Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
With the advent of Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel and a seemingly infinite pool of matchmaking apps, many people argue that romanticism and dating in this day and age are dead. But was it ever alive in the first place? Arranged marriages seem like a risky gamble for a lifetime of happiness or eternal hell with all your bets on a random faceless person. In reality, as Bay Area resident Ritika Singh discusses, arranged marriages are carried out much like match-making sites — but your parents are the algorithm.
The Daily Californian: So I’m going to start off with some basic questions just to ask you about background information, your personal life, who you are and where you’re from.
Ritika Singh: I’m from the northern part of India. Before I started doing my MBA, I did my undergrad in India, so professionally I’m an engineer and I worked in India for about three years (as) part of a manufacturing company. Then I moved here because I got married, and then I started doing my MBA here.
DC: I heard you were set up with an arranged marriage. What’s the typical process like?
RS: Generally, how arranged marriages work is, so your parents see some guy, or like, if they come in contact with a guy through their family friends or there are also websites, you can check them out. … One of them is shadi.com and another one is called matrimony.com. … These are all matchmaking sites. People can upload their profiles and the parents do that mostly, not the person who’s going to be married. … My parents created one for me as well and you can also look at the other person’s profile on the website.
DC: Is it mostly through these websites that the parents create the profile and the parents look at it for their children?
RS: Right. Parents look at it for their children and then if they find somebody that they think is suitable and a good match, then they get in touch with the guy’s parents and try to get the person’s contact and everything. In my case, it wasn’t through a website or something. It was through a family friend. So my parents knew my husband’s parents somehow, so they got in touch. How it worked was they visited my husband’s parents, and that was around the time that my husband was there in India so they also saw him and met him, but I did not. After they approved of him, they gave me his contact number and said, “Start talking to him and … (if) it works out then, we’ll take this further.”
DC: What are some factors your parents considered in choosing a candidate?
RS: I think that varies, depends on your background and everything. … They wanted somebody with a similar background (to me). I made it very clear I wanted to work even after getting married. That’s a big issue in India: a lot of families don’t like their daughter-in-law working. I made it clear that I want to be working. They were looking for somebody who would be suitable in terms of location, but I’d be able to pursue my career as well.
DC: What does your husband do?
RS: He works here at Google. He’s a software engineer.
DC: Oh, so similar along the lines of your engineering background as well.
“Parents look at it for their children and then if they find somebody that they think is suitable and a good match, then they get in touch with the guy’s parents and try to get the person’s contact and everything. “
– Ritika Singh
DC: How many candidates did your parents introduce to you before you found the right one?
RS: I spoke to one before my husband, but that did not go well … He was an engineer as well. And he was located in Australia.
DC: Oh, Australia – that’s far away. How did you guys get introduced?
RS: So, we got introduced through our parents again. … My parents gave me his contact number and gave him my contact number, and then he called me up and was like, “Okay, I’m going to be coming to India for a month or so, so let me know if you want to meet.” Then I asked my parents because you cannot meet without approval, and they said, “Yes, go ahead.” So I met him and it was a really quick meeting. We talked for some time, but then that didn’t work out.
DC: Was there anything specific that drew you away from this person?
RS: Oh well, that’s a long story. … Actually, I really liked the guy, the previous one, and he liked me, too. We had almost kind of fixed our engagement date, but it’s funny. Just a week before we were supposed to meet, I found out that he was already married. He was a fraud. And his parents did not know about it, so it was a huge shock. Even I didn’t know about it, and his friends didn’t know about it. He fell in love with some girl there in Australia and married her, and he didn’t really tell anyone. … Hindus and Muslims are really against each other, especially when it comes to getting married. The girl was actually Muslim, and his parents did not want him to get married to her. His family didn’t know they were married. I was lucky to find out.
DC: Do these (kinds of cases) happen often? People being frauds? Or you find(ing) out something surprising after you’ve already met the person?
RS: Oh well, not really. Actually, that’s why even in arranged marriages, people prefer to work through friends, so they know the family.
DC: Did you date anyone before meeting your husband, or was it mostly just the people your parents set you up with?
RS: Oh no, I did. When I was in college, I dated somebody. But when I graduated, I moved to another city, so we broke up.
DC: Were your parents for you dating and trying to find your own partner?
RS: Oh, I never told them.
DC: Is that not allowed?
RS: That again, depends on your family. A lot of families are now accepting it. But if you go back seven or eight years from now, it was difficult for parents accept love marriages and dating.
DC: What were your first reactions (meeting your husband)? Did you guys go on dates before your marriage? How many dates?
RS: We spoke. I was given his phone number so we had conversations over the calls and we video chatted a couple of times. I think we kept talking for about four months, and then my parents just asked me if I liked him and I said, “Yeah, so far I like him,” so they were like, “Okay, you know what? Let’s get you two engaged.” And then he came, so we started talking in January, and he came to India in May. I just met him a day before we were supposed to get engaged.
DC: What are some of the topics you talk(ed) about to get to know whether this person is compatible or not?
RS: First, it started with telling each other what a regular day was. What qualities I like in somebody or things I would never do. The first question my husband asked was, “Are you willing to relocate to the United States, or is that a problem if I want to come back after working for five years in the United States? Would you be willing to come back, and what’s your location preference?” It was just like getting to know a friend or something.
DC: What was something about him that stood out, and how did you know this was the right person for you?
