Evolution of Indian matrimony
In order to solve the problem of online dating, I needed to reflect on the user journey from time immemorial. Hence, I got thinking about how the matrimonial market has evolved and here’s my take on it based on some literature, personal stories and hearsay. If you have some stories to share, you should write to me, I’d love to stitch it up together to form an epic of Indian matrimonial journeys.
Ages ago, when communities were smaller and less spread out, matches were arranged through known networks (mainly, parents, grandparents generation) with varied levels of consent/ dissent from the marrying parties (none to full approval from both parties). Greater access to education and vocational opportunities meant that people moved away from their communities and hence, it was harder to rely solely on known networks since it meant lower liquidity (may be a function of distance).
This gave rise to the need for brokers or nodes in local networks. When the numbers were smaller, brokers could provide personalised services to all clients but however, with scale, it was bound to become not so personal where brides and grooms were reduced to mere CVs or files. Flipping through hoards of such objectified matches can be a horrendous task much like swiping left or right all day on Tinder, although Tinder came along much much later.
In the mid-90s came the Shaadi, Bharatmatrimony and the likes of them, that allowed you to pan the length and breadth of not just your city or country but also the much sought after foreign brides and grooms within your community. This definitely offered greater liquidity, allowed you to flip through candidates at your own leisure and also, do it in the privacy of your room without the broker breathing down your neck.
These websites solved the number one problem of the hour – liquidity. They’ve lived up to their promise to brokering marriages online pretty much the same way it’s done offline. For this, hats off.
With more education and initiation to choices in life meant leaving home and living on your own in a different city. At this point of time, it was more important that your partner got along with you than your parents and hence, it became fashionable for people to rebel against parents’ choices as they were no longer relevant. In this case, you’d go out there and champion the love marriage route.
But if you didn’t manage to do that (due to bad luck, break up, etc), then you’d be better off signing up on one of the available matrimonial websites hoping that the markets would relieve you of the misery of being haunted by nosey aunties (like me) at family gatherings who never fail to keep up with your ageing face, balding head or dropping market value.
So, people would sign up on these matrimonial websites in the hope that they’d find like minded individuals of the opposite sex except there was one problem – these sites allowed parents to manage online personas of their wards. Now, when you are trying to create the experience of arranged love on a matrimonial site, last thing you want is parental intervention since that’s the least you can do in getting yourself a sort of love marriage which is much more sought after today.
Then came the even more modern generation who did’t want to put out long term intentions upfront. There’s no ambiguity to being on a matrimonial website, there’s an end goal you’re headed to and that’s no fun at all. This generation likes unpredictability, foreplay, ample choices and chances to meet people in local trains, euro rail and so on. And this was not going to happen on our dear old Shaadi.com. This led to the advent of the concept of online dating and several of these online dating companies came out and said they get this generation and they’ve the perfect solution for online daters.
They promised people the experience of online dating except they were merely re-creating online versions of Vanaja Quick marriages (except for short term/ casual dating) where people are objectified as 140-character type profiles, a few mug shots and #tags to summarise their hobbies and habits) where you could flip through people all day long till your thumbs fell off.
One, the experience is massively time and energy consuming. It is meaningless in terms of satisfying your need to indulge in real romance, foreplay, etc. as it does not incentivise singles incapable of getting dates offline. The experience is very formula driven – If you’re the type of dude who could get a woman’s number at a bar with one wink, its likely you can get women just like that even on Tinder. But if you’re the type of person who needs to hide behind a screen because there’s more to you behind a screen than behind a bar counter, you are never going to successful on Tinder.
So, you see, today’s websites/apps are still only trying to solve for liquidity because all they care about is number of users and not what type of users they have (except for a few select apps). Unfortunately, they fail to address the need of creating dating experiences which people on these apps really aspire to be a part of due lack of time, access to social networks or simply lack of skill.
Think about this – if you are a great person in life, but under-confident about finding the love of your life, if as an online dating app, I only remind you of your inability in doing love marriage by pushing you to get more creative than you are in getting a man/ woman’s attention, how am I solving the problem of finding you a mate?