Between love and marriage, lies matchmaking

Urban India redefines the rules for marriages. Informal Instagram DMs have taken over formal chai meetings, matchmakers over bicholas. But then, the more things change, the more they remain the same...

Between love and marriage, lies matchmaking

Parul Bhandari

The definition of a “suitable girl” has undergone a change as men prefer “working and modern women”. So much so that women who choose not to drink alcohol are immediately labelled as “traditional”, “backward” or “boring”. At the same time, they are supposed to know the limits to these new freedoms, like when and where to not drink or not drink “too” much. These debilitating discourses of modernity and women’s freedom obfuscate rather than enhance women’s identities

It is widely believed that the “neoliberal” urban middle class, that is those born in the late 1980s and early 1990s and who grew in an “open” Indian economy –– where access to Coca Cola was no longer a novelty, and shopping the only quotidian exercise, have different matchmaking experiences. This is because, to begin with, they are pushing the age of marriage to late 20s and early 30s, and also because they are increasingly being dictated by technology to experience romance. For example, the first encounters of romance and matchmaking are increasingly being experienced through swiping “right” or “left” and/or sending “interests” on matrimonial websites. The question, however, remains: Is the essence of matchmaking any different now? Broadly, I identify four primary changes in the experiences of matchmaking, and it seems that certain cardinal principles remain unchanged. [The writer is author of ‘Matchmaking in Middle Class India: Beyond Arranged and Love Marriage’]

The virtual world

The first meeting between two prospective spouses now inevitably takes place in the virtual world, as they initiate their first conversation either on the chat provisions of matrimonial websites, or on WhatsApp, Instagram DM, or Facebook Messenger. This means that two individuals are getting to know each other while occupying comfortable zones at home or office. Only if something “clicks” do they take the next step of meeting in person. Ben-Ze’ev’s Love Online: Emotions on the Internet (2004) delineated the advantages of faceless interaction facilitated by the internet, as he explained that individuals can overcome hesitations and shyness by first interacting online. This also means that prospective spouses have managed to avoid or defer the dreadfulness of that infamous “chai” meeting, where they meet each other for the first time under the watchful eyes of their families, imposing aunts and nervous mothers. This, if nothing else, has made the experience of matchmaking that much more pleasant.

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