Young and in Love: The unusual and complicated practices of dating in small town India

I’m not going to lie. I am pretty ignorant in the ways of arranged marriages. Coming from a western background, the idea of having your parents choose who you are going to marry seems appalling! I am understanding of the fact that all cultures are different, and in the end, it is common values, trust and commitment that make a relationship work rather than a common love for beer and a weekend in Mexico. Still, I was under the impression that arranged marriages were simple and straightforward. Mother and father find a suitable mate for daughter. Suitable meaning in the right caste, and with the right amount of social hierarchy. Daughter goes from parent’s home to husband’s home with no previous experiences in dating, or any glimpses of the westernized fantasies about love… Turns out, I’m pretty off the mark.
“What’s the average age to get married here?” We asked Momo while we were sharing some chai.
“In your twenties. Probably mid twenties or even late.” he said.
“Are all the marriages here arranged?”
“Yup, in Khajuraho pretty much all the marriages are arranged”
“So people just go from being single to married? There’s no dating?”
He laughed. “Oh, there’s dating!” He said. And thus began my little understanding of Indian youth in Khajuraho…
Girls and boys in small town India do date. They just go about it in very absurd ways.
If a girl sees a boy she likes on the street she will tell her friend.
“Hey, you know so and so’s friend with the green eyes and long hair? Well I saw her boyfriend’s friend walking down the street the other day and I really like him.” Says Lovestruck Girl.
“Ya, he’s totally cute.” Her friend agrees. So Lovestruck Girl’s friend gets in touch with so and so. So and so then calls the girl with the green eyes and long hair. She in turn has a chat with her boyfriend who tells his buddy about the girl that’s crushing on him.
“No way! What does she look like?” Cute Boy asks. And one day his friend points her out on the street.
“Ya, she’s really cute! Pass on my number!” So Cute Boy passes his phone number to his buddy, who gives it to his girlfriend with the green eyes and the long hair, who passes it on to her friend so and so who sneaks it to her friend, and finally it makes it back to Lovestruck Girl. *in breath*
Lovestruck Girl then phones Cute Boy: relationship started.
A second way of going about this is as follows: Lover Boy sees girl at school and decided he likes her. He finds excuses to stand outside her home to see if she notices him outside her window. If she does, cute girl will come outside onto the balcony and nonchalantly glance at Lover Boy. Lover Boy decides to write his number on an old piece of newspaper. He holds it up high, just to make sure cute girl sees, then casually drops it on the ground. If cute girl decided she likes Lover Boy, she will go outside and pick up the phone number. If not, Lover Boy comes back the next day and sees his crumpled paper as part of the overall garbage landscape.
“Aw, man!” Better luck next time, Lover Boy.
Then begins the dating. Amazingly, things get even stranger. The girl will alway play coy and hard to get, never wanting to meet up, but keeping an ongoing phone relationship for months.
“You can be dating a girl on the phone for easily four months and never see her in person” explained Momo. “But she’ll act like she’s your wife!”
“Excuse me!” Says Phone Girlfriend, “I SAW you drinking with your friends the other night. Who do you think you are?! You can’t just party with your friends all the time and forget to call me! And quit smoking! I heard you were smoking at the back of the barber shop the other day. I don’t want a boyfriend if he smokes!”
“Well maybe of we met in person I could see you instead of my friends.” replies Doghouse boyfriend.
“NO!”
And so the relationship continues…
“It’s funny” said Momo, “because a boy and a girl can talk every day on the phone, then pass each other in the streets like they don’t even know each other. They just make brief eye contact and then keep walking!”
Seriously, this is the most confusing way to date ever… I am fascinated.
“I can’t believe you can date for so long and never see the person!” I said.
“Yeah, it can get tiring,” said Momo. “That’s why guys have to start playing games!”
Sexually Frustrated Boy calls his girlfriend Hard-to-Get: “Hey honey, I have some bad news. I have to go out of town for a month for work. I’m so sad; I won’t be able to talk to you for so long! I wish I could have seen you in person before I left”
“What?!” Says Hard-to-Get, “You are leaving? When?!”
“Next week.”
“Well maybe we should meet up before you go then! So you don’t forget about me.”
Win! They find some park to meet in and everyone is happy. Especially when a week later Sexually Frustrated Boy’s work plan magically gets cancelled!
This is dating in India.
