Second innings

Shapely Gal is a weekly-ish newsletter that discusses love, relationships, marriage and the various markets these are traded on. This newsletter is a concoction of observations, theories, ideas, real stories, figments of imagination and sometimes just rants on romantic relationships.

This edition of the newsletter is just me contemplating out loud about people who have re-entered the market to get married for the second time.

As many of you may know from this newsletter, most people hire matchmakers or marriage brokers more as a last resort and hence, matchmakers don’t always enjoy the luxury of high “success rates”. In fact, there’s almost no such thing as an easy day at work. But I feel like this was taken to a whole new level last week when I’d several enquiries from people who are trying to get married for the second time. I really felt almost ill-equipped to help these people because quite frankly, I’ve not worked with too many people who’ve been married before.

The one time I got a divorced client for my advisory service, he ghosted me after our first conversation. My hunch is that he didn’t appreciate being asked to think about ways in which he may have contributed to the failure of his marriage. I think until you’ve truly processed a previous marriage, it’s detrimental to re-enter the market. But I get that people don’t like random strangers suggesting this, and hence, I usually avoid working with people who aren’t asking for help.

Anyway, for the last one week or so, I’ve been trying to research and talk to people who’ve been married twice or are attempting to, in order to build my own understanding. I wanted to share my learnings so far, so I can be challenged and learn from those of you who know better.

So, here goes:

People absolutely deserve a second chance

If you are in a serious relationship or are married, you know better than anyone that you are constantly giving each other second chances. Is this because you’ve already invested so much, and don’t see any other way? Or is it because you’re hopeful for the future? I’d like to believe that hope is what keeps us going, and this is as good a reason as any to give somebody a second chance.

Is a past relationship any different from a past marriage?

Why is it that people treat you differently when you’ve been married once before versus when you’ve been in a serious long term relationship? In India, while dating and living together as an unmarried couple is only a recently acknowledged public phenomenon, people believe that the collateral damage is lower. Fewer people know, hence, fewer people hurt implying lesser baggage.

People also think - if somebody actually went through the pain of getting married and getting a divorce, things must have been mighty bad as the friction to getting in and out of a relationship is far lower compared to a marriage. But the reality is that most of the time, the reasons are really the same - infidelity, incompatibility, lack of respect, breakdown of communication, impotency, etc.

Your baggage matters

While people are somewhat open to looking past emotional baggage, they’re more reluctant to dealing with physical baggages. People aren’t always comfortable being with people who’ve children from previous marriages unless they’ve got their own too. I’ve had people tell me things like “I am divorced with a 5 year old daughter, but she’s in boarding school and my future partner doesn’t have to worry about her at all, I am ready to relocate anywhere.” I don’t know what was going through this mother’s mind, but I bet it hurt more to say than it hurt me to listen.

Being pragmatic about the deal

Most of the time, people are fairly financially independent/ stable by the time they are trying to get married for the second time. Unless there are very clearly boundaries around how to plan to deal with monetary and non-monetary (children) assets, you are sort of treading murky waters. These are things that must usually be discussed up front although they sound incredibly transactional. Solid transparency around how a relationship will be built is the foundation of most relationships, especially second marriages.

Do men and women think differently?

Generally speaking, most women are clear they want to marry, they’re merely undecided on whom to marry. Men on the other hand, aren’t entirely convinced about entering such commitment. This fundamental difference in intention separates the men and women, and hence, women have a terrible experience on dating apps and men have a terrible time on matrimonial apps. The price you pay for companionship as a man is not money, but your commitment. In any case, it is as much your risk as it is that of a woman who agrees to marry you.

Acceptance is two-way

As far as the arranged marriage market is concerned, if you’ve been married once, you are more likely to be offered a second chance only by those who’re also seeking a second chance like yourself. This means that it is as much about you accepting them as it is about them accepting you.

It takes a lot of maturity and will to let go of your own past as well as the other person’s to truly make a second marriage work. Now, it is far from easy. It may take years before you’re able to make peace with who you are on your own as well as who you are in this new couple. But having someone to do this with can make all the difference.

I’ve learnt from hundreds of people about marrying for the first time. So, I bet this is just the beginning of a really long journey of learning about how to marry for the second time. Until then, if you’ve gyaan to offer, I’ll take it. Drop me a note.


More from Shapely Gal

Here’s a little sneak peak into the various projects I am working on:

  1. Dinner Club - I’ve absolutely loved setting up people who’re open to meeting new people and are just looking for a good conversation, and treat anything else that comes off the intro as a bonus. Not surprisingly, there was a strong correlation with age. So may be the next avatar of Dinner Club could serve a very specific age group so all of us can benefit from higher liquidity.