RS: I feel like what stood out for him was I was given good feedback. My parents have seen him and they really liked him, so when I talked to him, I realized he was a really nice and decent guy. He wasn’t pretentious any time and, yeah, little things. I think for the first four months we talked for like an hour everyday.
DC: Do the parents meet you, too?
RS: No, they did not. They also met me just a day before we were supposed to get engaged. But that again varies — some people actually go see the girl first and that’s how it works. But in my case, we were family friends and they’ve seen my pictures.
DC: What’s your viewpoint or perception of arranged marriages in India? I know that traditionally more arranged marriages are common, but with pop culture and western influence … how has the perception or view of arranged marriages changed?
RS: It has changed a lot over the years. Now, people are more open to accepting love marriages and more open to dating. There was no Tinder in India earlier, but I guess people are starting to use Tinder now. There’s a change in how parents think about it as well. They’re becoming more open to allowing their kids to date and not interfering so much, saying like whoever you choose is okay. If you go back seven, eight, or say 10 years from now, this is very difficult. But I feel like as we’re moving through the years, it’s getting more acceptance.
DC: Were (your parents) also in an arranged marriage?
RS: Yeah. I met my husband a day before we were supposed to get engaged. My parents saw each other on the day, with wedding dresses on, just at the wedding venue. They did not even see each other — just the pictures.
“Now, people are more open to accepting love marriages and more open to dating.”
– Ritika Singh
DC: Did their parents just pick them out and say today’s the day (to get married)?
RS: So their parents let you know they’re in conversations with somebody to get married. This is 25 years earlier, so they show(ed) the guy’s pictures to the girl and the girl’s picture to the guy, and if they both like(d) each other then the parents (would have) a conversation. At that time, there was also a dowry system in India. Once the guy said OK and the girl said OK, then the guy’s family would demand cash or some form of gift from the girl’s family. But again, considering people are more educated now that system … doesn’t exist so much now.
DC: How has your perception of arranged marriages changed since coming to America and studying in America? What are other people’s reactions to when you say, “I’m in an arranged marriage?”
RS: Well, I would say whether you’re going (in)to a love marriage or arranged marriage, it’s probably just your destiny and it doesn’t matter how you got into (it). I think there are a lot of cases where it didn’t work out well, but I’ve also seen cases (like) my parents’, who did not even meet have been together for 30 years now and they’re living happily. I feel like it’s just your luck. When I tell people here it was an arranged marriage, they are really surprised, especially about the fact that I did not meet my husband before getting married.
DC: In more western culture and American culture, it’s more “love at first sight,” more romanticized, but I think in more eastern cultures it’s more about hard work and commitment and perseverance. So in your case, how would you define love and marriage?
RS: When you’re told you have to look at this guy with the idea of getting married to him, you probably have a different mindset. You try to look for more positives than negatives. If there’s something that you really cannot live with, you feel like, “This is not going to work for me,” then you obviously come out and say, “No, I’m not up for this.” My mom used to tell me that you can never find the perfect guy. There has to be something that will be missing in the guy and you have to compromise over there. She was always like, “If you keep waiting for the perfect guy, that’s never going to happen. You’re never going to get him.”
I would say, even my husband, he’s very shy and he doesn’t like talking a lot and I’m like a chatterbox. The initial five to six conversations, it was really weird because he would not talk so much and I would keep talking, that made me feel sometimes, “Maybe he’s not interested. I don’t know why he’s not talking to me.” But as I got to know him, I kind of understood that was his nature and he was actually good at heart. … So there was some sense of attachment before we got married, not exactly love. That maybe comes later when you start living together and share things. … In arranged marriages, people make a little more effort to maintain the relationship, (while) I feel like here in the United States and any other western countries, people are so independent right from the beginning. …There’s no way they’re ready to compromise … So I feel like in Indian arranged marriages, there’s more (of a) feeling of being able to compromise if you see a shortcoming in your partner. Not like the big ones, but the little ones.
DC: How has your relationship changed within the marriage as you spend more time with your husband and you live together, what new things have you learned about each other?
RS: We learned a lot about each other. It’s totally different talking to somebody on the phone, thinking about getting married and actually being married and living together. … The first six months were a little difficult for me. When I got married, we were two different people from two different backgrounds and we come together to live without actually knowing so much about each other, so it was difficult. I’m not a very organized person, so I leave my stuff here and there, and my husband is really organized and he likes things in particular places. That was something we would always fight about.
In terms of expectations: (I’m) the only girl in the family, so I was really pampered. My husband doesn’t have a sister. … He never really grew up with girls, so sometimes he would just treat me like a guy. That was funny. There were times when I expected him to pamper me more, or be a little gentle. For example, when I was crying he would just be like, “You’ll be fine,” and he expects me to be fine. But girls just need a shoulder to cry on. So probably, over the years, we develop an understanding in terms of our expectations. I think I’m even learning everyday right now. When we fight about something, the next time, we make it a point to not fight about the same thing. That’s how we’re improving.
DC: Do you guys have any plans for the future? Do you guys want to stay in America or move back to India? And future plans (for) starting a family?
RS: I just started my new job, it’s my second week here, and I’m still doing my MBA, so I won’t be starting a family for the next three years, I think. And about going back to India, my husband, actually, kind of wants to go back after five to six years because he wants to live closer to his parents. But that’s not really fixed yet. It depends on a lot of things.
DC: For your future child, would you want to arrange a marriage? Or let your child have more freedom?
RS: I would let the child choose. … I’m open, and I won’t force and impose anything.
Contact Nelly Lin at [email protected].