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Matchmaking in the modern era

Enough bloggers have written about the weddings around which Pakistani society revolves year round. But few have considered how we get to that much sought after point of holy matrimony. Is every wedding we attend preceded by tireless efforts to match-make? How are matches being arranged nowadays? Who is the most active and instrumental match-maker? And what difference have new technologies such as iChat and Facebook made to the ancient art of rishta scouting? Or is the real game changer the fact that an increasing number of women are in jobs and meeting members of the opposite sex at their workplaces?

A recent experience of trying to match-make led me down this train of thought, and reminded me that the way we do things has altered since the bygone era. My mother continues to point out how, back then, the boy in the initial stage of choosing a prospective bride never came to see the girl; that privilege remained with his mother and sisters and aunts. Once they approved of the girl, more liberal families allowed the groom-to-be to come meet his prospective bride – at most, a fleeting glance. Otherwise, voila! Come the wedding day and the couple would first see each other’s reflections in a mirror as part of theaarsee mashaf ritual.

But let’s step back a bit – how did the bride and groom’s families come to know of each other in the first place? Enter the matchmaker. At any given time, in history, around the world, matchmakers have been social busybodies, making it their business to know who is doing what with whom. On the rare occasion, the matchmaker can also be a sincere, well-meaning person who happens to find herself (or, it is known to happen, himself) in the midst of a probable match, for which s/he acts as a liaison.

Different religions and cultures have had different types of matchmakers. Some people, for example, assigned astrologers the dual role of serving as matchmakers since they believed that stars sanctify the matches that parents arrange. No wonder then, over time, matchmaking became a respectable profession, with those who managed to arrange successful matches walking off with their fair share of gold coins (or US dollars). Now, in an age of information technology, traditional matchmakers find themselves competing against websites and online dating services. In Singapore, a government-sponsored system providing professional counsel and dating technologies is available to the public.

As the art of matchmaking evolves, one wonders if the criteria of traditional matchmaking will also be updated. Until recently, families made basic queries. The girl’s family would ask about the boy’s age, education, salary, family structure (joint or nuclear), dependants, and area of residence. The boy’s family, meanwhile, would only be interested in the girl’s looks. And if she passed certain standards, then other matters could be negotiated.

Today’s emancipated girls, however, are probably less willing to be judged on the basis of looks alone. They may argue, isn’t it equally important for the girl to approve of what the boy, or man, looks like? When will gender bias in matchmaking end? When will boys be forced to wheel in the tea trolley when the girl’s family pays a visit?

Changing gender dynamics aside, matchmaking has become trickier owing to new communications technologies. But endless trysts on Facebook, online chatting, or even dating cannot ensure that a couple truly knows each other.

The truth is, matchmaking has never been an exact science because people have the tendency to evolve. You start going out with a boy, he later transforms into a man, and over time you find yourself dealing with your father-in-law! In the meantime, you yourself begin to resemble your mother a little more with each passing day. No matter how hard a matchmaker works, s/he cannot predict how a man will react when he loses his car keys or is hungry, or how a woman will behave towards her mother-in-law. Time has already shown that an arranged marriage may carry on successfully, while a marriage of choice may not, and vice versa.

Despite the prevalence of this knowledge about the unpredictability of marriage, in today’s scientific era, genetic matchmaking is also taking place (a new high in the practice, or is it a low?). Some couple’s run a battery of tests to make sure the next generation is close to perfect.

A friend recently told  me that her family rejected a near-perfect proposal for a girl the boy’s family asked her to have her blood tested since her prospective husband was vulnerable to Thalassaemia. In another case, the girl’s side requested that the boy be screened for STDs, a request the boy’s side turned down. Indeed, marriage and matchmaking have become exceedingly complicated.

But in the end, the success of a marriage boils down to destiny and how hard the couple is willing to work on their marriage. Check out what you can, rule out the negatives, and weigh the pros and cons. Eventually, though, you realise that the future is not entirely in your hands.

(Photo illustration by Eefa Khalid)


Farah Zahidi Moazzam is a freelance writer.The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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