Online Social Networking Friendship Deception
When she turned 22, Gauri Bajaj decided to stop fighting with her parents. She allowed them to scour the streets of Supaul, her hometown in Bihar, for a suitable groom. Six months later, she married 34-year-old Pankaj Tiwari, who taught yoga in Gurgaon and owned a one-room barsati in South Delhi’s Madangir neighbourhood. At first, she was busy planning the wedding, then busy packing her belongings, then busy unpacking her belongings in her new home and then busy adjusting to the sights and sounds of the big city. Finally, after she’d scheduled her first beauty facial, managed to rub off some of the “unsophisticated” glitter from her small-town kurtas and started tying her hair with a smart clip instead of a rubber band, she was ready to devote all her attention to getting to know her husband. However, he was nowhere to be found. “He used to leave the house every morning at 6 am and return only at 10 pm,” complains Bajaj, who was educated till Class 12 in Patna and had attended private English tuitions to ‘up’ her profile in the marriage market. “He had no time for me at all. Even on the weekends, he would only sleep or practice yoga. I tried to join him but it was just so boring.” It was boredom that led her to walk every evening to the nearby Saket malls and watch how Delhi partied, shopped, ate, drove, dressed, drank and most importantly stayed in touch. It was boredom that drove her to beg her husband for a phone because it would “help with time pass and everybody else had one”. And it was boredom that prompted her to create her first Facebook account. “The wife of our kirana dukaan introduced me to it. She told me Facebook was safe and not like other websites where people could hurt you. She showed me how to post an update, put my location and upload a photograph,” says Gauri.
And just like that, her life was no longer boring. Now she spent her mornings plucking her eyebrows and putting on lipstick “the way the girls did it on YouTube”. In the afternoon, after she was done with the daily vegetable shopping, she would spend hours balancing her phone between a tomato and a potato till she got the perfect profile picture. She no longer felt like walking to watch the people at the mall. Instead, she spent her evenings chatting with her 871 new online friends. Her tired husband would return home and go to sleep with no idea that his wife had hidden her phone in her bosom and would continue to use Facebook Messenger under the bed-covers till 2 or 3 am.
“I felt like there was a purpose in my life once again. It was a good feeling to be able to talk to human beings and know that someone out there cared about me,” explains Bajaj. There was, however, ‘someone out there’, who did more than just ‘care’ for her — he decided to seduce her. Daily e-cards, e-hugs, e-cakes, e-flowers and e-songs would find their way to her inbox and whenever she was feeling low ‘Red Fox 911’ was always just a phone call away. “He was my best friend. I don’t even remember how we first started talking, it just happened so smoothly. I do, however, remember the first time he asked for my phone number on FB chat. I was a bit scared but he said it was only because he wanted to forward a message to me on WhatsApp. A few weeks later, I just called him myself. I was curious to hear his voice. Although I pretended I had dialled the number by mistake,” Bajaj pauses to giggle at the memory and then continues, “After that there was just no stopping us. We couldn’t last a day without calling each other. It was harmless. We would talk everything really, such as the Delhi rains, the pollution, the traffic jams, how horrible cold samosas taste and how to make strawberry milkshake at home. I learned that his real name was Adil, he was also from a small town in Maharashtra and worked as an IT engineer in the city. One day, he just called and told me he’d like to take me out for dinner to a place that sold litti chokha. I didn’t really think much about it, I just went.” And she never came back. “He asked me to move in with him. And I did.”
Now, two years later, Gauri works as a shopkeeper in Delhi’s Shahpur Jat. Adil is completely out of the picture. “He turned out to be someone completely different. Yes, he was an IT engineer but he was horrible to me. He was rude and even hit me. Online he had been so different,” wails Gauri, who ran away from Adil in just one day. “I was very very lucky. My husband took me back. It must be the yoga but he decided to give me a second chance. Life has given me a second chance,” she says, adding that she now has a full-time job for ‘time pass’ instead of Facebook. “My husband’s only condition was that I use a phone without an internet connection. He didn’t have to ask me twice. Social media is nothing but bad news.”
Gauri isn’t the first person to have fallen head over heels in love with a profile on social media. According to Dr. Issac Mathai, founder and chairperson of Soukya, more and more people are leaving their partners for people they have ‘met’ online. A study done by a team of former NIMHANS psychologists showed that 70 per cent of the 900 respondents were happy to talk to an online friend while still in bed with their partners and 80 per cent of them admitted telling people they’d never met things that they wouldn’t even share with their own family. “Relationships through social media are not real when you have not actually met and spent time with the person offline. On social media, you can just be anything that you want to be. Only sustained meetings can help you understand the quirks, personality and behaviour of a person,” says Dr. Mathai, adding that to strike harmony with yourself and those around you, one needs authenticity, time and introspection. “All three are important for spiritual peace. Only when you are at peace with yourself can you extend that peace to your relationship. Now on social media, if you are constantly worrying about attention and comments and photos and trying to impress someone or the other, you have no time left for yourself. It drains you of your energy. This is not the best environment for falling in love or building a relationship.