I wish I’d seen this 12 years back

Have I told you that my wife regularly puts out a lot of great content on relationships? She has a relationship blog. A newsletter on relationship markets (brownie points for guessing the funda of the name). A personal youtube channel. A “professional” youtube channel.

There’s a lot of amazing content she puts out through all these channels, but I must say that I got especially blown away by this one video that she has put up recently. It is a conversation with Urvashi Goverdhan, an actor and model, about “how to get the first date”.

So you might be single and wondering how you can chat up someone of the opposite sex (or in the interest of diversity, should I say “gender that you want to partner with”?). And if you are like what I was until 2009, you have no clue how to do it.

Most of the time you play over conservative and miss out on opportunities. Sometimes you might decide to go aggressive, but do it all wrong (as I kept doing through most of the 2000s), and count yourself lucky that your “target” decides that physically harming you or shaming you is not worth their time.

If you are like that (and I was like that till at least August 2009 – if you’re not convinced go read my blog archives. Everything about my life from 2004 onwards is well documented here), then I strongly urge you to listen to this conversation, as these two wonderful ladies talk about what women look out for in men, and what men need to do to get women’s attention in a nice manner.

Watching this now, I so strongly wish that I had seen this 11-15 years back. I would have been able to make very good use of it back then. Then again, if I had seen this video and been able to make good use of it back in the day, then there is a strong likelihood that I may not have met the person who is now my wife at all (some of you might know – we met through this blog, and then Orkut, and then chatted for long enough that when we met, it was a “qualified lead” that I was able to convert).

It is a long video, but completely worth your time. So go ahead and watch it in full. Oh, and you should subscribe to the Marriage Broker Auntie Youtube channel as well, if you haven’t already.

Still not convinced that you should watch the video pasted above? Here are some pointers I gathered, all from the first 10 minutes of the video:

  1. If a boy is in a group that already has girls, then there is a higher chance of other girls wanting to talk to him
  2. Pick up lines don’t work. At all.
  3. When you repeatedly make eye contact with someone, smile. Don’t stare.

Okay, now go off and watch the video!

TV Bundling

This is yet another blogpost to expand on a tweet I wrote yesterday.

Just to remind you, Suprio Guha Thakurta (former Chief Strategy Officer at The Economist) and I have started The Paper, a 4-days a week newsletter that goes in (some) depth into one business story from India each day. We rely purely on “secondary reporting” (collating from news items), to which we add our own commentary.

Subscribe here.

Last week we wrote about a new TRAI order about bundling of TV channels. Essentially the telecom (and broadcast) regulator in India has gone to great lengths to ensure that TV channels don’t get bundled in a way that makes it difficult for the customer to choose.

While the effect of this bundling order might be uncertain, one question needs to be asked to TRAI – why are they only concerned about bundling at one level (across channels) and not at the television channel level itself?

After all, television channels are also bundles.

For a fixed fee a month (and a willingness to see a certain proportion of paid content), subscription to a television channel gives you the opportunity to watch any of the programming that the channel offers. Let’s take a sports channel, for example (IMHO, live sports is the only reason you need cable TV. Everything else can be streamed).

Let’s say there is one Sony channel that offers live coverage of UEFA Champions League, NBA and cricket played in England (I know all these are part of the Sony bouquet, though I don’t know if they are regularly broadcast on the same or different channels here. Let’s assume there is one channel that shows all three).

Assume that I’m only interested in the football, but not in either NBA or cricket played in England. In order to watch my football, I’m forced to buy subscription to the entire TV channel (and thus pay for the cricket and basketball as well). Why am I being forced to do this?

Take any channel, and the outcome is going to be similar. You will subscribe to the channel only because you want to watch a few programs, but you are forced to pay for everything. Is this fair?

Let’s move beyond televisions. Consider the Times of India. I’m mainly interested in the local news and the bridge column (OK, my daughter has taken a liking for the cartoon page as well). Still I need to pay for the whole paper. Is that fair?

Essentially, bundling exists everywhere. And it is going to be incredibly hard to regulate it away. TRAI wants to reduce one kind of bundling (across channels), but its regulation seems  blind to in-channel bundling. Essentially it is impossible to regulate against in-channel bundling as well.