  2. Ask Auntie: A lot of people have a sequential approach to love and arranged marriage, which is fine except the order is a bit messed up. Someone even asked which is better - love or arranged marriage.

  3. Arrange Your Own Marriage: This course was concluded last week with a final episode about things you need to consider before making the final decision of whom to marry. Those of you who followed this course, if you’ve ideas/ suggestions on what my next course must be about, drop me a note.

  4. Panic Party: I’ve been invited by an organisation in Bangalore to address its members who are mostly parents of eligible bachelors and bachelorettes. I am going to be talking about what people of our generation want from marriages and the role parents must play in supporting their wards (or not!).


Sneak Peak…

what I’m reading/ watching/ listening to:

Arranged Marriage and Social Discovery

Shapely Gal is a weekly-ish newsletter that discusses love, relationships, marriage and the various markets these are traded on. This newsletter is a concoction of observations, theories, ideas, real stories, figments of imagination and sometimes just rants on romantic relationships.

This week’s newsletter is inspired by conversations that I’ve been having with several people over the last few days, and how they view the arranged marriage market. I possibly even go to the extent of suggesting how people ought to look at it.

I appeared in the Times of India. With Indian Matchmaking being all the rage now, they decided to do a piece on "new age matchmakers" in India, and decided to interview me for it. Check it out here (it might be behind a paywall). 

A considerable portion of the article goes in describing M.B.A. They've even put my photo, right below Sima Aunty's. All is good with the world it seems. 

The same issue contained a column by brand consultant Santosh Desai, again about Indian Matchmaking. He argued that the outrage about the show is misplaced, and what the stories in the show actually show is that arranged marriages don't work.

I'll address the column in a bit, but let's get back to the article about me. Being featured in the Times of India means that you do get some requests. So I've had a busy last couple of days. Some of the requests are by people who have been in the market for a long time but have failed to find a match. Others have approached me after multiple failed marriages, in the hope that I might somehow find them an appropriate spouse this time. 

I am no miracle worker

I wish I were Sai Baba to magically produce spouses for these people out of thin air, but unfortunately I'm not! The best I can do for these people is to help them unpack why they have been unsuccessful in the market so far, or have had unfulfilling relationships. Well, I CAN even represent them in the market in case they want me to, but in such cases I don't know how much value that will add. 

Then again, I think one reason why a lot of people have trouble in the arranged marriage market is that they don't really want to be there. People think that getting into the arranged marriage market is a sign of failure - of having failed to find a long-term gene-propagating partner for themselves. Like I know one person who was asked by his father if he didn't have the "taakat" to find someone for himself. 

When arranged marriages don’t work

True, the arranged marriage market might not work for a lot of people and they might be better off finding someone on their own. But all I'm asking you is to treat the arranged marriage market as a social discovery platform, and give it a chance. And give it a chance at a time when it can matter, and not when your chances of finding someone on the market have become incredibly thin. 

As you might be aware, I've been running Dinner Club for a month now. We crossed 50 (first) dates a week ago, and the platform is going strong (though I plan to shut the current season by the end of August). As I was making matches for this week yesterday, I noticed something interesting - a lot of people registered on Dinner Club belong to a small age range. 

Both below and above this range, the number of boys and girls registered is so low that if I've to respect people's preferences on their ideal partner's age, setting them up would be nigh impossible. Within this "dense age range", though, setting people up has been interesting. There are so many possibilities for me (as a matchmaker) that I have been able to take many more variables into consideration while setting people up. 

Arranged marriage works in a similar way. For most communities in India, the market is "thick" (or "liquid"), for girls and boys belonging to certain age groups, beyond which the market thins out considerably, making it infinitely harder to find a match. Generally speaking, people are far more likely to connect with people of the same generation, which changes as often as 3-4 years. But, matchmakers don’t make these rules, people do.

But age matters

If you are the sort who is swayed by data, the modal age group for women in the arranged marriage market is 29, and for men, it is 31 (these are all-India numbers). Now you might think that is not very old, and that these are ages at which you can jolly well find someone in the "love marriage market". That is where this type of sequential thinking ("first try love, then arranged") can get you into trouble.

For example, let’s look at Aparna, everybody's favourite character from Indian Matchmaking. The feedback I hear from a lot of people about her is that she is picky, obstinate and rude, and that is why she is not finding a husband. However,  my simple explanation for her troubles in finding a husband is that she has simply entered the arranged marriage market too late. Rather, at 34, she’s in the wrong market.

There is no wonder that she failed to find anyone on the show. Had she entered the arranged marriage market 7-8 years earlier, she may have been far more likely to find someone who fits all her criteria without Sima Aunty having to ask her to “compromise”.

