Arranged by choice
Jasbina Ahluwalia talks about why she launched Intersections Match, a firm that links up single South Asians.
Often, Indians who live away from the country are more ‘Indian’ than those at home. They may sport a veneer of local colour, from the lifestyle and accent to societal norms and habits, but dig deep and there is a core of ‘back-home’ — food preferences and family ties, a craving for tradition, a need to belong and a way of thinking that transcends birth and upbringing. But age-old can also be brand new, with a practice having come full circle from an archaic mandate to a more modern and astonishingly successful and accepted way of living a full and happy life.
One aspect of that life is marriage. Many years ago, on a visit to Mumbai, feminist Germaine Greer had commented that the Indian arranged marriage was a very good concept, one that she herself would have liked to have followed. But even as many communities across the world do include that form of matchmaking in their culture, young people often scoff at it, and protest its application in their own lives, even running away to escape it, filmi ishtyle. That has not stopped an entire industry of matchmaking becoming an accepted way of finding a partner today, from websites like shaadi.com and bharatmatrimony.com to entire pages of classifieds in reputed publications.
One person who has made it her business as Founder and President of Intersections Match, an “elite personalised matchmaking firm in the United States serving selective singles of South Asian descent nationwide” is 40-something Jasbina Ahluwalia of Oakbrook, Illinois. A lawyer by training, she hosts her own radio show, Intersections Matchmaking Talk Radio, “a monthly holistic lifestyle show, focused on our continual evolution into the best versions of our authentic selves. The show is broader than elite matchmaking and includes ‘Thought Leadership’ and spearheading a dialogue on relationships, social dynamics and health and wellness, each of which contribute to meaningful and fulfilling lives.”
Ahluwalia is a second-generation professional Indian-American who saw a need in the South Asian community in the U.S. “for someone who could relate first-hand to the challenges of juggling professional, social, and personal demands”. Her “first-hand experience”, as she calls it, motivated her to create a premium service for “selective professionals wishing to focus on finding that special someone, while maintaining demanding schedules. This can be a common issue for young professionals from South Asian backgrounds whose cultures discourage early dating and teach young people to first focus on their educations and other self-development.”
And there was no one helping, not on a professional basis. That was where Ahluwalia stepped in, since she believed she had the requisite qualifications and “After I found my life-partner, I felt it was time for me to try and identify an opportunity where I could have more influence over my time, which I did not have as a practicing lawyer. Her clients, “who are active professionally and socially in mainstream culture, seek our services as an alternative to an arranged marriage. As arranged marriages is not a service we offer, and the response to our services has been overwhelming, one might infer that arranged marriages may be on the wane among U.S.-based South Asians,” though she has “no hard data with respect to the prevalence of arranged marriages in the U.S..”
The whole process is carefully organised. Ahluwalia explains that it is “a highly-personalised, consultative and feedback-centric process. Before a client meets any matches, I learn the client’s needs, wants, values, priorities, lifestyle, personality and background via an extensive and interactive personal consultation. We do not limit our search plan clients to meeting other Intersections clients exclusively. Rather, the idea is to exponentially expand our selective clients’ universe of potential matches.
Matches come from our exclusive ‘Search Plan’ client base, a pool of stand-alone ‘Personal Consultees’, a ‘Register For Free Database’, events we attend throughout the country, our relationships with other matchmakers, customised personal ads in upscale publications, as well as our everyday lives. Each match is pre-screened, and a criminal background check run, before introductions are made.”
Singles do seem to find it not-too-easy to make love matches. Ahluwalia explains that “For many, they have spent their time and energies focusing on their studies and career and have attained a high-level of professional success. Now that they are interested in focusing on finding a life partner, they want to spend their limited valuable time only with prospective partners with real potential. For some, they are repeating patterns in their dating and relationships which may be getting in the way of finding compatible life partners. For some, their expectations with respect to a life partner involve internal inconsistencies — such as wanting a spouse whose professional responsibilities are incredibly intense to also have considerable time and energy to devote to family responsibilities. Also, in the U.S. marriage as an institution is in transition, as societal changes, including the prevalence of women in both institutions of higher learning and the workforce, has led to changes with certain traditional expectations with respect to marriage.”
There has indeed been a change in the kind of people who use her company to find a partner, says Ahluwalia. But these are more societal, as a result of “the larger numbers of women attaining higher levels of education and income, and of women with children in the workforce in this generation”. Most of her clients are “mainstream Americans who happen to be of South Asian descent — highly educated, most dominantly Indian (either second or first generation) and typically mainstreamed in the US in terms of their social and professional ties”. And, as she has found, “While many people in the West find the thought of marrying a person one has never met prior to the wedding strange, the idea of marrying someone originally introduced via family or a third party is not as strange. The idea of marriage prior to love is still not widespread in their culture.” Some of these, non-Indians mainly, are included in her network. Expansion to Asia, perhaps even India, is something she is willing to consider in the future.
Matchmaking is definitely a growth industry in the US, finds Ahluwalia. “As online dating has become mainstream in the US, the idea of third-party involvement in one’s search for a life partner has become more widely accepted as well. For Americans in the U.S. who are selective and willing to devote their resources to their search for a life partner, the personalised nature of matchmaking has become attractive.” There is even a Professional Matchmakers Association, of which she is an active member. However, she says proudly that her company is “the one-and-only elite national personalised service for singles of South Asian descent.”
This entrepreneurial spirit and her success have won Ahluwalia a number of accolades and awards. And she was chosen as one of the finalists for final auditions for Your OWN Show: Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star, a reality series on the Oprah Winfrey network OWN. Ahluwalia was one of eight finalists selected online. Her show aims to “empower people to be the ‘best version of their authentic selves’ by focusing on relationships and health and wellness” and “seek a balance between fulfilling ‘their responsibilities as caretakers and leading healthy lives’.”
Would Ahluwalia look for matches for her own children? “I would want to help our children develop into happy, healthy, loving, self-assured people with a discerning sense of judgment who would be able to recognise a good partner, regardless of the exact manner or meeting that partner,” she replies diplomatically. And while she herself met her husband online, her parents had a traditional Indian arranged marriage. Full circle?