Sunday, May 02, 2010

Spreadsheets: A Guide to Arranged Marriages


I have faith that being peculiarly curious about the Arranged Marriage process without being involved in it presently gives me an unbiased picture. As I even begin to put down the first few words of this article, the potential ironical twists that could happen as a consequence fascinate me.

Scene1 - In an year from now, a prospective marriage partner gets redirected to my blog by my dad, who as a proud creator of this offspring would unconditionally considers it as a Point of Difference. The girl, thoroughly repulsed by the sheer volume of thought I've put into this subject, rejects me as a candidate. And my hours of thoughts on the arranged marriage process, meant to get it right, fails to work for me.

Scene2 - A prospectice marriage partner, who hypothetically say was 'The One' or 'One of the ones', stumbles upon this blog article. Adopting this methodology, she proceeds to screen all candidates based on the criteria mentioned below. And my profile on tamil-matrimony gets rejected by her because of a rating of 5 on geekiness for having written such a flowcharty blog.

The arranged marriage process in its initial stages is a process of elimination. This fact is quite often denied, misunderstood by people. Objectification of a person based on certain criteria is a prerequisite for making a good judgement here. So unless you are a relic who is satisfied with a mere 'Fair skinned girl' or with 'a teetotaler Jatt Sikh Sekhon', you'll need the help of an excel spreadsheet.

Yes, an excel spreadsheet - to Tabulate; Color cells red, yellow and green; Sort; Filter. As your brain fries in geeky sauce, let me continue to explain the utility of some and the futility of other criteria.

Education
"Firstly I want a girl who is intelligent you know...If she is not from a good college, I think compatability will be an issue." - Candidate A
This point when raised in conversations invariably makes you look like a jerk, pompous or worse, irrational. Typical reactions:
"Oh yeah...You think only guys from IITs and IIMs . I know two-three guys from IIT who are real pricks / a***oles."
"Just because a girl is from say a Muzzafarpur college doesn't make her stupid. She can be quite intelligent too."

With great pleasure, I'd like to revisit a basic lesson in statistics to elucidate my point. The candidates whom you review are a sample from the universe of great guys/girls. In absolute geeky statistical terms, you should be clear in your head whether you are keen in reducing TYPE1 error or TYPE2 error.

Ho (Null Hypothesis): The Guy/Girl is right for you.

TYPE1 Error: Rejecting a Guy/Girl who could have been right for you (Rejecting a null-hypothesis when it should not have been rejected)
TYPE2 Error: Selecting a Guy/Girl who turns out to be wrong at a later stage (failing to reject a null-hypothesis when it should have been rejected)

One cannot reduce both types of error unless we increase the sample size (i.e review more number of candidates).

If the above paragraph was too geeky - You can't play it both ways. You'll have to make a conscious choice of taking the risk of rejecting more guys/girls initially who could have been it, or the risk of proceeding further with guys/girls who later have to be tactfully derailed by your parents using fuzzy reasons like "Guru ji said the stars don't match."

Flexibility - Career aspirations and Family
"My career is quite important to me." - Candidate B
Over the last year I've talked to people who have ventured into the process, in the middle of it and also those who have successfully endured the process to end up with a partner (for life). This criteria is a sensitive issue, although it's always good to state it upfront. Is the girl (occassionally the guy) ready to move / change jobs / quit her job if the relationship materializes? When it's time to have kids will she be willing to quit her job?

Common Interests
"Can you believe she likes Chetan Bhagat books!!" - Candidate C
Invariably you'll find a lot of junk in this section. Because we'll have a tendency to include all activities which we may have ever pursued in life, or those that are surrogates for personality traits that we wish to exude. Let me quote some of these for fun. I am sure you have your own collection of delectable ones from bad resume's and shaadi.com profiles.
Listening to Music ; Reading Books; Eating Out; Watching Movies; Playing Cricket; Love Bhelpuri;

When it's time, I'll probably throw in a 10 question trivia quiz on Seinfeld; Or host a website with a Homer Simpson quote / An XKCD strip which says 'Enter only if you find this funny.'

There are other aspects like astrological matchmaking, caste, income level which make strong elimination criteria, but I shall refrain from commenting upon them.

So once you are sure about what you want (which may perhaps never happen at all), put these criteria into an excel file - Row or Column as you prefer. At the oneset, one should also be clear about the factors that are Must-Haves and those that are Can-Haves. Ideally, Must-Haves should be used to eliminate candidates at the initial stage, and Can-Haves criteria carried over to the next stage as caveats. Of course, I know it'll never be that simple. If things were so objective and clinical the geeks would have ruled the earth.

Let me also console all appalled non-geeky readers by stating that the final choice is never via any averaged score on an excel spreadsheet. It'll eventually give way to a rigorous process of exchange of information called conversation where you have to simultaneously think, talk and listen. In normal situations where we get to talk about ourselves, the average narcisstic human being can barely manage 2 of the 3 activities. In summary:

1. Ask the right questions so that her answers can help you make a decision
2. Give as honest answers as required/possible to her questions that can help her make a decision.


Finally, there is a fascinating disconnect in expectations between men and women when approaching arranged marriages.

The Guy - "Will I have to change myself after marriage?"
A guy's biggest apprehension towards marriage is that things will not be the same anymore. He approaches the process with the hope that there is particularly minimal change in his current lifestyle. If his whole lifestyle and activities could be represented by a complicated pattern of dominoes, he'd want the marriage/wife to be an addition that doesn't disturb the rest of it. Of course that never happens.

The Girl - "What if he turns out to be a jerk?"
While adjusting to a new family is a daunting task, a girl's biggest apprehension towards marriage is that she'll end up with a jerk. Thus a girl even suspects the personality she sees through a guy's matrimony profile or when she meets him in person. A slight personality malfunction is an interesting challenge post-marriage, while his being a jerk is a serious concern. Always being a couple of steps ahead of the guy in terms of maturity and emotional intelligence, she knows that her life is going to get significantly altered by the marriage.


So she is mentally ready for it, while the guy is completely unprepared. Hence the disconnect.

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If you liked this article, you'd definitely like the previous gyan on Marriage Invites.