Arranged marriages cannot be your last resort

When people treat arranged marriage as a last resort, the kind of people they can expect to be matched with will also tend to be the sort who they’d think of as "last resorts" (no offence intended to anyone). The longer you shy away from the arranged marriage market, the lesser the idea you will have on what kind of people you will find there. And so you go in with idealised expectations (and maybe even let go of a half-promising relationship or two to get there), and then get disappointed that your ideal partner creature doesn't exist in the market. 

Based on this, you can decide whether you want to continue in the arranged marriage market or find someone outside. However, you need to give yourself this opportunity. This means entering the market at an age when the market is thick.

When is a good time to enter the arranged marriage market?

A couple of years after settling into your career is a reasonable proxy for having mind space to pursue other interests, including finding a partner. If this is by 26-28, you will have enough time to search for a spouse without "compromising”. But if it’s beyond that, then you’ll be better served by the love market. These numbers are purely based on my anecdotal evidence, but I bet I can’t be too far off from the “real data”.

Also, watch this video if it helps.


More from Shapely Gal

Here’s a little sneak peak into the various projects I am working on:

  1. Dinner Club - This experiment is still going very strong with over 40% of the first dates resulting in seconds. I organised my first ever workshop last weekend, and I think it went as well as I’d hoped for. Applications close tomorrow, so if you haven’t applied yet, this is your last chance. You can sign up here.

  2. Ask Auntie: Last week, I suggested a simple trick you could try at home to figure out if you’re picky when it comes to choosing a partner.

  3. Arrange Your Own Marriage: Last week’s episode covered the basics of assessing an arranged marriage date.

  4. Ask Priyanka: Last week, I spoke about things you can talk about on a first date. Now, this is a very hit or miss kind of strategy as I’ve seen via Dinner Club. So, depending on who you are, it may or may not work for you. So, try at your own risk. My experiment with Ask Priyanka has ended, so I will be moving all the content to the Ask Auntie Channel at some point.


Indian Matchmaking

Shapely Gal is a weekly-ish newsletter that discusses love, relationships, marriage and the various markets these are traded on. This newsletter is a concoction of observations, theories, ideas, real stories, figments of imagination and sometimes just rants on romantic relationships.

Holy smokes, what a week it’s been. Until last week, I thought I was the only one obsessed about this but looks like the whole world has a thing or two to say about matchmaking, thanks to the Netflix show, Indian Matchmaking. So, obviously, this edition of the newsletter is going to be about the show.

First things first, I thought the show was well made, and I quite enjoyed watching it. No, I don’t mean it in a way that I got some sick pleasure out of watching people struggle to find partners or some others being pressured into marriage by their parents. I just mean that I could empathise with almost every single person on the show as I’ve known ‘em all through M.B.A.

I thought the format was interesting - interviews with elderly couples, the criteria slides, the diversity of issues or even just how the stories were told. The pressure, agony, excitement, frustration, anxiety and every other emotion on the show was all too real. If foreigners are stupid enough to think that this one show defines India, so be it. Personally, I am glad it has opened up conversation within our own country, which was much needed.

The only thing that I am truly amazed by is how these people agreed to be filmed because most people choose to keep this very private. This also means that getting the word around in this business can be quite challenging, unless of course the matchmaking aunty is an algorithm sitting inside a dating application.


So, why are people ashamed to talk about it?

Disclaimer: Anyone with a Netflix account, and having watched/ outraged/ seen outrage about this show on media is urban. So for the sake of this post, let’s assume that the rural population of India remains unaffected by the show, and hence, this post too shall blissfully let them do their thing. Just as in the show, in this post, when I say people, I am referring to a section of the society that is urban and educated (irrespective of class, creed, colour).

Firstly, people believe love is a private matter, and must not be discussed or displayed publicly. Secondly, people of our generation are independent thinking, and believe that marriage is a choice, and one to make on their own. When they find themselves wanting to enlist help from others (parents, apps, matchmakers, etc.) to get married, they perceive it as a mark of personal failure. So, they refrain from discussing it widely.

People feel the same way about finding jobs too. Interestingly, the pandemic has shown us that it is okay to lose a job, and double okay to publicly reach out for help in finding a new job. It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. So, people will reserve their judgement, provide empathy and actually help you.

If single people felt safe about opening up about being single, and seeking help from their network to meet interesting people, would the world be different? May be.

Every time I post something about M.B.A or Dinner Club on Linkedin, a lot of my connections come view my profile, but don’t necessarily react to my post. Dating or matrimonial apps and services make people uncomfortable.

So, how are we ever going to normalise the struggle of being “single and looking” with an attitude like this?


The show normalises struggle.

