Pakistanis are swiping for love but having little luck

Pakistanis are swiping for love but having little luck

Unlike other countries where meeting online is routine, Pakistanis who use dating apps face harassment and judgmental relatives
Updated 14 Oct, 2020

After endlessly swiping through pictureless profiles on dating apps, Muhammad Ali Shah still hasn’t found the one — or really anyone — to get serious with.

In Pakistan, where arranged marriages are the norm, he says many women choose to stay anonymous, making online dating matches tricky.

“It’s slim pickings,” sighs the 36-year-old entrepreneur living in Islamabad, saying friends have called him “desperate” and a “man whore” after going on dozens of dates over the past three years to little avail.

Unlike in many countries where meeting online is routine, Pakistanis who use dating apps regularly face harassment and judgmental relatives — and now also have to contend with a government clampdown.

Women users in particular fear possible retribution and often reveal little about themselves — using cartoons, avatars, or random pictures of nature instead of a profile photo.

“Girls aren’t comfortable... so they don’t really put their pictures or their real names. So it’s a guessing game,” explains Shah.

The self-described conversationalist relies instead on humorous icebreakers with new matches to kick-start chats, and only asks for a picture if the potential date is comfortable and possibly up for meeting.

“Most of the time I’m just left swiping because there aren’t any pictures. There’s no real information. The names are not there,” adds Shah.

“I don’t blame women for being so careful. I actually think it’s very smart.”

Securing a date is just the first hurdle.

In a country where sexual relations outside marriage, and homosexuality, are punishable with prison sentences, dating culture is unfamiliar.

“People don’t really understand the concept (of dating) in Pakistan,” explains Shah, who started using the apps after his divorce.

“You meet them once or twice and then they will be like ‘we are looking for something serious’.”


A 27-year-old woman from Islamabad who was brave enough to post real photos and her name said it was “kind of taboo to be on Tinder”.

“I was getting phone calls from friends saying ‘I can’t believe you’re on Tinder’,” she said, asking not to be named, adding that she connected with both women and men.

But she eventually deleted the app once business clients started trying to interact with her on it.

She says some of her friends who were willing to take the risk have found varying levels of success, but only after going on carefully planned dates.

“What we do when a friend of ours is going on a Tinder date, we normally just hang out at the same place,” she adds. “We make it sort of safe.”

If finding love online was already difficult, authorities last month banned Tinder, Grindr and other popular apps for failing to “moderate” their content.

The move dealt a fresh blow to what is already a niche scene in the country of 220 million people, where most online daters come from the middle and upper classes in Pakistan’s urban areas.

The ban leaves other apps like Minder and Bumble outside the dragnet, while savvy users like Shah have already resorted to using VPNs to bypass the prohibition for popular platforms like Tinder.

“The biggest impact is the convenience and constancy that major stakeholders like Tinder and Grindr provided to Pakistanis,” says Zulfiqar Suhail Mannan, a 22-year-old musician and educator living in Lahore who identifies as being part of the LGBTQ community.

For the more traditionally inclined, life without dating apps will serve as a return to normality.

“Dating is not part of our culture or religion. Things need to be done in a halal way — especially something as important as finding a life partner,” explains a 50-year-old matchmaker based in Karachi who has been helping families find suitable partners for arranged marriages for over a decade.

“Banning these dating apps is a way to preserve our traditions.”

But despite the potential pitfalls, some say finding love online is possible and a way to avoid arranged marriages.

“I’d simply had it with the whole culture of arranged marriage in Pakistan, where I’m paraded around in front of mothers, sisters and matchmakers as they pick on my flaws and remind me how I’m not worthy of their son,” says a 23-year-old medical student living in Lahore who met her husband on Tinder and asked not to be named.

“It took a while until I found someone I could trust, respect, and rely on,” she adds.

“But I found him on my own terms, and that’s what makes it special too.”

