I just finished watching season 1 of Indian Matchmaking on Netflix. Although I am not Indian, many moments in this show rang true with the way marriage is viewed in Egypt, my home country. As a woman who is in her prime marital years according to both these cultures, this show sparked a lot of thoughts for me.
First thing’s first: the Netflix show deals with consensual arranged marriage. The term “arranged marriage” has a lot of negative connotations in the West, because of acts of human rights violations such as child marriage and forced marriage. This show, however, focusses on (wealthy) adults who are looking for their forever partners by getting them to explore their wants in life and reasons behind them.
You may know that there’s a lot of pressure to get married in India. If you have any Indian friends, you will 100% know that. A quick Google showed me that arranged marriage is super common in South Asia, with divorce rates in India being less than 1%! This will tell you how seriously marriage is taken in Indian culture – it really is a forever decision. So what I liked about this show, is that the protagonists didn’t rush into the marriages, on the contrary, most of the matchmaking was unsuccessful (through no fault of Sima’s.. the stars just weren’t aligned right!). The docuseries followed the journey of each person who was looking for their happily-ever-after, and the matchmaker took the time to get to know them and understand why they wanted to get married. I loved Ankita’s storyline, which concluded with her realising that she actually wanted to spend more time working on her business solo before pursuing a marriage. And although heartbreaking, I also loved Nadia’s story which highlighted the fickleness of relationships even in dating with intent.
The UK has low rates of arranged marriage; most people here will pursue what the show calls “love marriages”. Living in the West, you will be familiar with the organic way in which this will happen: you meet, you date, you get married. This can span over as many years as you want, and the main difference really is that the end-goal is not always disclosed. I’ve read stories/watched shows where a couple has been living together for 10 years or so and it all falls apart because one person decided to randomly mention over breakfast that they are not interested in marriage, leaving their partner heartbroken. Growing up seeing these stories, I always thought “why the hell did they not talk about this in the 10 whole years they were together?!“. It never made sense to me. Did this never ever come up in conversation before? Didn’t a family member ever ask what the couple’s future plans were? Interestingly, divorce rates in the UK are around 40%. This feels really high for a decision that is made by two consenting adults, with presumably all of the information they need beforehand. So maybe love doesn’t, in fact, conquer all.
Indian Matchmaking really got me thinking about the way I personally view marriage compared to the way my Egyptian family views it. They seem to hold the attitude that with the right foundations and respect in a relationship, you can learn to love your partner and build a marriage. It’s actually really sweet. I have been asked a few times by my family whether I would be interested in an arranged marriage. Each time, I immediately said no without hesitation. Now, I think there are actually a lot of perks to it. Anyone who has done the whole dating thing in the last few years will tell you that it’s tough out there. No one knows what anyone wants because a lot of people themselves have no clue what they themselves want. You realise that 9 times out of 10, you just know what you don’t want – and that’s them. So can you imagine how great it would be if you could just say exactly what you are looking for before wasting days, weeks, even months, on trying to understand what the hell this is?! [cue meme]
Another Google search showed me that divorce rates in Egypt are at minimum 40% and could be as high as 60%! The last 20 years saw a large increase in divorce in Egypt when legislation changed to allow women no-fault divorce in the year 2000. Now why is the divorce rate as high as in the UK, where it is mostly love marriages? There are so so so many reasons for divorce, it would be really hard to pin down exactly what the issues are. You could perhaps boil it all down to unmet expectations, but I worry that this is a very simplistic take on it. As someone who has not been married, I can’t fully grasp the pressures a married couple experiences.
I wonder whether the issues lie in what we, as people, believe make good partners. I noticed some problematic ways of thinking in the Netflix show. While I understand that being attracted to your partner is vital, it seemed overly superficial to choose someone with a specific height, and it feeds into harmful concepts of colourism to prefer light-skinned Indians over darker-skinned ones. Sima says it multiple times in the show that it will be easier for her to match the skinnier, lighter and overall prettier women. In a world of swiping left and right on dating apps like Tinder, I’m not at all surprised at the importance of looks in finding the “perfect” partner, but think how many potential matches were sifted out based on such criteria that are completely out of an individual’s control! Having said that, a lot of them did prefer partners who had similar backgrounds to them. In terms of religion and culture, I see why they would find this more appealing. The more similar your upbringing, the more likely your values will be compatible. And when being set up with strangers, you don’t have much else to go on.
Going back to dating apps, I notice that they really aren’t that different to the way Sima’s matchmaking works. You have your “biodata”, which everyone puts in their Tinder bios anyway like a badge of honour: their height (adding on a few inches), where they’re from, their hobbies, photoshopped pictures, and a few people actually like to disclose what they’re looking for (casual dating, serious relationship, etc.). The only difference is you cut out the middle man (or strong headed matchmaking Indian woman), and do your own swiping and ta-dah! You’ve become your very own matchmaker. All Tinder needs now is a horoscope section to confirm your compatibility and you can be on your way to the nearest Nando’s in less than 24 hours.
For what it’s worth, I don’t believe there is one right way of “doing” relationships. Whether it happens organically or is arranged, you still have so much to face as a couple, and each one comes with its own specific set of challenges. The only thing that can help in any situation is strong and honest communication. And that takes years and years to master and refine.
So there you have it. Whether you love it or hate it, you have to admit it’s simply intriguing to immerse yourself in this world of Indian Matchmaking.