Arranged Scissors 2

One of the greatest sins in the normal relationship process is tw0-timing. If your statistically significant other figures out that there is yet another other who might also be statistically significant, she is not going to take things lying down. The most likely scenario will be that the yet another other will indeed become statistically siginficant – since the original SSO puts ditch. It might be a stretch but I’ll anyway say that tw0-timing is probably the worst mistake you can commit in the course of a relationship.

The arranged marriage market puts no such constraints. Even if you are ten-timing, people won’t mind. Especially if you are an NRI. The typical NRI process goes like this. Boy lands and is given a “shortlist” – a sheaf of CVs and photos. During the drive home, the shortlist is made shorter. The next day, “interviews” are arranged with each girl in the shorter list, typically at her house. End of the day, after sampling data from various sources, boy picks the one that he thinks will be likely to be most statistically significant in the long term.He takes her out for lunch the next day, puts a ring on her finger the following day and flies off, promising to return in a few months for the wedding. Occasionally, he claims he can’t get leave from his employers for another year and so puts off thaaLi also before he returns to vilayat. Girl can follow him later. For now she’ll follow him on Twitter (sorry, bad PJ).

Local boys don’t have it that lucky. At least, it is unlikely that they ten-time. There are two quirks of the arranged marriage market which pull in opposite directions when it comes to two-timing. On one hand is discretion. You don’t announce that you are “seeing someone” until it’s all fixed and proposal has been made and accepted. Discretion also means that you don’t want to be caught together in public. It also means that you can’t write funny things on each other’s facebook walls. And it obviously rules out PDA – in fact, all forms of DA are strongly discouraged until the contract has been signed. Heck, my cousin was putting DA during her engagement and that led to much gossip and condemnation. So no DA till marriage.

So yeah – one of the “advantages” of this discretion is that it allows you to two-time. What tugs from the other side is the time to decision. Due diligence in the whole process is outsourced, to the bankers. Typically it is finished even before the parties concerned get a chance to¬† explore each other – and in this, this process differs from the typical M&A process. So now that the due diligence has already been done, bankers prefer that the parties reach a decision quickly.

I don’t know how this happened, but the time to decision is fairly short. In olden days, I’m told that the due diligence was the beginning and end of the deal process. All that the parties had to do was sign. Things slowly improved – to showing photos, to being shown glimpses, to being allowed to talk for two minutes. I don’t know where things stand in terms of the general market, but I’ve been trying to insist on a proper blading process to allow enough time for tiki-taka.

Ok here is the grand unification for this post. The time to decision is a function of discretion and ability to two-time. Given the discretion that has normally been practised (i suppose this came about because societies were tightly knit and small and things would become awkward for all parties involved if each expression of interest were made public), the cost of two-timing became quite low. Thus, in order to make sure that the counterparty is not two-timing their kid, parents started demanding that decisions be made early. This cut both ways – the counterparty’s parents also wanted to make sure their kid wasn’t being two-timed. From the point of view of bankers, the short time-to-deal was an absolute win.

From the point of views of the interested parties, all it did was to increase the incentive for Common Minimum Programmes. Time allotted is generally too short to properly check out the counterparty, and you need to prioritise. You want to check for obvious mistakes. In the short time, you want to make sure that the counterparty is not an obvious misfit. Realizing that you will never have that time to figure out propely if a prospective counterparty has those “spikes”, you settle for someone who “clears the basic cutoffs”.

You thus get yourself a common minimum programme spouse.

Earlier in the series:

Arranged Scissors 1 – The Common Minimum Programme

Arranged Scissors 1 – The Common Minimum Programme

Now that I’m in the arranged marriage market, I’ll probably do a series on that. I think there has been this book that some female has written about it, but I haven’t read it. I periodically plan to write about this market, and its quirks, comparing it to the “normal louvvu market”. I’ll try my best to keep the identities of those I’m interacting with in the market secret – if not for anything else, because there is a good chance that they might be reading this.

A lot of people shudder at the thought of arranged mariage. They think it’s some kind of a failure. They say that it is a compromise. Some of them enter the market only grudgingly. If not anything else, presence in the arranged marriage market is an admission of failure to find a long-term partner without bankers’ support. Some people tend to take that personally. They think that they are failures in life because they had to request their parents to find them a partner in life.

Two years back, my good friend L Balaji (no, not the cricketer) came up with the hypothesis of a “common minimum programme job”, borrowing the phrase that our politicians are most likely to use when they form a coalition government, which is getting increasingly common nowadays. He defines a CMP job as one which “clears all cutoffs, but doesn’t perform spectacularly according to any criterion”. A CMP job offers you decent pay, keeps you in a decent city, gives you a good work-life balance, decent colleagues, etc. But you cannot really expect to get too much kick out of the job. You may not love the job, but it offers you enough to not get pained.

I think the traditional problem with the arranged marriage market is that people assume that people are in the market to find CMP spouses. Someone who looks “decent enough”, is “smart enough”, is “nice enough”, etc. Traditionally it seems like the evaluation in the arranged marriage market is a series of tickoffs – looks good? check. Can talk grammatical English? Check. I good to talk to? Check. And so forth. So what one ends up with is someone who clears all criteria, and not necessarily someone spectacular. You basicallly try to find someone you can share a house with until you are sixty four, and little else. Even that one major cutoff, I think, sometimes is given short shrift.

This boiling down of the market to CMPNess is responsible for the “compromise” label that the arranged marriage market attracts. And amazingly, a lot of people (who are lucky enough to have found someone better than CMP in the market) start talking about how one needs “to adjust”, “to compromise” etc. Definitely not the kind of stuff that the young person fresh into the market would love to hear. In fact, I think these CMP people are what gives arranged marriage a bad name.

Thinking about it, I think the CMP nature of the market doesn’t have much to do with the people who ended up choosing CMPs, or who ended up as CMPs (note that one can be both). It has structural origins. The problem, I think, lies with the structure of the market, and that all the CMP people have simply adapted to this particular market structure.

When you don’t like a set of rules, there are two ways to deal with it, or maybe three (depending upon whether you count like a mathematician or like a social scientist). First is to adapt yourself to the rules, basically to compromise. Then, you can allow the rules to stay in place, and you can work around them. Find loopholes and exploit them. This is what lawyers excel at. The final option is to bend the rules.

In my next post on this topic, I will talk about the structure of the arranged marriage market, and try to explain why it differs from the normal blading model.