Finding companionship in Mumbai: Lonely and single, but should we mingle?

Increasingly single, middle-aged people are willing to socialise and look for partners as they navigate loneliness in Mumbai.

54-year-old Jyoti Kadam, who took voluntary retirement from being a writer with the Mumbai police to take care of her parents, feels lonely now. 

Jyoti was widowed 22 years ago, when her son was just five months old and her daughter seven years old. She struggled throughout as a single working parent till she took voluntary retirement, only to take care of her mother suffering from Alzheimer’s. Thereafter, she took care of her father, a paralysis patient. 

Today, after her parents are no more and her children have grown up and started working, she has started pursuing her hobbies like travelling. She feels lucky to have the support of her family, and her friends, but she does miss having a companion, a partner to talk and share her life with. 

She is ageing and realises that she may not stay healthy for long. “I need a person, who can talk to me, accompany me to the doctor when I am unwell and generally be there with me,” says Jyoti. 

She came across an advertisement on social media about Sobaati Meet, which hosts meet-ups for divorcees, widows, widowers and singles aged between 40-60 years. She attended it and met single people, either by choice or circumstances, looking for friends, companions or even life partners. 

Jyoti is clear that marriage is a sacred commitment meant for keeps and she is interested only in a life-long relationship. While she has seen people of her age go in for live-in relationships, she is clear that it is not for her.

At these group meetings, she found many other like-minded people like her ranging from professionals like lawyers to businessmen and real estate agents. “Like me, they too felt lonely and trapped in circumstances. They too wanted to have that one last shot in life, to spend their lives with a partner,” she said.

The case of businessman Ganesh Pednekar, 49 is not very different. He had a bitter separation from his wife, after his business suffered financial losses and he got paralysis. Property cases went in favour of his wife. His brother and friends took care of him during his difficult period and now he is trying to recover and regain his life, work and identity once again, he says.

He did manage to reconnect with his childhood friend but she expired soon burdened with her own family issues. Though he is very active socially – founding his school alumni group beyond his involvement in social and political work in his locality, he longs to connect with someone, who could share his life and concerns. 

Loneliness and middle-age

In their book, ‘Rethink Ageing – Lessons in ageing from the older and bolder generation,’ Reshmi Chakraborty and Nidhi Chawla cite the Longitudinal Ageing Study report published in January 2021 that found that 3.4 % of people above the age of forty-five years lived alone. They also cited the 2011 Census data that found almost 15 million elderly Indians living alone. Of them three-quarters are women.

The authors, co-founders of Silver Talkies, a social engagement platform for seniors, spread across 12 cities across the country state, “A longer life span, breakdown of bigger families, higher disposable incomes and changing social norms means that people now want to make their later years count. One way to do that is to find someone to share it with, despite social censure and often, lack of opportunities to meet with interesting senior singles.”

illustration water colour of a man sitting alone at the beach
At Sobaati, some look for life partners and some are happy with getting a friend circle and socialising regularly. Pic: Doctorxgc, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Psychologist and family counsellor with Bombay High Court and Family Court, Dr Brenda Fernandes, observes that divorces tend to be so emotionally and financially draining, that divorcees end up bitter and are wary of getting into it all over again. 

“Having seen the ugly side of a break-up, these young divorcees get into marriage only after undertaking a pre-nuptial agreement to avoid getting into ugly spats again,” says Brenda. She says people are scared of second marriages. They prefer to socialise, travel and enjoy themselves, instead of getting into another marriage. 

“It’s sad to see the middle aged lose their partners to death or divorce and then see them navigate through life alone as their kids fly abroad or move on to lead their own lives,” says Sangeeta Waghmare, the Mumbai-based co-founder of Sobaati Meet, that hopes to provide a platform for the middle-aged singles to connect and find friends, partners or companions. 


Read more: Loneliness: An urban epidemic that carries the same risk as smoking 15 cigarettes a day!


Safe space for meeting people or even finding partner  

The initiative was the brainchild of Sudesh Dhole, a divorcee from Pune, who came up with this platform as a solution to fight the painful loneliness among the middle-aged.”Very few are able to fathom the pain of being alone with no one to talk to. Many in this age-group are raised in a generation where they are not taught to express their inner frustrations and are on the verge of depression.  Only those in similar situations can relate to it and offer support,” he says. 

He organised such meets at Pune in 2017. In 2020, Covid-19 and consequent lockdowns made it impossible to keep it going. Post-Covid, the initiative was revived. It was resurrected online with social media advertisements about their get-togethers and that is when this concept really took off. Today, this initiative has grown beyond being just a calling or a social venture for Sudesh and he has enlisted professional support services like tele-callers and social media marketing. 

“Many participants who come for these meets, are disillusioned from matrimonial sites, which often have false and exaggerated profile details and are wary of such  experiences. Here they meet real people face to face and get enough time to decide whether to take it forward or not,” says Sudesh. 

The Sobaati initiative was started in Pune, but is picking up in Mumbai and has now received offers to host similar events in Delhi, Bangalore apart from various cities within Maharashtra like Sambhajinagar and Kolhapur. 

The format for the day-long get-together is quite simple. It starts with an introductory session, where the participants introduce themselves and then there are ice-breaker games. People are discouraged from directly connecting or sharing personal details with each other.

Already, the Mumbai team members have bonded strongly and are active on WhatsApp. They attend personal events such as birthday celebrations. Now, following demands from members, Sobaati Meet has started hosting weekend meets.

Precautions to ensure privacy and safety

“We do not share data of personal details with anyone nor do we retain it ourselves. We advise our participants to not let their emotions get the better of them and share personal details like addresses. You can block people on mobile not beyond. We encourage people to use us as intermediaries while sharing numbers,” advises Sudesh. 

 During the gatherings people are barred from clicking or sharing pictures of participants. Sudesh says it is to ensure that people are safe and protected within the network.

Participants say that unlike regular friends, the camaraderie at Sobaati Meet is quite real. Since they share their deepest thoughts and concerns, they feel more connected. Even if they haven’t yet zeroed in on anyone as a life partner, they have developed a new friend circle. They are excited about going on trips, birthday parties and enjoy a few shared moments of affection and joy. And for now, that brings them immense joy.

Tips/advisories while interacting with people
Avoid sharing personal details
Use an intermediary person/platform if possible. 
Avoid sharing personal pics
If you are part of such a network in your city, do share your experiences with us at mumbai@citizenmatters.in 

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