ArrangedMarriage.com: The changing face of online matchmaking
What are the odds of finding like-minded partners in the world of digital matrimony? A slew of ‘exclusive’ services, targeted at the urban Indian, are changing the game and redefining arranged marriage.Updated: Aug 08, 2015 16:25 IST
Is there a more unromantic word than ‘matrimony’? It sounds like a tedious hobby. (Matrimony; (n); the collection of fibres that fall off rugs.) And if you’re in the market for it, you know the search can be just as tedious. You have to have the tenacity of a terrier and the skin of a rhino to find the love of your life from the dense thicket of ‘eligible hopefuls’.
And if you’re not focused on the forever, if you just want to meet someone to go to the movies with, your options are dire. You can get drunk and take your chances, or sign up on Tinder, which has all the charm of a carpool app — geography=chemistry.
But what if you’re not looking for random encounters? What if you want at least the possibility of romance? Well then, just click to download. Right now is a good time to be single and looking in India. A number of apps and networks are offering alternatives that kick in the morning after a Tinder date and stop short of age-sex-location-matrimony.com. Somewhere in between is the space for people to find connections, go offline and see where things go.
As Indians, we’re more comfortable to have a third party ‘arrange’ this business for us. The problem is with who is doing the arranging (your parents who would be appalled at your browser history) and why (a website that will send you slightly less terrible options if you cough up for a platinum membership and a relationship manager).
The companies we spoke to aren’t doing this for altruistic reasons, but seem to have a better idea of the audience they’re speaking to. They are all founded or run by Indians in their twenties and thirties. Most have experienced the frustration of trying to find a bit of warmth in the transactional world of arranged marriages. They agree that just because matchmaking can be awkward doesn’t mean it can’t be conducted with dignity.
(Illustrations: Ravi Jadhav)
The services listed here have different objectives — some are for casual dating, others are into hardcore matrimony. One might ask you to name your favourite ice cream flavour, another might ask for your salary slip. But they are all guided by the idea of what they don’t want to be — they don’t want to put your details and photos out there for Google Images to pick up or make your search for a mate seem hopeless. Mostly, they don’t want you to give up on the whole idea just yet.
Being set up is embarrassing
A popular Mumbai-based matchmaking service angered its members when one of the founders sent out an irate mail demanding everyone attend events. He signed off ominously: If you don’t put in the effort, you’ll never find anyone. A member commented, “If I wanted this kind of guilt tripping, I would have asked my parents to set me up.” The goal-oriented world of arranged romance can be daunting. Services like A World Alike (AWA) try to take the pressure off by promising not eternal love, but a rocking house party — to begin with.
Its founder, investment banker Himanshu Gupta, is also single, and he explains why this service is perfect for others like him: “I moved to Delhi in 2010 and found that it was hard to get out of my comfort zone and meet new people. AWA offers a platform through which you can do that. Delhi can be quite clique-y and it was a challenge to convince people to show up for our events initially.”
But some 20 events and 200 sign-ups later, AWA is ready to expand, and Mumbai is the next stop. It pegs itself as an exclusive club. Professional achievements carry a lot of weight, as does a three-level vetting process that ends with every member you meet weighing in on your application. Once you’re in, you pay the fee (starts at Rs 7,500 for three months) and wait for your invite. Parties are by invitation only, have no more than 40 people, and revolve around a theme or activity — tarot reading, board games, a talk on art — to break the ice.
AWA’s first event in Mumbai will take place in Bandra towards the end of August. “You’ll get the most out of it, if you don’t come with any agenda other than to meet people outside your circle,” says Gupta.
Don’t see anyone you like?
“The monthly subscription model means that, for a set amount, you can go around hitting on as many people as you like. But on Aisle, Rs 2,000 buys you only three ‘invites’. So, you have to choose carefully.” That’s Able Joseph, founder of Aisle.co, explaining a major difference between his site and other portals.
Joseph got interested in the industry post his break-up in 2013, which prompted him to sign up for one such service: “I’d go through 50 profiles every day, but I didn’t want to meet even one of them.”
The solution, he thought, was a curated social network that operates like Facebook, except everyone’s here to meet somebody. A lengthy sign-up and a validation process puts off anyone looking for casual hook-ups. Once you’re in, you’re free to browse. When you see someone you like, pay Rs 2,000 and send them an invite. If they decline, the invite is returned, so you can use it again.
Riti Ray (28) sent her now-husband an invite when she saw they shared similar interests. Their conversations moved from there to Facebook to WhatsApp to the real world fairly quickly. Ray says she’d encountered “creepy people and fake profiles” on other sites, but the crowd at Aisle seemed decent.
