The Pakistani list of the requirements of an ideal daughter-in-law is extensive and generic. There isn’t much variation unless you count the occasional height specification rethinking (depending on your son’s height) or the amount of housewifery she needs to know. Those are sometimes modifiable elements of the list but overall the list has been created and perfected after enough contemplation and deliberation by the Pakistani society and is readily accessible to all mothers who are looking for a wife for their sons. Here’s an electronic format of the list, in case you lost the paper-based list that the Rishta Aunty handed you the last time you contacted her for the son whose wife you have been looking for the last five years.
1. Doctor! No that’s not an exclamation even though comes with an exclamation mark. That’s what you look for, chant and worship. This is the one standard that you can’t compromise on. And why should you? Even though this was initially considered a crazy ask of a prospective wife, with time girls’ families have caught on and have insisted that this would be the only career that their daughters and sisters pursue in order to be deemed acceptable by mothers of boys in this society. They have started to sell their properties and have actually mortgaged their houses to send their girls to medical schools. What happens in the rare instance where the girl doesn’t see the utility of this investment? No one listens. She is told by her family that she doesn’t have to be a doctor actually. She just has to be a medical student, graduate and then live the life of a wife indoors, married to the man of her parents’ dreams.
Now because this sudden female doctor boom has happened in the last twenty years or so in Pakistan, there are more physician women than eligible men to marry them off to. This is good for men. See how the whole world works around keeping a man happy? Because there are so many of these female doctors, men who have barely any idea what marrying a physician means can marry them too. And mind you, these are all arranged marriages. There isn’t an iota of premarital love involved. In the rare instance where a girl asks her parents why she’s being wedded off to a guy of no academic prowess she’s reminded that she has three other sisters, all medical students by the way, and doesn’t she care about being out of their way as soon as possible so they could meet their fate (or an arranged marriage) too? This is the most effective piece of monologue that any parent can deliver to these “rebellious” girls and almost always works. In the rare case where it doesn’t work, she elopes or decides to decline every bad match until she is truly out of her sisters’ way by virtue of being “too old for marriage age”.
But, boy mom! You don’t have anything to worry about. You will probably not get the oldest sister who is five years younger than your son anyway. You’ll get sister #2 who’s eight years younger than your son and isn’t that even better? Sure it is! Knew you’d agree!
2. Cooking skills are just mandatory for this girl to have. But just “cook good enough so we enjoy it with our family” good won’t do. That’s like compromising your son’s lifelong principle of “I live to eat and not eat to live”. That’s also not good for your stomach. Your gustatory pleasures require for this girl to be a phenomenal cook who can make all sorts of breads, rice, curries, exotic cuisines and still smiles and laughs through your sarcasm at her cooking. That’s really important. Before she chooses marriage, she should choose embarrassment at the hands of her in-laws for her entire life. Particularly in the department of cooking. She should know that whether her bread is completely perfect or not, she has to learn how to take insults for it. If she can’t take it then she can’t get married. Again, she hasn’t been raised right if she can’t laugh through her cooking being insulted. Her parents shouldn’t have instilled self-esteem or self-respect in her. That’s not a good thing to teach our girls. That can lead to a divorce.
But wait a minute! That girl you truly like so much because her dad has been promising an apartment as a wedding gift to his daughter and son-in-law doesn’t know any cooking, you’ve heard. Immediately modify this principle to replace it with “whatever she can cook. We aren’t big eaters anyway. We would be happy to help her learn”. In the line of the search for the perfect girl for your son you will be making more than these tiny compromises. You never know! You can like a girl so much because of what she can bring with her in terms of material things that you might even have to accept a crooked nose or a darker skinned girl. This cooking one is totally fair and reasonable.
3. Where she lives is equally important too. You can’t be seen frequenting shady neighborhoods where the blue collar people live. You have a reputation to keep. That type of neighborhood is good to have been a place that you inhabited in your past for decades before you moved to a more “respectable” one but you have worked really hard to erase that fact of your life from your life. You can’t associate yourself with that situation again.
