I was matchmade with my husband, and I now help others find love
By Hoe I Yune, Nov 26, 2020
In India, it’s hardly unusual for cousins, aunts and uncles to live under one roof, especially if there is a joint business involved. These close interactions strengthen family ties, which is why it’s often said that in a marriage, you don’t just marry your spouse but their families too. Marriages are more than a union between two individuals; there’s also a huge emphasis on families being brought together.
This is one of the reasons why arranged marriages — couples tying the knot after being introduced by parents or older family members — are commonplace in Indian communities. Married couples usually come together in one of two ways: arranged marriages or love marriages (individuals choosing partners on their own).
While love marriages might be the norm elsewhere in the world, in India, arranged marriages are the default. Beyond the family’s social circle, there are matrimonial ads in national newspapers, websites such as Shaadi.com, and professional matchmakers. In 2020, Netflix reality series Indian Matchmaking made its debut following a matchmaker as she went about trying to find suitable matches for young clients in India and the US.
60-year-old matchmaker and relationship counsellor Geeta Khanna made a cameo appearance in the series, presenting a more modern approach than her matchmaker counterparts. When helping her clients, she looks at a couple’s compatibility instead of looking to honour parents’ wishes and star signs.
Since launching her business Cocktail Matches in Delhi in 2008, Geeta has noticed that more and more of today’s young adults believe in meeting organically and parents have become less involved in the process. Nevertheless, she believes there’s still a market for matchmade relationships. Case in point: she has successfully arranged over 100 marriages.
There might be confusion in foreigners’ minds when they hear of an arranged marriage. Some might think it’s when you’re told that this is the person you’re going to marry and the parties involved have little to no say. But that’s a forced marriage.
An arranged marriage is a marriage that comes about from the introduction of your parents or someone else you know, but there is no pressure at any point to marry the person. You have a choice.
When I was 20 and pursuing my Master’s in Psychology, my parents began introducing me to men whom they thought might make a suitable husband. My mum was playing mahjong with a friend when they started talking about fixing up the young adults in their lives. My mum thought of me, her friend thought of her nephew, and the two arranged for us to meet.
I met my husband at his house. He was 26 and in the merchant navy. Both our parents were present, and we talked about what we were up to and my husband’s career. The atmosphere was incredibly casual and friendly.
I had met a few men through my parents before meeting my husband, but the decision to marry him came quickly. Within 15 minutes, I knew he was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
My husband and I clicked right away. We spoke the same language — not just literally but we also shared the same sense of humour and could converse with ease. After we parted ways, he asked me out on two more dates. Our families were quite progressive so our dates were unchaperoned. We found out pretty quickly how similar we were in the way that we look at life and marriage. After three dates and three weeks, he asked me to marry him. I said yes. I didn’t think too much about what it meant to be in love. All I knew was that I trusted my parents who introduced us, I liked him and his family, and I felt very comfortable at the thought of marrying him.
Going into a marriage is always a gamble and you’re never really going to know how things will pan out. But when your heart tells you something is right, you go for it.
I’ve been married for 40 years. My marriage is like a well worn glove that is so well fitting, and just a look is enough for my husband to know what I am either asking or seeking. This is something that is so endearing and even our arguments are really meaningless and fade away without causing any real heartburn.
These days, couples usually date for months or more, and some delay their marriage. Besides, more and more of today’s young adults want to decide for themselves and parents have become increasingly less involved in the process. Nevertheless, I believe that there’s still a place for matchmade relationships.
Arranged marriages are prevalent not only among Indians, but also in other cultures such as the Jewish community in America. They can work very well due to the country’s diversity. In India, there are 22 different languages and although Hindu is the dominant religion, there are people who have other faiths such as Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, and Buddhism.
In India, we have different castes and subcastes. In the olden days, caste was very important as it determined your social standing, but these days it’s more about being comfortable speaking the same language and following similar customs.
Since arranged marriages usually come about from within a family's social network, one big reason to opt for an arranged marriage is when you’re less willing to look outside of your community.
Family background was a major consideration for me and my family. It is because when two people share a similar upbringing, the adjustments to each other’s lifestyles and perspectives tend to be fewer. It makes going from your matrimonial home into another as seamless as possible. Although my husband and I didn’t grow up in the same city, we went to similar types of schools, our families are of similar social standing and the same religion and caste, so these played a part in shaping our values.
When I got married, there was no matchmaker within my social circle so I only had my parents and relatives to make introductions, but the strong emphasis on families and family backgrounds in marriage has partly given rise to matchmakers in the country.
Matchmakers can help cast a wider net while still keeping in mind the values and characteristics that are important to clients.
I started my career as a matchmaker in my 40s. My husband and I had just moved back to India from Australia to look after my father-in-law. I had been working all my life — previously running a car leasing company with my husband, as well as teaching cooking and catering. When I returned to India, I looked for business opportunities, and noticed a niche market in matchmaking.
I’ve always believed that life’s more meaningful with a life partner and there were all these young, educated, urban singles in my social circle, but without a professional middle woman to introduce them to anyone. The matchmakers that I knew came from different family backgrounds and the matrimonial ads in the newspapers lacked a personal touch, so I thought I could be everyone’s go-to. I had never matchmade anyone before but I thought I’d dip my toes into it and people were encouraging, saying “Yes, this is what we’ve been waiting for!” The phone didn’t stop ringing.
