we had was a phone call but I wanted to skip the chatting and dive into it. I suggested we meet in London.”
A self-confessed romantic, Mahmoud brought a necklace with him, the idea being to gift her the piece of jewellery if he felt she was the one. They were practically strangers but once he went to pick her up in London, as soon as Sara got into the car, Mahmoud immediately decided to give her the necklace.
“Just seeing her for the first time, I knew she was the one. It was by far the most unexpected thing about our whole trip,” he says, adding “The most unpredictable thing about love is what you are willing to do for the people that you love. Plain and simple.”
Certainly, the stories of unpredictable meet- ups leading to long-standing strong relationships sound fabulous but what does it take to sustain them?
“Communication is key. Always being able to speak your mind and letting your other half know what you’re dealing with or vice versa is extremely beneficial,” says Mahmoud. He feels the various stages of his relationship as a fiancé, then a husband and now a father, have taught him a lot. “Firstly, the love you have for your partner never stops growing. Seeing Sara become the amazing mother she is has made my love for her reach heights I couldn’t even imagine,” he gushes.
Needless to say, Valentine’s Day holds a special meaning even if only as an occasion to have fun. Lisa quips, “We are the ‘chill romantic couple’ who would rather spend time having a lazy breakfast holding hands than rushing off on romantic getaways. But Valentine’s Day is fun. It’s valuable to have a day to commemorate and celebrate love but not as a replacement to the relationship the rest of the year.”
So now do I have the answers to those dilemmas about relationships and love? Not really. But hearing these couples’ stories, I do agree (albeit reluctantly) that the best love stories are ones that have a sprinkling of magic and miracles… aided by a dose of technology.
Perhaps it’s time to reinstall some apps and look beyond the bio and take a swipe at love!
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