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.
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.