And in any case, there are clear benefits to customers from bundling, the most important of which is the elimination of “mental cost”. If some day I suddenly want to watch NBA, it’s already there on the Sony channel I’ve paid for, and I don’t need to rush that moment to try and buy subscription.

Yes, pay per view exists in certain markets, and it can be profitably offered for certain kinds of premium events whose viewership is so uncorrelated with viewership of other events that bundling is nigh impossible.

Also, isn’t your spouse or partner also a bundle? To quote Esther Perel:

Today, we turn to one person to provide what an entire village once did: a sense of grounding, meaning, and continuity. At the same time, we expect our committed relationships to be romantic as well as emotionally and sexually fulfilling. Is it any wonder that so many relationships crumble under the weight of it all?

I leave you with her TED TAlk.

 

People are worried about marriage market liquidity

Every time we have a sort of financial crisis that has something to do with settlement, and collaterals, and weird instruments, people start questioning why more instruments are not traded on exchanges. They cite the example of equities, which world over are exchange traded, centrally settled, and whose markets function rather efficiently.

After the 2008 Financial Crisis, for example, there was a move to take Credit Default Swaps (CDS) to exchanges, rather than letting the market go over the counter (OTC). Every few years, ideas are floated about trading bonds on exchanges (rather than OTC, like they are now), and the blame falls on “greedy bankers who don’t want to let go of control”.

There is an excellent podcast by Bloomberg Odd Lots where Chris White, a former Goldman Sachs banker, talks about how the equity markets went electronic in the 1970s with NASDAQ, and how the “big bang” in the UK markets propelled equities into electronic trading everywhere.

A lot of these ideas have also been discussed in my book on market design

In any case, I think I have the perfect explanation of why bond trading on exchanges hasn’t really taken off. To understand this, let’s look at another market that I discussed extensively in my book – the market for relationships (that chapter has been extracted in Mint).

The market for relationships is in the news thanks to this Netflix documentary called Indian Matchmaking. I started watching it on a whim on Saturday night, and I got so addicted to it that yesterday I postponed my work to late night so that I could finish the show instead.

Marriage can be thought of as a sale of “50% of the rest of your life“, paid for by 50% of the rest of someone else’s life.

There are two ways you can go about it – either “over the counter” (finding a partner by yourself) or “exchange traded” (said exchange could be anything from newspaper classifieds to Tinder to Shaadi.com). Brokers are frequently used in the OTC market – either parents or friends (who set you up) or priests.

The general rule of markets is that the more bespoke (or “weird” or “unusual”) an instrument is, the better the likelihood of finding a match in the OTC markets than on exchanges. The reason is simple – for an exchange to exist, the commodity being traded needs to be a commodity.

Read any literature on agricultural markets, for example, and they all talk about “assaying” and “grading” the commodities. The basic idea is that all goods being traded on a marketplace are close enough substitutes of each other that they can be interchanged for each other.

Equity shares, by definition, are commodities. Equity and index derivatives are commodities as well, easy enough to define. Commodities are, by definition, commodities. Bond futures are commodities, since they can be standardised on a small number of axes. We’ll come to bonds in a bit.

Coming back to relationship markets, the “exchanges” work best if you have very few idiosyncrasies, and can be defined fairly well in terms of a small number of variables. It also helps you to find a partner quicker in case many others in the market have similar attributes as you, which means that the market for “your type of people” becomes “liquid” (this is a recurring theme in my book).

However, in case you are either not easily describable by commonly used variables, or in case there are few others like you in the market, exchanges are likely to work less well for you. Either of these conditions makes you “illiquid”, and it is not a great idea to list an illiquid asset on an exchange.

When you list an illiquid asset on an exchange, unless you are extremely lucky, it is likely to sit there for a long time without being traded (think about “bespoke exchanges” like eBay here, where commodification is not necessary). The longer the asset sits on an exchange, the greater the likelihood that people who come across the asset on the exchange think that “something is wrong with it”.

So if you’re listing it on an exchange, its value will decay exponentially, and unless you are able to trade soon after you have listed it, you are unlikely to get much value for it.