In order to be the perfect daughter-in-law she has to come from a well-to-do, wealthy family. But they can’t be wealthier than you. And even if they are, they shouldn’t know it. They can have more money than you but make sure you pretend that you have more than them. Don’t get the point? It’s simple. If you let on that you have less money than them then you lose the power in this play. You basically then play second fiddle to them. You constantly are advised by her family what the latest fashion is, what the best car to drive is and the best food to eat is. And then what happens if this girl comes into your family? She will always hold it above you and even if she doesn’t, you’ll feel she’s holding it above you and then what? You don’t want her to experience your insecurities that you’ll unleash on her. No! That wouldn’t be nice. Which is why you must perfect your pretend game of being the richest people on earth who lend their golf course to Bill Gates so he can walk his dogs.
4. What her dad does is important which immediately pushes all the orphaned girls to the bottom of your list.
Even if her dad does something not so important in your opinion you can make it into something dignified and uber classy if he has some money to back your introduction of him to your family and friends. Of course if he’s a successful physician or engineer or teacher he already has fame and respect and you don’t have to lie too much but be prepared for girls whose fathers may not have accumulated a lot of the type of money that attracts you through legitimate means.
If he is a career politician who has made money through questionable means you can tell people that he is a social worker and has spent most of his life overseas saving kids from drought and famine. No one cares how he made his money after this introduction. He sounds so important and people just assume every important person to have tons of money.
If he is a businessman who has accumulated loads of money even though he deals in bicycle tubing, you can easily say he inherited most of it. Who will dig any deeper? Money passed on to us from our parents is generally considered the most authentic type.
If you ever get stuck anywhere, just ask the Rishta Aunty. She will have it all laid out for you.
5. She can’t have been in a relationship with another guy. Or even if she has been you don’t want to know. That’s not the type of information that should be disseminated about her. But don’t think that by saying you don’t want to know you really don’t want to know. You want to know. In fact, you’ve never wanted to know anything more than knowing the past life history of your future daughter-in-law. That’s of paramount importance to you. You have to know it while hiding your own son’s extremely colorful past which may or may not have included a broken engagement, an unforeseen pregnancy or even a divorce. That people can’t know about. Men happen to have many slip-ups in life. Your son did pay for that abortion. He did rectify his mistake of marrying his ex by divorcing her. He did break four engagements since turning 25. It’s not his fault that all his ex-fiancés were not what he initially thought them to be. That’s totally not his fault. Those girls appeared perfect on paper. The woman whom he almost had a child with? Well she might have been the one true love of his life and your son did convince her that a pregnancy would convince you to allow for this marriage but guess he doesn’t know his mother and the unbreakable material she’s made of. Just because a poor girl drank his Kool-Aid wouldn’t push you to allow him to marry her. Now people can’t know about all this at all. The girl can find out about this after they get married. That’s how you found out about most important things concerning your husband anyway.
6. She can’t be younger than your daughter. I know this is asking too much but imagine how this would affect your daughter! Your child! Your flesh and blood! All her life she has grown up with the utmost distaste for normal aging. She is only 24 but tells people she is still 20. She fears getting older but more than that, she hates getting older. She has been using various concoctions on her face since she was in her early teens to stop the process of aging. She has grown with women who have been hiding their age, goading others into telling their real age and then holding that information against them. She has grown with women who don’t like to meet any woman without mentally guessing her age and disagreeing with whatever she says her chronological age is. How can she have a healthy view of normal aging? So she can’t have a sister-in-law younger than her because then her own unmarried status will gnaw at her. But hold on! Why’re you so worried about this? You don’t ever have to say your daughter is older than your daughter-in-law. You just have to always say however many years you want your daughter to be, making sure she’s always the younger of the two. See how quickly this one requirement can be fulfilled? This is a super easy one.
