This First Person column is written by Pooja Joshi, a first-generation Indian Canadian. She currently works as a producer for CBC Radio’s The Debaters. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
“When are you getting married?”
That’s a question I get asked a lot. I am 34 and still single which is no big deal for many people. But for my Indian family, alarm bells are ringing. In my culture, I am late to board the marriage train. My younger cousins are all wed and seemingly happily so. They’re expecting babies, while I’m still inspecting dating profiles.
If it were up to my family, I would have already married as my parents did: in an arranged match. It’s a common way to get married in the South Asian community — where parents find a prospective groom or bride for their adult children. In previous generations, the parents picked the partner. But now it’s more like a dating service enabled by families who pre-select “suitable” partners. Their child typically can then exercise “veto” power.
My parents met through an Indian matrimonial classified ad in a newspaper. Their families set them up and my mom says she didn’t have much of a say in the matter. According to her, my grandmother said, “He’s a doctor. He’s good looking. You will marry him.”
“So I married him,” my mom told me, accepting the offer within 10 minutes. “But you have many choices, Pooja.”
I grew up on a staple diet of romantic Bollywood and Hollywood movies — where boy meets girl, they fall in love, and walk off into the sunset clutching hands to live happily ever after. So I always believed that I would meet my Mr. Darcy in an organic way. The idea of filtering through groom CVs and studio photographs carefully-curated by entire families never occurred to me in my wildest dreams.
I have a great life. I live in Toronto, work in television and am a stand-up comic. I pay my own bills and I have my own house. I can assemble IKEA furniture and even change a flat tire. But none of that changes my culture’s valuation of a woman in my position — if you are an Indian girl unmarried in her 30s, you are fast approaching the status of an old maid. (Ironically, if you are an unmarried Indian man in your 30s or maybe early 40s, you’re still a catch.)
Dating is hard. And as a millennial, I find it harder to date offline. I’m much more suited to striking up a conversation with a stranger on my smartphone than I am in the real world. So initially, I was drawn to online dating. But with the increased isolation brought on by the pandemic, I grew tired of swiping, ghosting, catfishing and no commitment. So I signed up for the online Indian matrimonial site, Shaadi.com, in the hopes of finding a husband. It literally translates to wedding.com in Hindi.
Unlike other dating apps where a bathroom selfie or a picture with your pet can be enough to earn you a “swipe to the right,” members on Shaadi.com must complete an extensive profile that includes details of their income, profession, height, weight, eye colour, complexion, diet, mother tongue, religious and caste background — even birth horoscope.
As an Indian, you don’t just marry the person — you marry the whole family. And families rate a person’s characteristics and background to assess the worthiness and compatibility of prospective matches. The pandemic has complicated this process further with vaccination status becoming a factor, to say nothing of the challenges that social distancing and masking add to first encounters.
I have been on quite a few dates through this process. My parents arrange most of them — they do the “swiping” and pre-interview the families of potential suitors before I know anything about them.
I’m expected to project myself as the perfect Indian wife material: a great cook, timid, and homely — whatever that means.
In one of my meetings with a suitor and his family, my cooking abilities and habits are non-negotiable. They want to ensure I’ll cook breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, and we discuss the menu for each meal in detail. In another meeting, the placement of planet Mars in my birth horoscope is a deal-breaker.
Everyone is looking for unconditional love but with conditions.
Many suitors and their families see me as an unconventional commodity. They wonder why I didn’t make a more typical “Indian” career choice like medicine, engineering or accounting? As someone who went to film school and spent countless hours studying cinéma vérité, I am considered an outcast of sorts, a rebel who didn’t conform.
But I’m not just doing this for my family. I want to get married, but not just to anyone. I want to marry someone I love. I don’t want it to be like a job interview.
I told my mom I feel like I’m in a marketplace where everyone is on display. “It’s almost like, ‘Look at me, I’m this new product on sale and look at my six-figure salary and my Ivy League degree and my shiny car and big house,'” I said. “And it’s just, you know, I’m missing the genuine personal connection.”
Still, this process has worked for many people – like my friend Devang who met his wife Urvi through Shaadi.com and is now happily married.
“Have a little more faith in the process,” he told me. “You follow your heart and don’t worry, the right one will come along when they’re supposed to.”
Looking at Devang and Urvi gives me hope. So my search for the right partner is still on — as I try to balance my expectations with those of my traditional Indian family.
Pooja Joshi is a writer, producer and stand-up comic living in Toronto with an eclectic resume. She has performed in front of an audience of 500, trained an ensemble cast of 20 actors on a feature film, parachuted from 20,000 feet and lived to tell the tale. Pooja has lived in Africa, India and Canada. She went to film school at York University and acting school in Toronto and Mumbai. Her work has been featured at the South Asian Film Festival in New York.
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