As a Love and Relationship coach of Indian heritage, a rom-com junkie and someone who’s experienced years of the ups and downs dating to meet my husband, I joined the rest of America in binge-watching the seemingly controversial show, Indian Matchmaking, last summer. Prior to watching, I had seen peoples’ comments on social media, ranging from utter disgust and recoiling, to one of genuine appreciation for the diversity and entertainment value it brought to screen.
Having grown up in a culture where matchmaking is the norm, I personally found the portrayal of the process to be pretty apt – except way cooler and liberal-minded than what I’ve personally seen. For people who are immediately irked by this, let me explain.
In traditional matchmaking in India, people are matched based on caste, religion and economic upbringing. Admittedly, there are plenty of superficial criteria, like skin-color, height and education that are used in profiling candidates. Families do come together and make decisions about whether a couple will click, and it is customary for a woman to join a man’s family (many of them actually end up living together in a joint family situation). For most of my family in India, this system has worked. Many of my cousins have met and married their true loves this way, and are genuinely happy together. Yes, there is a ton of compromise – especially for women who have to adapt to a new family dynamic and lifestyle, and of course for men, who have to adjust to a new wife, in addition to appeasing their parents. Many women do give up their profession (if they have one), or practice it while taking care of most homemaking activities.
There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages to this system – but basically it is one that places Indian tradition as a way of maintaining social order in society. Dating and marrying for love is practically non-existent, except for a new, burgeoning group of progressive, educated youngsters, many of whom still have to navigate an existing tradition that poo poos dating (interestingly, Bollywood adds another conflicting dimension, by highlighting sexual and romantic freedom – something that most Indians never experience).
Sima ‘Aunty’ seems to bring a more progressive standpoint to the traditional system of matchmaking.
Even though she does mention height, divorcee status and skin color in a few cases, she still ends up matching people up who seem to have similar interests and educational backgrounds, and doesn’t necessarily take into account the traditional factors of community, religion (for instance, she matched a Sindhi woman with a Tamilian – something unheard of in India). She does bring in her honest views about her clients, her views colored by being of the older Indian generation, which can’t be denied that it exists. To be disgusted by her own viewpoints and criticisms is to have an issue with a broader topic about Indian culture – which is a separate discussion altogether.
To be honest, when she would bring her carefully-curated portfolio of ‘bios’ to her clients, I was impressed by her selection. She seemed to take a lot of time getting to know the potential matches, and trying to understand what makes them tick, or what their internal hesitations were. The men and women she brought as potential candidates were, in my opinion, amazing. To have a pre-selected match for you that’s a cut above the rest, as a single person who has been ghosted endlessly or going on dates with questionable men, is such a gift. She also recommended consultations with life coaches, understood the unique needs of professional women (a rarity for most matchmakers), and worked with astrologers and the like in determining whether the matches would work out. She prayed everyday. You could see she was hustling to meet her clients’ needs (which extended beyond the person being matched, in some cases – like the marriage-obsessed, egotistical mother, something I’ve personally seen over and over).
I also thought that her touch of bringing families together in certain cases was really sweet (yes, it is extraordinarily weird to Western audiences, but that’s the Indian traditional aspect of matchmaking). As a side note, this meeting of families may actually be a beautiful twist – because we are the sum average of all of our relationships. My husband and I had the advantage of getting to know each others’ families well, before we even began officially dating, which I think added to our personality match.
While watching the show, I had thoughts on each of Sima Aunty’s clients that I felt were hurting their dating lives. Each person had unresolved issues that unraveled on screen, as the director aptly portrayed, date after date. Sima’s assessments were, for the most part, spot-on (if not simplified, using Indian logic, like “She needs to learn how to compromise”).
Yet, when Sima brought forward great matches, I thought, “Why would anyone need a Love Coach? Why not just go to Sima Aunty!” I almost thought that my coaching on finding love was obsolete and unnecessary.
Yet, later on I found out that most of the matches didn’t work out, and the caste from the show are still single. My hunch around why all of the people on the show are still single was right.
