Be your own Indian matchmaker

Indian Matchmaking provides the usual ingredients of reality TV: intrigue, surprise, disgust, amusement, boredom. Yet if you’re an American woman in midlife who’s seeking a mate, the Netflix series, now in Season 2, also serves up some education.

Mumbai-based Sima Taparia (a.k.a. Aunty Sima) relies on intuition and astral charts, instead of algorithms, to propose pairings of young professionals. She uses a spreadsheet of candidates, collects on-paper “biodata,” and meets in person with clients in the U.S. as well as India, for a multi-thousand-dollar fee usually paid by their frustrated parents.

If you think arranged marriage means forced marriage, think again. These would-be spouses are clearly the deciders, and most of them are as fussy as a cat considering a new flavor of Fancy Feast.

Sima’s fundamental principle is simple: opposites do not attract. This truth is by no means unique to Indian culture, but some of her other factors are—at least, insofar as they’re explicitly addressed in her client projects.

Here are several Sima standards to consider applying as you view your dating landscape. Also, a few you definitely shouldn’t import.

Consider these principles

Marrying a family, not just a spouse

Among the Indian elite, marriage can have financial and reputational impacts akin to royal alliances. Sima interviews not only target singletons, but also parents. For more traditional families, her meeting room is stuffed with siblings, grandparents, cousins, uncles, and “aunties”—a tie that can be defined by caring (and nosiness) as much as blood.

Your own nuclear family may not be in growth mode this time around—you’re already supplied with most of the offspring and assets you’re likely to acquire. But you and your man are still joining each other’s tribes.

The Romeo and Juliet scenario is strictly kid stuff. Do you really want to give up all your friends and relatives to live in isolated infatuation with the new guy? Not if you’re planning on having a full life, including one that may last longer than your beau’s.

Seeking harmony in spiritual and political beliefs

We live in an era of profound antagonism between political camps, and the realm of religion is raked by deep divisions on certain topics—including whether faith is even a valid concept. Your days will be more serene with a partner who does not try to convert your views, nor say demeaning things about those who share them.

During the 2016 campaign season, I was involved with a man did not share my preference among Presidential candidates. It was exhausting. While I enjoy having occasional conversations with sane friends whose political views differ from mine, I don’t want partisan disputes as a daily diet.

In a relationship with a man holding views similar to mine, we rarely talk about politics at all, except for the occasional WTF?!? conversation. There are plenty of other meaningful topics to discuss.

Distinguishing selectivity from greediness

Rigid candidate requirements are the matchmaker’s bane. Sima tries to help hard-to-match clients separate the criteria that truly count and from the merely nice-to-have.

It can take a while to figure this out. On the one hand, limiting your search to men with college degrees can be an effective first sort of an overwhelming online database. On the other hand, declaring you won’t date bald men may eliminate someone who’s otherwise ideal.

For many years I screened out men who said they rode motorcycles. “I don’t want to be a widow again anytime soon,” I declared. Then I stopped doing that, and guess who turned out to be Mr. Otherwise Perfect?

Sima also advises withholding judgment about photos. I find them useful mostly for indicating a man’s activities—you may be happy to see a hiker and you’ll never go for the guy on the snowmobile. Men’s portraits tend to say little about their real-life looks, beyond cap-wearing that clues you in on a well-receded hairline.

Dismal selfies abound. Why are most men’s photos so bad? And so much worse than most women’s? Evidently, we believe it when we’re told men are visual. Yet men don’t believe, or never hear, that women are equally so.

Ignore these principles

Selecting by skin color

Colorism in South Asia is complex in origin, surprisingly recent, and pervasive now in marriage criteria. The Netflix show avoids dealing with it, but “light-skinned” is well-known as a common match requirement in that culture.

Is this racism? Unique to India? Yes and no. Many U.S.-based dating apps let you include race as a criterion in database screening. Further, you can sort by color of hair or eyes, but not by complexion.

This is too fraught a topic to sort out here. I’ll simply repeat my precept: be selective about your selectivity. Limit your criteria, especially the physical ones, to factors that truly shape your enjoyment of life with another person.

Height requirements

Many of Sima’s female clients want a tall partner; some of her male ones do too, but not taller than they are. Demanding a minimum or maximum height is an acceptable prejudice in our society, but it may not be a very practical one.

Want to slash your field of candidates? Insist on a man at least six feet tall. You’ll eliminate 82 percent of the adult male American population.

