By Samin Tarannum
Arranged marriage has been all the rage for desi Baby Boomers and generations before them. It’s been glorified in Bollywood films and notoriously recognized by other cultures. That’s just how life was back then – it was an efficient system in starting a family and it worked with over 90% of marriages in India being arranged and a shockingly low 1.1% divorce rate. But as times are changing, arranged marriage struggles to survive in a world of picky millennials and the shifting dynamics of gender equality in the dating game.
We’ve heard a few South Asian-identifying celebrities from our generation speak out on modern dating and how arranged marriages fit into it, from Ravi Patel’s documentary Meet the Patels trying it as a last resort to Kumail Nanjiani’s The Big Sick which is just a harmless pastime he let his mom enjoy. With the influx of immigrant parents raising first generation desi kids with traditional values in the West, the youth of today really are the pioneers of modern desi dating.
It wasn’t long before my girl-crush Kay Ray and her hilarious mini-series on YouTube The Brown Bachelorette got me interested in their sponsor Dil Mil, a dating app specifically created for desi folks. After all, I don’t know how many more “Bae of Bengal” icebreakers I could take from guys named Jason on Tinder. (Before you ask me if I signed up with a dating app à la Carrie Bradshaw to research an article, the answer is yes; I most definitely did.)
Soon after signing up, the app asked me mandatory questions about my highest education level, my career, and my height. Not all too suspicious of questions, but not too far off from what an auntie would ask either. With the completely new environment and diversity of issues that today’s singles are dealing with, it’s no wonder that desi dating apps would have to get as detailed as possible.
It begs the question – how would other aspects of long-term relationships back then translate today? Do we still perform dowries? Does Bitcoin count? And where do non-heteronormative relationships fit in - do they have a place at all? Today’s youth are valuing transparency and self-agency over the persuasion of others. Would this shake the integrity of arranged marriages since you often do marry into the whole family, or has marriage just become another privilege like diamonds and owning property? How do we predict the longevity of marriage when juggling today’s ever-changing issues such as student debt, identity politics, mental health, and other obstacles leading to late blooming? Would I lose brownie points? (Sorry, I had to.)
It’s not hard to understand why it may be ominously creepy that our parents would choose our sexual partner for the rest of our lives – or in my case, the dreaded Halal date where you bring your Abbu along to meet Abdul at the movies. *shudder* But there must be a reason why people are still engaging in arranged marriages – up to 20 million partnerships around the world and with a divorce rate at 4%.
Maybe the best option would be to take the best of both worlds and combine them, much like the identity of first-generation desis. I see no harm in accepting the insight of parents who’ve been married for decades, while still considering that you’ll prioritize your career for a while as a Mrs. As a lot of systems within desi culture are being restructured such as classism, gender roles, and ultimately their relationship with marriage. Millennials are really in a position of power to reframe that culture. We can change the narrative to include personal autonomy, authenticity, and cooperation among the many great teachings our parents have held onto. Just imagine what reframing the perspective of divorce could mean, how we could celebrate empowerment instead of being shamed and guilted into spending the rest of our lives with the wrong choices.
While it is definitely difficult to predict what long-term relationships will look like for new generations of desis without any precedent, we can still take it one day at a time and follow what feels right. At least, that’s the formula I’m following while I swipe right on Hasan, 29, accountant.