Swoosh. Ping. Slow and studied scrolling. Typing with the index finger. My mother is on the prowl for a man. Not for herself, of course, but for any of her three daughters, all of whom have the great misfortune of being single in their late twenties and early thirties. “I’m depressed,” she tells us when the subject of suitors comes up. She, a Bangladeshi woman who got married at 19 and had three kids by 27, can’t believe that none of us have procured a husband or given her any grandchildren. So, she decided to take matters into her own hands. She is now part of several WhatsApp groups where hundreds of fussy parents are on the hunt.
Instead of debating the merits of The Office or pineapple on pizza as one does on Hinge, mums and aunties in these groups discuss deal-breakers such as level of piety, education, willingness to relocate—and the ever controversial, interest in living with in-laws. They trade CVs, often called “biodata” in South Asian communities. When a parent is happy with what they’ve heard, they may forward information to their children. The whole process is more bureaucratic than you might think. Each biodata comes with a unique code, and there are subgroups depending on your preferences, including those for people living in London or seeking older suitors or divorcées. If you like the sound of one suitor, you can find their preferred contact details (frequently a different number than the one in the WhatsApp chat) and message them privately.
Though these groups are a totally different experience than an app like Bumble or Tinder, they do have a few things in common with other options for seeking love online. Notably, this halal Hinge has introduced my mum and other parents like her to all the pitfalls of modern dating, including but not limited to ghosting, gaslighting, and trolling.
My mum used to think of the internet as a special place for YouTube videos introducing new recipes, Islamic sermons that tug on her heartstrings, and sincere Facebook posts from strangers. So when she was added to her first matchmaking WhatsApp group during the pandemic, she assumed it would be filled with hope and potential. After all, it was an opportunity to network with other parents yearning for decent partners for their children.
But what she didn’t expect was to get a crash course in all the strange conundrums and bad manners that dating app users encounter. “Why do people leave you on ‘read’?” she asks us. “Is it okay to double message a person?” “How long is long enough for a follow-up?” To the modern dater, these questions are par for the course. To my mum and other older parents just getting involved in these groups, these behaviors are a shock.
During her time in these WhatsApp groups, my mum has been breadcrumbed by fellow parents who offer one-line tidbits before eventually ghosting altogether. She has carried on conversations only to learn that the other person’s child has found someone more suitable to talk to. She has even experienced the most soul-crushing dating peril of all: getting invested in people who aren’t even single. One time she sent me a biodata of a man who seemed promising, only to discover I already knew him—because I knew his long-term partner. Perhaps some of the children of matchmaking parents find it hard to come clean about their dating status (Islamically at least, you’re not supposed to date unless it’s for the purpose of marriage). But upon discovering he was taken, she was horrified. ”How can people lie like this?” she protested, blissfully unaware of the ubiquity of not-so-single folks on dating apps. Still, she marched on.