A few years ago, my mother finally gave up all hope that I would be able to find a partner on my own, and decided that perhaps it was time to take drastic measures i.e. venture into the deep, dark world of matchmaking.
The following 3 years were filled with anger, disappointment, disgust and disbelief. Along with me, I had so many friends who had been forced into matchmaking and were just as frustrated. I realise that there are so many fundamental problems with match-making that it is just a recipe for disaster.
In the olden days in India, matchmaking took on a very different form, where after the matchmaker finds a suitable match, the boy’s family takes a look at the girl’s photograph, and if all is okay, they either make a visit to the girl’s home, or just agree to the marriage. There is hardly any communication between the girl and the boy. This however, was largely due to the societal context at that point in time, or rather, cultural relativity. The girl is often not well-educated, and subservient to the patriarchal system that existed and hence agreeable to a groom selected by her family. In exchange for her subservience, the man took on the role of the sole breadwinner. Right or wrong, this was the norm back then, and without having lived in that era, it is not for us to judge.
However, in today’s context, I would assume that with the girl and the boy having been raised in a different social setting, with differing expectations, things would be different. To be specific, this is what I had in mind.
My mom would give my details to the matchmaker, along with a list of preferences. Matchmaker then uses this information to look for a potential groom. Bride and groom are then allowed to exchange photos and numbers, and speak to each other and get to know each other, and then decide if they want to pursue things further.
It was with such a scenario in mind that I agreed to the whole idea of matchmaking. Unfortunately, this was not to be.
First, in all of my experiences, there was this complete refusal to allow the boy and the girl to interact or even see each other’s photos until they met in the temple. There was this one family that wanted to come to my house to see me, with their whole family, without even letting me and the guy talk to each other. Im sorry, but what? Would you like me to sing and dance for you as well?
In other less extreme scenarios, the whole family insisted on accompanying the girl and the boy to the temple and being right there beside them as they met. Firstly I find it so awkward to have to do this in a temple, given that I typically go there to pray. Secondly, there is no way I can be myself when an entire family is there watching and studying my every move. Thirdly, I don’t know how I can say anything when I am busy trying to dig a hole to crawl into.
While it is to be expected that a certain degree of involvement of the family is required in matchmaking, I honestly feel that the couple would be better off being allowed to communicate at least once on their own.
Second, the emphasis on looks.
I know that physical attraction is a very important part of a relationship. If you are not physically attracted to someone, it is very difficult to progress any further. However, I also strongly believed that physical attraction is subjective and simply put, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, in my experience, with matchmaking, the idea of beauty is very narrowly defined to mean tall, fair and thin, and any one who doesn’t fit this criteria isn’t considered to be attractive.
The first time I signed up with a matchmaking agency, the lady bluntly told me this,
“Even for good looking people it takes some time, so you can’t expect things to happen fast.”
Obviously I wanted to fly into a hulk-like rage and burn her down together with her stupid dingy office, but I had to be cool, calm and collected. When I first met a groom in the temple, his mother said I was too short, and hence they weren’t keen. The second time, before we met another groom, his mother wanted to know what was my skin tone, to the precise shade. Was I fair? Medium? Medium tan? Tan? I half-suspect she was standing at the foundation section of Sephora reading out colour descriptors.
While everyone is perfectly entitled to their own preferences in terms of their prospective partners, the way in which a girl is solely evaluated based on the way she looks is insulting, not to mention degrading and demoralising for the girl. I am sure it is just as bad for guys who have been turned down because of the way they look? Why not simply just exchange photographs? Wouldn’t that save both parties much heartache?
Till today, people actually give a damn about what each other’s caste is. Now don’t get me wrong. There are categories of Indians, for instance the Chettiars who would prefer that their child marries someone from another Chettiar family. I am not referring to this, for I dont belong to any such group and hence any comment I make would be an uneducated one. I am referring to people who categorise people based on whether they belong to a superior or inferior caste and use this as a basis to accept or reject brides or grooms.
According to the scriptures, the caste system existed for the sole purpose of categorising people based on the performance of duties, rather than on any rights or privileges to be accorded to them. There is no hierarchical order for the various castes and every occupation was deemed to be important for, they all allowed society to function seamlessly. One’s caste was determined by his personality, inclination and his birth, and caste mobility was permitted.
However, because certain occupations had a higher earning power, it was inevitable that they would be wealthier and as a result, found it convenient to perpetuate differences, and come up with a rigid and inaccurate form of hierarchy in order to retain their economic and political advantages.
And we use this as a basis to decide the compatibility of a bride and groom, here in modern day Singapore? We honestly have no clue what our caste is, and find it baffling that it is even a consideration today. Though to be fair, it did make things very easy for us, because there was no way I wanted to be in a family that was going to judge me based on a skewed version of an ancient social division structure.
I do think that matchmaking has its advantages, and I do know of many people who have successfully gotten together and are very happy, after having been match made. Many of these people did not have to go through much of the torture that some of the people I know have. However fact remains is, matchmaking can be a painful process for many. I think it would be a lot more effective, and perhaps a lot less of a torture, if people stopped being so shallow, and backdated.