I was preparing to graduate from law school and move on to the next stage in my professional life. As I searched for employment, it seemed equally important that I search for a spouse. My friends and family had made several attempts at introducing me to potentials they deemed compatible but to no avail. There were only so many single men within my community, and I thought I had exhausted the local options. Short of taking a road trip across the country to scout out potentials at Friday prayers in new and remote areas, I needed a way to meet people.
There was a need for something comprehensive, discreet, safe and efficient. In a world that continues to shrink as a result of social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook, I felt sure that there had to be a way, a different way, to meet my husband than through awkward face-to-face meetings orchestrated by well meaning family and friends.
When I vented my frustrations to a friend, he recommended that I sign up for EHarmony. He explained I could sign up preliminarily without paying a cent, and after nearly swearing me to secrecy, he shared that he had met his fiancé on EHarmony. I cautiously logged on to the website and skimmed through the home page. When I moved to sign up it brought forth a personality survey. The website explained that the meticulous survey was intended to garner various components of my personality, ranging from my capacity as a leader to my level of extroversion. What seemed like hundreds of questions later, my sign up process was complete. It was a tricky balance to include enough information about myself to give a reader insight into who I was and what I was looking for while also hoping to retain some level of anonymity. I had had enough matchmaking for the day.
Little did I know that within hours Eharmony would be sending me numerous profiles to review. I was in awe. Twenty-five years, two urban cities, and I now had the opportunity to meet more male suitors in 24 hours than I had in total before. One profile in particular stood out to me. He was 27, lived in Hayward and was an artist. I thought to myself, “This is the guy who I hope contacts me!” How would I explain myself though? What kind of desperate person signs up for EHarmony? But then it clicked; he too has a profile on EHarmony so we are both in the same boat. As it turned out, we had already been introduced to one another though mutual friends. Now our compatibility had been approved by EHarmony’s tested matching system. It must have been a sign, but still, how would I explain what brought me to this matchmaking website?
EHarmony: a Husband’s perspective
For a convert with shallow roots in the local Muslim community, it can be particularly difficult to find a spouse. Add to that the fact that the community has virtually no systematic means for coupling people who were born into it, and the possibility of finding your life companion can seem daunting, if not entirely hopeless. So, like many, I turned to the Internet. I found sparse listings in my locality when I browsed Muslim specific match making sites, and gradually my search radius became wider and wider. To my dismay, I discovered that the wider the search the more likely I was to find myself paired with someone who came from an alien culture with cultural norms and traditions irreconcilable with mine. One day I found myself reading the profile of a woman in India and seriously contemplating, “Is there really any chance at all that I could bring a Muslim woman, who I barely knew, half way across the globe to California to meet my non-Muslim, liberal family and not look like a complete lunatic?” I needed a new strategy.
I had steered clear of non-Muslim match making websites after hearing brothers jokingly call them “E-Harami” websites where non-Muslims scout out one-night stands. I began to reconsider when a Christian friend extolled the benefits of EHarmony, a website that led him to his wife. He explained that EHarmony had a thorough, multi-tiered personality profile and matching system. It was when he described a section specifically analyzing religious values and attitudes that my curiosity peaked, and I decided to lift the ban and check out this website.
I set narrow match parameters, figuring that EHarmony’s primary claim to fame was its personality compatibility not its bio-data. Pretty quickly the matching software came back with a dozen or so profiles, all within a reasonable distance. One catch though, you can’t get to square one unless one of the interested parties has a paid account. So, I signed up. The process was private and unobtrusive, allowing you to share as much or as little as you’d like.
My initial enthusiasm waned though when, by process of elimination, I worked through all the initial matches with no success. One girl in particular had created a profile, expressed interest, exchanged emails and then sheepishly explained that she was embarrassed and afraid to admit to her family that she had signed up for EHarmony. The experience was disconcerting and I thought, “American-Muslims struggle to find spouses as it is. Still, we hang on to stigma against exploring unconventional routes to meet our matches?”
My use of the site slowed down. Periodically they would email me with new prospects and I would halfheartedly scan them. It so happened that around this time I was introduced to my wife through unexpected channels. Two friends of ours married one another and decided that, being the strangest people they both knew, the two of us deserved to be introduced! We spent some time trading emails when a new match appeared in my Inbox. How many activist Muslim law students obsessed with cake could there be in San Francisco? I then realized this was the very girl I was communicating with, and I took comfort in knowing that the EHarmony personality algorithm had blessed our engagement. If our marriage is any indication, it got something right.
There is no denying the human element in bringing about our marriage; those channels shouldn’t be ignored when people are searching. Still, I have a nagging suspicion that had it not been for our friends, our paths would have intersected somehow. Sometimes it’s just fate, and sometimes you’ll find fate on the Internet.
(Photo: Krista Guenin)
Recently admitted to the California Bar, Zahra Billoo is the Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area office, a national American Muslim civil rights advocacy organization.