Granted, you may have a meaningful body-image or erotic need that makes petite or towering a must-have. Still, there are so many famous Mutt and Jeff types who couple happily, I won’t even bother to list them.

Looking to the stars

Would you accept or reject a life partner on the basis of an astrological chart? Apparently this happens in Indian matchmaking, at least as a follow-on to positive interpersonal impressions. (Hefty astrologer fees get put off until things get serious.)

I’ll confess to checking my horoscope in the Sunday paper for laughs and saving my annual birthday blurb for predictions about the year ahead. Notice how these summaries never say “the next 12 months of your life will totally suck”?

But I put no store in astrological analysis of romantic compatibility. Horoscopes always predicted doom for the bond between my sign and that of my college boyfriend. And lo and behold, that relationship lasted a mere four decades.

Does Indian matchmaking actually work?

Here’s the bottom line on the first season of Indian Matchmaking: Nobody got hitched. My source here is the British tabloids that cover reality shows as avidly as football teams, not Netflix.

Some failures were no surprise, like the Houston lawyer whose list of two dozen dealbreakers in men ranged from lack of exotic travel experience to being too funny. She’s back in Season 2.

Others who failed to launch were unexpected, including one woman who seemed to find the ideal answer to her niche requirements of ethnicity and faith. She’s since been touted by an online service as finally acquiring a husband there instead via matchmaker.

I don’t pooh-pooh Sima’s overall track record, however, even if she bats closer to .300 than 1.000. What I do question are the fees of any analog matchmaking service, including U.S. ones that cater to wealthy clients (and have also supplied reality-TV fodder).

Those who can afford hands-on service may find the price alone useful as a screening device. But the rest of us can do the human part as well as most pros, if we learn the ropes and put in the time.

You are your own Indian matchmaker with a little help from Big Data. So you might as well drape yourself in a mental sari from time to time and listen to your Inner Aunty. Focus on practical factors like compatibility of values and families. Once they have an opportunity to align, romance may not only follow, but also last.

Golf dates and match play

How playing a round can lead to romance

Golf is a classic business tool not only for customer schmoozing but also because player behavior provides deeper clues about the character of a potential vendor, collaborator, or employee. So why not use it to check out a potential romantic partner?

As an avid player, I can attest that golf is one of the best ways to get to know someone. It’s also one of the worst: too much time, too much money, terrifying for anyone who lacks confidence in his or her game.

Lack of confidence doesn’t necessarily refer to anxious female tyros trying to keep up with long and strong men. Most of the men I have golf-dated haven’t been able to get off the first tee with their first shot.

Swing, miss.

Swing, miss.

Swing, hit ball into pond.

Swing, drive ball 40 yards.

But it’s dry and playable; my turn to tee off.

The way the man on the tee deals with first-drive failure gives me a sense of who he is. My reaction (patience with humor) reveals portions of my personality, too.

I hereby offer three different formats for getting-to-know-you golf dates. They’re adaptable to other athletic activities ranging from tennis to trail-running to ax-throwing. Or anything involving a swimsuit, if you dare.

1. The Setup

This is basically a sneak attack: arranging a round with a new person who is potentially eligible, but “it’s just golf.” I’ve done this for others and for myself—indeed, involving the same man, in one case, though not at the same time. But you could do that, too, and let the best woman win.

The presence of four humans diffuses the tension of romantic evaluation, though when two are single and the rest are married, the agenda’s not exactly hidden, either. I first did this when married, hosting an early morning foursome that included a married male client, a single male lawyer who shared the client, and a single female engineer I knew through my golf league.

This setup didn’t stick. My female friend ran off the ninth green, claiming an urgent need to get to work and leaving married me having post-round coffee with the legal target. We had a fine time, and I later complained to a fellow yenta, Jeez, what’s wrong with Julie? If I weren’t married, I’d be interested in him.

Be careful what you wish for. Three years later I was widowed and setting up my own self with the still-single lawyer. We played golf several times, and followed the third round with a sunset-view patio dinner that was the most goddam romantic non-date I’d ever been on. The next time I suggested golf, he instead suggested cocktails at the swankiest bar in town. The rest is history.

Except it’s not. Despite our ironic meet-cute worthy of a Nora Ephron screenplay or a New York Times “Modern Romance” column, this particular prince did not rescue the maiden. It turned out he was only technically single and was emotionally cheating on his ex-girlfriend with me; within months the tower came crashing down on my fairy tale.

On this, I do not blame golf.