7. She shouldn’t have a voice. Now you might not agree with me right now but please follow this golden rule. A girl should be seen and not heard. She shouldn’t be told that she has a mind, brain, a tongue, a nervous system or a soul. She should have no set of values, no personal ideas of morality, no expectations of her spouse, no complaints with society. She should be happy as a clam at all times and shouldn’t ever think that her life could be better if she just had a tête-à-tête with you. If she looks at you directly when you go to visit her for your son, make sure you stare her down if you like her. This is a submission-inducing technique and will save you a lifetime of curtailment that you might have to employ after she gets married to your son and argues with you about why she doesn’t have certain basic human rights in what people call her home. This is of course to be done if you like the girl. If you don’t like her then do nothing and just spread the message to other mothers that you met the most disdainful and insolent girl, where she lives and other necessary details and how to avoid her ever becoming their daughter-in-law. This would be your good deed for the year.
8. How her parents revere you is of utmost importance. Because if they don’t then that’s not where you should be. Her parents should hold you so important that if you need a kidney, they should be the first people to enroll themselves for their eligibility to be checked. They should hold you more important than their own parents and even their own daughter. They should always serenade you with stupid jokes about their family, should always refer to themselves as insignificant peasants when compared to you and should be ready to pop a vein if you ever were in the mood to drink blood. They should be subservient and slave-like in their demeanor towards you. They should be afraid to talk bad of you behind your back. You might think this a useless rule but here’s the significance of this one. Parents can’t come off as strong and self-assured. They should be sniveling at your feet, looking for your approval. This type of behavior will come in most handy when their daughter, after she gets married to your son, complains to them about your behavior towards her. This is the type of parents who will advise her to practice fortitude, patience and continued subjugation. Don’t go mixing with strong-willed, feministic parents. Not only do they know their daughter’s rights in their entirety, they have stuffed her head with that crap too. Believe me that girl will die a spinster or get married to an amazing man. But spinsterhood has happened more for these Pakistani girls so you’re all set, mother of son!
9. She should have a brother ideally. I mean your daughter is the most important person in all this. The only reason why you would even consider marrying your son off in an arranged marriage at the age of 35 is because this could lead to a good match for your daughter. Your son has already lived his life enough to tell you regularly that marriage has lost its charm for him but you remind him with equal vigor that he’s not getting married for himself. He’s actually getting married for his sister. Even though he doesn’t get it, he goes along with the program. Your daughter could be chosen for your prospective daughter-in-law’s brother. Or a young uncle even. Or an eligible cousin. But you see the best outcome of this dual marriage if there is a brother and sister on the other side for your son and daughter. Your DIL’s brother will always have a certain amount of pressure to keep your daughter happy because that would ensure how happy his sister remains in return. This is a warped and complex system but because marriage is one of the shadiest business when done by shady people, you can’t relax any of these rules. This would mean a lot of angst for people like you who have had to read this list before knowing what a good DIL would constitute.
10. A lighter-skinned girl is of course preferable to a darker girl but don’t take this one to heart so much. There are many ways to lighten skin now. There are contacts in all colors. Before you know it, this girl will be transformed from a Pakistani to a Caucasian.
11. And lastly, your son shouldn’t like her more than how much you allow him to. He shouldn’t see her for the first time, twenty feet away from him, laden under the weight of make up and a trolly of food, and claim his overwhelming liking of her. He can’t do that or this proposal is off. He has to be minimally interested in the girl he is going to call his wife soon, should maintain active contact with all the exes and their lives, should continue to dedicate a good amount of his time to his ruffian friends, should be available to you and his sister at all times, may or may not have a job, and should always hold you more important than any other woman, including his future daughter, in his life. He should throw a cursory glance her way, should explicitly show a huge amount of disconnect in the engagement period, have quick sex on their wedding night, get her pregnant in a few months and once she is well and able, get ready to impregnate her again. That’s the long and short of your son’s relationship with this woman. If when he sees her for the first time he shows any more interest than he would to a fly on the wall, this proposal and meeting is over and you should be on to your next victim.
Rishta Aunty is always making changes to this manual. They’re subtle to the untrained eye but to the people who actually go by it, they mean the world. Read this manual and if, by any chance, you are still able to shortlist a handful of girls then we can start making calls.
See you on the other side soon.