by Salwa Tareen
With winter finally settling in it is officially “Find Bae” season, the thought of arriving alone to countless parties, constant reruns of “Love Actually,” and the hope of finding a soulmate in the new year present more reminders of singledom than any other time of the year.
In an effort to change this fate, desi millennials looking for love will likely turn to dating apps. A relatively new phenomenon, the desi dating app offers a modern alternative to matchmaking Aunties, matrimonial websites, and biodata.
If you’re unfamiliar with this term, biodata is the equivalent of a marriage resumé, where an individual presents personal information and qualifications in order to be matched with or selected by a like-minded individual. Matrimonial websites, such Shaadi.Com, helped trim biodata to a few basic categories for users to create an attractive online profile. Not surprisingly, an individual’s age, height, complexion, religion, ethnicity, education, and occupation are among the most common categories.
Just as matrimonial websites slowly replaced traditional matchmaking, so too are desi dating apps seeking to revolutionize how South Asians find love in the modern age. But are these apps really so different from that Aunty passing around photos of eligible suitors out of a burlap handbag?
More importantly, how have the conventional methods of evaluating potential partners been incorporated or challenged in these apps? As desi dating apps make casual dating more acceptable and increase one’s choices of potential partners, do they push desis to see each other in new ways or rely on old assumptions?
In an effort to better understand the evolution of biodata and how desis evaluate each other, I set out on a quest to join every desi dating app the Apple App Store had to offer. I created profiles for a total of 10 apps, all marketed towards or largely used by South Asians. Rather than list individually what each app offers, my observations below are aggregated in order to demonstrate overall trends.
*Disclaimer: No unassuming Brown Boys were harmed in researching or writing this article.*
In general, there are a few details that set profiles on desi dating apps apart from their mainstream counterparts. The most notable of which is the length. On average, each app offers nine or more questions or categories to choose from in their profile. Only one app requires no information beyond photo, location, and age. Topics range from physical characteristics (height and body type) and profession to relationship status (married, widowed, separated, annulled, and living with or without children) and lifestyle (drinking and smoking frequency).
Remember, this is before seeing, let alone talking to, potential matches.
On top of that, some categories come with coded language. For instance, out of the eight apps that asked for culturally identifying information, six named their categories “community,” “upbringing,” “background,” or even “flavor.” Within these categories, many apps mixed nationality, religious, caste, and linguistic identifiers in one. While the information may be useful, it is difficult to conflate heritage, religion, even caste or region within these vague categories. This is especially true when users are often limited to one answer in each of these categories.
Despite these limitations, the breadth of these profiles may seem necessary for evaluating potential desi matches. Nationality, religious sect, and language all speak to an individual’s greater lived experiences and family history. And if we value our own identity and personal values, it makes sense to seek them out in others.
Yet, many would argue the same can also be said for one’s educational and professional information. Or lifestyle choices. As I created profile after profile, it became apparent just how many deal-breakers potential matches were up against. On the one hand, this approach helps narrow down options and requires individuals to be forthright about all they have to offer. On the other, it relies on conventional attitudes about what these categories add up to in terms of social status.
With a focus on not only physical appearance but also upbringing and background, it seems as if your matchmaking Aunty’s biodata has prevailed in the age of modern dating. The form may have changed to allow for more options, but the means of evaluating matches have not.
To be fair, this may not be an indicator of why young desis choose their romantic partners, as much as an indication of how we are expected to choose them.
So, when you are out looking for Bae this season, don’t be shy to browse their biodata before swiping right. After all, it is Aunty approved.
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Salwa Tareen is a recent college graduate, community organizer, and writer from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Through her work, she seeks to explore the intersections of language, identity, and politics whether it’s in the form of a poem, dialogue, essay or literature review. In her spare time, as a Pakistani-American woman born in Saudi Arabia and raised in Canada, Salwa enjoys crafting clever quips to the question: “No, where are you really from?”