Maybe I should back up and share a little bit of my own story. I grew up in both India and America. When I was twenty two, my parents started creating my bio-data, and sharing potential matches with me. Nearly all the men were engineers or IT specialists. I saw their pictures, and couldn’t wrap my mind around any of them (and I was nowhere close to being ready to commit to anyone). I was a free-spirited woman, who dated both Indian and non-Indian men. I couldn’t just marry anyone – I wanted to meet someone with whom I felt right on a deeper level, which I couldn’t explain. Yet, in my late twenties, due to all the pressure and my own guilt for remaining single, I went on a dating spree that lasted years, looking for that ideal Indian man. I went on dates with over a hundred Indian men, and dated several, usually ending up in heartbreak. I decided to work with a dating coach to learn how to be a better dater, and read dozens of books on dating. It was around this time that I started coaching women in dating as a side hustle to my corporate strategy job on Wall Street.
It was during this journey that I met a man who was perfect on paper – a tall, handsome, Indian doctor. We dated, got to know each others’ families, were marriage-ready and almost from the onset we knew we wanted to marry each other. We shared similar interests and had a lot of fun together, and seemingly had similar world-views.
After a romantic, heady whirlwind of dating, we got engaged within a year. I had a couple of concerns (as I’m sure he did too), but with the idea of ‘compromising’, we kept going forward, as getting married was our goal. I was very willing to compromise – even giving up my job and moving to a conservative suburb with him, which I felt hesitant about.
Yet, the moment we got engaged, was when things got real. We couldn’t decide on a wedding venue, we rarely talked about anything ‘real’ like our concerns, we couldn’t communicate well, and his parents became supremely involved in all of our decision-making, including where to live. He was non-vegetarian, and I was vegetarian, which was starting to rear its head in how we made choices about what to serve at our wedding. Despite all of this, I was desperate to get married. We would brush our issues under the rug, thinking that this is how marriage is meant to be. Push came to shove, and we started having arguments, he would shut down, I would get loud and angry, and there seemed to be no resolution.
Within a month, we broke up, and I was devastated.
It was then that I sought out the support of a spiritual healer and coach. I still wanted to be with him, but it was during that process that I learned so much about myself and the source of my existential grief. I began a process of inner transformation, hoping that by being a better person and releasing my ‘blocks’, I could somehow salvage the relationship.
It was during this process that I healed my heart and spirit, and learned some deep truths about myself.
If I were to be completely honest, I really wasn’t relationship-ready nor ready for a marriage. I had no idea what my own deepest desires were, what I valued, struggled with low self-esteem, didn’t know anything about healthy love, and had no concept about self love. I thought about love and dating in a utilitarian way – “what value can this person / partnership bring to me?”. I was myopic when it came to the essential ingredients of making a relationship work, had very little emotional intelligence, and was great at faking it at love till I made it. I wanted to get married, but for all the wrong reasons – to give me a sense of security and achievement – and of course, for assuaging my greatest fear – not ending up alone.
During my dating process, instead of growing, I was shrinking. I was trying to become the most palatable, marriage-worthy version of myself. I desperately wanted an Indian man to want me, marry me. I spent years being single and depressed, wondering if something was wrong with me. I began to lose myself.
I don’t blame my dating journey – rather, I recognize that there are some deeper spiritual truths about love that go beyond the superficial. There’s a reason why so many people are single, and that nearly fifty percent of marriages fall apart.
It takes so much more to make a relationship work, and it starts when you’re single.
In my personal story of transformation, I unlearned love, and began a new way of loving myself and the world around me. I read books on spirituality, communications and healthy love. I learned how to heal my heart, release my life-long baggage (which I jokingly call the ‘Ex Files’), and find out some deeper truths about what made me tick. I found out that I’m a spiritual seeker, and wanted a relationship that fulfilled me on every level – mental, emotional, spiritual, physical. I needed to let go of all my superficial needs, and take the process of dating more mindfully and consciously.
I began to date from the mindset of discovery, with the intention of slowly releasing my barriers to love and being open to the love that wanted to flow to me in all its forms. I began to have compassion and respect for each man I met – rather than viewing him as either my savior or simply a commodity. I vowed to not settle, and was happy to be single. I was done with causing pain due to my own woundedness and lack of skill. I learned about my values and what I deeply desired and cherished in life, and I started stepping into the shoes of the confident, radiant, more mature woman I was becoming. While dating, I brought in my free-spirited side, that valued freedom, joy and connection.
