The Problem with Shaadi.com

by vivin

Arranged marriages are common among Indians. I’m not going to go into the merits and demerits of it; that’s not what this post is about. What I want to address is the problem with sites like shaadi.com that supposedly make it easier for Indian people to arrange these marriages. Now don’t get me wrong. There are many people who have met their soul-mates through shaadi.com (and similar sites). My sister met her husband through that. But the problem with these sites is that they are not geared towards the individual. Before I elaborate, we need to talk about what arranged marriages are, and why they are arranged.

Indian people (which includes Indian-Americans and Non-resident Indians and most first and second-generation Indians) identify themselves through four different attributes. The first is the fact that they are Indian, then there is religion, then there is caste, and finally there is family. In India, a marriage is not simply a marriage. It’s much more than that. It is an alliance. Indeed, you only need to go through profiles on shaadi.com to see profiles that start with “Inviting alliances from parents of good [religion], [caste] families”. More than being a relationship between two people, an Indian (arranged) marriage is a relationship between two families. This is because there needs to be a proper match between those attributes that I talked about (mainly the last three). It’s very uncommon in India (and for most Indian people) to marry outside their religion or caste. It is the exception, rather than the norm. Finally, a family prefers to be matched up against a similar family (there are a host of other attributes that are too many, and too complicated to go into). Now (if you’re not Indian) you might be wondering why this is so. What does this have to do with the likes and dislikes of two individuals? If you asked that question, then you already have your answer. In an arranged marriage, the likes and dislikes of the individual is not paramount. It is simply another thing to consider amongst a host of other concerns. This seems very strange when you look at from a non-Indian (or Western) perspective. Marriage in the United States and most Western countries is simply between two individuals. They’re the ones who live their lives together. Although their families play a part, it is not a major one, and definitely not as big as part as the one played by Indian families. Family bonds in India are very strong. This is why the parents of a boy or a girl are so hugely concerned about the family of their prospective daughter or son-in-law. Everybody needs to get along together.

Earlier I pointed out that the needs of the individual do not come first. This is not such a big deal for people from my parents’ generation. Joint families were common in India even fifty years ago. However, people of my generation have grown up in nuclear families. While we still maintain our family ties and bonds, and while they are very strong, our view of the world is a little different. For us, our individual likes and needs are very important. I do not mean that we are selfish. It’s just that for us, priorities are a little different. We want our prospective mate to be someone we consider attractive, and whose personality that we like. Their family details are important, but not as much to a degree as their personal details. For parents, family background, religion, and caste are the most important. Though they do want their future daughter or son-in-law to be someone that their child likes, the family details are what comes first. This is the disconnect between Indian parents and their children, when it comes to searching for a boy or a girl to marry. This is also the disconnect between sites like shaadi.com and their users.

Matrimonial sites tout the ease with which one can find their soul-mate. They highlight the numerous success stories and the large number of profiles that are visible. All of this is true. There are many people who have found their soul-mates and there are a large number of profiles. But the problem inherent to all these sites is that they are not built for individuals. These sites are exclusively geared towards families (of boys and girls) looking to connect with families (of boys and girls). Yes, you can make a profile that makes it look like it comes from you, personally, but these profiles will have a hard time attracting attention. In fact, I had a huge argument with my parents when they put up my profile. I wanted to list it as coming from myself, while they wanted to list it as coming from the parents. I couldn’t understand their reasoning. I was the one looking for someone, therefore the profile had to come from me. Apparently not. It’s more “respectable” for it to come from a family, and it is the family that initiates the alliance. So there it is once again: the individual vs. the family. There are many other reasons why the site simply doesn’t work for people like me. Take the issue of photographs. India is a very conservative country, and families are extremely reluctant to put pictures of their daughters on a website. Couple that with the general ignorance regarding the working of the internet (they probably think anyone, anywhere on the internet can see pictures of their precious little princess), and you have a recipe for extreme paranoia. Therefore you will see a lot of profiles that simply don’t have any pictures, or where you have to request pictures, or where pictures are protected. Before I am accused of being too superficial, I think people are naïve if they think that looks don’t play a part. Perhaps there are people who don’t really care, and I salute you. But I will admit that I am not one of them; I need to find someone physically attractive. Anyway, that’s another argument. The other major issue is the issue of horoscopes. Indian families are usually very religious and can also be superstitious. Horoscopes play a huge part in the lives of many Indians; from starting on a journey, or looking for a job, all the way to getting married. Horoscopes are related to the Zodiac. I don’t want to go into the specific details, but it’s based on the theory that the arrangement of stars and planets at one’s birth has a significant influence on their life. So when you are looking for a spouse, you need to make sure that the “horoscopes match”. In many profiles you will see the following comment “Horoscope match is a must”. Some families won’t even consider your profile if your horoscope doesn’t match with their child’s horoscope. Being somewhat of a skeptic and also not being a fan of a deterministic future I find the whole thing funny, stupid, annoying, and bizarre at the same time. To be fair, not all Indian families think that horoscopes are important (my family doesn’t), but a lot of them do.

In addition to the two main points I brought up above, there are other little ones. Each profile has a host of different attributes about the family. Such as financial status (Lower-middle class, middle-class, rich, very rich, I’ve got my own fucking jet fool!), family values (conservative, moderately conservative, liberal, very liberal) and bunch of other stuff. Oh, yes, and as far as Nairs (the caste that I belong to) are concerned, some people also write what tharavad (ancestral homestead/family) they’re from. So the emerging pictures is this, and I reiterate: shaadi.com is not for a person looking for a another person. It’s for a family, looking for another family; it’s a problem for me, and I’m willing to wager that it’s a problem for a lot of people like me (as far as how we were brought up, i.e., outside India).

Although I find the whole situation ridiculous and frustrating, I don’t think there is a difference between what I want, and what my parents want. We both want the same thing: a good girl, with a stable family, who can be a part of our family. The difference is how we want to go about it, and the compromises we are willing to make. I know that it is unreasonable to expect to meet someone who is perfect in every way, but we want someone that is at least reasonably close. For my parents, the family is most important, and so they think it’s alright to compromise a little bit as far as the girl is concerned (You don’t like the way she looks? Looks aren’t everything you know!). But for me, it’s the girl first and the family second. I don’t see this situation changing any time soon (for me, or for the many others in my situation). I’m hopeful that eventually I’ll find someone who I’m happy with and who my family is happy with. Although I will say this: going through what I’m going now, I’m pretty sure that I don’t want my children dealing with the same thing. So maybe, hopefully, things will be different within the next twenty to thirty years…