2. The Checkout

This is another form of sneak attack. If a romantic prospect invites you to play “couples golf,” you’re getting checked out by his or her friends.

My experience with this sort of inspection goes both ways. I have dear friends who routinely invite my swain of the moment to play so he can consider joining their country club. What they’re really doing, of course, is considering whether he should join me.

On the other side of the equation, the above lawyer asked married friends to play with us at his club. After they gave me enthusiastic post-round reviews, he signed up the four of us for a charity tournament six months later. By the day of the event, he and I had moved on to other partners—which was news to the married couple, since there I was, playing on the tournament team. Well, I’ve got my athletic priorities!

Couples golf has a follow-on purpose that’s more relaxed. As your relationship matures, playing golf with lover and friends, his and yours, is one way of integrating your current life together with your previous ones apart. Maintaining old relationships can be hard while you’re building a new one, and sports socializing is one practical way of doing so.

3. The Early-Stage Evaluation

No third parties needed here. Say you’ve had three or four coffees, lunches, and dinners that establish sufficient mutual interest; playing together can help you decide whether to take things to the next level.

The way someone behaves during a challenging physical activity is a true tell of temperament. The trick, with golf in particular, is to do it without falling prey to a fun-robbing case of nerves. Consider taking these precautions:

  • Don’t play 18 holes. Four or more hours together is too damn long unless your primary purpose is actually golf. Nine-and-dine is an excellent format for dating.
  • Don’t play an unfamiliar course. There’s enough unknown territory in your partner’s personality.
  • Don’t keep score. At least, don’t keep his score. Don’t announce yours, either; keep it between you and GHIN.
  • Don’t play for stakes, whether financial, prideful, or sexual.
  • Don’t talk too much while you play. Put a post-round meal on the agenda from the get-go.
  • Don’t misbehave. Don’t throw clubs, hit into the group ahead, drive your riding cart near the green, abuse the cart girl or caddie, use foul language (until your date does, too), or scold your companion because he forgot his wedge on the last green.

I found golf especially useful for getting together during the height of Covid. These initial encounters weren’t quite first dates, because pandemic phone conversations provided a hefty runup to in-person meetings. All of my golf dates were enjoyable and not nerve-wracking—at least for me, since I got off the first tee just fine.

Moreover, one very special man proved his thoughtfulness by inviting me to play golf even though he hadn’t touched his clubs in years, because he had learned that I love the game. In his case, the rest IS history.

Yet here’s what can happen when you do it all wrong. One of my best friends agreed to play 18 holes, not nine, on a blind date. She flubbed her first drive, she kept score (and it was a high one), dumped her pushcart twice, then realized she had lost her car and house keys when doing so. So instead of having a relaxed post-round drink with the guy, she was scouring the course for her belongings.

Eventually the keys were found and the beers consumed. Within a year my friend was living with the guy, and now they’re married. So much for golf rules.

What a woman wants from her lover–and where she’ll find it

What does a woman want in her romantic relationship? Flaming passion… not so much, by the time she’s old enough to know better. The Top 4 values sought by the grownups I know are more Scout-like than sexual:

  • Dependability.
  • Communication.
  • Attention.
  • Trust.

A dependable lover shows up when he says he will and does what he says he’ll do. A communicative boyfriend emails/texts/calls her with a frequency roughly equal to her own—a happy medium between silent and stalker—and initiates as well as responds.

An attentive spouse keeps track of her likes and dislikes, and comes up with related ideas, activities, and the occasional pleasant surprise. As for trust, that works both ways—neither he nor she snoops or gripes, because each is utterly confident in the other’s fidelity in realms ranging from romance to finance.

In sum, the ideal lover carries an equal load in the liaison. Somehow women ended up as the relationship Teamsters in American society, and we’ve held onto that job despite all the new ones we’ve taken on since the 1950s. It’s exhausting.

My pretty good marriage hit those marks early on, yet ran out of steam when parenthood overwhelmed our good intentions. I know of plenty of marriages, with and without kids, firsthand and through sitcoms, where the husband hasn’t come close since courtship ended.

Two of my relationships since widowhood never ran on all four cylinders, but I stuck around awhile for the gentlemen’s non-Scout-like qualities. A summer-long spree with a Scout, however, demonstrated recently that a man can treat upright behavior as natural, even enjoyable, and this performance has set a standard for future involvements.

Meanwhile, pity me not. Like most women, I have a batch of solid relationships that are dependable, communicative, attentive, and both trusting and trustworthy.

Where do we find them? Our girlfriends.

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