South Asian Parents Fix Up Their Kids

Wajiha Zaidi had never dated anyone. She knew her parents would take care of finding her a boy. And in May 2008, she got an email from them with a picture of Hassan Zaidi, whom she would marry a year later.

Zaidi, 27, who was born in Pakistan and moved to Los Angeles when she was 12, said she was “not opposed to the idea” of a set-up. “My only requirement was that I get to know him, at least for a while, which my parents were happy to grant me.”

Many second-generation South Asian immigrants are looking to their parents to help them find a spouse. They just want to have time to date their prospective partners before making the final decision.

Not too long ago, muddled by the clashing cultures in which they had been brought up, many children of South Asian immigrants were averse to allowing their parents a say in their love life. But today, more and more are seeing it as a sensible choice, experts say.

“Most of my clients are amenable to this, and they see it as a practical and very logical option,” said Shruti Poulsen, a family therapist and assistant professor of counseling at the University of Colorado Denver. “They feel it takes the whole pressure of the meeting process — where they need to find people on their own — away from them.”

Religion and nationality remain the most important characteristics that South Asian immigrants — parents and increasingly young adults too — consider when looking for a probable partner.

“When I was going to college, there weren’t many Shia Muslims around, who met the conditions that my parents were looking for,” she said. “I would say having my parents look for a boy was the practical option. They could look beyond my immediate net.”In Zaidi’s case, it was important both to her and her parents that she married a Muslim, preferably Shiite, of Indian or Pakistani origin.

The difficulty in finding someone from within their cultural background has been a chief driving force in children looking to their parents for help.

“If I were Sikh and I wanted to marry another Sikh, it can be very hard,” said Muninder K. Ahluwalia, a psychologist and associate professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey. “Sikhs, for instance, are raised to think of other Sikhs around them as brothers and sisters. So how is one going to find someone from outside the core?”

Ahsaan Qadir, a New York City resident, was expecting his parents to look for someone suitable for him. But he ended up meeting his future wife, Annie, in pharmacy school. Before they started dating, he made sure to get approval from both sets of parents.

Still, Qadir considers himself lucky.

“It’s difficult to find people of the same faith and same culture in a small environment,” said Qadir, 27. “Lots of my South Asian friends who are now working are struggling to find partners and are totally fine with being introduced to someone by their parents.”

South Asian immigrants are also now more at ease with revealing their decision to take help from their parents. It may have once been embarrassing for them to talk about their arranged marriage, but it is no longer so. They recognize that having their parents set them up is not too dissimilar from going on a blind date or looking for someone through online dating.

“This has come through a demystification of the process of dating in the West,” said Ahluwalia. “It’s not like people here actually meet in the subway and go on a date, as they show in the movies.”

At the same time, she has seen a reawakening of second-generation South Asian immigrants’ interest in their heritage. This is also prompting them to turn to their parents for help in finding a mate.

Vishay Nihalani, a Hindu who was born and raised in California, recognizes the difficulties in reconciling the two cultures in which he has grown up. But the 24-year-old feels it is important for him to marry within the Indian community.

“I wouldn’t want to bring home a girl who has no clue about my cultural background,” he said.