Surveys will have some sample-set bias, but these numbers still give a clue of how big the institution of arranged marriage is in India. An NDTV survey showed 74% of Indians preferred arranged marriages. The Taj Wedding Barometer survey showed 75% of young Indians (aged between 18-35) preferred arranged marriages, with the number being 82% for Indian women. But preferences need not always mean success.
Gleeden is an online dating platform with the tagline “the first extramarital dating site made by women.” Dating apps in India target singles. Gleeden targets married people. Being a global website, it was available for Indians to register. Recently, it launched an India-specific strategy. It has already reached approximately 120,000 users in India. Its Indian subscribers initially grew without any marketing whatsoever, and it is only now that it is looking at advertising. While this growth makes an admirable case-study, does it also reveal some truths about the institution of Indian marriages, especially that of arranged marriage?
There is nothing new about the lack of compatibility and gaps in relationships in many marriages around us, creating that unfulfilled desire to find fulfilment, excitement or happiness. In an interview, Solène Paillet, 29, head of communications and manager of the- all women team at Gleeden said “when you are married for a few years, you need some excitement which people are now finding online. [Gleeden] does not interfere with the institution of marriage but creates a secure and anonymous space for people seeking affairs outside their relationships.”
But while this may be true world-over, should India have been different? After all, arranged marriages in India are often quoted higher success rates given that the process evaluates various compatibility factors and socio-economic and familial parameters. Unlike love marriages, where emotions often render people blind to such practicalities. While it is not written that Gleeden’s 120,000 subscribers have had arranged marriages; one assumes they would make a reasonable share going by the skewed results of the above-mentioned surveys.
The perceived success rate of arranged marriages may also be because couples stay quiet and bear it, rather than air dirty laundry in public. Even if one assumes that these 120,000 subscribers have had love marriages, it still questions India’s education and upbringing which moulds peoples’ ability to judge and appreciate another individual. Nevertheless, marriages have been far from perfect for many, despite being a national obsession. Separation is still considered taboo in many families, although that perception is now changing. But the desire to find fulfilment, excitement or happiness remains, even if it is for a short-term. This site gives them a chance to fill that gap, and the pace of registrations indicates some indeed are trying to. All this highlights what most Indians already knew; that traditional Indian society preferred not to talk about marriages openly. This site has just brought out the debate in the open.
Coincidentally, of Gleeden’s 120,000 Indian subscribers, 75% are men. Hindustan Times had conducted an experiment, where they created two profiles – a 30-year male and a 30-year female. The female profile received huge interest, the male profile hardly any. The female profile’s male respondents were mostly in their 40s and shared reasons like boredom, lack of relationship, etc. Quick gratification seemed to be in the minds of most, as they wanted to meet at the earliest rather than interact first for some time. Again, this may not necessarily indicate an unhappy marriage; but it makes it worse for those happy marriages where the husband was a subscriber.
Assuming few of these subscribers to be arranged marriage cases, it is also not encouraging to note that the evaluation process of arranged marriages can end up matching two partners, one of whom could be a subscriber. Meanwhile, the relative lack of traffic from Indian women subscribers on Gleeden showed they are yet to open up to alternatives. But their pace may still remain slow if they have to endure perverted behaviour. Gleeden has answered this by incorporating relevant features, like allowing women to rate male members. This should give women more comfort to register.
Compatibility, fulfilment and perversion apart, a desire to save the marriage might also explain part of the traffic. Even though it sounds like a paradox. Anecdotes abound amongst married Indian couples about how a long-drawn unhappy relationship often creates a mental bias, and this block reduces the motivation to make the effort to improve the relationship. This is in line with the recent spike in divorce rates in India since it is easier to give up than to make that effort. While some cases may be genuinely unsolvable, some may be due to this mental block. What if a short-term extramarital relationship can help save that marriage?
This is because an external catalyst can create a positive stimulus by giving confidence or a refreshed outlook. That can help overcome the mental block, giving renewed energy to make that effort to improve the original relationship. Getting to talk to someone may be the catalyst. Feeling loved again may be the catalyst. Realising that one’s spouse wasn’t so bad relatively may be the catalyst. Reviving feelings of intimacy may be the catalyst. Realising life is not all black may be the catalyst. Getting a friend may be the catalyst. A short-term alternative may just be the catalyst that makes some of these folks see their original relationships again with positivism, and motivates them to fight that block and make that effort.
While the topic of infidelity may be ammunition for the Indian moral brigade, it will be hard to believe it did not exist. As per a survey, 76% of Indian women and 61% of Indian men had no issues going extramarital. People just didn’t talk about it openly. But duplicity surrounds us. For instance, many vegetarians vocally admonishing non-vegetarian eaters in India are often the ones eating non-veg food without the knowledge of their families. Whether infidelity existed or not in India, the rapid growth of subscribers on this website does raise questions on the success of the institution of Indian marriage, especially, arranged marriages. That does not mean the institution itself is a flop, since numerous success stories abound in both arranged and love marriages. Consider yourself fortunate if you are in one.
Sourajit Aiyer is the author of 2 books in UK and Germany and has written for 38 publications of 13 countries. He has worked in Mumbai, London, Delhi and Dhaka, and has been invited to speak at conferences in India and abroad. He blogs at www.sourajitaiyer.wordpress.com.