A Dating App, Not the Parents, Brought Them Together
Posted November 17, 2018 9:17 p.m. EST
When Jaspreet Kaur was a junior at Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, she and her best friend, Ndonga Sagnia, worked part time at the college help desk. Between fielding calls for technical help, they passed the time on Pinterest, making wedding boards.
Though both were unattached 20-year-old accounting students at the time, Sagnia remembers Kaur outlining a few must-haves for her future wedding.
“She liked a lot of greenery, and there was this flower crown she wanted to wear that was really earthy and ethereal,” said Sagnia, a certified public accountant in Harrison, New Jersey.
One thing Kaur, now 26 and also a CPA, was unsure about was whether she would find her future husband herself, or if her parents would arrange her marriage.
“Obviously I knew there were people out there who meet someone and fall in love and have a love marriage,” said Kaur, whose parents immigrated from Punjab, India, in the 1980s and now live in Bordentown, New Jersey.
But arranged marriages, from her perspective, can have a lot to offer. “People think, why would you ever want your parents to choose your spouse,” she said. “But I say, Are you kidding me? If my parents are going to set me up with someone who’s educated and stable and from a nice family, those are major boxes to check. I was definitely open to it.”
As it happened, Kaur met Gregory Mattson, the man she intends to spend the rest of her life with, in a much different way: on the dating app Coffee Meets Bagel. The trajectory of her love marriage was as studded with unknowns as an arranged married might have been.
Mattson, 26 and a graduate student in physics at the University of Illinois, was climbing a mountain near Pennsylvania with a buddy in June 2015 when he saw that Kaur was his “bagel of the day,” the site’s parlance for the person he was matched with and had 24 hours to pursue.
“I was checking my phone now and then, but I had no signal,” he said. It was late in the day by the time he kicked the dirt off his boots and saw a picture of a wavy haired, big-smiling Indian woman on the app. “I had to make a quick decision. I was like, yes, let’s try this.”
Days later, after a flurry of texts in which they found that Mattson’s best friend since sixth grade, Corey Wu, was an accounting classmate of Kaur’s at Rider, they met in Princeton, a town between their then-residences, his in Old Bridge and hers in Morristown. Coffee was the plan. But the parts of Mattson’s profile that initially attracted Kaur, including his work at the time as a physics researcher at Rutgers University, proved worth exploring in a more in-depth way.
After coffee they decided to have dinner, then go for a walk and have ice cream, and walk some more. Their date lasted seven hours, past 2 a.m.
“Greg was just this cute guy with really blue eyes, and I like to learn and he was a researcher, and I was like, great, he’s interesting,” Kaur said.
Most of the men she had been meeting online were not. “I kept coming across finance bros; they’re very into themselves,” she said. The prospect of dating someone her parents selected — someone Indian who practiced Sikhism, like them — was on the back burner after a series of unsuccessful phone setups in her early 20s.
“It never got to an actual date,” with suitors her parents chose, Kaur said. But if her parents were disappointed, they didn’t let on.
“Of course they wanted it to work out, but I don’t think they took it personally,” she said. “And they never made me feel like I was doing something wrong that was making it impossible to arrange my marriage. I think they realized that it’s just not as easy as people think. Especially here in the U.S.” Kaur was not thinking about marriage after her first few dates with Mattson. Too much was unsettled with him.
He knew around the time of their first date that soon he would be applying to graduate schools. “I didn’t know where I’d end up,” he said. “We agreed early on, after two or three dates, that what we had was good, but that we weren’t that serious yet, so we shouldn’t start planning any big decisions around it.”
Kaur accepted Mattson’s imminent move without reservations.
“We were on the same page about it,” she said. “Like, let’s just be honest with each other.”
Not that she hadn’t daydreamed about moving far from New Jersey with Mattson. “A lot of times when you’re in an arranged marriage you don’t meet someone from down the street, you end up moving,” she said. Despite her closeness to her parents and extended family in New Jersey, “I knew moving away would be a possibility if I went that route.” Moving for a love marriage would be the same: hard but doable.
When Mattson was accepted to the University of Illinois and moved to Urbana in fall 2016, neither was ready to call the relationship quits, even temporarily.
“We were talking as much as possible,” Mattson said. “We found this app where we could log in and share a screen so we could watch movies together.”
They also went on formal “video dates.”
“We’d both pick up the same takeout and have dinner together, on our computers,” Kaur said. “Greg would wear a button-up and tie, and I would no longer be in sweatpants.”
By the start of his second year in graduate school, Mattson was ready to propose. He had never met her family. (Both sets of parents declined to be named because of privacy concerns.)
“I remember sitting down and giving the idea of getting engaged some actual thought. Like, Is this the best thing? Is this what I want?,” he said. From his Urbana apartment, “I decided yes.”