I started from my own social network — friends and family. At first, it was the parents who reached out on behalf of their children but over the years, word of mouth spread and I’d say it’s about 50/50 now.
Parents in the past might’ve had a heavier hand in guiding their children but nowadays, youths themselves seeking marriage are very worldly and wise; they know what works for them.
Younger adult clients might call me “aunty” but they know I’m approachable and not a fuddy duddy who won’t understand them. I’m like an extension of their mother. Every mother is interested in seeing their child happily married so she might suggest you meet a prospective partner, but where you’ll take the introduction is ultimately up to you.
Familiar with my clients’ personalities when matching two people, I know that at the very least, they’ll have coffee and not end up disliking each other. But the biggest challenge I face is in encouraging them to meet. Young singles these days are pickier than ever when it comes to the “right” guy or girl. Perhaps it’s because people who come to me tend to have a lengthy checklist in mind. When they meet someone on their own, they might be more easy going and flexible but when they turn to a matchmaker, they want the best possible fit. This includes the “right” height, weight, and skin colour. While it’s important to know your self-worth and personal standards, don’t fixate on finding the best looking partner or the richest.
The true test for a matchmaker is how she makes her client feel. While I do my best to help them to find their “dream” match, I also sometimes advise them to adjust their goal posts. Fortunately, most people aren’t rigid and unreasonable, so after a heart to heart, they see where I’m coming from.
Matchmaking can be for everyone — even if individuals might initially not think so. For matchmaking to work, you need to trust your matchmaker and be open to new opportunities.
When clients come to me, they’re stripped bare. No secrets — I need to know everything, and clients are eager to share because they know their secrets are safe with me. They would share about previous relationships, values, and deal breakers.
They also get a sense of reassurance because I’m responsible for verifying all details in my client’s profiles (including their assets) and all potential matches I introduce are serious about settling down. There are apps and websites, but what I bring to the table is that I can guide clients as a relationship counsellor or give advice if they feel uncertain.
It’s hugely rewarding for me to see couples come together and get married. My service is so personal by nature and I want to see my clients happy with a life partner.
I’ve grown my network over the years through word of mouth. I don’t look for people, nor do I advertise, but people find me because they hear of me through a family or friend. Most of my clients are under 40, educated and affluent, but I am open to working with anyone who wants to work with me. I don’t hire staff to do what I do because I don’t think I could teach someone to know my clients like the back of my hand, or counsel and matchmake exactly as I do. I studied Psychology at university but I think a lot of it comes from intuition and perception over the years. There’s no hard and fast rule to matchmaking and I can’t overthink the process. It’s often going with my gut.
I charge a registration fee and success fee, which adds up to be RM25,000 (approximately $8,000). The registration fee being 15 per cent of the success fee. Once a client registers with me, they’re my client for life until they get married. The success fee only kicks in if the marriage comes together through me.
It’s common among Indians to turn to astrology to determine whether or not two parties are a good match and for some, it can be a deciding factor on whether or not to marry. But I personally think why one wants to get married is the more important question. Is it social, parental or peer pressure? If it’s any of these, it’s the wrong reason. Love marriages and arranged marriages aren’t very different in that the essence of a marriage is the same.
I believe in marriage because I think it’s important to share your life with someone. The institution of marriage was created so people could live together, raise children, and share life experiences.
To each their own but for me personally, I see more value in getting married than not. No matter what generation you belong to, there’s value in companionship. They say you have four stages in life — as a child, teen, adult, and elderly person. It’s especially during one’s old age when having a life partner is so meaningful. When all’s done and dusted — bringing up children and climbing up the career ladder, you only have each other. It’s a beautiful time to share stories together.
I think people have more in common than we believe. You might have a different face shape or skin colour, but when it comes down to it, everyone is looking for the same thing in marriage. You want a good life partner to share your life with — somebody you love and are loved by; somebody who takes care of you and provides for you and whom you can take care of and provide for in return. As a matchmaker, I hope to play a part in helping people find that special someone.
What remains the most important ingredient in a successful marriage is the same: compassion with equal doses of passion. No matter how similar your background or in sync your personalities are, or how attractive someone looks, a marriage is always going to have its ups and downs. It’s compassion that will tide you through even the worst of phrases.
There have been times, especially as a newlywed, when I would get upset at my husband. But anger isn’t an emotion that lasts very long and it’s important not to react without thinking in the heat of the moment. It is okay to have a fight and feel miserable for a day or two but bounce back and see how you can resolve the issue.
It’s also over time that compatibility in a marriage is established. It’s when both partners can see from each other’s points of view amidst a disagreement. Sometimes it means taking onboard your partner’s perspective even if you don’t agree with it and vice versa. This process could crop up in different aspects of one’s life, getting more pronounced in the upbringing of children — when setting education goals and navigating family dynamics. As a relationship counselor, I make my clients aware of these nuances and talk to them about skills they could use in their relationships.
Marriage is hard work as it means sharing all your space and time with another person. But marriage isn’t a destination, it’s a journey.
Geeta Khanna is currently based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from where she continues to work with local and overseas clients. Find out more about Cocktail Matches here. Pictures were provided by Geeta.
My name is I Yune, and you can find me at @i_yune on the Dayre app. On my personal account, I write about what being in love and loved means to me.
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