Tanvir Sarwar lived in British Columbia when her husband, Altaf Ishaq, flew in from Ottawa to propose to her on Valentine’s Day.
But that Valentine’s Day was also the first time they saw each other face-to-face.
That’s because Sarwar and Ishaq didn’t initially meet the same way most couples do. They met through a South Asian matrimonial site called shaadi.com.
Matrimonial sites such as shaadi.com cater to the South Asian population living all around the world. On their website, a person can choose what they are looking for based on religion, ethnicity, and profession. The word shaadi means ‘wedding’ in Hindi and Urdu, the two most predominant languages in the Indian subcontinent.
Living in a small town in British Columbia, Sarwar found these types of websites helped her interact with more people who had something in common with her.
“Where I was there wasn’t a whole bunch of Muslims, so I just chose that route,” Sarwar says. “Around that time I was ready to get married and my mom was pushing me as well,” she chuckled.
When Sarwar first started using the site, she really didn’t think anything would come out of it.
” I wasn’t really looking, it just kind of happened,” she says. “I was just surfing and I found it and started chatting to see where it goes.”
But over one year, she saw the potential in the site and continued using it.
“I met a few people over it,” says Sarwar. “But it’s whoever you connect with.”
With Ishaq living in Ottawa and Sarwar living in British Columbia, both kept in contact through the Internet and the phone.
When they met for the first time, the question he asked shocked her quite a bit.
“He actually came down on Valentine’s day,” Sarwar says. “He ended up leaving because I didn’t really give him an answer.”
Sarwar eventually gave her answer two months later, they ended up getting married shortly after.
Although Sarwar only tried to find her match through the online route, Ishaq, on the other hand, went through the customary matchmakers and felt that it really did not work for him.
“I went through the traditional going over to people’s houses, meeting the girl, and sitting there awkwardly,” he said. “It just didn’t’ really work for me … and I decided to look for other routes.”
Ishaq decided to register on a few matchmaking sites, but he found shaadi.com was the best organized.
“I had my name up on a couple of sites and that one produced the most responses,” Ishaq said.
When it came to the traditional matchmaking route, Ishaq found there was a lot of pressure he had to deal with.
“The first time you meet them, you’re also meeting their parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, everyone,” he says. “You don’t even talk much.”
Matchmaking is still the most common way South Asian singles meet. As dating is still considered a taboo with some South Asian families, matchmaking is the only viable choice available to them.
For South Asians living here, Ishaq found it is hard to find a balance between cultures.
“If you [have] grown up here, a blended Pakistani Muslim, you have a bit of both cultures in you,” he said. “With shaadi.com, it allowed that western one-on-one experience to some degree, not to the full degree of dating, but to some degree.
But Fazal Khan, a matchmaker in the South Asian community, says that she doesn’t really agree with the online approach.
“I don’t trust it, [there have been] a lot of fraud cases [that] have taken place according to people,” says Khan.
Khan believes that a person can’t really trust what is written online, as a person can make up the information on the site. For her, by going through the matchmaker, at least there is one other person who has met both parties and can verify the information.
“There have been some successful cases,” Khan says, “but more people complain about it.”
For Narayani Nadesan, online matrimonial sites are just a new way for people of this generation to meet others.
“This is our generation. There are so many long-distance relationships or online relationships that evolve into something more,” Nadesan says.
Nadesan has noticed that people finding actual partners on these sites are becoming more common.
“I met guy this past summer who met his partner online”, she says. “He was from Bombay and she was from Calcutta … they ended up liking each other and got married.”
Nadesan herself doesn’t know yet if she would actually use one of these sites, but says it can be a good way to get to know someone.
As for Sarwar, she finds it was a good option for her and her husband.
“It worked for us,” she says. “Here we are married.”