In that sense, if you are “illiquid” for whatever reason (can’t be easily described, or belong to a type that few others in the market belong to), exchanges are not for you. And if you think about each of the characters in Indian Matchmaking who come to Sima aunty, they are illiquid in one way or another.

  • Aparna has entered the market at 34, and few other women of her age are in the market. Hence illiquid.
  • Nadia belongs to a small ethnicity, Indian-Guyanese-American, which makes her illiquid.
  • Pradhyuman has quirky interests (jewelry and fashion), which his parents are trying to suppress as they pass him off a liquid “rich Maadu boy”. Quirky interests mean he’s not easily describable. Hence illiquid.
  • Vyasar, by Indian-American standards, doesn’t have a great job. So not too many others like him. Illiquid, even before you take his family situation into account.
  • Ankita is professionally ambitious. Few of those women in the Indian arranged marriage market. Illiquid.
  • Rupam is divorced with a child. Might be liquid by conventional American markets, but illiquid in an Indian context. And she is, rather inexplicably, going the Indian way despite being American.
  • Akshay is possibly the most liquid (characterless except for an overly-dominating mom), and maybe that’s why he’s shown getting engaged.

All of these people will be wasting themselves listing themselves on exchanges. And so they come to a matchmaker. Now, Sima Auntie is both a broker and a clearinghouse (refer to Chapter 3 of my book 😛). She helps find matches for people, but only matches within her own inventory (though she decided Ankita has no matches at all in her own inventory, so connected her with another broker-clearinghouse).

This makes it hard – first of all you have illiquid assets, and you are trying to fulfil them within limited inventory. This is why she is repeatedly showing saying that her candidates need to “compromise” (something that seems to have triggered a lot of viewers). By compromise, she is saying that these people are so illiquid that in case they need to get a deal in her little exchange, they need to be willing to accept an “illiquidity discount” in order to get a trade. 

Back to bonds, why is trading them on an exchange so difficult? Because each bond is so idiosyncratic. There is the issuer, the exact date of expiry and the coupon, and occasionally some weird derivatives tacked on. The likelihood that you might find someone quickly enough to take the other side of such a deal is minuscule, so if you were to list your bond on an exchange, its value would drop significantly (by being continuously listed) before you could find a counterparty.

Hence, people trade this uncertain discount to a certain discount, by trading their bonds with market makers (investment banks) who are willing to take the other side of the deal immediately.

Unfortunately, market making is not a viable strategy when it comes to relationship markets. So what do you do if you can either be not defined easily in a few parameters, or if there are few others like you in the arranged  marriage market? You basically go Over The Counter. Ditch the market and find someone for yourself, or ask people you know to set you up. Or hire a matrimonial advisor who will tell you what to do.

If this doesn’t convince you on why matchmakers are important, then may be you should read what my other half has to say. If she’s the better half or not, you figure.

The Prom

The other day, the wife and I were discussing about growing up, and about school crushes, and how relationships worked in school. It was a fascinating discussion, and it has already led to an excellent newsletter episode by her. Here is the key point of our discussion, as she wrote in her newsletter:

There are rumours that some boys have a crush on a couple of girls. You think that it’s a pandemic like the COVID-19, and it’s going to get us all, except it doesn’t. This unfortunately follows a power law, only a couple of boys and girls will be affected by the “crush”, the rest of us just have to be affected by the lack of – crushes, bosoms and baritones. Now, the problem with middle/ high school is that it operates on mob mentality – everyone is only allowed to have a crush on the crushable.

And then later on in the piece, she talks about proms.

You are most likely to fall in love organically and benefit from it early on in life. So, wasting these precious years of socialising is a sin.

So, when I think about it, “prom” is a great concept. It gives everyone a shot at gaining some experience. You’re better off going to prom at 16 rather than at 26.

This got me thinking about proms. I had no clue of the concept of a “prom” while growing up, and only came to know of it through some chick flicks I watched when I was in my late teens. However, I ended up writing about proms in my book (while describing Hall’s Marriage Theorem – yes, you can find Graph Theory concepts in a book on market design), and the more I think about it, the more I think it is a great concept.

The thing with proms is that it forces a matching. One on one. One boy gets one girl and vice versa (I really don’t know how schools that don’t have a balanced sex ratio handle it). And that is very different from how the crush network operates in middle and high school.

