This is my 15th newsletter, can you believe it? Well, I definitely can’t. I couldn’t have imagined writing this regularly about six months ago when I was still employed with Amazon. It’s not like I didn’t have time - I used to run M.B.A part-time. It’s unbelievable what a little mind space can do. Creativity on the other hand is scarce, no matter how much time you have.
Of the last 14 editions of this newsletter, I’d reckon only 2-3 have been worth reading, that too, thanks to my fatigue, fear and cynicism about the marriage market. Some were rants, some theories and others, stories. My favourite, of course, have been the stories because I’ve been able to happily hide a bit of me, a bit of fiction, real life, trauma and hope without anyone noticing.
So, that’s what you’ll get today.
The story has six characters, who are all trapped in a Yahoo Chat room called “So, arranged marriages, huh?” which is meant for anyone who is absolutely tired of having pointless conversations with their arranged marriage dates. This story is called the fantasy league. It’s a league because everyone plays everyone.
Yahoo chat room? What’s that?
Umm, Gen Z, right. Imagine a WhatsApp group, except instead of numbers, people had alphanumeric strings for their identification. You could leave and enter this group as you please. You could say what you want, be what you want. You didn’t have to deal with random forwarded messages, at least not the type that almost always has a moral at the end. It was an era where dick pics became democratic, social discovery was nascent and anonymity was celebrated. Public shaming was unheard of. Who would you shame? Geniedegenie365? Sure.
Anyway, you kids won’t get it. But just play along, ok?
But if there is a version of this in your era that I haven’t heard of, be kind. Tell me, maybe?
Now, marriage? What’s that?
It’s this little institution developed by our society to sell companionship bundled. You get hugs, sex, comfort, intellectual stimulation, money, food, children, loyalty, emotional support and what not, on demand, all rolled up into one person called a spouse. Well, sometimes. Anyway, you can’t complain about quality of each of the services as it’s a bundle unless you want to abandon the bundle altogether.
And arranged? Sounds shady you say?
Well, arranged marriages are usually when the introduction between a bride and a groom is “arranged” by a third party - app, or auntie, doesn’t matter. It’s true that previously, the third party didn’t stop at just arranging the introduction, they’d even make the decision on behalf of the couple. But think about it, we’re not far from that in terms of converting all manual effort into tech. Because, that’s what we’ve been doing in this industry no? Disrupting, innovation and all is too much work anyway.
Next time you log into tinder, imagine, one auntie sitting behind figuring out if you should be matched with that girl or not. And in case you didn’t get matched, don’t blame the app. It’s that auntie who calls herself an algorithm, just so she can sound cool and have her life funded by easy VC money.
Now that all your millennial type questions have been answered, can we get back to our story please?
33MLON just entered the room.
33MLON: Hey there
30MBLR just entered the room.
29FHYD just entered the room.
33MLON: Hey beautiful.
30MBLR: Hai babes!
33MLON: …Precisely why I left Bangalore a decade ago.
30MBLR: Easy bro. Just getting warmed up here.
33MLON: Waking up to a spectacular view of the Hyde Park on a misty Saturday morning in London. How’s it going there in Hyderabad?
31FSFO just entered the room.
30MBLR: Just waiting for Swiggy to arrive with my Hyderabadi chicken biryani. ;)
31FSFO: ooo…yum!! If only there were an app to teleport myself.
30MBLR: You won’t believe it, but I am actually building one right now. SFO huh? Are you in tech?
31FSFO: Now, you won’t believe this, but I am an investor.
33MLON: Hey SFO girl! Welcome to the group. Good to see a fellow investor. What is your area of interest?
32MNYC just entered the room.
30MBLR - Right, what else, Mr.LON? Haha. Kidding bro. Mr.NYC - Welcome man. Now that we have two NRIs in the group, I might as well leave the group no? No way will I have any chance with these two beautiful women anymore.
31FSIN just entered the room.
32MNYC: Hello, from the city that never sleeps!
31FSIN: Hello back, from the city that is about to sleep. ;)
<Back to the future>
33MLON: Yo Hyderabad girl, this ain’t Bumble. We’ll still talk, even if you don’t.
29FHYD: Haha. Touche.
For the uninitiated, Bumble is an app founded by an ex-employee of Tinder and an ex-girlfriend of the founder of Tinder. It’s supposed to be more female centric, lets women take the lead without being apologetic for doing so. They also have some BFF feature now, which allows you to make friends without benefits. No benefits? Wait, who wants that.
Anyway, the deal with Bumble is that when there is a match, the guy cannot ping the girl. The first message has to be sent by the girl, after which the couple can have a conversation. Great, right? No, not really.
It’s women who are still hung up on things like the man must take the lead. It’s women who worry about what men might think if they took the lead. So, as sad as it may sound, women don’t take the lead, not even on Bumble. They settle for the thrill of not initiating a conversation with someone they match.
