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Singled Out

Jan/18/2023 / by Abhijit Masih
Nadia Jagessar
Image credits: @natzphotogallery

Nadia Jagessar’s experience on the Netflix reality show “Indian Matchmaking” underscored the generational barriers and cultural stigma that still exists around single women.

Nadia Jagessar is a matchmaker’s dream. Beautiful, single, intelligent, and successful, she seems a “catch” by any measure — a South Asian woman who can attract a long line of suitors. But Jagessar, a star on the popular Netflix reality show “Indian Matchmaker,” discovered a darker side of being a single: stigma.

What she thought were vestiges of an oppressive past was a shocking reality the modern Indian woman in the diaspora deals with today.

“One of the things that “Indian Matchmaker” addressed was that there is a whole diaspora outside of mainland India, and the kind of stigmas the community faces regardless of where our ancestors would have settled when they left India,” says Jagessar. “To be able to date in this modern world, you need to be able to break down those cultural barriers with your parents or with your family.”

While she always wanted to find a partner, for Jagessar, being comfortable in her own skin was a priority. Her family had moved from Guyana to New Jersey, and that was where Jagessar was born and raised and where she was a cultural anomaly.

“My family was Indian, and I grew up in a fairly white American town,” she says. “I kind of hid my culture a little bit because I wanted to fit in with everyone around me. It was a struggle. I look Indian, but my family is Guyanese, and no one understood what Guyana was.”

It was through dance that she most connected with her Indian roots. Her mother enrolled her in Indian dance classes when she was 3. She finally went to Rutgers University for her undergrad and was part of the Raas and Garba team there.

“After college, I joined a professional Bollywood dance company,” Jagessar says. “I was with them for over 10 years. Dance and an Indian culture have always been so ingrained in my life, during college, I started to fully embrace my West Indian heritage and tried to start teaching my inner circle a little about who I was and what made me special.”

Changing Minds and Hearts

The South Asian immigrant community that moved decades ago from the Indian sub-continent, did not just bring their culture along but brought with them the social norms prevalent at that time back home While many of those regressive chains and traditions have been broken in India, many Indians living abroad remain rooted in old ways of thinking. In many ways, Indian Matchmaking reflected the reliance of the diaspora on the custom of traditional matchmaking and arranged alliances. The show also addressed, through the individual stories of participants, the many issues that weigh heavy amongst most South Asian families.

The show not only told the stories of different individuals who decided to take the traditional path of matchmaking to find their life partners but also brought up different topics that needed to be part of the conversation. It brought up potential topics for discussion not just for the community but for individual families as well. The stigmas attached to being single, married but with no kids, divorced, single parenthood, cross cultural and live-in relationships. “A lot of topics that arose from the show like classism, colorism, sexism, and they are all conversations that need to happen. The conversations we were having on camera are not any different than what people have in their homes. It’s the difference between first-generation Indian Americans versus our parents or past generations—we need to have these conversations, because dating now is so different now.”

For the successful marketer of fragrance company NAME and the founder of Euphoria Events, which she founded in 2018, dating proved to be harder than anticipated.

“I think dating now is so tough, because of social media and dating apps,” Jagessar says. “There are so many options, an endless pool of people.”

The reality star reveals the flip side of the canvas.

“I’ve heard guy friends of mine saying, ‘I went on a date with this girl, and she eats weird or she wore this weird shirt.’ That works for women as well, right? You can just cancel out the simplest things,” Jagessar says. “We live in such a replacement culture where if something’s broken, you replace it. People are applying that to relationships. I think putting in the effort is something that our generation lacks. And the men that I dated have lacked that effort to try.” That disillusionment led her to traditional matchmaking.

While the younger generation may want to break away from customs and traditions, they adopt those that have stood the test of time and remain relevant. Dating despair on the one hand and the example of her parents, married for 40 years, on the other, led Jagessar to “Indian Matchmaking.”

“My parents were an arranged marriage and I have many instances of arranged marriages in my family,” she says. “It works. So that was one of the reasons why I thought that this would be a great avenue for me to meet somebody who would be serious and aligned to having a serious relationship and moving things forward.”

Matchmaking Reality

Six months after Jagessar’s dance company originally sent in her information, she received a response. After her single status was confirmed, she was cast in the first season of the show. The filming coincided with a medical emergency in the family and had to be pushed forward by three weeks.