As Pinky described in her post, crushes in middle and high school follow a power law, because there is strong mob mentality that operates in early puberty. Before “benefits” get discovered, one of the main reasons for having a boyfriend/girlfriend is the social validation that comes along with it, and such validation is positive if and only if your peer group “approves” of your partner.

So this leads to a “rich get richer” kind of situation. Everyone wants to hit on the hottest boys and girls, with the result that a small minority are overwhelmed with attention, while the large majority remains partnerless. And they continue to be partnerless this way, friendzoning large sets of their classmates at an age that is possibly most suited for finding a long-term gene-propagating partner. 

In most Indian schools, the crush graph in high school looks like this. The boys and girls towards the bottom are the “long tail” – they are not cool to hit on, so nobody hits on them. In other words, they are unloved in High School. Notice that it’s a fairly long tail.

Also notice that most of the arrows point upwards (I’ve drawn the graph so the most sought-after people are on top). Because nothing prevents “one way crushes”, everyone just tries “as high as they can” to find a partner. And most of these don’t work out. And most people remain unloved.

So what does a prom do? Firstly, everyone wants to go to the prom, and to go to a prom, you need a date. Which means that everyone here in this long tail needs a partner as well. In the original setup, when crushes were based on mob-mentality, there was no concept of seeking “undervalued assets” (people nobody else is hitting on). Now, when everyone needs a unique partner, there is value to be found in undervalued assets.

Basically a prom, by providing immediate rewards for finding a partner (soon enough, the kids will discover other “benefits” as well), moves the schoolkids from a “crush network” to a “partner network”, which better represents real-world romantic networks.

Many people may not be able to pair with their first choice (notice in the above network that even the most sought after people may not necessarily match with their favourites), but everyone will get a partner. The Gale Shapley (or should I say Shapely Gal?) algorithm will ensure a stable matching.

Moreover, it doesn’t help your cause in getting a preferred (if not most preferred) partner for the prom if you make your attempt just before the prom. You need to have put in efforts before. This means that in anticipation of the prom, “pair bonding” can happen much earlier. Which means that schoolkids are able to get trained in finding a partner for themselves much earlier than they do now.

That will make it less likely that they’ll bug their parents a decade (or two) later to find them a partner.

How Mani Ratnam Ruined A Generation Of Indian Men

If you fall in love, you might be falling in love with a terrorist. In the arranged marriage market, you’ll find a hot girl who asks if you’re a virgin

I had recently written about how the ages are 13 to 16 are “peak movie appreciation age”, and about how I got influenced by several movies in that period in life. One of them was Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se (1998).

Of course, the most influential thing about this movie was the idea of dancing on top of a moving vehicle. I clearly remember our school picnic (on October 31st 1998), when responding to a challenge, a friend and I (later joined by another friend) clambered on top of the picnic bus and started dancing. I got a 2 litre bottle of Pepsi (presented by the friend who joined us later) for my efforts, which was duly shared between the rest of my class.

Dancing on top of a bus was fun, though it could get dangerous if the bus moved well-at-a -faster rate (I don’t think too many people copied that). The more dangerous thing about Dil Se was about the sort of ideas about arranged marriage that it presented.

Dil Se happened to be Preity Zinta’s debut movie (she was earlier mainly known for this Cadbury’s Perk ad) (it wasn’t technically her debut but I think it got released before the other movie she had shot).

Ten years back, when I was in the arranged marriage market, I wrote this series of blog posts called “Arranged Scissors“. One of them was a hypothetical letter I’d written to a prospective father-in-law (I don’t think I’ve got my actual father-in-law to read it). That included:

During the interview, I’m going to ask your daughter if she is a virgin. If you think she is the type that will be scandalized at such questions, you need not shortlist me.

I must admit that wasn’t an original. It was inspired by this movie released more than ten years before I wrote that.

Preity Zinta plays the role of this Mallu girl whom the protagonist (played by Shah Rukh Khan) meets in the arranged marriage market. They break out to a side room in the house for a chat. The first thing she asks him is if he is a virgin (that also happened to be Zinta’s first line on-screen, helping her set herself an image of a no-nonsense actress).

