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Dating Criteria & Checkboxes: Whose Opinion Matters? By Alpa Saujani

In the South Asian culture, there is a strong belief that when a marriage takes place, it is the meeting of two families, not just between a man and woman. But before you even get to the mandap, how much of this ‘cultural value' influences your choice of life partner? Do we hastily create a checklist to conform to our family's beliefs, without giving much thought to our own desires, or to what makes a relationship successful?

Let's make no bones about it, when it comes to education and profession, there is definitely snobbery amongst the Asian community. I often get phone calls from parents seeking matches for their daughters, who are struggling to find highly educated suitors. They will only consider men who have at least completed a Masters Degree. Does that mean that all of the men who are educated with at least a Bachelors Degree are stupid, are failures, or otherwise unable to converse intellectually? Furthermore, does this mean that they are not ‘qualified enough' to be good husbands? This criteria set by parents is likely to be born from the Asian mentality that women should always date equal, or above their station. Dating anyone of lesser stature would be detrimental to their character and bring one's family reputation under scrutiny, especially amongst the gossipmongers. Don't get me wrong, who doesn't want the best for their child? But when you've tried with the stereotypical approaches and failed, surely it's time for a new approach. Moreover, it does make me wonder why these highly educated women, who thus far have not been successful with this rigid criteria, would not challenge their parents. Surely these women are intelligent enough to conclude that doing the same thing over and over again is highly unlikely to gain a different result.

When it comes to professions, it gets worse! There is a degree of arrogance from some parents whose children are in certain professions, particularly for those in medicine and law. Only those from the same profession are deemed worthy matches. If parents set a bar of expectation that anyone outside of X profession is not good enough, not only is that another big box to be ticked off by their child, but it's also limiting someone's pool of matches. Last week, I had a conversation with a member who is a doctor. He told me that he is only interested in meeting fellow medics. I asked him why, and his response was that no one outside of the medical profession, with potentially the exception of a lawyer, would be his equal, and would be able to support and understand him. So where did he get this idea from, given his limited relationship experience? Suffice to say, I challenged him. There are many professions were people are on call, have to work late and unsociable hours, and would completely be able to relate and appreciate his work schedule. I did wonder whether he was looking for a business partner, or a life partner.

Appearances hold a lot of weight in Asian society – some people wear designer brands, drive flashy cars (even at the cost of being in debt) and name drop simply to make a statement to society. And to keep up appearances, finding the ‘perfect looking partner' is the icing on the cake. Admittedly, attraction is an important part of being with someone. However, when choices are made based on the fear of disapproval from family, it is a sad state of affairs. Last week, a female member was telling me about a male friend of hers' who I shall call Raj. He met a lovely girl at an Asian speed dating event who he found to be vivacious, intelligent and attractive. He took her number and a few days later, he still had not called her. When probed, he replied that he was confused because he felt that some members of his family would not find her to be good looking, as she had a rather large nose and her skin tone was darker than his – seriously?! And exactly who would be waking up next to this woman in their bed every day? His family members? Surely not.

Pitifully, there is still something of a stigma associated with divorcees in Asian society. Some people are apprehensive about dating anyone that has been married before. Essentially, their families would disapprove and they do not wish to be the subject of gossip of this sort:

"Their daughter is so pretty, why is she marrying a boy with so much history. Surely there are some nice single men that she could have met, or maybe there is something wrong with her..."

"I always thought that he was a smart and intelligent boy... why would he be marrying a divorcee when he could have his pick of women..."

The reality is that as you approach your late 20s upwards the pool of available partners is going to have a larger number of divorcees compared to when you were in your early to mid 20s. Just to put this into context the ONS latest figures (2011) reported that 42% of marriages in the UK ended in divorce and of course the Asian community are not exempt! We all make errors in judgments; many of us have had long-term relationships that have not worked out, where for all intent and purposes we were like a married couple. After a certain age, we all have history, baggage or whatever you wish to call it so arguably what gives us the right to judge others? Whilst our grandparents and even our parents' generation stay, or stayed in unfulfilling marriages, we are in a different era and not willing to be in unhappy marriages to keep others happy. Is that so wrong that one should be penalised for it, or be subjected to finger pointing?

At some level, it is understandable why so many people set a high bar of what they should and should not have in a partner based on the ideals of their family. As second and third generation Asians it has been ingrained into our psyche to always strive for the best, an A is better than a B and failing is not an option. But when it comes to getting the checklist ticked perhaps many of us need to go back to the drawing board and question the relevance and origin of our criteria. So many people are on autopilot; armed with an extensive checklist they decline profiles on Asian dating sites, make instant judgements about people that they meet at Asian dating events and reject people after a first date simply because not enough boxes were ticked. Is it possible that rather than searching for a partner that will make you feel special, you approach your search with a checklist as though you are purchasing an item that is going to look great to your family, friends and the wider community. Ultimately, if you're striving to please others, at what cost and point do you start pleasing yourself?

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Wonderfully presenting all the stereotypes present in south Asian culture. Very powerful article.
Great article, it made me think about what is more important to me that the rest of the world. In some ways being part of the Asian community it's almost innate that we think about what others may think because of the culture. @TJ how many of these marriages are successful and happy? If the divorce rates are increasing, it is hard to really say. Also, with the way that society is evolving more and more people are not happy to stay in marriages to keep their parents and families happy. I think it all comes down to compatibility rather than how the introduction was made.
All very good points BUT what about the successful marriages over the last ten years where people's checklist have referred to their parents wishes and it has helped. Them to find their perfect partner....?
I agree with @Vikesh, great content. I love that you're hitting all the stereotypical issues that we run into and challenging the stereotypes. And the subject matter is striking home right now too!
Great article, very candid and it certainly has me challenging my sterotypes!


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