According to my sister, Sima first pulled my sister and my brother-in-law Darrin to the side outside and asked to chat. Sima relayed to them that I have to be told to “have less opinions.” My brother-in-law took a sharp inhale and raised his eyebrows at Sima, as Sima quickly backpedaled to add, “or Aparna should stop saying her opinions so strongly. You should talk to her.” Darrin immediately responded, “But that’s not who she is. Why should she change that? It wouldn’t be fair to her or the guy ultimately.
Why would we ever encourage her to do that?” Sima is aghast that he wouldn’t agree to do her bidding. My sister stepped in. “If you say she’s opinionated, then that is who she is. That’s how I am too. And that will be the very reason someone chooses to marry her. If she has to hide who she really is, what kind of marriage would that be?”
My mother interjects that she heard the tail end of this conversation when she walked toward the three of them the day before. Darrin walked away, frustrated. Vansa followed, and Mom looked at Sima questioningly. According to my mother, Sima then said to her in Hindi, “Srini is a very nice boy, and your daughter will only agree that he’s so nice if you convince her. These matches are good ones. You need to make her understand.” My mother, shocked by these pointed statements, quickly retorted, “Why would I want to convince my daughter to be with someone? She should choose with her own free will to be with someone.” Sima responded, “Your daughter is very powerful. You need to tone her down. This will not do for the men I am bringing to her.” That was enough for my mother. “How dare you? My daughter is powerful because I have brought her up to be powerful. She will choose her own partner. It is not for me to decide who she will marry.” Sima, seeing this disregard for her advice, left the conversation clucking and saying, “OK. It’s up to you. We will see how this goes.”
I stand in that room, the color draining from my face. The woman I entrusted with finding my perfect match not only sent me wholly unsuitable matches but also spoke so poorly of me directly to my family. Still trying to keep the peace, so that my mom’s anger doesn’t shut down the whole show at this moment, I ask Smriti the meaning of such statements. Smriti makes pithy excuses for what is clearly Sima’s poor etiquette coupled with archaic views of matchmaking.
I don’t want to add fuel to the fire, but I have to make my mother and sister aware of the Srini situation—his inappropriate comments, for starters, and the absolute dismissal of me for living in Houston, even though he agreed to get on a plane and meet me. I stop the conversation, relay my date, and see my mom’s neck turn blotchy red from anger. She turns her steely gaze to Smriti. “This is who Sima set my daughter up with? This is who she wants me to convince my daughter to be with? Is this a joke?” Smriti again placates her and asks us if we would share these concerns with Sima on camera. We agree but ask for a few minutes to calm down before we return to the living room.
With Smriti gone, my mother turns to me. “You can leave right now. You don’t owe these people anything. If Sima keeps matching you with these perennial bachelors in their forties who have no intention of settling down, what are you even doing here? And you said you were crying last night when you got home. I don’t want that for you. You shouldn’t want that for yourself, darling.” She’s right. I know she is. But I am not ready to give up on the notion that this could work out for me. That this process could leave me with my future partner.
In the living room, Sima is already seated on the chair. My mother, sister, and I file out and take our seats on the couch and the chair beside her. The cameras start rolling. I lay out my griev- ances, mostly focusing on that fact that Sima has to vet the men she’s presenting to me better. She has to make sure they’re serious about finding a relationship, that they’re in the right mindset to consider getting married if they find the right person, and that they understand any relationship with me would start long-dis- tance. My mother jumps in and explains that I am willing to put in the work of making a long-distance relationship work, if I like the person. I need matches that better align with where I am in life. Sima shrugs and exclaims again that these were good matches.
My mother gets more irritated, muttering as you all heard on tele- vision, “Srini, the Loser.” To her, any man that makes me cry, any man that disrespects my time, any man that uses this opportunity for publicity for himself, is a loser. I don’t disagree. And I know I need to stay far away from those Mom-defined losers.
Excerpted from She's Unlikeable: And Other Lies That Bring Women Down, by Aparna Shewakramani, with permission from HarperCollins India