It fit into the story, so it was all fine. But for a generation of teenage boys watching Dil Se in 1998, it gave the perfectly wrong idea of what arranged marriage was like. It was almost like how Mani Ratnam was telling us that “if you fall in love, you might be falling in love with a terrorist. In the arranged marriage market, you’ll find a hot girl who asks if you’re a virgin”.

And some of us influential boys bought it. It didn’t help matters that just three years later, in Dil Chahta Hai, the Saif Ali Khan character finds that he can find himself a good match in the arranged marriage market (that occurred after my optimal age of movie appreciation, but Preity Zinta in Dil Se had influenced me enough that I bought the tripe anyway).

Many years later, many of us came into the arranged marriage market looking for Preity Zintas and Sonali Kulkarnis, only to find that it was an admission of failure, where you could at best look for a “common minimum program”, and which was overall a dehumanising experience (I’m glad I met my wife when I did, and she bailed me out of the market).

Now, we look back and curse the filmmakers. All because we happened to watch these movies at our most optimal movie appreciation age.

Range of possibilities

After I wrote about “love and arranged jobs” last week, an old friend got back saying he quite appreciates the concept and he’s seen it in his career as well. He’s fundamentally a researcher, with a PhD, who then made a transition to corporate jobs.

He told me that back in his research days, he had many “love work relationships”, where he would come across and meet people, and they would “flirt” (in a professional sense), and that could lead to a wide range of outcomes. Sometimes they would just have discussions without anything professional coming out of it, sometimes it would result in a paper, sometimes in a longer collaboration, and so on.

Now that he is in the corporate world, he told me that it is mostly “arranged jobs” for him now, and that meeting people for this is much less enjoyable in that sense.

The one phrase that he used in our conversation stuck with me, and has made it to the title of this post. He said that “love jobs” work when people meet with a “range of possibilities” in mind.

And that is precisely how it works in terms of romantic relationships as well. When you go out on a date, you are open to exploring a range of possibilities. It could just be an evening out. It could be a one-night stand. It could result in friendship, with or without benefits. There could be a long-term relationship that is possible. Gene propagation is yet another possible result. There is a rather wide range of possibilities and that is what I suppose makes dating fun (I suppose because I’ve hardly dated. I randomly one day met my wife after three years of blog-commenting, orkutting and GTalking, and we ended up hitting the highest part of the range).

Arranged marriages are not like that – you go into the “date” with a binary possibility in mind – you either settle into a long-term gene-propagating relationship with this person or you wish you never encounter them in life again. There is simply no range, or room for any range.

Job interviews in an arranged sense are like that. You either get the job or you don’t – there is one midpoint, though, where things don’t temporarily work out but you keep open the possibility of working together at a later date. This, however, is an incredibly rare occurrence – the outcome is usually binary.

It’s possible I’m even thinking about this “love jobs” scenario because I’ve been consulting for the last 8 odd years now. In all this time I’ve met several people, and the great part of this has been that the first meeting usually happens without any expectations – both parties are open to a range of possibilities.

Some people I’ve met have tried to hire me (for a job). Some have become friends. Some have given me gigs, some several. Some have first given me gigs and then become friends. Others have asked me to write recommendation letters. Yet others have become partners. And so on.

And this has sort of “spoilt” me into believing that a job can be found through this kind of a “love process” where a range of possibilities is open upon the first meeting itself. And when people try to propose the arranged route (“once we start this process we expect to hire you in a week”) I’ve chickened out.

Thinking about it, that’s how a lot of hiring works. Except maybe for the handful of employers which are infamous for long interview processes (I love those proceses, btw), I guess most of the “industry” is all about arranged jobs.

And maybe that’s why so few people “love” their jobs!

Love and arranged jobs

When I first entered the arranged marriage market in early 2009, I had done so with the expectation that I would use it as a sort of dating agency. Remember this was well before the likes of OKCupid or Tinder or TrulyMadly were around, and for whatever reason I had assumed that I could “find chicks” in the arranged marriage market, and then date them for a while before committing.