Whether you are a single person looking for a partner, parent trying to get your adult son/ daughter married or a matchmaker trying to provide liquidity in a rather illiquid market, the struggles are all too real. It is very easy to feel alone in this journey, no matter who you are, because people don’t talk about it enough.

APARNA

Successful women don’t talk about their struggles, because they’ve dealt with challenges all their lives without even realising it, and they derive their strength from it. So if they’re actually looking for a partner, and struggling with it, unlike Aparna on the show, you’ll never hear them whine about it. So I’ll give Aparna credit for really putting herself out there as I know how incredibly lonely the journey can be.

I’ve had several amazing women break down during our sessions because there is constant self-imposed pressure, self doubt and after having tried for several years, you just become more jaded. When you watch the show, some of you might feel annoyed with Aparna, but I deeply empathise with her struggles. And I am sure, a lot of women feel relieved to know they’re not alone.

The market that Aparna is in, is illiquid and it’s hard to see that if you aren’t a middleman and understand both sides of it. While Aparna appreciates the role of a middle(wo)man, it takes her a while and an astrologer(!!!) to interpret market feedback.

NADIA

Friendly, beautiful, independent and vulnerable women like Nadia struggle too. It’s true, I know many such women. There can be several reasons - they belong to small communities, they live in remote places, they’re more qualified than median women in their communities, they’re public figures, they’re too nice to get their way, etc.

However, the arranged marriage market is never an answer for their struggles, because if anything this market is highly illiquid for people like Nadia, offering little respite. She is better off finding a partner on her own given that she still has a reservoir of optimism. Based on my own experience as a matrimonial coach, I can see coaching as being beneficial to someone like Nadia, but definitely not matchmaking.

ANKITA

I loved the outcome of the show for Ankita. This doesn’t happen very often. To get people to see the light of this option is pretty challenging, especially because after having tried for several years to find a partner, people perceive this as an admission of failure. It was clear from the show that Ankita’s priorities were elsewhere, and investing time to find a partner at this point didn’t show promise of a high pay-off.

The one thing that amazed me about Ankita’s story though was the bit where she gets pissed off with Gita, instead of with Kshitij. During the date, Ankita explicitly asks Kshitij about his last relationship, and he chooses not to mention his divorce. If not for going into the details, Kshitij surely had the onus to clarify his relationship status when asked about it. But he chose not to, yet Ankita was angry with the messenger.

RUPAM

As you can see from Ankita’s story, previous relationship status is an important datapoint in making a partner decision irrespective of how independent or liberal you are. Given that people prefer to have this information upfront, it creates bias.

It is hardly trivial to adapt to living with another adult, let alone someoneone with legally acknowledged emotional baggage. Whether that baggage comes from them or is in your head, it doesn’t matter. Add children from a previous marriage to the mix, it becomes even more complicated. Unless you’ve similar experiences or deep empathy, you are unlikely to accept this challenge.

So, I think Rupam’s decision to leave the market was a good one. She deserves love, just as anyone else, and is more likely to get it from someone who doesn’t start with the bias of her being a divorced single mum.

VYASAR

Men like Vyasar, especially Indians, struggle on a regular basis.

While women may hate patriarchy, a lot of them find it challenging to accept a man who makes less money than an average man of similar demography, let alone lesser than themselves. Men might choose to become stay-at-home dads after they’re married, but almost no woman in the marriage market will marry a man who says that before marriage.

Strangely, this is similar to the fate of women who aren’t good looking by conventional standards. Good heart has no place in the marriage market, at least not if you aren’t bringing good looks or money to the table.

PRADHYUMAN

A lot of the outrage is about him being gay/ asexual, and that not being acknowledged on the show. But personally, I thought he was on the wrong show. Shouldn’t he have been on Masterchef or Next in Fashion?

He comes from a wealthy family, which means the only proposals he probably gets are from similar families. But the problem is, sometimes, people confuse wealth for class. This means, he’s likely had wildly irrelevant proposals from rich families who are very traditional unlike his own.

However, as an outsider, it is easy to assume that he’s rejected 100s of women because he is a spoilt rich kid. He is rich, has a family business and is Marwari, and that maybe a fairly liquid market, but not if you’re someone with eclectic interests and specific requirements from a partner.

In some sense, his profile is similar to Aparna’s where it is easy to be misunderstood by traditional matchmakers.

AKSHAY

This story was the one closest to my heart. If there is one thing that I would dedicate my life to, it would be to help people adult, especially from the context of dating and relationships. Despite having lived away from home during undergrad in America, Akshay still lives like a 10 year old taking instructions from his parents. For most of us, it is frustrating to watch.

But I know that it is a lot more frustrating to be him. When you’re part of a family business, you’ve very little freedom to make independent decisions, even after your parents have ceased to be active in the business. There’s too much at stake.

