Unambitious boys

The new losers in the marriage market

This edition of the newsletter is inspired by men who don’t make the cut. This is also my attempt at balancing your worldview if you really enjoyed reading this piece.

There is a small segment of users on Dinner Club who are fairly representative of the marriage market, mostly because they are in the market. The issue with this group is that the men aren’t successful enough and the women aren’t nice enough, or at least that’s what each gender feels about the other.

I don’t know if there is some sort of self selection here but a lot of men on Dinner Club who are based in India are entrepreneurs, freelancers or work for start-ups. This is somehow not palatable for the women unless these men happen to be in the top 1% of their respective professions, and are charming.

The job description for a husband seems to have garnered additional requirements over the years, while the idea of what a wife brings to the relationship remains largely unchanged.

Men still only want good looking women who are caring and drama free. While women have been making progress by leaps and bounds, they’ve assumed that men are making such progress too. But unfortunately, they’re not.

In Indian families, mothers inspire daughters to go have a better life than they ever did. Mothers also inspire sons to have wives that will take shit lying down just like they did. I think the day mother make their sons sick of them, men might start aspiring for more from their partners than they do today, and will start to live up to the ambitions of their wives. But will that ever happen? Will we ever see men who want women who’re nothing like their mums? Or are women just destined to raise and even marry Akshays of the world?

When I worked with Amazon in India, I had access to some of the conventionally smartest people in the country. Despite having very little time or life outside of work, some of the people I met had interesting hobbies and were damn fun to hang out with. But I can tell you one thing, none of these people who were smart, interesting and easy to talk to were single.

In fact, I even verified by sending a company wide mailer drawing the attention of single people to NED Singles, which was a singles edition of the NED Talks. The handful of people who reached out were mostly women.

The reason I share this anecdote is because of late, I find that I am on a hunt for men who are professionally successful, ambitious, have interests outside of work, are great conversationalists, are single and living in India. I don’t want to bring my personal bias, but I think the more I search, the more sure I feel about my hypothesis that such men are unicorns.

Why am I even looking for such men?

I want to take the classic example of Aparna Shewakramani from Indian Matchmaking. She’s a successful woman who had the privilege to pursue her own interests and doesn’t necessarily have the need to live vicariously through her future spouse. Yet, she wants a man who is as successful and ambitious as her. Where does this need stem from?

Social conditioning.

Men are expected to be the primary breadwinners for a family, and women primary carers for children. It’s not really about whether you like the idea or not, but that is essentially how we have evolved as a society over thousands of years. In the last 70 years, the society has been evolving in a different direction where both men (fathers, brothers, husbands, etc.) and women are striving for equality in the workplace and its immensely uplifting for womenfolk. However, as a society, we are less than kind for men who want an equal opportunity at home.

Yes, there are women who are okay with their husbands being stay at home dads, but we’re still very far away from desiring such men in our lives. If we had a choice, or if it weren’t convenient, we’d rather have our men at work and our children at daycare. Why? Because we cannot break free from our social conditioning. We don’t know what men can offer in a brand new world where women are equally or more successful than their male partners.

It’s not a question that just women have to answer, but today, men need to clarify their offering too. This is also why it is so important for men and women to think about getting married from the perspective of what kind of a relationship do you want to build with your partner rather than what kind of a wife or a husband do you want.

What do women want?

Whenever I ask women what they want from partnerships, I find their answers to be hovering around the following:

  • Need someone who respects my independence

  • Need someone I can respect and look up to (read professionally more successful)

  • Need someone who will be an equal partner at home

But my question is, what are you happy to trade in return? You may say, “Well, the same things”. But is that what men are looking for? Isn’t this also about what they’re looking for and whether you’ve got that to offer too?

It’s a two sided market.

A guy who loves baking may want a partner who supports him in opening a patisserie and won’t bug him to go back to his software engineering job. He may be happy to support your dreams of being an investment banker but can you handle that? You may, if you are already married to him when he quits his well paying job, but I bet there are fewer women than we’d like who’ll desire such men as is in the market.

Most men aren’t really on one end of the spectrum where they just want to be stay at home husbands, and are very good at running the household. They may have the intention, but they are far from being qualified at it. May be they haven’t had enough enough opportunities to hone their skills? But isn’t that similar to providing opportunities to the underrepresented in the workforce? How would we like someone saying Oh how do I trust that you’re worth the position given the credibility your gender has entering the C-suite.

Women want the best of both worlds just because their previous generation got the worst of both. I am guilty of that too. In fact, I am guilty of guilt too. In turn, sometimes, men who aren’t really jerks suffer.

Who are these non-jerks?

They’re mostly men who aren’t enjoying the corporate rat race, and prefer to find meaning in their work. They’re not very different from us. You’ll find them either doing a boring steady job at an uncle company with no desire to be the next Sundar Picchai because it allows them time to pursue other interests. You’ll find them working at a bunch of start ups doing things they find interesting. They’re what I call “mouldable husbands” or men who are open to equal partnerships, just like us, and need opportunity and encouragement to be better partners.

Few women have the courage to take on a project like this. Unless a man is convincing about how secure he is with who he is as a person, I doubt women would accept unambitious men. Women are most afraid of men who are insecure about not being like other men or being less than the woman. The marriage becomes too consuming, and it is not worth a woman’s time. Strangely reminds me of a company I once worked for where they were afraid of hiring women because they’d eventually get married or have children and “not be as serious or good at their work” unlike their male counterparts.

Ok wait, I forgot who I was taking at dig at - men or women?

Anyway, if a person (man or woman) appreciates what you do, and you can use such encouragement in your life to make progress and he/she has his/her own ambitions that he/she wishes your support for, then that’s a reasonable partnership to consider. The rest, you’ll figure out on the go.


More from Shapely Gal

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

  1. Dinner Club - Did two fantastic workshops on identifying your partner type and assessing your league over the last couple of weeks. More than the content of the workshop itself, it felt really cool to have built a community of single people albeit being temporary. What a pleasure it was to see beautiful smiles on the faces of very hopeful people.

  2. Ask Auntie: On popular demand, I decided to make a video for parents this time. So if you’ve got friends, uncles or aunties who are freaking out wondering how to bring up the topic of marriage with their wards, then share this video with them.

  3. Unboxed: My friend, Rahul and I decided to dissect Indian matchmaking for insights about how to communicate (or not) on your first date. So if you’re curious to see what we thought about the first dates on the Netflix show Indian Matchmaking, watch off this video. If any of you are looking for help with communicating better with your dates, do reach out to Rahul for a quick session with him. You can find him on Instagram.


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.