Dating in Singapore: I tried to find love on Shaadi.com, the world's largest matrimonial site
The Brunch Download
Desperate times call for desperate measures, or so the saying goes.
But what do desperate girls call for in quarantine? An Indian matrimonial website, of course. Jokes, I'm not desperate, just desolate. As the news of 1 June hit yesterday and not much changing under CB, there's no better time than now to take all the love risks we've all dreamt of our whole lives. Send that text, call that ex, marry that guy, ask that girl out, and download that app. Carpe that diem people because 2020 is just getting started and this is the closest to an adrenaline rush we're going to get for the next few months.
As someone who has already called that ex and sent that text, the next natural step in my iso-adventure was to contemplate this week about how I could push the boundaries to find true love during COVID. After Mamta, my Tarot card reader warned me a couple of weeks ago about my unwillingness to embrace new avenues of unlocking romance and its potential hindrance on my long-term relationship status, I went back to basics this week and tried to explore a new way of thinking. Growing up in an Indian household, even in Australia, the words 'arranged marriage', 'matrimonial website', and 'matchmaker' weren't exactly foreign terminology. Customary to many Asian cultures, the art of matchmaking via website profiles and arranging marriages is one not unfamiliar to me, having grown up watching many people I love around me marry and meet the loves of their lives this way. But when you (or I) think of matrimonial websites, we imagine pushy parents, guys with unibrows, and the rejected loners of humanity who can't find love the 'regular" way. What a club to join.
"Don't worry if you can't find anyone, you've always got Shaadi.com" is a statement many Indian-Singaporean, Indian-Australian, Indian-American, and Indian anything kids would've heard growing up from their parents, almost likening love to a get out jail-free card resting in the trenches like a Monopoly card when you pick 'Chance'.
Or at least that's what I believed, until I hopped on to the site itself.
Shaadi.com, or Wedding.com, as it's translated into English, was founded in 1997 by the visionary Abhinav Mittal, who, frankly, should be the original Steve Jobs because he predicted that Y2K was no match to eager Indian parents wanting their kids married off ASAP or risk being shunned in society as having failed in their duties in spite of having produced several doctors, engineers, and accountants (lawyers too, but definitely not as good as doctors). Today, shaadi.com hosts over FORTY MILLION users worldwide and is especially gaining popularity with non-resident Indians and foreigners worldwide as a way to connect with the people of one of the world's largest rising economies. For anyone who has even remotely come across the culture, weddings and marriage are to Indians what the Nobel Prize is to the rest of the world: the ultimate coveted trophy. You're no one until someone marries you, or so my Year 11 diary says.
Clicking my way furiously through the profile creator, I entered in everything from where I live, what I do for a living, where my parents live, my height, my food preferences, and my income range. Was I doubtful over where this information was going? Sure. But data security? Who cares about that when you're looking for Mr. Right. Finally, after a 10-minute process including several pop-ups to pay for meeting more men (not as seedy as it sounds), my profile was complete, photos and all, and this is what I was working with:
The user interface of the profile reminded me of, how do I say this, the 90s, where I think the website was founded and then left. The awkward giant buttons, weird flashing ‘MATCHES' logo, and constant pop-ups were clear indicators of the ideal audience for the website: ageing parents with reading glasses typing profiles on behalf of their kids. I found the search button and keyed in my Mr. Right metrics including his profession, location, income, height, size of his kitchen sink and blood type (not really but might as well), and waited like an eager little beaver for my matches to be served up.
It wasn't long before they started rolling in. Fifty-six in a span of 2 minutes to be precise. The majority of them ‘Online Now'. Did no one have a job? Talk about working from home. I scrolled through my treasure trove of finds and, frankly, I wish could've kept scrolling forever on to another imaginary page where what I asked for in my search criteria is even remotely what I got given in the results. My criteria was:
- Men aged between 29 - 34
- Minimum of a Bachelor's Degree
- Living in Singapore or Australia
- Earning a salary decently equivalent to match lifestyles
- Of a similar background and language / religious affliction
Pretty simple right? What did I get instead?
- Men aged between 29 - 220 years of age (or close enough)
- Minimum of cannot spell
- Living in everywhere from Jamaica to Canada to Africa?
- Earning $??
- Communicating in EVERY OTHER LANGUAGE but my criteria
Talk about a filtering problem. You know it's bad when even Tinder has more screening potential. Why ask if you're just going to give me what you want Shaadi.com? Why?! Even still, in the spirit of the belief of love and not wanting to die alone as per Mamta's heeded warning (clearly), I persisted and scrolled arduously, my heart between my hands. Just then, my inbox binged and I'd received my first-ever message! Woo hoo! Progress! I'd officially unlocked love through my dedicated spirit of faith! I opened the inbox to check the message and was astounded to find the below message and I quote:
"Hi dear,,,, your profile is very nice. Will you be willing to losing weight before marriage,,?"