I know people who’ve left their family businesses to lead independent lives, and have a healthy relationship with their families. But I also know people who haven’t been able to, and continue to marginally improve their constrained lives everyday. It is not easy.

PREETI (AKSHAY’S MUM)

Preeti is your typical loving homemaker, whose entire married life has been about running her household and rearing her children, including having them married off at an age dictated by her community. She thrives on her world appreciating her for having this under control. Watching her 25 year old son still unmarried feels like a personal failure, and you can see that at her lunch parties.

Like most mothers, Preeti has the best intentions for her children, however, given her exposure in life, she fails to see the disservice she is doing her adult children from this generation. She is rubbing off her nervous energy onto her son, who obviously is caught between wanting to adult, and not.

Despite being from different worlds, Aparna’s mum isn’t very different from Akshay’s mum. Both have been projecting their own baggage and needs onto their children.


What both mothers need is feedback.

Well, you and I may be nobody to give these women feedback. However, the interference of such parents in the lives of adult children is not going to fly very well with the prospective partners. Especially, if the partners happen to be independent.

So, how does one give such parents feedback?

This is a tough one. Just before COVID happened, I was preparing to launch a new workshop for parents. The aim was to help them understand what (their)children expect these days, and how they can support their relationship aspirations as parents.

I can’t speak for everyone, but the way I usually deal with nervous calls from parents is by first listening to their anxieties, assuring them that their anxieties are common and informing them that I only work with people who are looking to get married, and not the parents. Sometimes, this does the job. I’ve met wonderful parents who have learnt to let go and in turn enabled their children to adult through this process. But when I fail to enable this, I give up and make parody videos.

Because, at the end of the day, I am just a messenger.


Sima is just a messenger too…

Sima has taken the brunt of most outrage out there, and obviously running M.B.A., I empathise with her the most. She is a middle(wo)man, and her job is to provide liquidity in the marriage market. If you’re illiquid, her job also involves providing timely feedback so you can either “compromise” or switch to “the love market”.

She doesn’t invent the criteria, they are handed to her by clients, who are mostly parents. Through years of doing what she does, she’s noticed patterns in what works and what doesn’t, and applies that to her job. At the end of the day, she is merely a messenger, she is not the problem.

There is no need to be extra angry with her, just because she is a human and not a dumb algorithm on a dating app. When was the last time you were abusing the algorithm on Tinder for not showing you dates you deserve?

As a human, she brings her biases to matchmaking, like any other matchmaker. That’s why you have thousands of matchmakers, if not millions, because you will go to the ones whose biases align with yours the most.

Apps are not very different either. They bring their own biases, and you choose Tinder or Shaadi, depending on who you are or what you’re looking for. Just because they don’t suit your individual needs, doesn’t make the apps or its creators vile.

Has Tinder changed the dating culture in India? Sure. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing? I don’t know, it depends on who you are.


and I empathise with her.

At M.B.A, I don two different roles - matrimonial search assistant and matrimonial advisor.

When my clients sign up on the assistance program, they are well aware of the limitations of supply, and hire my services only to help save time and effort in cutting through the noise. I am not incentivised to suggest that they compromise, or even provide unwanted advice.

When they sign up for the advisory program, they expect an outsider’s perspective on their struggles, proxy feedback from the market and some help facilitating introspection with respect to partner preferences. This means, they willingly come to me because they are looking to get married, and not because their parents hired me.

Although I call myself Marriage Broker Auntie, I’ve never prescribed marriage to anyone. I’ve even had to suggest the contrary sometimes.

I may not adopt the same methodologies as Sima, or have the same world view as her, but it’s not difficult for me to empathise with her. I know what it’s like to not have access to all the single people in the world. I know what it’s like when someone’s parent is more interested in getting their kids married than the kids. I know what it’s like to work with people who expect miracles from you, just because they pay you.


The service is priceless, but we must put a price on it.

There’s obviously a lot of outrage about Sima travelling the world to meet her clients and robbing them of their money and what not. In fact, from my own personal experience, I can tell you that people think it is sinister to charge money for matchmaking. I do plenty of free calls with friends, and relatives. But this is from a stranger:

Mom says "Why should I pay someone else for matrimonial search?” She's a tad bit conservative but is very sweet. Can you do me a favor if you will? Can you call her once and convince over a 5-10 minute call that why should she pay to consult with you?

Manufacturing liquidity when there appears to be none takes talent. Whether a matchmaker works hard to continuously increase their database, provides valuable market feedback or manufactures serendipity in a way that you can’t on your own, it is still a service that is priceless. How well he/she does the job says a lot about how much the service is worth.

