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The dating landscape has altered in the last few decades moving from personal, face-to-face interaction, to a largely online platform. Unlike the popular Netflix series, ‘Indian Matchmaking,’ which uses a real-life matchmaker, most individuals still rely on online dating sites. I have often wondered how people navigate this universe until I met Shoba, an old friend, at a mutual friend’s farewell party where I noticed Shoba’s 27-year-old daughter jiving on the dance floor with a handsome young man. They both seemed very much like a couple and I asked Shoba how they met.
This is her story. Identities of individuals have been changed in this article to protect privacy.
Shoba’s daughter Lakshmi is an intelligent, vibrant, and accomplished young woman who graduated from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology. In 2013, she joined her mother who had remarried, in America. Lakshmi works in Texas as a Controls Engineer for an auto-manufacturing company in Texas.
Lakshmi’s Dating History
Lakshmi’s dating circle centered around men she met at work or online but Shoba was unhappy with these relationships.
“I never said it outright but let her date for some time and then mentioned that she was dating men who were either unambitious or unsuitable,” said Shoba.
A boy that Lakshmi dated from work fell short of her expectations.
“I don’t care what sect a boy belongs to but the women in the family wear the Ghoonghat (head covering)!” said a shocked Shoba. “So, I said to Lakshmi, if he tries to cover you up like that and puts you into a joint family, you won’t be able to leave the house without permission or even have sex!”
The same boy hesitated to introduce Lakshmi to his parents. Then, Lakshmi found out that her suitor was on a DACA visa -the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. When President Trump revised the DACA policy, it allowed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to apprehend and deport undocumented immigrants for minor misdemeanors. Lakshmi bid her boyfriend farewell.
Another date – a fellow classmate from India who was studying at New York University – would periodically send her his engineering homework to do! On dating apps like Tinder – a hook-up site popular with Lakshmi’s friends – they would often gather in a group to check out boys – swiping left when they didn’t like someone and swiping right when they did.
“For them it’s cool,” says Shoba. “But my take is that Tinder exists to have fun and there is nobody serious about marriage on Tinder. And then there’s match.com but even there I see guys meeting 5 to 6 girls at a time.”
Two years ago Shoba attended the wedding of a friend’s son in Virginia. The boy, a doctor, was marrying a beautiful, medical resident student from his own community. Shoba was curious about how the pair had met. Her friend explained that she had orchestrated the meeting through Shaadi.com, where she prioritized profession and caste.
A Talk with Lakshmi
When she returned from the wedding, Shoba voiced her concerns to Lakshmi about her futile dating habits and that her friend circle was limited. She suggested that Lakshmi needed to branch out to meet new people and described how she could help with Shaadi.com.
“I told her I would post her profile online and screen for a few things like education, family background, and job trajectory,” said Shoba. “I would sound men out for characteristics Lakshmi liked and ensure their parents liked her too.”
Often, said Shoba, girls put their energy into a relationship, only to be told later that the boy’s parents were not agreeable to the match.
“I stressed that it would ultimately be her decision and that I would only be creating an introduction,” said Shoba.
Lakshmi was hesitant and dodged the question for a year. But eventually, she gave in. Shoba went online.
I know my daughter better than she knows herself!
She began by creating a profile of Lakshmi and instead of the usual description of a ‘fair, good-looking girl,’ she emphasized Lakshmi’s attributes.
“I know Lakshmi thinks she is very beautiful but we know what our children are!” said Shoba realistically. “I found another way to describe her, saying she is intelligent, beautiful, and very motivated. I stressed more on her character and quality and added that she loves to dance.”
Shoba added this last characteristic to wean out traditionalists who would balk at these traits. In addition, she described her family as, ‘modern, broad-minded, fun-loving, open to travel, and encouraged women to achieve their highest potential.
She then began sending out invites to prospective grooms without posting Lakshmi’s picture.
Responses and Red-flags
For every 30 invites sent, said Shobha, she received about three responses. Many were not marriage material.
“Some people showed great education, but were not good-looking,” said Shoba. “And Lakshmi would say, “Mom, even though he has an Ivy League education I don’t want to wake up and see his face!”
One man Shoba spoke to claimed he was a doctor and a Chicago University graduate working at a Syrian refugee camp. But a conversation with him convinced Shoba that he was a middle-eastern immigrant hoping to get to America. An online search did not provide evidence of his graduate degree.
“There are such creeps around that one has to be very careful,” cautioned Shoba.
Other men, albeit successful, could not construct a grammatical sentence. And then there were the mothers!
“One mother, obviously very rich, was impolite and abrupt in her tone and response,” said Shoba honestly. “If they talked to me like that, imagine how they would be towards their daughter-in-law!”
After a fruitless 7 to 8 month search Shoba took a break. And then she received an invite from Vinay on Shaadi.com. His profile did not boast a stellar education, but he looked interesting and seemed to share similar values.
“He was 6-foot-tall and looked cute in the photographs so I sent him Lakshmi’s pictures. I said if you like her, I will give you a call,” remembers Shoba. Vinay replied saying he would like to meet Lakshmi.
Vinay and Shoba began an informal chat via text. They eventually met at a UPS store for a 20-minute-conversation. Shobha told Vinay about her background and remarriage and asked about his education and current job. He explained that he had arrived in the US in 2014 and struggled to find a job before landing one at a 3D printing facility.
“I was impressed by his talent in getting a job and he was very respectful to me while being simultaneously funny,” remarked Shoba.
After getting his parents’ consent, Shobha shared Lakshmi’s number with Vinay. When he called Lakshmi that same evening, the pair chatted non-stop for 3 to 4 hours.
When I asked Lakshmi what they talked about and she told me, “Mom, the conversation just flows. I don’t have to try hard,” said Shobha. “I guess being engineers they have much to talk about!”
The following week Vinay surprised Lakshmi by joining her at a restaurant with friends, with the gift of a 3D print-out of a favorite cartoon character.
The couple dated for about eight months and had a registered marriage because of the pandemic. They plan a full celebration with family from the US and India after the pandemic subsides.
Finding a future partner has gone online during the pandemic. Shoba’s story reflects how a mother uses her ingenuity to successfully find her daughter a groom the traditional way, in the modern world of online matchmaking.
Ramaa Reddy is a writer, photographer, food and travel specialist who blogs at venturetraveller.com
Photo by Smart Clicks on Unsplash