Mattson knew Kaur’s parents would likely not have included him on a shortlist of most eligible grooms. When Kaur arranged a Sunday brunch at her parents’ house during Mattson’s visit in October 2017, he was nervous.
“There was this layer of being nervous to meet your significant other’s parents as a baseline. Then there was the whole other layer of the cultural issue,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how forward-thinking her parents would be.” Kaur convinced him they would be welcoming. And they were.
A few months later, Mattson whisked Kaur off to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando.
“We’re both big Harry Potter fans. It’s one of the first things we talked about on the dating app, before we even exchanged numbers,” Mattson said.
On Jan. 3, after a full day at the amusement park during which he had to beg a security guard not to make him empty his pockets — they contained a moissanite solitaire ring he bought in Chicago — he proposed in the hotel room.
“One of the elements in the first ‘Harry Potter’ book is an enchanted mirror that doesn’t show your reflection, but what you truly desire,” he said. “I stood in front of the mirror with her and said, You know what I see? It’s a yes.” Then he dropped to one knee and proposed.
Kaur said she was too overwhelmed to verbalize a response. “I just nodded like an idiot and cried. I couldn’t speak for like 10 minutes.”
When an engaged couple’s religions don’t match, bride and groom often choose a nondenominational ceremony or default to the more religious partner’s traditions. Kaur wasn’t comfortable with those options.
“For my family, it was definitely important that we had a Sikh ceremony, but I couldn’t imagine saying, ‘This is how we’re going to get married’ without considering what’s important to Greg,” she said. On Oct. 26, at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Old Bridge, they were married by Mattson’s uncle, the Rev. Frank Fellrath, a Roman Catholic priest. A dinner was then held for family and close friends.
The 10-person bridal party, in long, autumn-inspired burgundy dresses, included Sagnia, and on the grooms’ side, Wu. Kaur wore a traditional white wedding gown in an A-line shape with a lace, boatneck top, Mattson a royal blue suit. About 90 guests lined the pews, some who had made the trip from India.
The following morning, at the Central Jersey Sikh Association in Windsor, New Jersey, there was a ceremony led by a Granthi Balwinder Singh, who read from the Sikh holy book known as the Guru Granth Sahib. Kaur wore a beaded, shimmering lehngha — a long, full skirt — in cranberry and a matching peplum top custom-made in Patiala, India, by the same shop that made wedding dresses for her mother and several aunts decades ago. Mattson wore a traditional Sikh wedding sherwani in gold silk and a burgundy headscarf, and carried a kirpan, or sheathed sword, a Sikh tradition. About 200 guests, all shoeless and wearing head coverings, sat on a carpeted floor in the gurdwara, or marriage hall.
After initial prayers, accompanied by three turbaned, heavily bearded granthis playing hand drums and harmonium, the granthi placed a scarf worn by Mattson in Kaur’s hands. Bride and groom were then instructed to stand and circle the holy book a total of four times, with pauses to sit and pray between each round. Ten male relatives standing at intervals around the holy book were there to symbolically “pass off” Kaur to Mattson, and make it known that they will continue to nurture and protect her once she leaves home.
After the holidays, Kaur will move to Illinois and start looking for accounting work. “I’m really going to miss my family,” she said. “It’s going to be different and it’s going to be difficult.”
But she is also sure that it will be worth it. “I love Greg so much,” she said at a reception held after the Sikh ceremony, at the Merion in Cinnaminson, New Jersey. She had removed the crown of flowers she wore at the Roman Catholic ceremony, and the baby’s breath she wove into her hair at the Sikh ceremony. But she still looked ethereal.
ON THIS DAY
When: The couple had a Roman Catholic wedding on Oct. 26, 2018, and a Sikh ceremony the next day.
Where: St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Old Bridge, New Jersey, and the Central Jersey Sikh Association in Windsor, New Jersey.
Get-Together: Instead of a rehearsal dinner, on Oct. 25, the night before the legal ceremony, Kaur’s family held a sangeet, an Indian party with dancing and singing, in Bordentown, New Jersey. Family members from both sides celebrated the bride and groom with music and prayers.
Body Art and Bhangra: At the reception, a DJ played a combination of Top 40 and bhangra music. Kaur, in a floor-length ivory gown, showed off the henna tattoos that had been applied to her hands for the occasion. One palm read “Greg,” in elegant script; the other “Jas.”
A Forecast: Kaur and Mattson’s Saturday ceremony was held during a nor’easter. At the reception, Kaur acknowledged the downpour, and offered an explanation: “My mom always used to tell me that if I licked the spoon while she was cooking, it would rain on my wedding day. I really loved to lick the spoon.”