If you don’t incentivise matchmakers to do their jobs well, you will only have people who’ve nothing better to do with their time, doing it. There are plenty of you who’ve worked with relationship managers who can barely spell your name let alone understand where you come from or what you’re looking for.

So, if you’re in the market, it’s up to you to figure out what you need help with and who you want to incentivise to get your job done.

If this doesn’t convince you on why matchmakers are important, then may be you should read what my other half has to say. If he’s the better half or not, you figure.


More from Shapely Gal

Here’s a little sneak peak into the various projects I am working on:

  1. Dinner Club - This weekend, it’ll be a month since Dinner Club was launched, and we’ve had our 50 first (month) dates. If you/ someone you know is single, and is looking for a new dating experience, here’s a link to sign up.

  2. Ask Auntie: Interestingly, this video is about how to deal with frustration due to parents asking you to “compromise”.

  3. Arrange Your Own Marriage: Last week’s episode was all about arranged marriage dates - how to organise them, where to meet, what to wear and how to assess them.

  4. Ask Priyanka: Last week, I spoke about the influence of conflict resolution styles on relationships.


Sneak Peak…

what I’m reading/ watching:

  • A suitable girl - a documentary about the Indian arranged marriage market by the same creators as that of Indian matchmaking.

  • The secret garden - Much respite after Grit. But I am still carrying some baggage from Grit to be able to get through this one quickly. Sigh.


P.S. - The participants of Indian Matchmaking are real people for fucks sake, so stop taking out your own frustrations via social media just because you can. If they ever made a show about how you or I did our jobs, how we tried to find jobs, what our employers ever thought of us or how the job market treats us, I bet it’ll be damn grand.

Adulting, and Dating

Shapely Gal is a weekly-ish newsletter that discusses love, relationships, marriage and the various markets these are traded on. This newsletter is a concoction of observations, theories, ideas, real stories, figments of imagination and sometimes just rants on romantic relationships.

This week’s newsletter is a collection of very short stories. This isn’t me just contemplating. If you identify with this, then this is a prescription for you to seek help.

On a personal front, this week, I have realised one thing - parents do their thing, either intentionally, or not. But we are adults. Our focus as adults must be to build a muscle to think and grow independently. It is as much their doing as it is yours if you are still letting them dictate choices in your life.


I have four short stories to tell, all of them unfortunately real.

Story 1: Living in the shadows

I was once contacted by a father looking to get his son married. The father was an interesting person with a very strong personality. The son’s description sounded like a small dark shadow of his personality. When I spoke to the son, I decided to give him a fair chance. Since I work only with people looking to get married, all my communication going forward was with this guy alone.

I presented him with a couple of proposals. Both times, the guy wanted to consult with his parents before communicating his own thoughts. I felt a huge sense of relief when these proposals didn’t go through. The universe had saved these women from my misjudgement. I realise that it takes immense courage to break free from parents with strong personalities to carve out your own, but most people don’t even try.

Story 2: Blissfully unaware

I was once contacted by a father about his daughter’s marriage. He insisted that the parents meet before the boy and girl meet because he wanted to ensure that there was a compatibility of status with the in-laws. He also spent the next 20 minutes grilling me on the guy’s professional capabilities and then concluded that this proposal wasn’t good enough.

I am pretty sure the girl has no idea what her father is upto behind her back. Through other sources, I later found out that the daughter dated a guy who is no different from this guy. If only it was the daughter who’d met this guy, and not her father, may be he would’ve had a chance.

I’ve had the exact same story with a mother as well. And I’ve noticed this happens very often in affluent and so called “liberal” families.

Story 3: Assurance, or over-compensation?

After a one-off diagnostic session, we’d jointly agreed that my client start dating without involving his parents as it was an important life experience he’d missed out on growing up, despite having very liberal parents. So, I shared a contact of someone that I thought he could start talking to. Before he could respond to the proposal, his mother called me. The mother and son do not live together. The mother called to assure me that she was completely fine with the son talking to this girl, and making his own decisions. She really only wanted what was best for him. Strangely, I felt anything but assured.

Story 4: Blurred boundaries

Among the beta users on Dinner Club, there was one person whose profile stood out. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy who’d missed out on opportunities to socialise or have a perspective to dating that an average guy his age does. I was thoroughly impressed that he’d the awareness and inclination to take control of his situation. I was committed to help.

Last week, I’d a date set up for him. He reached out on the morning of the date telling me that he had to back out because his parents didn’t agree with his approach. It broke my heart. Have you ever seen a scene in the movies when someone is falling off a cliff, and another person is trying desperately to pull them up, and the hand slips, and that someone goes plunging down. It felt like that.


