Indian Matchmaking Made Me Reconsider My Dating Deal Breakers
"You're my type," he said, over an order of garlic parmesan fries.
We had been dating for three months and today was the day. He was ready to take our relationship to the next level.
Fish tanks glowed blue in the trendy LA restaurant. Fluorescent fish swam to and fro.
"Don't get me wrong, he said, "You're not the whole package."
Like the rest of the world, I recently binged "Indian Matchmaking" on Netflix. The show follows Indian singles in United States and India as they search for the perfect match with the help of Sima Taparia, or "Sima Auntie" as she's known to her clients.
It's hard to say what makes the show so addictive. This isn't "Too Hot to Handle" (also from Netflix) or "Bachelor in Paradise" (my guilty fave). There is no sex, no kissing, no love triangles, no tearful fights or dramatic ultimatums.
It's just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him if maybe he would like to have an arranged marriage in three to four months (with his parents' participation and approval, of course).
We meet Aparna, 34—stubborn, picky and negative. The highest praise she reserves for one date is that she doesn't hate him. Then there's Nadia, 32, tall (this matters, apparently), vivacious and hopeful that she will find the one. Akshay is 25 and still single, which is affecting his mother's blood pressure and preventing his married brother from having a child.
The show's only gimmick is the part where each client lists for Sima what they want in a partner. Each item on the list is drawn and re-drawn in text for the viewers in realtime.
Honestly, many of the things the participants in the show list are relatable. (Of course, with the exception of the casteism and colorism rightly criticized by people more experienced than me in the Indian dating scene.)
Likes to travel
It made me think of my own dealbreakers. When I was in my 20s, my list was simple: He had to be cute, of course. He had to be a Christian and share my religious beliefs. He had to be as smart or smarter than me.
Now that I'm in my 30s, my deal breakers have changed. I'm under no illusions that I am the whole package or even one frozen enchilada from a package of two at Trader Joe's. That means I also don't expect my partner to check every box on the list. No. It's realism city over here—looking at you, quarantine hair.
That's why I was so inspired by "Indian Matchmaking's" resident picky dater, Aparna.
Girl knows what she wants, and what she doesn't want. She DOES NOT want to spend 10 days lying on a beach, nor does she want to see a child at her wedding.
Of course, that voice of judgment kicks in: Who do you think you are, Aparna? What gives you the right to be so picky?
I just got back on the apps at the beginning of quarantine. I'm not sure if I wanted to date or if I just wanted to take the pulse of everything happening in my city.
One night during lockdown when we had a 4pm curfew, I messaged match after match, wanting to know what it looked like in their part of the city.
The pandemic has made dating feel a tiny bit desperate. One guy suggested at the top that we move together to either New Zealand (where they the virus under control) or South Korea. I didn't jump on these suggestions and he quickly unmatched me.
Watching singles go on aggressively normal dates in the show feels poignant and hopeful. Watching them travel long distances just to go on a date feels impossible.
It's that element of hope that gets to me—that moment right before a first date when you think to yourself, maybe this time it will work out, even though (spoiler alert) none of the cast members are still together. What if? What if you could get to that place where your eyes light up thinking about the other person, this stranger that you don't even really know yet, and you think, this person, maybe this person is the one.
And all the details from their biodata fall away and you don't give a shit that they enjoy camping and have only been to 39 countries.
Which brings me back to sitting in that restaurant with the aquariums and the fluorescent fish.
There it was—my deal breaker. I didn't want to be with a man who would tell me that I wasn't the whole package—not out of a misplaced sense of idealism, but because I have enough realism in my life already.
But maybe this deal breaker masked a deeper truth: That instead of just telling me, at length, what he thought about me, I wanted my date to ask me what I thought about him. I wanted a dialogue, not a declaration—here is a man who finds me worthy.
Instead of listing all the things about me that he found acceptable, a simple, "I like you," would have sufficed.
No one wants to be boiled down to a list of essential traits. The things that make me "not the whole package" also make me, me.
"It's just so hard to find a girl who reads Russian novels," said another guy who was also convinced I was his type.
I think about this a lot: that we don't love people because they represent a Platonic ideal of sister, partner, friend. We love them because of their peculiar traits and strange habits—the way they stare at ducks or rearrange cutlery or say the word "frustrated" as "fustrated."
So, what am I looking for? He has to be cute. He has to share his fries. He has to watch Netflix dating shows with me.
Other than that—surprise me.