Saturday, December 18, 2004

WWW has come to be known as the World Wife Web for netting a spouse. For every success story on the matrimonial sites, there are scores of failures. 
Gitanjali Sharma gives the low-down on the addictive search for a partner. 

Imaging by Gaurav Sood

Sample this ad of a shaadi site:

Over 2 million members

100,000 plus success stories

Free registration

Trusted since 1997

Log on to….

Most matrimonial sites swear by their success stories. They unabashedly dangle their hit rate before millions on the lookout for partners and spouses. They assure a meeting ground with hundreds of made-to-your-specifications matches. And, lastly, they nearly promise to bring an end to your hunt for the perfect mate.

Sounds too good to be true. Seems unbelievably simple too, as all you need to do is log on. Then what’s the catch, the flipside? Read on.

Going by the above ad, every success story is likely to have at least 20 dejected cases. Interestingly, the met-my-partner stories have a way of getting spread and publicised but news of failures rarely travels beyond the sufferer, probably because they are too uncomfortable to even admit visiting these sites.

You may have heard of so-and-so getting the catch of her life through the Net but have you also come across the disappointed and disillusioned can’t-find-a-partner cases? For instance, take the example of this lawyer in her late twenties, who has been feverishly scanning these sites for the past one year without any luck. The hope of finding a suitable partner on the Net has only entrapped her in losses of all kinds: inflated phone bills, acute cervical problem, weight gain by 3 kilos and a 24-hr day slashed to 20 hours. And, the drain on emotions is something this dejected surfer can’t fume enough about. The men logging on to these sites don’t appear serious about a long-time commitment or marriage, she rues. "They enjoy chatting with you on the mobile till late at night but when it comes to making a decision and meeting the parents, they come up with one excuse or the other. And, it is both distressing and shocking when the months-long building up of a relationship comes to naught."

This new-age channel of seeking out companions may seem attractive for it promises to bring hundreds of suitable suitors at your doorstep. Sitting in the comfy confines of your room, you can reach out to millions across the globe, cutting across barriers of region, caste, religion and nationality. But just as there are no stops and checks in the fare spread before you, there are no curbs and commandments to safeguard and monitor your communication, association and possibly even involvement with the names behind the matrimonial mails.

The rules for matrimonial alliances conducted through newspaper ads were straight, uncomplicated and more or less established. After exchanging a couple of letters, the families of the girl and the boy in question would meet. The girl and the guy would be given a chance to interact alone while the families gleaned as much information as they could from one another. After the families bid bye to each other, they waited patiently for a day or two for a response from each other. If the couple of days stretched to a week with still no news from (usually) the guy’s side, the answer was apparent. It was a simple "no". The involved family would, no doubt, be dejected but it moved ahead without much ado and with the hope that the next letter shortlisted would bring better luck and a more appropriate match.

With the matrimonial sites, however, there are no such unspoken rules to go by. One may have been corresponding with somebody for even a year and yet not be sure about a yes or no. There can be a number of reasons for this confusion and uncertainty. Ranjana, a 29-year-old marketing professional who regularly scans the sites to come across a "tall, dark, handsome, caring, compatible, intelligent, well-read and witty richie rich", attributes the indecisiveness to the absence of adult supervision. "Just the girl and the guy go ahead with their talks. Many a time, the parents are not even aware of the goings-on."

With parental prodding missing, the girls find it difficult to insist on a straight answer. They may have been the ones to have initiated the talk or to have responded to a particular profile, but when it comes to shooting a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question, they back off and keep postponing it, meandering to other safer topics to maintain the link. Though the women show enough guts to look for and select their own partners, they still hesitate to do the actual alliance talk. "It is embarrassing to ask that should we get married or do you like me or….," says 32-year-old bank executive Rohini, adding that most of the times you end up discussing everything under the sun but matrimony.

Choosing a partner through these sites is still the last option for many. It is resorted to when they haven’t been fortunate enough to run into their dream partners or when the responses through newspaper classifieds get reduced to a trickle or when the famous-for-bringing- proposals aunts have exhausted their quota. The sites are generally viewed with distrust as it is difficult to verify the particulars of the e-mailer concerned. "While the women are serious about the hunt, many men are in it purely to have some fun," points out a surfer, who’s had a couple of nasty Net experiences. She had found it strange when the manager of a multinational in Mumbai she was corresponding with never wrote his name at the end of the letter. The reason dawned on her or rather came to her with his third letter when he audaciously enquired her statistics to buy her lingerie.

Alliances through newspapers majorly shielded the girls from any emotional and personal involvement with the boy prior to finalising of the proposal, but the privacy offered by these sites and the one-to-one interaction — usually held at night time — can make them vulnerable to all kinds of requests and needs. The fact that most surfers have enough social time to spare to be alone on the Net often leads to the presumption that they are essentially loners at heart. And, with no parental frowns to keep them in check, the site visitors tend to loosen up a lot more than they would otherwise. The shedding of inhibitions through this personal medium can complicate matters as well as draw them into relationships and affairs. "One can end up hurting oneself," says Ranjana, who has had e-mailers offering her friendship proposals once she rejected them as marriage partners. Thirty-year-old Ananta says once when she refused a marriage proposal by a small-time director, he kept pestering her with a role in one of his B-grade movies.

Girls are certainly at a disadvantage, says a regular surfer in her mid-thirties. She maintains that girls unwisely assume that the men surfing the matrimonial sites are progressive, and capable of taking independent decisions. They get a shock when they find the men dithering over even informing their parents about the correspondence. Men, says this surfer, are more comfortable with the idea of their parents selecting their bride.


Prudish mindset

Blame it on the Mars-Venus theory or our traditional mindset, but men view the girls visiting the sites as fast, independent and too liberated. Neha, a 24-year-old postgraduate from Ambala, logged on to one of the sites inspired by her friend’s success story. She started corresponding daily with this fun-loving guy from Delhi, who even visited her thrice. But soon she found out that the person wasn’t interested in marriage, he just "needed" her and "liked to be with her." Neha considers herself lucky to be out of his clutches.

Having access to more people as well as custom-made choices too can spell doom for many contenders. The hope for somebody better and more compatible can keep them glued to the monitor for hours on end day after day. The task of keeping track of the people you are in touch with and what you’ve said to which correspondent can leave you both stressed and disoriented. At the end of the day after going through dozens of I’m-the-best portfolios, says Ananta, she just wants to meet a simple, honest soul who has nothing to brag about.

Undoubtedly, frustration about the futility of the addictive chase and the disappointment over the time and money spent on the never-ending search can be major let downs but the lure of success stories keeps the dejected going. They rise to the bait again and again. They are aware of the plugs in the too-good-to-be-true claims of matrimonial sites but they continue to log on to them. All’s acceptable and sufferable in love and the search for Mr and Ms Right, we guess.

(Names have been changed to protect identities).