Joseph doesn’t elaborate on how he decides who gets into the community, but it comes down to your online personality: what you tweet, share and endorse are good indicators, apparently. Joseph says, “Back in the day, you could tell something about a man based on the shoes he wore. Now, you can judge him by the content he puts out there.”
A screenshot of Aisle's website.
Not risking it with a total stranger
You’ve put up with a lot from your Facebook friends: political rants, moronic jokes. The good karma pays off now. Hinge mines your Facebook friends’ network to home in on potential dates, at a maximum of three degrees of separation from you.
Once you sign up, the app sends suggestions of people you might like, with basic information about them, including their first name and 10-15 photographs. If you like someone — and they like you too — your last names are revealed to each other and you’re free to take it offline. Samir Kapadia, India CEO of Hinge, says, "It’s all about the offline experience. We launched this March in Mumbai with a big party where we invited celebrities, models, filmmakers, and other influencers who formed the initial pool. We will be hosting these mixer-type events regularly." Hinge is free, and is the only service on this list that caters to LGBT users as well.
Checks and balances
You met someone online and bonded with each other. So, what’s a good time to ask for a copy of his salary slip? There isn’t one, and that’s why you register for a service like iBluebottle, which pitches itself as a matchmaking site for "top Indian professionals".
Its validation process involves not just a personality quiz, but also the vetting of your work and educational documents. Your official email ID or a copy of your offer letter has to be validated. If you’re self-employed, you might be asked to furnish a service tax registration. It’s not romantic. But you know what else isn’t romantic? Lying about your MBA degree.
Akhilesh Sharma, who’s on the advisory board for iBluebottle, says that they might conduct a background check if an application looks dodgy. Once you’re accepted, the service sends you matches every Friday. To contact someone, you have to pay a subscription fee, so there’s no scope for casual browsing. You’re encouraged to take an active part in the process, not have a parent manage the account for you. "If you’re lucky," says Sharma, "you may find someone in six months to three years. In the real world, if you like someone even slightly, you might take things forward. But online, people wait for someone better to show up."
You’re just looking for a nice date
How do tech nerds fall in love? They download a dating app to study its algorithms and stay on to chat. Manasi and Shyam’s (names changed) first conversation on TrulyMadly was about a glitch that displayed the wrong time stamp on their chats. A week later, Shyam sent her flowers for her birthday, with some help from the TrulyMadly team. They’re together now.
A screenshot of TrulyMadly's website.
The dating service for urban 20-somethings has clocked around 6 lakh downloads already. Its pool of ‘possibles’ may not be as vast as Tinder’s but quality control is more stringent. The identity of each user is verified, and their activity on the app monitored.
Co-founder Hitesh Dhingra says, “We assign each profile a trust score and you need at least 30% to get in. Then, you take some fun psychometric quizzes and the recommendation engine throws up matches based on the results. If two people indicate they like each other, we put them in touch.” The system worked for Manasi and Shyam. She puts it down to a “brilliant search algorithm”. They used to call it Cupid.
You’re wary of this online business
“Let’s say a mutual friend sets us up on a date. You’ll stalk me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and even before we meet, we’ve messed it up. There’s no way I can live up to my online avatar. Our job is to remove such obstacles,” says Sunil Hiranandani, founder, Sirf Coffee. He believes this so strongly that his service doesn’t even swap photographs before the date.
A screenshot of Sirf Coffee's website.
Once the team finds you a match after assessing your requirements through a personal or Skype interview, you’ll get a call telling you when and where to show up. The only thing you do online is make the payment ($250, or Rs 16,000 approx, for six months); every other part of the process happens in person.
About half of these coffees lead to second dates, says Hiranandani. “The arranged marriage set-up where people find you a match is not irrelevant. The problem is with how it’s conducted. Compatibility cannot be judged based on height, complexion and degrees.”
Sirf Coffee has users in 18 countries and will even sync your travel itineraries, so the search is not limited to your location. And it’ll always be a real person masterminding these dates. Hiranandani says they don’t believe in the algorithmic approach. “I’m not in the business of internet dating. If anything, I’m trying to limit online connections.”
A World Alike (aworldalike.in): Rs 7,500 for 3 months onward
Aisle (aisle.co; Google Play, App store): Rs 2,000 for three ‘invites’
Hinge (hinge.co; Google Play, App Store): Free
iBluebottle (ibluebottle.com): Rs 5,000 for 3 months onward
TrulyMadly (trulymadly.com; Google Play, App Store, Windows store): Free sign-up
Sirf Coffee (sirfcoffee.com): $250 (Rs 16,000) for 6 months