“My mom donated her kidney to my dad, and the surgery had just happened,” Jagessar says. “But when the crew came, they were so sweet and took it easy with my mom because that was the first time she put make-up on and got dressed since the surgery. It was a special time for my family, this very exciting thing happening for me.”

Season 1 of “Indian Matchmaking” premiered in the summer of 2020, aiming to capture the long-standing South Asian tradition of older relatives finding a suitable spouse for an eligible bachelor or spinster. Through the narrator and matchmaker Sima Aunty, the series argues that an arranged marriage may not be a bad idea. The family friendly show also brought to the fore the need and desire for companionship among millennials.

“Everyone loves a good love story,” Jagessar says. “It’s relatable on so many levels, and matchmaking happens, not only in South Asian culture, but in so many other cultures as well. It was special to be a part of that and I think since the show, my life has changed for the better.”

She says she is inspired by the messages she gets from many men and women, sharing how they relate to her story, how she has inspired them.

“It was truly incredible,” Jagessar says. “It was amazing to hear that just living my life had inspired them to either embrace their singleness or have hope for the future.”

The pandemic pushed the follow-up season to August 2022, and a lot had changed in the script, both in terms of the show and in Jagessar’s life. At the end of season 1, the prospect of Jagessar and Shekar making a perfect match left fans excited. However, the response to season 2 caught Jagessar by surprise.

Many fans felt Jagessar unfairly rejected Shekar and instead chose another potential suitor, Vishal. However, she points to the long gap between the two seasons and the editing of the show to maintain continuity as the reason the audience misconstrued what happened.

“I’m hoping that I can clarify that Shekar and I were never dating,” she says. “For me, it was a straight line to Vishal, which I think was also another controversy because he was seven years younger than me. There’s no script to this. The only thing the story editors and the producers must work of is what they’ve captured with us. They need to have that hook, and this was a hook for them.”

The idea of women dating younger men as being controversial also unnerved Jagessar.

“I don’t see anything wrong with that,” she says. “No one would bat an eye if a man dated a younger woman. So why does the stereotype have to go when a woman dates a younger guy? There’s so much stigma around this.”

Jagessar watched the new season with the rest of the world when it dropped on the streaming platform at 3 a.m. It didn’t take long for keyboard warriors around the world to attack her for “dumping” Shekar in favor of Vishal. She experienced online witch hunts, trolling, cyberbullying, and the abuse of privacy. Hurt by the criticism, she tried offered her side of the story, explaining that the inaccurate depiction of her character impacted her personally and professionally.

“There is a season 3 of ‘Indian Matchmaking’ coming out. I’m not sure when the release date is but I will not be a part of it,” Jagessar says. “I am somewhat of an open book, and I tried to really go into this wholeheartedly. I was looking – and I am looking – for a partner.”

While Jagessar may not be a part of the next season, she has other exciting projects lined up.

“I am part of another project called ‘Reality of Love,’” she says. “It’s hosted by a dating and relationship coach Nicole Moore. She brings together reality stars from different reality and dating shows.”

Jagessar continues to work as a marketing and business development manager at Givaudan, a fragrance and flavors house, and is also focusing on growing her events company. Using the latter she wants to shift from organizing weddings to creating events for singles, especially South Asian and Indo-Caribbean women.

“It is taboo to be single in your 30s when you’re a South Asian,” she says. I’m looking to bring some really fun and exciting events to different cities across the country to try and bring South Asians together.”

For now, Jagessar is on a Roman holiday, enjoying the Italian sun, away from onerous traditions, taboos and trolls, perhaps hoping for a Hepburn-Peck kinda meeting, as in the 1953 film of the same name.

SIDEBAR 1

Nadia’s favorites:

  • Food – Pizza
  • Hollywood Movie – “The Notebook”
  • Indian Movie – “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai”
  • “Indian Matchmaking” moment – “When I said, I hate having my period.”
  • Romantic City – Rome. It’s pretty romantic
  • Home – Morris Plains, New Jersey

SIDEBAR 2

Nadia’s checklist for her partner:

Someone who’s ambitious, passionate, likes to travel, and who’s family-oriented. Someone who wants to have a family of their own because I do want to have children. Someone who wants to be a father. Someone who is funny and compassionate. It wouldn’t hurt if he also took some of the planning genes to plan things as well. Someone who is going to push me, just as I will push them so we can be better and grow together.