Now that my wife is in this business, I think my idea was a patently bad one. Each market attracts a particular kind of people, who usually crowd out all other kind of people. And sort of by definition, the arranged marriage market is filled with people looking for arranged marriage. Maybe they just want a Common Minimum Program. But surely, what they are looking for is a quick process where after two (or maximum three) meetings, you commit to someone for life.

So in this kind of a market you want to date, there is an infinitesimal chance of finding someone else who also wants to date. And so you are bound to be disappointed. In this case, you are better off operating in a dating market (such as Tinder, or whatever else did its job ten years ago).

Now that this lengthy preamble is out of the way, let us talk about love and arranged jobs. This has nothing to do with jobs, or work itself. It has everything to do with the process of finding a job. Some of you might find that I, who has been largely out of the job market for over eight years now, to be supremely unqualified to write about jobs, but this outsider view is what allows me to take an objective view of this (just like most other things I write about on this blog).

You get a love job through a sort of lengthy courtship process, like love marriage. You either get introduced to someone, or meet them on twitter, or bump into them at a networking event. Then you have a phone chat, followed by a coffee, and maybe a drink, and maybe a few meals. You talk about work related stuff in most of these, and over time you both realise it makes sense to work together. A formality of an interview process happens, and you start working together.

From my outside view (and having never gotten a job in this manner), I would imagine that this would lead to fulfilling work relationships and satisfying work (the only risk is that the person you have “courted” moves away or up). And when you are looking for a sort of high-trust relationship in a job, this kind of an “interview process” possibly makes sense.

In some ways, you can think about getting a “love job” as following the advise Dale Carnegie dishes out in How To Win Friends and Influence People  – make the counterparty like you as a person and you make the sale.

The more common approach in recruitment is “arranged jobs” (an extreme example of this is campus recruitment). This is no nonsense, no beating around the bush approach. In the first conversation, it is evident to both parties that a full time job is a desired outcome of the interaction. Conversations are brisk, and to the point. Soon enough, formal interviews get set up, and the formal process can be challenging.

And if things go well after that, there is a job offer in hand. And soon you are working together. Love, if at all, happens after marriage, as some “aunties” are prone to telling you.

The advantage of this process is that it is quick, and serves both parties well in that respect. The disadvantage is that the short courtship period means that not enough trust has been built between the parties at the time they start working together. This means “proving oneself” in the first few months of getting a job, which is always tricky and set a bad precedent for the rest of the employment.

In the first five years of my career, I moved between four jobs. All of them happened through the arranged process. The one I lasted the longest in (and enjoyed the most, by a long way, though on a relative basis) was the one where the arranged process itself took a long time. I did some sixteen interviews before getting the job, and in the process the team I was going to join had sold itself very well to me.

And that makes me think that if I end up getting back to formal employment some day, it will have to happen through the love process.

Why You Need Market Manager

I must mention at the outset that this is not a paid post. I haven’t been paid, either in cash or in kind or by any other means, for writing this. This is an honest endorsement, based on principles of market design, on why one of my wife‘s products is awesome. 

I spent five minutes this morning interning for my wife. The more perceptive of you will know that she runs Marriage Broker Auntie, a one-stop shop for (right now “arranged”) relationships in India. As part of this, she offers a product called “Market Manager” where she manages people’s matrimonial platform profiles for a fee.

Five minutes of interning as a market management internship convinced me why this is such a great product.

 

The “job” I did as part of my internship was straightforward. First, I got a lowdown on one of my wife’s clients, and tried to understand him and what he is looking for in a partner. Then, I had to go to shaadi.com (the wife had already opened and logged on on this client’s behalf), where I had to evaluate profiles and decide on whether to send them an “interest” or not (think of this as being similar to swiping left and right on Tinder. Having missed that boat (I met my wife before Tinder had launched), this was interesting).

Every day, Shaadi.com sends each candidate ten “recommended profiles”. My job was to look at these ten on this client’s behalf and decide which of them to pursue. Having achieved the task in five minutes (I might have said yes to two or three of the ten), I was asked what the experience was like.

“I must say I quite enjoyed doing this on behalf of someone else – someone I don’t really know. But doing this for myself or for a close relative would have been nerve-wracking”, I said. And that is precisely why the Market Manager product needs to exist.