EXSQUEEZE ME? HALLO, HI, WHAT? Not entirely shocked, because being thin and fair are only amongst the top qualities every Indian mother looks for for their blessed son after ‘female and breathing', I rolled my eyes. I clicked into the messaging profile and, lo and behold, found exactly what I suspected. A shorter, overweight, balding man aged 34+ with many ‘hobbebs' — I suspect meaning hobbies. Which is totally fine on any other day of the week, but then don't you come for me Ryandeep Gosling. Additionally, his profile read:
No thanks pal, I'm fresh out of buisness and caring about your feelings. I clicked out of the page, but was confronted with two more loud bings above my inbox. I located my next match. His face was blurred because I wasn't a premium member (talk about money can't buy you happiness but it sure can buy you profile pictures of men you don't like), so I clicked into his profile hoping Dinesh Balansingam's advice to me last week about looks mattering wasn't really true and you could cross the room for someone's personality. Sadly for me, Dinesh was right:
Poignant, not to mention "till I breath" was a very vague statement. I mean, what if we were ever to go swimming in the future and he'd be holding his breath? Do I not get to be his lifelong friend then? Also is this a friends-with-benefits situation? Was he even on here to get married? Why was Lifelong capitalised like a noun?
It was not gonna work out. He was right, my expectations were tricky because I had too many and he wasn't meeting any. I clicked the ‘x’ and continued scrolling. What followed was hours and hours of torture. Every now and again an ideal style match would pop up, then be totally unclickable because their profiles were managed by ‘VIP Consultants’. Seriously? Is that what we’re calling Mum on this website now? Unwilling to pay for this service, I hoped and prayed for a free version of Jon Hamm or Shah Rukh Khan (international Bollywood sensation) but all I could find was Raj Bacon and his several brother personalities. To give you a taste of what’s out there, here are some famous ones:
In addition to the above, for over 7 days, I continued to receive countless messages asking me for requests including but not limited to:
- My family's net worth
- My willingness to quit my job and stay home to be a housewife
- My level of education and income in comparison to the man
- My willingness to alter my physical features prior to the wedding
- My eyesight and why I wear spectacles
- My hormonal cycle and ability to have children
- The status of my visa and citizenship
Not exactly the laundry list of romantic questions I expected during my courtship with my future husband. Or his mother.
So what's my overall verdict on shaadi.com? Not for me. I think having been raised overseas and having too westernised an ideal or maybe just non-conventional way of thinking regardless of race, I found the site off-putting not only for its many versions of the same funny characters, but more so because I couldn't get behind the notion that the person choosing me on the other side wasn't a) picking me themselves or b) picking me based on a version of me they hoped they could create. It's true when we're single we create illusions of who we wish to be with, and more often than not, what we find is very different. But to pick and choose attributes like genetics and scrutinise people one-dimensionally, that wasn't for me. Ultimately, I want to be loved for who I am: skin, weight, education, eyesight and all. I don't want to be seen as a checklist on a piece of paper, so somebody's mother can pick me as the best version of who they feel their son deserves. It's a lot of pressure and it's an expectation few can live up to.
To anyone reading and asking, so are all the stereotypes about Indian men, women, families, oppression and supposed arrange marriage culture true? Well yes, some of them. They're historic and ancient and entrenched and there's a large part of society that will never change. But isn't that a part of every culture moving forward? Mixing tradition with modern is harder than it looks. We can certainly tout them for having unrealistic ideals but it would be seemingly hypocritical to do so when in modern society, social media and marketing do exactly the same anyway. There's constant pressure telling us why we need to be fairer, thinner, taller, smarter, and more Instagram-worthy all under the shrouds of movements such as body positivity and self-acceptance. We live in a paradox of messages, not limited to Indian parents finding wives or husbands for their kids online, so how can we hate when we can all relate?
So, to those asking, it's not the only version of the truth. From the many men I did scroll past above who make wonderful jokes and column fodder, I did see a few great ones too. Several guys had spent time and effort on their profiles and sent interesting messages, crafting weird little love poems and sending nice messages of hello, how are you, and seeking what I wanted too: a true lifelong, equal partner. Perhaps it came down to individual maturity or emotional intelligence or simply timing, but the experience certainly taught me not to box all men into the same little corner, even if I didn't find my Prince Charming. Maybe shaadi.com isn't where my future husband lies, but hey, I'll keep looking for my lifelong friend until I breath.