Finding a suitable husband in India is equally as complex. Yes, parents do choose, but it doesn’t seem to be the definitive decision I thought it was.
At an appropriate age, Soon-to-Wed’s parents go searching for her future husband. They go from household to household, having chai and discussing business with other parents. There are a lot of factors; I feel like it’s a Bollywood version of Pride and Prejudice. Caste is essential. Everyone marries within their own caste in Khajuraho. If a woman marries below her caste her parents shun her. I hate to say it, but sometimes they will go to the extreme of killing her and her husband… Not ideal. Fortunately, it apparently takes a year for things to be forgotten.
“A friend of mine just got pregnant with a boy from a lower caste” said Momo “It just happened two days ago. They ran away the two of them to live in another city.”
“Seriously?! What will happen to them?” We asked, genuinely concerned.
“Their will be a lot of blame pointed around. People will accuse different families to protect their pride, but overall, the family will probably just shun her existence.”
“Forever?”
“Well, yes and no. Most likely they will move back in a year or two after the baby is born. They will live in solitude for a while, but mothers can’t ignore their daughters forever. Her mom will probably start calling her again, or sneaking over to help with the baby. But she has socially disrespected her family, so things will never be exactly the same. In a small town like this, people remember.”
That is usually why parent choose suitable partners. So when matchmaking tea time is over, parents of Soon-to-Wed come home with a list of options. They will have a photo of each suggested partner. On the back of the photo, the boy will have sneakily written his phone number.
Soon-to-Wed and her girlfriends will go through the photos. They will giggle and gossip and judge the same way us western girls do. When they find someone they like, Soon-to-Wed will phone him; the two will agree to find a place to meet.
“Meeting is usually done in a park, or at a temple” explained Momo. “But the couple is rarely alone. Usually, the guy shows up and the girl is already sitting there… With all her girlfriends.”
It then becomes a Spanish Inquisition. Soon-to-Wed sits there quietly while her friends play a 20 questions speed round with Victim Number 1.
“Do you like her?”
“Do you like to take long strolls in the park?”
“What is your job?”
“What is your favourite Bollywood love song?”
If Soon-to-Wed’s crazed posse approves, THEY are the ones to hand out her phone number. It is never done directly. And thus begins the dating…
I’m exhausted. I had no idea dating in India and choosing a husband was so complex and so hilarious.
Momo even explained some of his own trials and tribulations of dating in his 28 years.
“When I was 17 I didn’t know how to talk to girls. My friend was so good though! He was kind of a playboy I guess. So I asked him one day, I said ‘Hey, I like this girl at school, but I don’t know how to talk to her. Can you teach me how to do it?’ My friend agreed and I was so happy, because I really liked her. He told me what to do and exactly what to say… But what he said was kind of dirty. ‘Really? I should say that to a girl?!’ I asked. ‘Ya,’ he said, ‘girls love when you talk dirty to them’. So I worked up the courage and went up to her at school one day. I told her exactly what he had told me. And you know what? She slapped me RIGHT IN THE FACE! But not just her, her friend was there as well and she slapped me too! So I went back to my friend and I told him what happened. He laughed at me and said ‘Yeah, I knew that would happened. You’re going to have to learn how to talk to girls yourself. I’m not telling you MY secrets!'”
I guess in any culture there are trial and tribulations and games to be played when it comes to dating. But listening to Momo explain the bizarre methods of young Indians in Khajuraho left Kelsi and I in stitches for close to an hour. What a strange way to fall in love!

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3 thoughts on “Young and in Love: The unusual and complicated practices of dating in small town India

  1. Haha, I’ve noticed similar dating cultures in other parts of India, even in cities. A lot of teenage guys I knew in Jaipur had 10+ “girlfriends”! They certainly have a different definition of “girlfriend”/”boyfriend” than I am used to….it’s so interesting. I feel like it happened because they were suddenly introduced to Western culture (i.e. dating) and had to instantly integrate it into the culture of arranged marriages, and this craziness is what resulted. Also, there is actually a Bollywood movie version of Pride and Prejudice, Bride and Prejudice. I haven’t seen it myself, and I’ve heard it was terrible, but you should check it out since you mentioned it haha.

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