Getting a match is hard enough, and now you even have to wait endlessly to be spoken to? Men aren’t going to do that. Not for long, at least. So, what happens to the few women who don’t mind taking the lead? They’ll just go to Tinder instead. After all, they have more users, more men and higher odds. Then, what’s left on Bumble? The rest, who haven’t figured it out yet.
29FHYD: Hello :) I am Deepika, a designer from Hyderabad. I love my biryani and my kheema samosas. Wouldn’t trade that for any view in the world. ;)
33MLON: Well, nice to meet you, Hyderabad girl!
30MBLR: Biryani? Looks like we have a match already? Should we get a room?
31FSFO: What about investment for your little app then, Bangalore boy?
33MLON: Hello ladies, I am Rohan. I live in London. I am an early stage investor in gaming and virtual reality start-ups. I love my early morning runs and my coffee, hand-roasted and freshly ground just for me.
31FSFO: Rohan, are you sure you don’t live in San Francisco? Or do you have virtual clones all over the place now? ;)
33MLON: Haha. Mystery investor from SFO, why don’t you tell us who you are.
31FSFO: Alright! I am Shreya. I manage investments in healthcare for a Silicon valley based venture fund. While most of me lives in the Bay Area, my heart still lives back home in Bombay.
32MNYC: Bombay? Awesome, brings back some lovely memories from college. It’s nice to e-meet you, Shreya. I am Ajay, and I live on the opposite coast in New York. I work in Ad-tech as a Data Scientist.
30MBLR: Nice to meet you dude.
Deviyo aut Sajjano, myself Saurabh, software, working as a CTO for a start up in Bangalore. We are building an AI based meditation product that uses body temperature to sense your mood, and chooses the music and pace to guide your meditation, in turn “teleporting” you into a different world. Besides that, I am foodie and love photography. My heart lies all over the world, just like my pins on Tinder ;)
31FSFO: Hahaha. So, that’s your teleporting? I think I am going to go with Mr. London who can at least show me my biryani in virtual reality vs me having to imagine my biryani while trying to meditate!
33MLON: There’s a lot more we can do with virtual reality, you know ;)
32MNYC: I think that was meant to be rhetorical. Sort of like a pick up line.
30MBLR: Oh really? How do you know, bro? Are you into the PUA scene in New York?
31FSIN: What is PUA?
32MNYC: Hello there! I thought you’d already slept off. ;) PUA stands for pick-up artist. Google it.
I was introduced to this concept by a gentleman from New York. While it is an art, it is based on seduction science, and hence, it mostly appeals to geeks, who unfortunately lack the natural skills to attract a mate. I remember this book, called The Game, being fairly popular in college, that was like a bible for most semi-intelligent men who believed that they could play above their league by just internalising this book. Except, at that point, I didn’t know there was a term for this.
A little bit of manipulation is part of the mating game anyway. Animals do it. Humans do it. Yet, somehow, people find it crass, misogynistic, and what not. I can’t tell if this PUA shit works or not, but is surely an interesting concept. If you can deliver it quite smoothly, then why not. But do I endorse it? No, I don’t know enough about it to like or not like it. So if any of you know more than I do, I’d love to hear from you.
31FSIN: Wow, this is some crazy shit.
30MBLR: SIN stands for Sindri? Because that’s where I am from.
31FSIN: Haha, no. SIN stands for Singapore, before it occurred to me that it should have been SGP. Anyway, I am Gayatri. I am from Chennai. I sell space on cloud for a living, and I use all that money to buy myself books and vinyls. But, where on Earth is Sindri?
30MBLR: See, this is exactly the problem with you Madrasis. You think North India is just one big blob Madhya Pradesh and upwards no?
31FSIN: Woah, sorry dude, I didn’t mean to offend you. I genuinely don’t know where Sindri is.
30MBLR: Chill man, I was just pulling your leg. Sindri is just one little area in Dhanbad in Jhardkand. Sort of like your Anna Nagar types.
32MNYC: Vinyls? Wow! I live right above an old record store in New York. So, you are always welcome here :)
31FSIN: How cool is that! I’ll be travelling to the US next month, so who knows? I might just take you up on that offer.
29FHYD left the room.
29FHYD joined the room.
33MLON: For a second there, I thought this room’s turning out to be like any other dating app with a skewed gender ratio. Welcome back, Deepika. You were dearly missed, for a second. Almost. ;)
Skewed gender ratio
30:70 is a good female:male ratio on most dating/ matrimonial apps. This is definitely not representative of our general population which is more like 49:51. Why is that, though? I’m sure there are plenty of reasons, some general, some personal. But at the top of my head, I can think of a few.
Women feel less safe in the world. More so on the internet.
Women find it harder to accept that love doesn’t always come finding you, you need to put yourselves out there sometimes. Unless you are super woke.
Women technically don’t need men anymore. So, fewer women looking for love, I guess?
So sad, no?
