Dubai: Oum Se'ood, a celebrated Emirati matchmaker who inherited the trade from her grandmother, has been pairing couples for 17 years out of her Sharjah home.
And there is one thing she knows for sure: Internet marriages are destined to fail.
Online matrimonial websites will not be the end of matchmakers in traditional societies where it is taboo to display the photos of women online for others to view and where background checks are dubious at best, she said.
"The internet has no credibility. I could write that I'm a beauty queen and create all sorts of lies," she said.
Matchmaking, on the other hand, is a safe and trusted option: She has a network of people who enquire about each groom without his knowledge, she said. They ask neighbours about his reputation, friends about his morals, and go to the mosque to see if he prays regularly—a service you don't get online. If a man drinks or smokes she refuses his application. "It is my responsibility in front of God."
Clients visit her at home, fill out an application form, describe their ideal spouse and pay Dh1,000, she said. If the marriage is consummated she often receives the "halawa"—a token of appreciation in gifts or cash.
She gets about 70 customers a week and about 50 of those get married.
When she finds the right match, the potential bride and groom come with their parents to meet at her home. "We are confident that they want complete security and secrecy," she said, noting that the bride's photo is never displayed without her permission.
"People are becoming more open to the Internet but it is an injustice to the girl. The marriage will be short, not life-long," she said. "The girl's mind controls her thinking and she doesn't think about his drawbacks. If he's flirting with her online, he's probably flirting with others."
The internet will not spell the death of the matchmaker, especially with the problem of increased spinsterhood in the GCC, she said.