The Internet – the tour de force that has altered the way we live, work and think. We turn to it for essentials like directions and maps, entertainment, as an intellectual resource and even for the most important decisions in our lives like finding a partner and getting married. In online parlance this is called netrimony and there are a host of websites that cater to finding the perfect spouse. Netrimony is distinct from online dating because it dedicates itself to servicing individuals in pursuit of marriage.
As is the case with online dating websites, netrimony websites are generic as well as niche. For instance popular websites like eharmony.com and matchmaker.com provide a wide geographic reach. Others like naseeb.com, jdate .com and christianmingle.com are faith specific catering to Muslims , Jews and Christians respectively. The very popular shaadi.com that proclaims itself to be the world’slargest matrimonial service provides personalisation through sub-categories relating to community and religion specific services.
Match for Life is a new addition to this prolific netrimonial landscape but with humbler aims. Its niche services are dedicated to Pakistani professionals located in London, Dubai and New York. It was launched on Valentine’s Day this year and is founded by a husband and wife team, Aliya Ali-Afzaland Irfan Afzal. I met up with them in London to find out more about their enterprise.
The couple have been together for over two decades and are quick to point out that the rationale for Match for Life is more than just a happy marriage. This is a business with a well thought out plan that reflects as much on professional and personal experience as it does on the changing circumstances that many young Pakistani’s find themselves in.
Irfan Afzal has a background in corporate and investment banking. Aliya Ali-Afzal’s professional career includes recruitment consulting, career and relationship coaching. The idea for a netrimony service is a culmination of their professional expertise and life experiences. During the course of their careers both husband and wife have met many young professionals who are struggling to meet people and find partners. This is partly because of long working hours synonymous with careers today but also the changes in family structures. The globalised nature of the career market has made it difficult for the traditional marriage set-up where young men and women were introduced through family friendships and referrals to be used. Young people themselves are keen on finding partners with whom they have a connection. Both sexes are seeking alternatives to tea trolley rishta’s where females are judged merely on their tea service skills and appearance, and the aim is to match families rather than persons. In cities like London and New York first and second generation British Asians are culturally removed from their parents. They are interested in Pakistani spouses who reflect their hybrid and new cultural reality. Aliya Ali-Afzalhas often been asked by friends and family if she knows any‘acchay larkay or larki’s’(good and eligible boys or girls) of marriageable age. These observations and questions led the couple to think about a clearinghouse system, an idea that is obviously borrowed from Aliya Ali-Afzal’s experience in recruitment and matching individuals to organisations. Both husband and wife have a firm conviction that a good marriage is not so much about anaccha larka and larki as it is about shared principles, aspirations and goals. They are quick to point out that love, friendship and chemistry are essential to marriage but in their experience individuals who seek matchmaking assistance are usually those who have not met somebody who fits that bill. They are of the opinion that the congruence of shared principles, goals and aspirations can provide common ground potentially leading to chemistry and attraction. It seems like a fair assumption. Aliya Ali-Afzalruefully says that she has yet to work out a formula for chemistry!
The Match for Life website (www.matchforlife.co.uk) has a simple interface with skeletal information. This is because it is a personalised service where the individual works directly with Aliya Ali-Afzal and Irfan Afzal. It is distinct from other websites in that there is no online profile. The initial registration is free and includes a complimentary half an hour session. The decision to proceed further invites a fee to develop an anonymous profile. Aliya Ali-Afzalworks closely with the individual drawing up a detailed assessment based on sixty-nine questions. The profile template is meant to extract information such as core values and principles, personal habits and family backgrounds. She also seeks to identify three fundamental non-negotiable and negotiable requirements. She terms these as deal-breakers and dealmakers, which usually include decisions such as the desire for children, family size and career decisions.
A commitment for marriage is a cardinal requirement for taking up membership for Match for Life. In addition the couple do not accept requests on behalf of individuals. Individual ownership is a cardinal requirement. The couple have therefore refused requests from parents who want to coerce or secretly match make their children. The interview questionnaire leads to a personalised anonymous summary that forms the basis of matching and introduction. At this stage the individual pays a membership fee that is valid for twelve months and enables personalised matching with a view to introduction. The service also includes the ability to arrange face-to-face meetings where individuals are geographically in the same city. In addition Aliya Ali-Afzal is also able to provide confidence and dating coaching if required. In the event that an introduction leads to a matrimonial Match for Life would ask for a success fee that is jointly payable by the couple. Aliya Ali-Afzal and Irfan Afzal believe that the combination of subjective and objective elements in profile development is what lends them an edge.
As a new enterprise, Match for Life is currently focussing on raising their profile and building a database of individuals for matching. They are keen to avoid actively soliciting unmarried professionals preferring to advertise the service through word of mouth and appropriate ad campaigns online. Word of mouth has already generated interest although more women have signed up for the services after the initial free consultation than have men. It is interesting to know that both sexes have articulated the necessity for friendship with their prospective spouse. Many of Match for Life’s clients have already been through websites such as Shaadi.com, events like Asian dinner dates and Masjid matchmaking. This practice is somewhat popular in the United States and was in fact covered by the New York Times in 2006 in a story about a Matchmaking Imam. What attracts them to Match for Life is the customised and confidential service. The anonymity of the profile with a focus on substance makes Match for Life a notch above their previous experiences.
While writing this feature I recalled a quote by Tolstoy that I had read some years ago – “What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility.”I have always maintained it as a truism for any marriage. Looking carefully at Match for Life’s process I am struck by how closely aligned it is with that view. Its anonymous profile affords as much honesty as one can expect at the outset as well as the potential to know something of ones strengths and weaknesses. If the magic of chemistry brings together two who have been matched,Aliya Ali-Afzal and Irfan Afzal will not only achieve their goal of bringing two people together in marriage, they have also handed them the greatest asset and secret to a happy marriage – early knowledge of compatibility or friction. All they will need then is the wisdom to use it!