Last month, I found myself in the middle of a conversation between two colleagues of Indian descent. After a few drinks and some friendly banter, our discussion effortlessly turned from professional to personal whereby the subject of dating was broached. More specifically, my coworkers began comparing stories of their experiences with the traditional Indian dating resume knows as “biodata.” This novel concept piqued my curiosity and naturally, I inquired further into the convention. I learned that biodata is a document with in-depth information about a single, age-appropriate family member that is circulated by parents, uncles, grandparents or all of the above to help match the eligible bachelor or bachelorette with the best marriage prospects. The custom has existed for generations and forms the basis for an arranged, or semi-arranged, union. My instinctual reaction was one of disbelief; with all of our social advancements, how could such a tradition endure, even among my contemporaries in this country? Yet upon further consideration, I realized that I was making a hasty judgement. The only material differences between biodata and Tinder, I reasoned, is the subject’s perceived autonomy in the selection process and a digital user interface.
This exchange illuminated a stark awareness of my own singledom and refusal to engage in any such engineered techniques for meeting my “other half.” It left me contemplating a question: is there a right approach to finding love? Presumably, any panacea would have been bottled up and patented years ago, but certainly, there has to be some measure we can use to evaluate the success of these various channels designed to help us date and mate. Regardless of culture, society as a whole has seemingly failed to evolve far beyond the tradition of arranged marriages as evidenced by a collective, conspicuous approval for securing a person who meets a particular set of criteria on paper. This is acutely real for women, who have only recently gained a level of independence that generally allow us the luxury of selecting the who, how, and when we marry. But in today’s environment of choice, whether we meet the person via a pseudo-resume, an app, or entirely organically, how do we discern which decisions are really our own? Arguably, many (if not most) love matches are profoundly influenced by our psychological programming, with its gnawing pressure to conform to what is expected. Unless we stop to not only recognize but challenge the distinction between our own genuine desires versus those of our social circles – namely our families’ impulse to prove that they fulfilled their patriarchal duties and our friends’ need to reinforce their respective acquiescence to “good enough”—history may be destined to repeat itself indefinitely with blissful oblivion.
While I am in a position to analyze this sociopsychological dynamic with some level of objectivity today, I acknowledge that is only possible as a result of living through my own past relationships and matrimony. Once upon a time, I was 32 and surprised at how eager I suddenly felt to marry when the opportunity arose. I was, in my estimation, of a mature age that theoretically meant I’d maximized my gloriously independent single years, and my then boyfriend fulfilled most of the conditions to effectuate my exotic love story. Undeniably, I was in a fortunate position. My ex was a good man, and his family was nothing but loving and welcoming to me, especially as I attempted to endear myself to them in the context of a different country and language. As a couple, we had a beautiful, bicultural future full of possibilities ahead. And while I refuse to look back with any regret, I can see more clearly now that I allowed my belief of where I should be at that stage of life and fear of starting anew to eclipse my instincts. Marrying someone who met select standards that were both consciously and subconsciously wired into my being from girlhood meant that I was one step closer to achieving the image of perfection to which I nonsensically aspired. The result was years of self-reproach because that marriage was not only the “wrong” one (if by definition “right” means enduring), but I orchestrated a performative wedding that exhibited to family, friends, and acquaintances alike that it was indeed flawless. I was not only a failure, but a hypocrite.
For the record, I am done condemning myself and I am definitely not judging anyone else’s choices in how and whom they select as a life partner. Rather, I am offering an observation from the seat of my own life experience and perception of shared challenges. The lens I wear today frames my view that the fundamental issue with our quest for love is that we evaluate relationships as black or white, right or wrong, success or failure. We all have our own version of biodata. My partners to date have ultimately taught me that I was with exactly the right person at the right time to forward my journey towards a greater knowing and trusting of myself. Perhaps the real crusade is not about finding the perfect love match at all, but upending the assumption that the other person should fill all of our needs, forever after. Most of us accept the inevitability that feelings of love evolve just like we do as individuals. I contend, however, that in order to be truly free, it’s imperative that we obliterate and redefine the meaning of a successful union altogether, which has traditionally been characterized by a perceived security and eternality that we expect in return for commitment. As stated so eloquently in my oft quoted favorite book series, Conversations with God, “we’ve lowered love to a level of a promise or a guarantee – what I feel and want now, will always be so. But not so. In what other area of life is that true? The security and eternality are inside of us. We are here to express our freedom of choice. Yes, we make commitments and that means something, but to what end? More damage has been done to others by persons leading lives of quiet desperation (doing what they feel they “had” to do) than was ever done by persons freely doing what they wanted to do.”
So back to the original question: how do we find love, which is arguably life’s sweetest and most elusive virtue? Sure, biodata and dating apps offer us the means to entertain an endless, but narrow peek into the population of suitors that will presumably fulfill our families’ and our own tenuous ideas of what we think we need to be happy. The reality is that we painstakingly seek out a partner through any available avenue because we believe he or she will provide us with that sense of safety that fundamentally we can only give to ourselves. Not only are we capable of being our own source of eternal love, but love is our true essence. Sure, we all have different personal circumstances, realities, and degrees of privilege that influence how this truth ultimately manifests in our lives. But if we can believe and embrace that knowing, the result is undeniably the greatest sanctuary of all. We only suffer to the degree that we hold ourselves hostage to the social conventions that tell us we are in danger, or worse, that we are not enough if we are alone. The fear that we are intrinsically flawed and need another person to complete us is engrained from birth by the people that gave us life, who modeled the path, and provided for us before we could do so on our own. But now we are entirely capable of independence, yet we continue to depend on someone else, real or imagined, instead of defining and enacting our true desire as a means to explore and enjoy all of life’s dichotomies. This doesn’t mean a resignation to being single forever if “the one” never enters the picture. To the contrary; it’s a receptiveness to the potential of exploring the depths of one fulfilling relationship that grows and evolves for many years, or traversing the landscape of various partnerships over the course of a lifetime. There’s no right way. The real arrangement is the one we make with ourselves, where we commit to live in our own fullest expression, even if that means changing course and admitting that happily ever after was sold to us (as well as to our parents, grandparents and the generations before them…) as the dream, but it’s not the reality. I’ve certainly crossed that bridge and can attest to the fact that on the other side of the abyss is an immense confidence and love for myself that will endure for this lifetime and beyond.