…Wait, is that 30 including bots, or excluding them?
29FHYD: Sorry guys, I got disconnected. Also, I didn’t think anyone was missing me much. Not like I have any funding to dispense or offer tech support. After all, I just design homes for the who’s who of Jubilee Hills.
32MNYC: Wow, that must be a fun job. I am a huge Mahesh Babu fan. I try and catch his movies whenever I can. Have you ever met him?
29FHYD: Of course. :)
32MNYC: So cool! Doesn’t it make you wish you had a beautiful house like theirs?
29FHYD: Why? I already have a beautiful home, that makes them wish they had one too ;)
33MLON: Oh then may be you can come and make my home in London, beautiful? Pun intended.
29FHYD: Unlikely you’ll be able to afford me, sweetheart! ;)
30MBLR: Hahahahaha, nice one, Deeps!
31FSFO: Is Mahesh Babu the guy with botox?
32MNYC: Botox? I don’t think he’s done Botox! At least not that I am aware of.
31FSFO: Oh, then why does he have the same expression all the time? ;)
32MNYC: Dude, how dare you! With just one expression, that man has so many fans, imagine what would happen if he got a second expression? He’d get you Mumbaikars as well.
31FSFO: Right, I’ll drink to that one. I have a lot of friends from AP and Telangana here in the valley and so, I must have caught the occasional gossip about Tollywood. Sometimes, I have to pinch myself to really believe that I am in America and not in Hyderabad.
33MLON: London is quite diverse that way. It’s a transient city where people from all over just come and go. So, it’s so easy to blend in.
32MNYC: Just like New York.
30MBLR: Yet, you guys still come home and post pictures of your Dosas and sambhers (sic), that don’t quite feature in your diverse habitats, no?
31FSIN: Oh you think you’re the only foodie? ;)
Oh you’re a foodie too, are you?
If singing or tailoring was the most sought after hobbies for a bride of yesteryears, being a hiker or photographer or a foodie is the most common hobby chosen by men on dating/ matrimonial websites. Not that women seek that, but men somehow think they are all fancy hobbies that gets you chicks. Wait, whatever happened to playing the guitar? I thought that was a sure-shot chick magnet.
Now, every second guy is foodie. I wonder if I should read that as - my mum feeds me well, and hence, I need my wife to cook for me. Ok no, that’s a bit harsh. Let’s just say people lack creativity and hence, have decided to glorify something that they have to do anyway.
So.. don’t be surprised, if there is an advent of poop collectors or sleeping enthusiasts on these platforms soon. Just saying.
33MLON: Let me guess, Saurabh, your visa to America got rejected? That’s why you are so bitter about NRIs, correct?
30MBLR: Bro! How did you know?! Now not only do these women know that I am not an NRI, but I don’t even have a fucking visa stamp on my passport no? Tch.
31FSIN: What is that I smell? Sarcasm?
30MBLR: :D Mr.Rohan, I live in India by choice. I founded my company in Silicon valley, and moved back home early this year so I can be around my family. Oh and did I mention? I decided to build this company after travelling around the world for a whole year meeting people from very diverse backgrounds, only to realise that no matter what you do or where you live, there’s just one thing that unites us all today - stress, and loneliness. And so, through my product, I do my little bit to help.
31FSFO: Wow. That was a way better pitch for your product, btw.
33MLON left the room.
30MBLR: Gayatri, do you smell something burning now?
29FHYD left the room.
31FSIN: Hahaha, so sad man.
30MBLR: Oh great, so it’s just the four of us now? Shreya, what say, we get out of here, and get a room too?
31FSFO: Haha, thanks. I am flattered.
32MNYC: Thanks man, carry on. I’m sure it’ll save Gayatri and me some transaction cost if we just continued hanging out here if you all just left us alone.
30MBLR: Fuck! Should have bloody seen this coming.
30MBLR left the room.
31FSIN: So, Ajay, did you go to college in Powai?
31FSIN left the room.
Every match makes you wonder if this would be the last conversation you’d have trying to impress someone. The pretence, the pressure, the frustration, the anxiety and the need to cover it all up, makes us seem uninterested or detached. It’s hard to be any other way when your excitement has been stabbed over and over by so many people, especially when they didn’t intend to.
This Yahoo! chat is just what your interaction data from any dating app/matrimonial website would look like in the bank-end. Conversations with multiple people, all put together. Some with men. Some with women. Some with bots. But wouldn’t it be more efficient if it looked like this on the front end? What if likability was transitive, and all the people you had mutual matches with brought in other people they had mutual matches with and in turn, you formed a group of like minded individuals who could group chat and pick partners more efficiently?
Men would still have to fight each other off. But, would more people talk then? Would conversations be more interesting? Would we save time by eliminating more people at once rather than one after the other? Do you think the reduction in transaction cost would get us to our soulmate faster?
Wait, do you want to be a part of that Yahoo chat?