When Radmila Khakova, a journalist and writer from Tatarstan, shared the story of her first date online, it was an instant hit. Amid the picture perfect relationships seen on excessively curated Facebook and Instagram feeds, Radmila’s honest, ironic, deep, sometimes unconventional stories of finding love ring true. In 2016, she set herself the challenge of going on as many different dates as possible, across ten countries, and sharing her experiences, first impressions and doubts, first on Facebook then on Russian social messaging app Telegram. Her new book, 147 Dates, charts her journey in contemporary dating culture. Moreover, it presents a whole new image of womanhood. We talked to the Tatar writer about what it feels to share her most personal accounts of love and intimacy online.
Tell us about 147 Dates.
It is a real-life, real-time story. It’s my personal experience of trying to discover once and for all if there’s such a thing as a perfect match. Is having an “other half” still important today? In the world where getting married and having a family is no longer a mainstream concept, and divorce is not the end of the world, it’s no longer necessary to subscribe to this traditional model, though many still choose to. There are civil partnerships, co-parenting, childfree couples, LGBTQI parents, communities of former partners and all the new sorts of relationships — online, open, temporary, etc.
What did it feel like to share the book and your personal story as you went? What was the audience reaction like?
It all started after I went on a date and decided to share the experience online the very next day. I felt like there was a real appetite for honest discussion on dating. It felt like I was opening doors previously locked. So I continued to share my stories. Some comments were really rude — a lot of people, especially in Russia, equal dating to sex and I was explicitly criticised for this. But other people, who I guess are just a bit more open-minded and curious, kept following, and the audience has been growing ever since. They connected with the personal story behind the project and tuned in to it online. I got 3,600 pre-orders [for the book] long before the launch date was even announced. Everyone who pre-ordered the book got an exclusive excerpt every Tuesday.
To what extent has your nationality influenced the book?
“A Tatar should not behave like this” is a phrase I would often hear but couldn’t figure out why. Dating is not a new concept: everybody does it, I just decided to share it online. I grew up in Tatarstan, in a traditional nuclear family that I thought was the kind I would have as well. But I was wrong. My first marriage fell apart after three years. In Russia (Moscow and St Petersburg aside) and in Tatarstan, women are still discriminated against for being single. It’s a taboo not only to date before marriage but also post about your relationships online.
You dated across ten countries while working on the book. What are the cultural gaps you noticed and does it feel the same being back in Kazan now?
Dating in Tatarstan was the trickiest. Everybody knows each other, a lot of people are already married, but also there were those who knew I was working on the book and simply wanted to be featured. They didn’t care about me, they did not want to see if we could work as a couple, the only thing that mattered was to come off well in the book. I did not feel OK with this. Having exposed my private life in public for a year, back in Kazan, I feel I have less privacy than ever.
Why did you choose Telegram, the popular Russian messenging app, as the main platform for sharing the book?
I just love it. It is clean, user friendly and it’s perfect if you want to cut off the haters: my Telegram audience are the people who are interested in the book, since Telegram is built as a messenger app, not a platform. The reader experience is more personal when you receive private messages than when you’re confronted with a continuous stream of posts. The app is also more interactive than other media: I posted images and videos from some of the dates online, sometimes inviting people to vote for or against my dates — people felt they were part of my story, we were living it together. Snippets of my new book will also be shared on Telegram.
Do you plan to further explore the borders of relationships, womanhood and love in your future work?
I’ve started working on a new book, even more personal and taboo-driven than 147 Dates. It’s a project I’ll be doing together with a Kazan-based photographer. The first text is scheduled to be up early next year.