Last week my mom called me after her and my dad had gone to dinner with some friends one night. Their friends knew of an 'eligible' man they wanted to introduce me to. Accustomed to these conversations since having broken up with my last boyfriend last October, I listened to what my mom had to say. The 'eligible' young man was everything any parent would want for their daughter: a doctor, mature, settled and 'just a good boy'.
Mom asked me if I had any interest in pursuing the introduction. Exhausted from constantly hearing lately, about how I need to start thinking of 'settling down', I reluctantly agreed. I sent my mom three of my best photos of myself for her to forward on to my aunt who would be introducing the eligible you man and myself, and resumed my work at my office.
Later that night my mom sent me a screenshot of some images that had appeared when she Googled my name. One of the images was a photo of my friend Adam and I at his birthday party. I had my arms around Adam as I was laughing, and he was kissing me on the cheek. Along with the screenshot came a text message saying:
“Aunty Googled your name to take protective measures, and this photograph showed up. Please remove it.”
Irritated with how exasperating this situation was becoming, I removed the photo from its source: Instagram. The next day, my aunt Googled my name again. My mom sent me another text message: “Photo has still not been removed. Please remove it.” So I explained to my sometimes technologically challenged mother that Google is an aggregator which pulls information and images from different sources, and it takes time for images to permanently be removed from its archives. Mom was not satisfied and told me to try again. So the next day at work I confided this entire fiasco to a close friend, who reported the image to Google for me. The image has since been removed.
A few days later I Googled my name again, to confirm that the image had been removed from Google’s archives. When the image of Adam and I didn’t appear seconds after I hit 'search', I was relieved, and I texted my mother to let her know. She responded a few minutes later, letting me know that this said eligible young man was busy applying for medical fellowships at the moment. Annoyed at the entire situation, I bit my lip and decided not to express my irritation to my mother, remembering that it wasn’t her fault that the entire Google image fiasco occurred in the first place.
The situation got me thinking of the concept of arranged marriage, and how much it has evolved yet hasn’t. When my mother was introduced to my father, my father could not jump on Google or Facebook to 'check out' my mom. He couldn’t look at her Linkedin profile to check if she was working towards a career path with any validity. My mother couldn’t Facebook stalk my dad to check out his ex girlfriends. Both my parents likely had lives before each other, but due to the amount of privacy that was given to individuals back in the 80’s, they could determine what they wanted to reveal about themselves to the other.
It’s 2016. When my parents call me with the name of a boy they’d like to suggest for me, I don’t squander a second before putting them on speakerphone so I can multitask on my smart phone and view the guy’s Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram. Within minutes I know which mutual friends we have, how highly educated he is and what income bracket he’s in. I can see numerous photos of him, and I’ll probably gain a preconceived notion of him about five minutes after my parents have candidly told me his name. And within that five minutes, without having met the man who I’ve just learned a lot about, I will have decided whether or not I’d like to actually be introduced to him. And chances are the guy who has heard my name has probably done the same to me, and made the same preconceived notion about me. As sad as it is to say – gone are the days of suspense and 'romance'. Now, we’re all too busy to know who is worth our time and who isn’t based off of the five minutes of Internet stalking we’ve done on them.
And so it’s important for my reputation to stay in tact – always. I really shouldn’t be posting so many photos of myself with my white guy friends on Facebook – because that can give conceivable suitors the wrong idea. Those photos of my friends and I holding our beers should probably come off of Instagram – potential eligible bachelors don’t need to know that I drink. I’m twenty-six and I’m of marriageable age, so I need to portray that with wholesome images of myself. Which is why that photo of Adam and I had to hurriedly be removed from the Internet – because heaven forbid someone eligible sees it and gets the wrong idea.
Back then, women were taught to be calm and collected so that when meeting people, they appear mature. Now, we’re taught to appear calm and collected on our social media platforms, so that when being stalked, we appear mature. Back then, women were taught to be polite when first meeting the man they were being introduced to.
Now, we’re taught to appear polite on the internet so that men actually want to be introduced to us.
My parents met three times before agreeing to marry each other. My mother was living in England and my father was trying to make something of himself in Southern California. They met, and then exchanged letters for a few months before my dad drew out two stick figures at the end of one of his letters: one stick figure was standing up, and the other was down on one knee. And that’s how my dad proposed to my mom. My mother was twenty-two when she got married. She didn’t argue with her widowed mother, she didn’t try to rebel; she went down the path that was hoped for her.
I’m twenty-six years old. I live and work full time in New York City. After work I do what I want – whether that’s working out, socialising, reading or writing. When the subject of marriage comes up, I usually pretend like I’m losing cell phone signal so I can stop talking to my parents about it. When suggestions for introductions come in, I spend five minutes internet stalking the gentleman before letting my parents know if I’m actually interested or not. I’m far picker at twenty-six in 2016 than my mother was at twenty-two in 1985 because I’ve been in multiple serious relationships and I’ve been living independently for nearly a decade now.
The institution of arranged marriage has been a successful one for centuries. It’s a beautiful tradition: our elders guiding us in the direction of someone who might be right for us. It’s changed a lot with the times and with technologies. Now, we can decide whether or not we’d like to entirely dismiss an introduction based on checking their online presence. However, it’s interesting that the stresses of arranged marriage have stayed the same throughout the decades: remove those photos of yourself with beers, remove those photos of yourself with boys and remove any images that don’t depict you as the wholesome woman in-laws would want as their daughter-in-law.