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August 2005

A look at the desi online dating scene

By Niyati Shah

We live in an age of excess! We want more?more money, more gadgets, and most importantly, more choices.

Is the plethora of choices a good thing? Or does it end up leaving us feeling like we just want more, but that we know less? Being first-generation kids, and now adults, we are well aware that our parents came to this country to give us more opportunities, and we therefore have pushed to be the best. Have we become self-absorbed in our struggle to be the best?

Nowhere is this compulsion of being the best and wanting the best (from a wide variety of choices, of course) more evident than in our quest for life partners.

And why should we settle for anything less? After all, this is eternity we're talking about? isn't it? And when it comes to marriage, it is not just our happiness we are concerned about; we are required also to take into account our entire circle -- parents, grandparents and the larger family as well. We have to make ourselves happy, and make sure everyone else is happy with our happiness!

How does all this fit in with the latest craze in this arena ? that of online dating? Considering most of our parents came from the traditional, arranged marriage school of thought, it is a wonder that online dating has become the rage that it has. In recent times, it's become quite popular in our mainstream culture regardless of race. And like most trends, it's quickly filtered into our own desi subculture, and we've given it it's own spice?it's caught fire and no sign of dying down yet.

You would think you're only helping your chances of finding that soul mate or suitable partner by checking out the Internet. The medium is virtually anonymous. You're protected with an online name that can be completely different than your contact information. Put up basics, the "must have's" and the "can do with outs", a picture and you're good to go? right?

That's only half the story; the majority of users have admitted, it's quite a daunting task?almost like a second job if you will.

"I don't really sit down and write what I want, so getting online forced me to think about this area of my life more seriously", explains Dev, 29, from Washington DC. "At the same time, putting it all out there was definitely hard, but I realized it was worth it, I am finally meeting people that I have potential with."

"For me, it was quite easy to write up my profile, the hard part was sorting through all the emails. I put my picture up and received so many responses that it just ended up stressing me out even more. I am not an email person, and I realized this wasn't going to work for me, but I'm glad I know", explains Samira, 29, of Washington DC.

The pressure to sound cool, original, and therefore, "datable" is intense. Similar to current advertising trends, today's online singles promote themselves not only by highlighting their best traits, but also by creating an imaginary self that's impressive. Most online daters have no problem brazenly exposing their lives, with subtle value-added language. Name-dropping in the form of authors, travels, and philosophies seem to be the popular way to mystify and therefore deepen interest.

Moreover, most people only look at the writing if the picture is attractive. If the snapshot looks like something out of Vogue or GQ, you're in for a lot of work, that in-box is going to stay clogged, as Samira discovered.

With the lure of travel, candle-lit dinners and political debate, followed by frisky, flirtatious emails and IM's, and 5-hour phone conversations, is it slightly possible not to be disappointed with the real thing?

"It's so easy to have a picture in your mind of what this guy or girl will be like?you read into every email, every word and paint a lovely picture in your head", explains Dev.

"I've learned my lesson, after a few emails and a phone conversation, I have to meet the guys in person", says Anya. "The first time I met a guy online, we went on for a few months, flirting, laughing, in my head he was on a pedestal, and when I met him in person, the chemistry was just not there."

It's not easy to know the real deal until you do meet up in-person, and sometimes the person in your mind is far from the person across from you. It's like listening to a song, a sultry female voice, she sounds so pretty and cool?and it's quite possible that she's the farthest thing from.

"I'm not a fan of the online thing", explains Samir, "I could see myself getting addicted, feeding my ego, maybe getting pickier?and really getting nowhere in the process. If one girl doesn't work out, I can get back online and ask another one out, over and over, to no end. I'd rather meet someone through my friends and family."

Technology has made old-fashioned hook-ups obsolete. When is the last time you got invited to a party without getting an "evite"? When options are limited to set-ups by friends, parties, and tipsy encounters at bars, online dating sounds more and more like a viable option. Online communication has become our way of living, and it's clearly not going anywhere. While it may not be for everyone, it's a plausible way of meeting that special someone with that "je ne sais quois". Our living is too fast; our circles are either too big or too small and sometimes even quite incestuous. So online dating and matchmaking becomes a more feasible option, and makes a lot of sense for most women and men in our generation.

Instead of letting parents take on the responsibility of finding a mate, the women and men of our generation are increasingly taking the power into their own hands ? and online matchmaking is one of many ways to garner that power. You like what you read/see, and the ball is in your court, you decide. Some hate it, others swear by it. Bottom line, you never know unless you try it out-- if anything, you may, at the very least, figure out you in the process.

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