In Sydney, Preet and Harry Found Unexpected Cultural Common Ground
By Prachi Gupta
A few years ago, Preet entered a period of self-discovery. “I was trying to figure myself out,” she says. During that time, she focused on understanding what she wanted out of a relationship. She’d never had much luck with dating apps, but after she came down with adult chicken pox in 2018 and had some time on her hands, she decided to give them one last try. Bumble was the last app left on her list, but she didn’t have high hopes. “I did not think I would find my life partner on Bumble,” she says. “That was definitely not on my mind.”
Preet quickly came across a profile that piqued her interest: “His name was Harry and his bio was a quote from a TV show that I love,” she says. “He kind of looked Indian, but I couldn’t tell. He looked like a nice guy.” Luckily, he too was based in Sydney, Australia. She swiped right, even though technically Harry broke one of her rules. “I’m not going to swipe right on anyone who has a shirtless photo,” she says, laughing. (Harry clarified that the photo wasn’t in fact a shirtless selfie; it was of him and his friends on a boat). “He had a lot of travel photos,” adds Preet. “I was interested and I wanted to hear his story.”
But she remained skeptical. “Literally, when I swiped on Harry, I was like, ‘if this dude doesn’t turn out right, then that’s it. I’m off the dating platform. I’m going to mom and dad and ask them to arrange me,” she says, referring to arranged marriage.
Harry—whose full name is Harsatnam—had recently moved from Melbourne to Sydney for work. “I had a few weeks before starting,” he says, “and I was bored.” Like Preet, he’d dabbled with dating apps before but never had much luck. He decided to give them one last shot with Bumble. Harry was interested in a relationship, particularly with someone who shared his cultural background, but wasn’t very hopeful. He swiped right on Preet, who “looked really good” in her photos, he says, seemed adventurous, and had a few funny quotes in her profile.
Preet messaged him with a simple opening: “Hey, how are you doing?” Then she fell asleep. She woke up to a message from Harry and they continued to chat in the Bumble app for a few days before they moved over to text message. “The conversation just kind of naturally flowed,” she says. They found commonalities almost immediately: As Preet had guessed, they were both from the Sikh Punjabi immigrant community in Australia. Their families had emigrated from the same city in India around the same time, and Preet and Harry shared similar education and career paths. Both even worked at the same firm at the same time, but never crossed paths. “It was refreshing to find common ground,” Harry says. Our families “were circling each other’s lives for a long time.”
They decided to meet up a week later for hot chocolate. “It was very casual,” Preet says. “I had this rule that on my first date, I could never do dinner because if you don’t like the person, you’re stuck for two hours eating food with someone that you don’t gel with.”
Despite the low stakes, she was surprisingly nervous. “I had never been on a date with a Punjabi guy before,” she says. For Preet, sharing cultural identity created pressure. “Some little part of me thought that this could turn into something serious, which is not a thought I had with my previous dates,” she says. Harry went in for a hug, but Preet extended her hand for a handshake. “I was so awkward that I stabbed him in the chest with my hand,” she says. But her nerves quickly dissipated as soon as Harry began talking. In his company, she felt, “there’s no pressure here to be a person that I’m not.”
Still, she didn’t expect things to go farther because Harry was heading out to Thailand with his friends in a few days. “All he spoke about was ‘his boys,’’ she said, and “how much fun he’s going to have on his trip.” She figured that the interest would fizzle and that Harry would forget about her by the time he returned.
But Harry proved her wrong. “I kept in touch with her the entire time I was in Thailand,” he says. “It was initial days, but I liked everything about her. Her vibe was very chilled out. It was definitely something I wanted to keep pursuing.” They started dating when he got back, about two weeks later. Within a month, they were talking about shared values and a future together. “We didn’t have to make it exclusive,” Harry says. “I think we both just understood where we were and we really liked each other. We just became a couple by being in each others’ company, really.” They deleted Bumble, and Preet knew that she’d found “the one.”
They held off telling their families for another few months, until they both knew the relationship was headed towards marriage. “My parents were really happy,” says Preet. “They were like, ‘You found a Punjabi guy? Who wears a turban? In Sydney? Get married to him, like, tomorrow!’” To their great surprise, the couple discovered that Preet and Harry’s father already knew each other “quite well” through work and “were fond of each other.”
That winter, the families held a Roka ceremony, an Indian tradition that represents the first step toward marriage. In March, Harry proposed to Preet with a ring in the Western engagement tradition to “make it a bit personal, just the two of us,” he says. He popped the question at the top of the ferris wheel in Sydney Harbour. “We were already locked in, everybody knew,” he says. “The elation wouldn’t be the same, but it was just between me and her. It was nice.”
The couple got married a few months later at a traditional Sikh wedding in a gurdwara, the Sikh place of worship. They took a five-week honeymoon to the U.S. and Canada. But when they got back, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The couple was forced to quarantine, putting their new marriage to the test. “I feel like Covid was a really good test of our relationship,” Preet says. “We spent every waking minute together for the last two years. And I still like Harry. A lot.”
Main photo credit: Stuck In A Moment Photo + Cinema