Dating for the plot: Experts help decode the top dating trend

16 February,2024 01:41 PM IST |  Mumbai  |  Maitrai Agarwal

From not being attached to an outcome dating to thriving on main character energy, singles were pursuing new experiences with abandon as per Tinder’s Year in Swipe 2023 Report. Experts help us decode top trend dating ‘for the plot’

Image for representational purpose only. Photo Courtesy: Pixabay

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"Dating ‘for the plot' is about keeping things easy and fun. Instead of stressing about whether you're a perfect match or planning the future from the get-go, it's like going with the flow of a story and focusing on the joy of connection rather than overthinking where things might lead. You enjoy each other's company, live in the moment, and let the relationship develop naturally," explains Dr Chandni Tugnait, life coach and relationship expert partner with Tinder India.

Those who date 'for the plot' embrace the adventure and say yes to opportunities they might otherwise overlook, without trying to define the relationship too soon. "This mindset takes away the pressure, letting young adults be themselves and appreciate the unique experiences and connections each relationship brings. Shifting away from outcome-focused dating reflects a move towards viewing the dating journey as a path to self-discovery, not just a checklist for commitment," adds Tugnait.

Who is dating ‘for the plot'?
According to data from Tinder, this trend is popular among young daters, mostly 18-25-year-olds, who view dating as an opportunity for possibilities rather than sticking to old-fashioned rules. They approach relationships with curiosity and independence, creating connections on their terms. It also removes the tunnel vision of finding ‘the one' so they can appreciate each unique possibility for what it has to offer.

Meenakshi Bhatt, 22-year-old Tinder user from Kolkata shares her experience "Dating, for me, is all about enjoying the moment and not worrying about what comes next. I'm up for surprise adventures and open to the unexpected. Once, I matched with someone on Tinder who was totally out of my usual type - a Bollywood geek. Our spontaneous date turned into an unforgettable story: a long drive with old songs, city exploration, and delicious litti-chokha and chai. We kept meeting but decided to keep it spontaneous and explore the things we love, focusing on getting to know each other better. No pressure to label who we are, allowed us to let the connection unfold naturally. It was about taking things at our own pace, making memories and figuring it out as we go along."

While dating with abandon might be enjoyable for some singles, others might find it to be less than ideal. Mumbai resident Neha Kapadia is exhausted from going on dates which never seem to materialise. The 25-year-old tells us, "When you are not invested and are trying to keep it casual it often happens that the budding relationship withers away. I do love meeting new people and going on dates, but how many times can I have the same first-date conversation? When everyone is looking for low-key pretending does not help my anxiety as well."

"There can be benefits of adopting this dating pattern, however, it can also be said that dating ‘for the plot' can have varying effects on individuals' mental well-being," shares Riddhi Gandhi, a therapist at The Mood Space. Since the approach to dating is an extremely subjective choice, we asked both experts Gandhi and Tugnait to help us further our understanding of 2023's hottest dating trend.

What are the possible pros and cons of this dating approach?
Tugnait: It's important to find a balance. Understand yourself and go at a pace that works for both you and your date. It's not just about going with the flow; it's about talking freely using every experience to make your connection stronger and having honest conversations along the way. Dating ‘for the plot' encourages staying in the present to nurture connections, and may help people learn about themselves through new dynamics. There is also room for getting to know the person fully before thinking about the future and cultivating trust and emotional maturity before serious commitments.

Gandhi: The emphasis on narrative enrichment provides individuals with a unique perspective on their dating experiences, encouraging them to view setbacks as plot twists, and fostering emotional resilience. This approach promotes mindful dating, as individuals become more attuned to their emotions, actively listen to their partners, and savour each moment, leading to more meaningful connections. Additionally, the reflective learning encouraged by this approach transforms each encounter into an opportunity for self-discovery and personal growth. By framing experiences positively and treating them as integral chapters in their personal story, individuals can maintain a constructive and optimistic outlook on their dating journey.

However, ‘dating for the plot' is not without its challenges. Fostering unrealistic expectations as individuals craft idealised narratives, potentially leading to disappointment in real-life scenarios. The focus on storytelling might also divert attention from building deep, authentic connections, and fostering more surface-level relationships. This approach could introduce additional pressure and stress, particularly for those feeling compelled to meet specific relationship milestones outlined in their self-created plot. This approach, particularly for those with anxiety or anxious attachment styles, may amplify stress, impacting mental well-being.

It is also crucial to be aware and mindful that we don't end up using this approach as a means of evading commitment or sidestepping emotional intimacy. While this approach promotes a healthy mindset of intentional dating, an overemphasis on the present without considering future potential might hinder individuals from investing in relationships that could flourish. Thus, striking a balance between focusing on the present and future potential outcome is crucial for a fulfilling dating experience.

How can such a dating pattern impact the mental well-being of individuals?
Gandhi: Dating ‘for the plot', with its emphasis on not prioritising or getting attached to the outcome can lead to a sense of personal growth, embracing singlehood, seeking meaningful experiences, and assessing true compatibility. This approach provides a strong foundation for a mindful partnering dynamic, emphasising awareness, intentionality, and presence in relationships.

For some individuals this may be centred on enjoying the present moment and embracing the journey, allowing them to alleviate the stress associated with predefined relationship milestones. For many who may experience anxiety or have an anxious attachment style, this may be another source of anxiety stemming from uncertainty and walking the journey without a predefined outcome.

Who can benefit from ‘dating for the plot'? Conversely, who should not follow this approach?
Gandhi: An individual who connects as an open-minded explorer and is willing to embrace the uncertainties of dating can find fulfilment in this dating approach. For these individuals, the dating journey can be viewed as an adventure, an opportunity for self-discovery, and a series of experiences that contribute to the narrative of their lives. They see each date as a unique chapter in their personal story, allowing for a dynamic and evolving plotline. The emphasis on storytelling aligns with their adventurous spirit, providing a framework to make the most of each dating experience.

On the contrary, this approach may not be very feasible for those who are seeking stability and predictability in their dating life, as they may find the emphasis on the plot rather than the outcome overwhelming. For them this might take them away from a sense of security and clarity, the unpredictable nature of crafting elaborate narratives or focusing on the present moment without a predetermined plan may create a sense of uncertainty that contradicts their preference for a more stable and predictable dating experience inducing further stress and discomfort for them.

In your opinion, are individuals dating ‘for the plot' pursuing relationships? Can healthy long-term relationships be built by people prioritising the journey instead of the destination?
Tugnait: The dating ‘for the plot' mindset fosters an appreciation for each other in the present and allows relationship goals to evolve naturally over time. It also recognises that people are complex, and relationships can take various shapes and sizes. Unlike focusing intensely on compatibility and labels right at the beginning, prioritising the journey can lead to a more informed decision. Taking an open approach allows them to meet new people without closing themselves off from all the possibilities that come from putting themselves out there.
Gandhi: In my opinion, dating ‘for the plot' does have its unique benefit of being able to take time to assess romantic compatibility and establish mutual trust and safety before deciding on a future together and not engaging to know each other or forming a connection through a tunnel vision of the outcome; which may take away the chance to explore nuance experiences that you may have during the course of the journey. Here, the aim would be to build the foundation of a relationship without any preconceived notions.

The approach of ‘dating for the plot' could be a good starting point, however, as the journey progresses it would be crucial that the individual openly communicate their expectations, desires, and boundaries to ensure that both partners are at the same pace and direction. This clear understanding of mutually agreed upon destination i.e. defining a relationship, timeline, or any labels we needed, based on their unique bond would help provide an essential sense of clarity, increased intimacy, and commitment.

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