All these stories are clear cases of lack of boundaries between adults, and their parents. These people don’t live in large joint families in villages to pay no heed to drawing up boundaries that are functional for living our city lives. I get the need to preserve culture, and connections. They don’t need to come at a cost of living our individual lives. It’s not one or the other.

This isn’t about parenting or this isn’t about culture but this is simply about adulting, and especially in the context of romantic relationships.

If you are 25 or older, single and still living (physically or mentally) with your parents, there are a few things I’d urge you to do before going out to finding a partner:

  • Learn to be an adult, on your own

  • Sort through the baggage that you will take into relationships

  • Build the capability to receive feedback, and nurture relationships

The market provides us with feedback but only in terms of yes and no. The market doesn’t tell us why someone’s rejecting us or why we’re rejecting someone. Without real feedback, we’ll keep going round and round in the market with very little luck. Even worse, we may end up marrying someone whose parents make for better spouses to our parents, rather than finding ourselves a suitable partner.

This is when seeking professional help can be immensely valuable. A few people are fortunate enough to access therapy and coaching, which is a safe space to introspect on our lives, and build capabilities to access timely feedback and take action on our own. After all, this is one of the most important decisions of our lives, and there’s no shame to receiving guidance from a professional.

As a market strategist, a lot of my work through M.B.A has focussed on helping people look both inward as well as outward. Getting an unbiased outsider’s view of yourself as a partner, your needs from a relationship or the baggage you carry can be enlightening to say the very least. We all have a shot at building a better future for ourselves, so we must not miss out on it, if we have a chance.


More from Shapely Gal

Here’s a little sneak peak into the various projects I am working on:

  1. Dinner Club - Of the 44 people who have gone on Dinner Club Date, 42 want to do this again which is very humbling. In terms of matching, 8/22 dates have resulted in seconds, which isn’t terrible at all. However, after some introspection, I’ve decided that this will remain a 3 month experiment as initially conceptualised. Applications to Dinner Club close on 31st July, and the experiment concludes by 31st August. So, sign up if you haven’t already.

  2. Ask Auntie: Comparing everyone you meet in the market to your ex? Watch this video for some perspective.

  3. Arrange Your Own Marriage: This week, I spoke about initiating conversation and interaction protocols in the marriage market. If you’ve ever had any doubts, this video might help clarify them.

  4. Ask Priyanka: Re-kindling an old flame during COVID. How many of you have thought about this? May be you should see this video before you let that thought dictate your choices.


Fiddling with filters, and self-selection.

Shapely Gal is a weekly-ish newsletter that discusses love, relationships, marriage and the various markets these are traded on. This newsletter is a concoction of observations, theories, ideas, real stories, figments of imagination and sometimes just rants on romantic relationships.

This edition of the newsletter attempts to explore trade on matrimonial markets, self-selection and the resulting frustration.

“How does your service work on matrimonial platforms where majority of the profiles are managed by parents and many have criteria that your client may not fit in (even if the profile matches my requirements)?”

Someone reached out with a question on the assistance service of M.B.A.

I read the question a few times.

People have requirements. Their matches have criteria. So, people are hoping for a high intersection between their requirements, and the match’s criteria. But at no point, does either party attempt to budge on their requirement or criteria, yet both continue to have a problem with each others’ requirements and criteria.

Wait, it’s not us, it’s the parents. But, is it, really?

People have figured out this much - it’s largely parents who trade on the matrimonial markets, and it’s the wards themselves that trade on dating platforms.

People think it’s the lack of parents on dating platforms that makes the dating market more liberal. In a way, yes. But what we all hate to admit is that we have our own criteria that is just as rigid as a horoscope match. Most of the time, none of this has any real bearing on the quality of relationships that can be built.

Yet, we fiddle with filters because it makes us feel in control.


You’re not buying tomatoes, it’s more romantic than that.

If you had all the time in the world to buy juicy tomatoes to make a marinara sauce, you can hunt down the entire market to find the best tomatoes. But at a given point of time, you have to pick the least worst ones if you really want to make the sauce.

The problem gets complicated multi-fold if the tomatoes have to like you back. Yet, you go round and round the market in circles looking for tomatoes that don’t exist because you saw a movie in which those tomatoes existed or because you neighbour managed to get them last week. So, why can’t you right?

I think this is how people who don’t understand market dynamics think.

Economics has no place messing with romance, does it? Actually, hanging out on a matrimonial site flipping through a human catalogue isn’t exactly romantic. Romance is something else. But this is economics - it’s about trade, and markets.


Unless you’re willing to pay a premium, your trade won’t go through

If you’re looking to trade something liquid like 3 shares of Infosys, the transaction cost of your trade is fairly low. You simply list your trade on the National Stock Exchange and you’ll soon find someone to take the other side. But when you’re looking to sell something less liquid - like 5 bonds of Reliance at 6% maturing in June 2025, the exchange won’t work for you. You will have to go through the “over the counter” market, paying a higher premium to make the trade go through.

