This first-person column is written by Pooja Joshi, a first-generation Indian Canadian. She is currently working as a producer for CBC Radio’s The Debaters. For more information on CBC’s First Person Stories, please see frequently asked questions.
“When are you going to get married?”
This is a question I get asked a lot. I’m 34 and still single, which isn’t a big deal for a lot of people. But for my Indian family, alarm bells are ringing. In my culture, I’m late to get on the wedding bandwagon. My young cousins are all married and apparently happy. They’re expecting babies, while I’m still inspecting dating profiles.
If it were up to my family, I would have already married like my parents did: in an arranged marriage. It is a common way of getting married in the South Asian community – where parents find a groom or bride-to-be for their adult children. In previous generations, the parents chose the partner. But now it’s more like a dating service powered by families pre-screening “suitable” partners. Their child can then generally exercise a right of “veto”.
My parents met through an Indian matrimonial advertisement in a newspaper. Their families settled them and my mother says she didn’t have much say in the matter. According to her, my grandmother said, “He’s a doctor. He is handsome. You are going to marry her.
“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 go off into the sunset holding hands to live happily ever after. So I always believed that I would meet my Mr. Darcy organically. The idea of filtering through the resumes of the bride and groom and the carefully selected studio photographs of entire families never occurred to me in my wildest dreams.
I have a good life. I live in Toronto, I work in television and I am a comedian. I pay my own bills and have my own house. I can assemble IKEA furniture and even change a flat tire. But none of this changes the valuation my culture places on a woman in my position – if you’re a single Indian in your thirties, you’re fast approaching spinster status. (Ironically, if you’re a single Indian in your 30s or maybe early 40s, you’re still a trap.)
Dating is difficult. And as a millennial, I find it harder to date someone offline. I’m much more adept at striking up a conversation with a stranger on my smartphone than I am in the real world. So, at first, I was attracted to online dating. But with the increased isolation brought on by the pandemic, I grew tired of the sweeping, ghosting, catfishing, and lack of engagement. So I registered with the online Indian matrimonial site, Shaadi.com, in hopes of finding a husband. It literally translates to wedding.com in Hindi.
Unlike other dating apps where a selfie in the bathroom or a photo with your pet can be enough to earn you a “swipe right”, members of Shaadi.com must complete a detailed profile which includes details about their income, occupation, height, weight. , eye color, complexion, diet, mother tongue, religion and caste – even birth horoscope.
As an Indian, you don’t just marry the person, you marry the whole family. And families assess a person’s characteristics and background to assess the value and compatibility of potential matches. The pandemic has further complicated this process, with vaccination status becoming a factor, not to mention the challenges that social distancing and masking add to first encounters.
I’ve had quite a few dates through this process. My parents arrange most of them – they do the swipping and pre-interviewing the families of potential suitors before I know anything about them.
I’m expected to project myself as the perfect Indian wife: a great cook, shy and simple – whatever that means.
During one of my encounters with a suitor and his family, my cooking abilities and habits are non-negotiable. They want to make sure I cook breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, and we discuss the menu for each meal in detail. In another meeting, the placement of the planet Mars in my birth horoscope is a deciding factor.
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 choose a more typical ‘Indian’ career choice like medicine, engineering or accounting? As someone who went to film school and spent countless hours studying cinema verité, I’m considered something of an outcast, a rebel who didn’t conform.
But I’m not just doing this for my family. I want to get married, but not just anyone. I want to marry someone I love. I don’t want it to be like a job interview.
I told my mother that I felt like I was in a market where everyone is exposed. “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 my big house,'” I said. “And it’s just, you know, I lack the real personal connection.”
Yet this process has worked for many people – like my friend Devang who met his wife Urvi through Shaadi.com and is now happily married.
“Be a little more confident in the process,” he told me. “You follow your heart and don’t worry, the good will come when it’s supposed to.”
Watching Devang and Urvi gives me hope. So my search for the right partner is still ongoing – as I try to balance my expectations with those of my traditional Indian family.
Pooja Joshi is a Toronto-based writer, producer and comedian with an eclectic resume. She performed in front of an audience of 500, trained a 20-actor ensemble 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. His work was shown at the South Asian Film Festival in New York.
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