It was in this process that I met Krishan, my husband, in a meditation group that my sister and I were hosting. He would come each week, arriving early to help set up, and staying late to help clean up. He became my companion and friend, even before we began dating. We had a spark, yet we played it cool, dating other people. We spent time getting to know each other, and reaching a point where dating (and ultimately, marriage) became inevitable. Meeting him was both exciting and a mundane feeling of ‘being home’, because there was no sense of urgency… we simply aligned, which was delicious and fun. There was no drama, which was new for me.
This makes it all sound so simple. Yet I will give us both credit that we worked very hard on being the best versions of ourselves, and really learning what love is about. Individually and together, we took courses on self-love, compassionate communication, living authentically, heart openness. We worked to heal our own traumas, recognizing that it was from this place that we project our suffering on the other. We also deeply loved our families and showed up in similar ways for our loved ones.
With Krishan, for the first time, I felt free to share everything on my heart – he would simply listen without judgement. He accepted me for exactly who I was, and I tried to do the same with him. During this process, we would practice self-acceptance and self-compassion as much as possible, because we knew that it was judgement that would kill a relationship and erode trust.
Not everyone needs to go down this path, and for a person reading this it may seem excessive.
Yet, I’m sharing this because it shows what resonance between two people looks and feels like. When two people have similar values, and are willing to go to any level of releasing their own limitations around love, magic is possible. Moreover, to make love work takes skill, energy and intention. Much like cultivating a garden, it needs air, water, healthy soil and positive seeds.
There’s a biological aspect, too – when you have two healthy bodies coming together, their cells begin to mirror each other, and new pathways are created – creating one, healthy, synergistic system. This takes intention, and sometimes time, to build, naturally.
In fact, when you’re single and you begin to practice self-love and align with your true, unconditioned self, you begin to attract the right relationships and opportunities, naturally. This is not simply ‘woo woo’, it is a matter of who you’re being in the world and with what intention you’re living your life.
When you’re focusing on creating a world of love, deriving from a spiritual place of self-love and self-awareness, then the fruits show up in every aspect of your life. Including meeting your soulmate, whether it’s through a dating app, or Sima Aunty.
A relationship coach, much like the life coach showed in Indian Matchmaking, is a guide in this sacred self-discovery journey.
Sima Aunty can bring the matches, but being relationship-ready is an inside job.
Of course, there is still space in the world for traditional matchmaking. If two people are down-to-earth, kind, content within themselves and are both ready to be accepting of the uncertainty of living with anothers’ idiosyncrasies, and value social order, then this model can work.
However I garner that most Indian-American people (‘desis’) in their thirties and beyond want more.
They want the best part of our culture – the family-orientedness, the beauty of our customs, the strong values.
Yet they are not willing to give up on their individuality and personal success, and are already used to a certain way of living and being. Many people suffer from a lack of trust and guardedness from past hurts, which forms a barrier around ones’ heart. They lack self love.
Nor are we, as a society, relationship-oriented or study how relationships work. Moreover, the definition of genders are shifting, and so are our roles. Creating a healthy marriage and family is a both an art and science.
Traditional matchmaking or dating, without a foundation of personal growth, won’t cut it anymore.
We as young (or newly single) men and women want more from our love lives. We want understanding, compassion, growth and a sense of purpose, whether it is to raise healthy kids or travel the world doing something ‘good’. We want healthy communication and ways of working through arguments and life-altering crises like deaths, illnesses or miscarriages. We need to find spiritual meaning in all of this – even the most ‘unspiritual’ or atheist people. We recognize that love takes work from both partners – but it’s worth it. And we want to spend our life with someone who gets us, and we get them. We want to feel like we’re in service of something greater – and a marriage is a perfect vehicle because really, at the end of the day, it’s not about what the partner can give us – it’s about what we can give to our partner and family. We value our lives, our selves, our families – and want to honor and cherish life itself.
As women, we really want to thrive in our love lives, and as mothers, sisters and daughters. Nearly every woman I meet has this aspiration. And most men I meet want to be a woman’s King, her sacred protector, her lover.
Putting this down on paper, or articulating it out loud, is not easy. Most of the clients I meet know they want this on a deep level, but can’t find ways of navigating the world, in a sea of estrangement, confusion and separation.
Yet, there is a path to soulful love, and getting ready for this kind of relationship. When you’re ready, things manifest really quickly. I met my husband in just ninety days after beginning my self love journey!
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