Arranged Marriage and Social Discovery

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.

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.