It was a laid-back weekend when I woke up to a call from my dad, who lives in India. He was urging me to check out a man’s profile on an app. I tiresomely scrolled through yet another potential groom’s profile, aware that his bio is not truly reflective of his own thoughts and interests.
With matrimony apps like the one I’m on, it’s not young people who are most invested in the process—it’s their parents.
On these apps, children may have little-to-no role in choosing the matches they want to talk to. It’s their parents who filter out profiles based on the apps’ criteria, like age, profession, and even horoscope. It’s the parents who begin the chat—not with the potential bride or groom, but with their family. Then, they forward promising profiles to their children, who may decide to chat and meet with their potential matches. The ball usually goes back to the parents’ court for final approval for an engagement.
While plenty of people use Tinder in India, dating apps are largely unwelcomed by Indian parents, as many consider dating to be something against Indian culture and tradition. Most marriages in India are still arranged by families; reportedly over 90 percent of marriages are still arranged. Matrimony websites have been around for about two decades, and they help keep this trend going.
There are a bunch of matrimony apps on the market, but the most popular are Bharat Matrimony and Shaadi. They look somewhat similar to dating apps, in that they involve swiping. But matrimony apps have more specific filters and preferences like caste and star sign. Profiles include photos and a bio, which is usually written by parents, though in certain cases by children (depending on how well parents and kids are able to communicate about marriage plans). The apps allow parents and kids to jointly manage their matrimony account. Both parents and children can swipe right and shortlist profiles.
These apps market themselves by posting success stories of couples who got married after matching. They make glamorous claims that millions are finding their life partners through their platforms. This could be true, considering the matrimony apps reported a rising number of users during the pandemic. Whether you view this as a desirable outcome depends on how you feel about arranged marriages, and maybe whether your preferences for a life partner line up with your parents’.
One aspect of the apps that I find preposterous is the horoscope filter. Bumble added the ability to filter potential matches by zodiac sign in 2019, which might be something of a novelty for U.S. users. In India, horoscopes have long been an important aspect of arranged marriages. Your horoscope can be a deal-breaker: Many parents proceed to the next stage of courtship only when the horoscopes of the prospective brides and grooms are a match. Historically, astrologers generated a horoscope chart with details gathered from the planet positions and zodiac signs. These days, matrimony apps momentarily create these horoscopes using in-built software. Once the user inputs the candidate’s basic details, including time, date, and place of birth, the horoscope can be added to the profile.
In my case, neither my family nor I believe in horoscopes. But we are a minority in the Indian marriage market. I have faced several rejections just because parents of my prospective matches assume that my horoscope has malefic planets.
Even when it comes to filters like age and profession, which actually could help determine compatibility, parents often give more weight to their own preferences than their kids’, since they are the apps’ primary users. They ignore profiles that don’t interest them.
I don’t deny that it can be a good thing for parents to assist their children in their partner search. It’s useful to have assistance from someone who knows you well to help narrow down an endless pool of profiles. But the problem seeps in when parents impose their belief systems over their children and make first-hand decisions about their children’s marital life. I consider myself fortunate to have a family that supports and values decisions that I make about my marriage. They respect the set of preferences I have for finding my match. More importantly, they make sure I get ample time to date guys, and are not rushing me to make my ultimate decision.
Sadly, that is not how it is with most families that I know, which can make using the apps tough for me. In most cases, parents from both sides talk with each other, and then ask their children if they like each other. They usually don’t encourage the kids to go on dates alone before coming to a decision about marriage. They just let the bride and the groom talk for once or twice. Even if the parents let the couple date, it’s going to be for a brief period—say one or two dates. Last week, I received a notification from the Shaadi matrimony app to sign up for a live meeting with parents whose sons I had not so much as messaged with!
The fact that we often aren’t given time to analyze and understand potential matches can make marriage a dreadful thing for people my age. We feel trapped in an arranged marriage system. The problem is primarily that parents in India have been seen as crucial approvers for marriages for centuries; the apps are helping this continue.
In addition to marriage apps, I’m looking for a life partner on dating apps, too. Dating apps are certainly not always successful avenues for getting matched with your dream partner. There are plenty of things that make them difficult. But the fact that dating apps allow both parties to have control over their life decisions make me feel hopeful about their potential to help me find my significant other.