Having briefly been in the arranged marriage market before I got lucky enough to met my wife, I know the pains of going through the process. The matrimonial websites have a lot of “market congestion”, in the sense that for every profile you might like, you get shown tens (or even hundreds) of profiles. So sorting through the profiles is a massive task.

Also, the heavy congestion means that both errors of omission and commission can be plenty. It is very possible that you might decide to reject someone who might have been a perfect match for you. It is also possible that you might pursue, and maybe even go on a date with, people who are bad matches for you. And that, as a candidate in the market, can be extremely disheartening.

You send requests to people who you think might make for great spouses for you, but you might end up in their “errors of omission” pile. You lose heart just a little bit each time this happens. Then you look at all the profiles of people who are clearly unsuited to you. And you start wondering if that is your lot. And you lose heart a little bit more.

You lose heart sufficiently that even when an awesome profile comes across, you aren’t sure how to go about it any more. You are jaded. You are unsure of yourelf. Your self esteem has gone to an all-time low. You start wondering what might be wrong with this “awesome profile” that she has expressed an interest in you.

What if someone could instead manage your profile for you, weeding out the clearly unsuitable, and sending on the good matches only once there has been a mutual connect? What if you only got “qualified leads” that you should theoretically have a higher chance of  scoring from?

A lot of people employ their parents or close relatives for this purpose, and while the candidates themselves might be saved all the trouble of weeding through and losing heart, you don’t want a parent or close relative to lose heart in your search as well. Moreover, a parent or close relative will only be managing one profile (yours) at a time, and when things don’t go well it’s as easy for them to lose heart as it might be for you.

A professional (such as Marriage Broker Auntie), on the other hand, represents you, understands you and looks out for you, but can also do so in a very dispassionate manner. They manage profiles of several profiles like yours, so the process is something they’ve refined. They know how to handle rejections and congestion without losing heart. And they are great at understanding people and finding out the specific requirements and looking out for them, rather than what a matrimonial site bot can do.

So if you’re right now in the arranged marriage market, do yourself a favour, and employ Marriage Broker Auntie to manage your profile. Yes, the service is not particularly cheap, but in terms of the mental effort saved and increased chances of finding a good match, it will more than easily pay for itself.

Sometimes I wish this service existed 11 years ago, when I was in the market. Then again, I don’t know what would have been the chances of marrying the Marriage Broker Auntie herself if she had been in this business then.

WhatsApp Profiles and Wandering Spirits

As the more perceptive of you might know, the wife runs this matrimonial advisory business. As a way of developing her business, she also accepts profiles from people looking to get married, and matches them with her clients in case she thinks there is a match.

So her aunts, aunts of aunts, aunts’ friends, aunts’ nieces’s friends, and aunt’s friends’ friends’ friends keep sending her profiles of people looking to get married. The usual means of communication for all this is WhatsApp.

The trigger for this post was this one profile she received via WhatsApp. Quickly, her marriage broking instincts decreed that this girl is going to be a good match for one of her clients. And she instantly decided to set them up. The girl’s profile was quickly forwarded (via WhatsApp) to the client boy, who quickly approved of her. All that remained to set them up was the small matter of contacting the girl and seeking her approval.

And that’s proving to be easier said than done. For while it has been established that the girl’s profile is legitimate, she has been incredibly hard to track down. The first point of contact was the aunt who had forwarded her profile. She redirected to another uncle. That uncle got contacted, and after asking a zillion questions of who the prospective boy is, and how much he earns, and what sub-sub-caste he belongs to, he directed my wife to yet another uncle. “It’s his daughter only”, the first uncle said.

So the wife contacted this yet another uncle, who interrogated more throughly, and said that the girl is not his daughter but his niece. As things stand now, he is supposed to “get back” with the girl’s contact details.

As the wife was regaling me with her sob stories of this failed match last night, I couldn’t help but observe that these matrimonial profiles that “float around” on WhatsApp are similar to “pretas”, wandering spirits of the dead (according to Hindu tradition), who wander around and haunt people around them.

The received wisdom when it comes to people who are dead is that you need to give them a decent cremation and then do the required set of rituals so that the preta gets turned into a piNDa and only visits once a year in the form of a crow. In the absence of performance of such rituals, the preta remains a preta and will return to haunt you.