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2020


Abdul Rahman Oct 13, 2020 04:56pm
There is a difference between other countries and south Asian countries. People in the western countries are more educated, self-oriented, self-dependent and aware regarding their personal rights. Here, the adolescent, the youngsters whose age does not fit to take proper decision regarding their rights, they are not sufficient educated or financial dependent. Hence, they are more likely to get caught in the wrong hands and suffer for their entire life for believing someone who is remote. Education and financially self-dependency are two more important factors that make you able to think rationally and confidently.
Amjad Oct 13, 2020 05:04pm
Stick to your own culture and stop trying to promote Western lifestyles.
Nadeem Oct 13, 2020 06:10pm
Instead of swiping, look around yourself, you might find more love!
Bashir George Oct 13, 2020 08:11pm
Online relationship is censure in Pakistani conservative society.
Ibrahim S Oct 13, 2020 08:24pm
@Amjad - What's your cultural can you please define it. What you see in your house and around you treating women - Is that your culture - For sure it's NOT mine
Farhan Oct 13, 2020 11:55pm
@Ibrahim S no our culture is that women are valued more than just on their looks. men and women consult with their families when they are ready for marriage and not date or hookup
izk Oct 14, 2020 12:58am
There is a big scope for an App suitable for our customs and values to be designed and launched.
MG Oct 14, 2020 03:51am
@Amjad Also no need to follow Arabian culture.
Illawarrior Oct 14, 2020 04:54am
@Amjad Culture is not static. It constantly evolves.
Truth Seeker Oct 14, 2020 07:30am
@Amjad truly support your honesty.
Toni Oct 14, 2020 08:18am
Its a cat walk, either way, relatives or in the pub, just the pickup lines are different, no guarantees either.Boys and girls are maturing and making mistakes is what they consider is part of life, regardless of the culture and religion just interferes with personal choices.
manzer Oct 14, 2020 08:21am
Even in the West, at least in the US, Tinder is more for flirting or hookups rather than matchmaking and serious relationship.
Raj Oct 14, 2020 08:24am
@Abdul Rahman .. you missed one word here.. self controlled..
Amjad Durrani Engineer USA Oct 14, 2020 08:45am
Sometimes a Cupid plays hard to catch. As he always got new couples to match.
MiF Oct 14, 2020 10:17am
@ Amjad Sb, i completely agree with you, we must stop blindly follow western lifestyles / cultures AND @ Ibrahim Sb, very immature of you to assume that whoever oppose western lifestyles / cultures belongs to stone age and conservative. we must understand liberalism doesnt mean you became modern and bulldozing and leaving behind your own cultures. Liberalism is to accept whoever and whatever the other person is without judging anyone.
Salman Oct 14, 2020 11:57am
So govt has banned an app which majority of the time was not fulfilling its purpose anyway. What’s the issue?
Fatima Oct 14, 2020 12:03pm
Who are you kidding?
Bakht Oct 14, 2020 12:18pm
When you try to impose another culture's values on your own, this is bound to happen. The dilemma is that we have accepted the western culture as default and anything that does not align with it as an anomaly. What a shame.
Mahboob Oct 14, 2020 02:05pm
Is it really that important that we do all those things that West is doing? Own your culture and values for a change.
Mahmood Oct 14, 2020 02:07pm
A case of too many Auntees and not enough Kazis??
Ahmad Rafiq Oct 14, 2020 03:13pm
They are swiping for lust, not for love.
Frank Oct 14, 2020 03:34pm
@Abdul Rahman How ignorant of a statement. You praise the education, the independence, and the personal rights awareness of other countries yet you ignore the fact that the two countries with the most worldly materialistic education and independence, the UK and the US, have the highest divorce rate in human history, have the highest drug use in their countries history, and are in the top 10 of highest depression suicide rates! Any way of life other than the way of life of under Gods guidance will result in difficulty and hardship in this life and the hereafter.
Laila Oct 14, 2020 04:04pm
"banning these dating apps is a way for us to preserve our traditions" No, its a way to preserve tribal minded social control and conveniently putting the decision making process in the hands of the elders rather then the youngsters who actually have to live in that marriage for life because divorce remains a social taboo for ladies.
manzer Oct 14, 2020 09:31pm
The culture of arranged marriage is a blessing for both men and women. Just look at the series of hookups and breakups American boys and girls have to go through to find a Mr Right or a Miss Right, and, unfortunately, they all have to start doing this at junior high (grade 8). Even after all that effort and heartache more than 50% of marriages end up in divorce. In our culture of arranged marriages, instead of having to look for love before marriage you just love the person you marry. I am not denying that there are some unhappy arranged marriages but then there are unhappy love marriages too.