What does higher premium in a marriage market look like?

  • You engage multiple brokers to represent your interest, and help scout a partner of your preference. This means, you’ve got to be prepared to shell out thousands or even lakhs of rupees. This has highest likelihood of a medium pay-off. You save time, you could be spending your time doing things that make you more interesting, but money doesn’t guarantee a higher than expected pay-off. You only get what you deserve, at the most.

  • You date a lot. You put yourself out there, learning about people, letting them learn about you and nurturing the possibility of a relationship, not once but multiple times. Eventually, you’ll see a pay-off. Here you pay a premium in terms of your pride. I am not sure about the likelihood of a pay-off, but when you have one, it is very high.

  • You wait around endlessly either on or off platforms like you deserve being found. Here, you pay a premium in terms of your time. This has the lowest likelihood of pay-off with a low-medium pay-off because this is a market for lemons.

Now, most people choose the last option because they don’t have to make a decision themselves. Since they don’t take much responsibility for their destiny, they unfortunately don’t enjoy the benefits of market feedback. Hence, you will see that they don’t budge much from their requirements, that almost never fits anyone’s criteria.


Blame it all on the market if you want, but you’re part of it too

Nothing irks me more than lack of clarity, long check-lists and lack of flexibility in the marriage market. Actually, there is one thing that irks me even more - people’s inability to see that this is a matching market. This basically means that people who you like need to like you back in order for you to exit the market.

People who don’t like you back aren’t very different from you. They think in boxes and filters just like you. They don’t care who you are beyond the words and pictures that make up your profile. Just like you. They lack flexibility just like you. They don’t want to give you a chance just like how you don’t want to give someone else a chance.

I know that there’s a part of you that ever so often resolves to thinking you could’ve serendipitously met the partner of your dreams, and a relationship magically would transpire between the two of you. But don’t let that fool you.

You are the market, and the market is you.


So, what does it take to make a trade happen?

Broadly, there are three ways to make a trade happen:

  1. Compromise - stop being so fussy, work with what you can get. Learn how to get married in 3 months.

  2. Engage a broker - pay a premium to make an “over the counter” trade. There is Assisted matrimony, Select Shaadi, several community brokers and MBA’s assistance program as well.

  3. Get out of the market - smash your biological clock. It’s imaginary anyway. Shut that little voice in your head that lives in constant fear of dying alone. Break all the boxes and filters that are holding you back from just experience life as it is. Start from a place of curiosity vs judgement. Sign up on Dinner Club.

Remember that no matter what path you choose, you pay a premium for the trade - time, pride, money. You take your pick, because there’s no such thing as a free lunch, or dinner.


But you don’t have skin in the game.

Those of you who think it’s easy for me to throw this BS around just because I am married, you are damn right. It’s because I am married, and have been for 10 years, that I know what it takes to build a relationship. If I were on your side (which I was 10 years ago), I probably wouldn’t know better.

No one ever told me what was important and what wasn’t in relationships before I got married. So, when people tell me things like they want people to look a certain way or lean a certain side of centre, I can’t help but wonder what a conversation between a 22 year old me and a 33 year old me would look like…

22Me: Hey, I find intelligent men really attractive.

33Me: That’s great. How does that impact your relationship?

22Me: Oh well, he’d have a great job. We’d have lots of money. I can buy whatever I want, travel the world and generally have a happy life.

33Me: I don’t think you understood my question. How does your partner’s intelligence impact the relationship between you and him?

22Me: I would always look up to him and be attracted to him forever.

33Me: Great, what about him? How would he feel about you?

22Me: He would love me forever too.

33Me: What makes you so sure? What do you have to offer?

22Me: I am smart too. Isn’t that enough?

33Me: Would he look up to you?

22Me: Duh, why not.

33Me: How are you so sure?

22Me: I don’t know, it’s just a feeling. Sometimes you just have to take a chance.


More from Shapely Gal

Here’s a little sneak peak into the various projects I am working on:

  1. Dinner Club - We’ve had 10 blind dates (including a celebrity one) in the last two weeks, and 14 more coming up this week. Before the end of the first month, I’d like to have reached 50 dates. So, if you are open to going on virtual blind dates, you should sign up.

  2. Ask Auntie: If you don’t want to stay with your in-laws, how do you make that clear to your potential partner right in the beginning.

  3. Arrange Your Own Marriage: Last week I discussed caste and horoscope based matching - why we rely on them, how to get around them and what not.

  4. Ask Priyanka: Should you be dating when you’re still not over a past relationship?


Sneak Peak…

what I’m reading/ watching:


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