Many find the prevalent rishta culture in Pakistan extremely problematic but as much as the issue is rampant, it is our society that lies beneath the root of it all. As soon as a girl hits the age of puberty, marrying her off is the prime concern for all parents. In a society like ours that hasn’t opened up to the modern means of finding soulmates through dating and matrimonial social apps, matchmakers still play an important role in finding matches for their children.
The Talk sat with Mrs. Shaista Imran, a professional matchmaker from Lahore to get an insight into the matchmaking scene in Pakistan. Mrs. Imran has been in this field for over 20 years now. She also offers marriage counselling and runs a small NGO for under privileged women and children in Lahore.
Mrs. Imran, do demands while looking for a match vary by class? How do you cater to them?
Well, the demands in every class are more or less the same. It’s always the guy’s side who has a higher set of demands, from looking for a modelesque girl to an extremely educated girl no matter how average they are. However, it is no different speaking from the girl’s side for they too are out looking for an educated, well-groomed man with a job at a reputed place or a flourishing business. In short, no one is ready to step down at that moment. That is where my counselling comes in as finding a picture-perfect match for them takes time. It is indeed a dauting task.
Has the approach towards marriage changed? How do you counsel potential candidates on that?
Ohh it is extremely hard to make them understand these things specially mothers of boys tend to become very rigid at it. They rush in to judge and select from the pool of pictures and sometimes just reject girls on its basis. That is where I explain them how meeting them is different from judging girls just by their pictures. You are in a better position to know their background, their upbringing and how they carry themselves when you meet them in person. You just can’t judge them by a picture.
What kind of demands become problematic when finding a suitable partner?
Actually, I do make a point to meet these potential candidates themselves and not just their parents, just so I can know better if they want to get married or not or if they’ve been pressurized into it. They might be interested somewhere else therefore I ask them straight up. In many cases, families are usually at the helm of confusing their own child and approach a matchmaker. For example, if the boy ends up liking a girl, their families will put their background and education to question. They go to the extent of reaching out girls at their work places to judge their characters. It’s actually the same on both sides and often times it turns things sour between families. These things are very important and families need to take them into consideration.
Often times we’ve heard that girls want a partner that has no family or parents? How do you deal with that?
See, families are important on both sides. I think there’s a lack of patience in girls these days, I’d say in both the genders. Parents of a girl fear how their child will be treated once she’s married or how her mother in law will turn out to be since she’s been a “laadli” in the house. I get surprised at such demands mostly coming from a girl’s family since many educated people come to seek my help. It has happened with me a couple of times, they come and ask me to find a guy who doesn’t have parents. How is that possible? Only someone with insecurities can have such demands. I try to explain it girls’ mothers that girls have to adjust too. I am also into family counselling. I try to explain it girls’ mothers that girls have to adjust too. I am also into family counselling.
See, everyone has mobile phones in their hands these days and often times I come across cases where once married, girls update their parents about each and every happening of their married life to their mothers. Such trivial things are a recipe for disaster. Parents really need to counsel their children before marrying them off.
What issues are these modern girls and boys facing when looking for a partner given that neither wants to compromise on their picture-perfect view of a partner?
Well, they vary in different scenarios. Some guys aren’t very finicky about looks. For most, education and family background are more important. They are more concerned about a girl’s nature as well. Modern kids these days believe in actually knowing each other by meeting them first which is a positive change.
Another important point that the girls raise these days is that they want a man who is self-sufficient and doesn’t ask for money from his parents. This is a very important point. He should be able to look keep his wife comfortably even though he lives with his parents.
Do you think media has changed views on marriages?
Yes, I think the negative portrayal of in-laws specially mothers-in-law in media is really terrible. This is wrong on so many levels. Sometimes, even daughters-in-law are shown in bad light, scheming and detracting their husbands or separating them from their families. This really does not need to be shown on television.
Do you find this trolley culture problematic? Isn’t that a blatant objectification of women?
Ohh certainly, I find this very problematic and it doesn’t even look nice that a girl comes in serving tea to the guests who are here to see her. This surely exists in our society. Sometimes they’re courteous enough where a guy’s mother comes to see the girl on her own and these girls in return, even unwantedly have to make an appearance in front of them. However, I think on the other hand it shouldn’t be taken so negatively too. I tell the girls they even serve their own guests at home as well, so it shouldn’t exactly be a problem. One should take it lightly.
Do you think this is the only way the ‘rishta’ process works in Pakistan?
Obviously we have to cut down on this culture but on the other hand, it shouldn’t be made a big deal. Sometimes the girls don’t even show up which is a major source of embarrassment to everyone. We all go out and meet people in our routine lives, so girls need to play it cool.
How do you counsel women dealing with pressures of getting married?
I encountered a client where she would discuss very insignificant matters with me, for example why does my mother-in-law come to my room. I think these things; you can solve them on your own but this young generation these days blow it out of proportion. This client I’m talking about was in her late 20s so I counseled her a bit on how to handle such situations. See, elders need respect and time and if you can just spend even quality 15-20 minutes with them, they’re happy They don’t even demand anything more than that. But our children don’t even take that much time out for anyone. Once you adjust in a new family with your good behavior, it becomes all easy after that. First six months are always tough after getting married, for everyone.
Match making has become a money minting business for middle aged women. Is this true?
See, I gauge my clients on the phone first if I can find them a match of their liking. But a lot of people these days are taking it up as a side business. There’s nothing to do, let’s be a matchmaker.
What do you think about matchmaking apps and WhatsApp groups?
I know a lot of people, obviously I cannot take their names but they’ve made WhatsApp groups. Our middle-aged women in their 50s or 60s who don’t necessarily know how it all works send their children’s pictures across these groups. They spread to such an extent that when people come to me, they remember seeing those profiles elsewhere as well. This matchmaking through random Whatsapp groups needs to stop. Sometimes, people know a profile by heart to the extent that they even know their work place and salaries.
There’s a huge pool of unmarried girls and divorce rates are at an all-time high in Pakistan. What do you think about it?
I always encourage people to marry their daughters before or at 26 or at least find their life partner. I understand sometimes it is delayed due to personal problems or even education. Now women who are 35 or over that come looking for unmarried men at this age just because they are unmarried. Here in Pakistan, men don’t even cross 30 and their parents marry them off. Here’s where girls need to step down for a bit and be open to the idea of getting married to a divorcee after meeting and knowing them. There is no harm if there’s an age gap of four to five years between the couple. If a 20-year-old girl getting married to a 26 year old guy is considered normal then why is marrying a 40 year old man at 35 or so is viewed as old. A lot of time it happens that girls delay their marriages in search of an ideal partner or a complete package. If one tries to compromise on a few things, any thing is possible.