The problem with floating around profiles on WhatsApp, rather than decently using a matrimonial app (such as Tinder), is that there is no “expiry” or “decent cremation”. Even once the person in question has gotten taken, there is nothing preventing the network from pulling down the profile and marking it as taken. It takes significant effort to purge the profile from the network.

Sometimes it amazes me that people can be so nonchalant about privacy and float their profiles (a sort of combination of Facebook and Twitter profiles) on WhatsApp, where you don’t know where they’ll end up. And then there is this “expiry problem”.

WhatsApp is soon going to turn us all into pretas. PiNDa only!

The Base Rate in Hitting on People

Last week I met a single friend at a bar. He remarked that had I been late, or not turned up at all, he would have seriously considered chatting up a couple of women at the table next to ours.

This friend has spent considerable time in several cities. The conversation moved to how conducive these cities are for chatting up people, and what occasions are appropriate for chatting up. In Delhi, for example, he mentioned that you never try and chat up a strange woman – you are likely to be greeted with a swap.

In Bombay, he said, it depends on where you chat up. What caught my attention was when he mentioned that in hipster cafes, the ones that offer quinoa bowls and vegan smoothies, it is rather normal to chat up strangers, whether you are doing so with a romantic intent or not. One factor he mentioned was the price of real estate in Bombay which means most of these places have large “communal tables” that encourage conversation.

The other thing we spoke about how the sort of food and drink such places serve create a sort of “brotherhood” (ok not appropriate analogy when talking about chatting up women), and that automatically “qualifies” you as not being a creep, and your chatting up being taken up seriously.

This got me thinking about the concept of “base rates” or “priors”. I spent the prime years of my youth in IIT Madras, which is by most accounts a great college, but where for some inexplicable reason, not too many women apply to get in. That results in a rather lopsided ratio that you would more associate with a dating app in India rather than a co-educational college.

In marketing you have the concept of a “qualified lead”. When you randomly call a customer to pitch your product there is the high chance that she will hang up on you. So you need to “prime” the customer to expect your call and respond positively. Building your brand helps. Also, doing something that gauges the customer’s interest before the call, and calling only once the interest is established, helps.

What you are playing on here in marketing is is the “base rate” or the “prior” that the customer has in her head. By building your brand, you automatically place yourself in a better place in the customer’s mind, so she is more likely to respond positively. If, before the call, the customer expects to have a better experience with you, that increases the likelihood of a positive outcome from the call.

And this applies to chatting up women as well. The lopsided ratio at IIT Madras, where I spent the prime of my youth, meant that you started with a rather low base rate (the analogy with dating apps in India is appropriate). Consequently, chatting up women meant that you had to give an early signal that you were not a creep, or that you were a nice guy (the lopsided ratio also turns most guys there into misogynists, and not particularly nice. This is a rather vicious cycle). Of course, you could build your brand with grades or other things, but it wasn’t easy.

Coming from that prior, it took me a while to adjust to situations with better base rates, and made me hesitant for a long time, and for whatever reason I assumed I was a “low base rate” guy (I’m really glad, in hindsight, that my wife “approached” me (on Orkut) and said the first few words. Of course, once we’d chatted for a while, I moved swiftly to put her in my “basket”).

Essentially, when we lack information, we stereotype someone with the best information we have about them. When the best information we have about them is not much, we start with a rather low prior, and it is upon them to impress us soon enough to upgrade them. And upgrading yourself in someone’s eyes is not an easy business. And so you should rather start from a position where the base rate is high enough.

And this “upgrade” is not necessarily linear – you can also use this to brand yourself in the axes that you want to be upgraded. Hipster cafes provide a good base rate that you like the sort of food served there. Sitting in a hipster cafe with a MacBook might enhance your branding (increasingly, sitting in a cafe with a Windows laptop that is not a Surface might mark you out as an overly corporate type). Political events might help iff you are the overly political type (my wife has clients who specify the desired political leadings of potential spouses). Caste groups on Orkut or Facebook might help if that is the sort of thing you like. The axes are endless.

All that matters is that whatever improved base rate you seek to achieve by doing something, the signal you send out needs to be credible. Else you can get downgraded very quickly once you’ve got the target’s attention.