Reality TV show The Bachelor starts this week, aiming to get two strangers to fall in love. But do arranged marriages work? Three Kiwi couples tell Susan Edmunds how theirs blossomed into lasting love
The radio competition: Kersha and Steve Veix
The first time Steve Veix saw his wife's face, she was walking down the aisle towards him.
Steve, now 38, and wife Kersha, 37 met in a Two Strangers and a Wedding competition by radio station The Edge and married in 2003. Six months later, they realised they had fallen in love.
"We don't often think about how we got married now," says Steve. "It's just the way it is."
The competition was the second hosted by the station's breakfast radio show. Kersha remembers listening to the radio on her way to work after it had been revealed that Timaru-based Steve was to be the groom in the competition.
"He was picked by listeners. I thought the whole thing was completely nutty. I couldn't believe someone would do it."
Steve had entered because the prospect of meeting a partner in a bar or online did not appeal.
He remembers: "I couldn't find anyone who spun my wheels and then this opportunity came up. I thought if people were going to matchmake they might do a better job than me."
Kersha was a 26-year-old working in IT in Christchurch. Listening to Steve on the radio, she started to think it wasn't so "nutty".
"Every day I listened, I felt a bit more like it might be something I'd actually do."
She threw her name into the draw to be considered as a potential Mrs Veix and was selected as one of 10 finalists. "I met all the other ladies and they were all so lovely, pretty and intelligent.
"It makes you realise there are a lot of people who want to meet Mr or Miss Right but they find it so hard. This was an easy way to do that."
Steve's friends and family were charged with selecting his future match.
"We had to go into a boardroom, one by one, to get drilled with every question possible," Kersha remembers. "Things like 'are you a huggy person?' to find out whether you'd suit him. When I went in I did feel a really good vibe from some of them."
Steve says it was during this process his family started to accept the idea of a radio wedding. "Once they met the girls they thought it was cool, especially Kersha."
Each day, the radio station would announce that one more bride had been ruled out. When it got down to Kersha and one other woman left in the competition, Steve was to ring the woman he would marry.
Kersha remembers looking at her phone. "It started to ring on the radio and my phone wasn't ringing. I thought he must not be ringing me and I had a speech ready. But then it started ringing."
A week later, they were at Hopetoun Alpha, in central Auckland. The Edge paid for the wedding and 20 guests.
As she was walking up the aisle, Kersha's father whispered to her that they could turn around if she wanted to. "He said 'I'm happy to walk out'. But I said it's okay."
Her husband was the kind of guy she would have gone for if they had met in a bar, she says.
Steve says the physical attraction was mutual. "I thought 'she's really pretty, I'm lucky'."
A few post-wedding toasts helped to ease the nervousness of being legally bound to a virtual stranger.
"We all got quite drunk at the wedding party, which made everything a bit easier," Kersha says. "But we both clicked straight away, we were attracted to each other and got along so well that we were deliriously happy. It was quite weird."
The flight to Port Douglas the next day for their honeymoon was the first time they were alone. Then, after six months of spending weekends at each other's houses - Steve in Timaru and Kersha in Christchurch - they rented a house together at the half-way point in Ashburton.
It was about this time they said they loved each other and it stopped feeling like a weird radio set-up. Having their first child, Mitchell, now 9, really cemented things.
The Edge has run the competition three times and all three couples are still together.
The Veix family are now dairy farming near Rakaia. Two more boys followed - Finn, 7, and Joshua, 3. Steve and Kersha will mark their 12th anniversary on October 30. "I feel so blessed and lucky," Kersha says. "I have three lovely kids and a lovely husband who is very caring and special. We feel very lucky to have met each other."
The blind date: Danielle and Simon Cosio
When Danielle met Simon, the set-up was so awkward she hid behind the shop counter where she was working.
Danielle, then 18, was working part-time at Farmers in New Lynn while she finished her last year at high school.
Colleague Lauren suggested her boyfriend, Chris, had a friend who might be worth meeting.
"She said 'oh, I've got this guy for you to meet' and he said the same to him. They came in while Lauren and I were working the late night. It was a very awkward, very pushed-on first meeting. I thought he was cute but we said very few words," says Danielle.
They met again at a barbecue a couple of weeks later, where Simon, who was then 21, offered to find her a ticket so she could go with them to Rhythm and Vines. "I didn't have any plans so I thought I'd just tag along."
But the gig was sold out so the task proved harder than he had expected. "It was difficult," Danielle remembers. "He rang a lot of people but he managed to find a ticket on TradeMe. We spent New Year's together and then two weeks after that, we were officially a couple."
They married five years later, in 2012, on Simon's parents' property in Kumeu. Their first child, Joel, was born last year.
Lauren and Chris are still pleased to take the credit for having set them up - and they were married a year after Danielle and Simon.
"Being set up is safer, in a way, in the sense that your friends know you best," Danielle says. "They know the kind of person you may like. Typically, people meet each other in bars, it was nice to meet each other through friends and have those same friends still."
She admits there is potential for a set-up to be very uncomfortable. "I was worried I wouldn't like him and it would be quite awkward, but we were just lucky in the sense we mutually liked each other and it worked out."
Simon agrees: "It was quite awkward. Danielle and I are both quite shy and she hid behind the counter the first time we met. Then at the barbecue at a friend's house, we played tennis and we were still very shy but that night I invited her to Rhythm and Vines. I was quite keen."
He says he used to struggle to meet people so a friend setting him up was a help. "Having a friend of a friend was a good way to communicate and be put in touch with someone. Our situation worked quite well."
The arranged marriage: Mou and Arin Basu
Mou Basu had already turned down a couple of suitors by the time a young doctor named Arin answered the advertisement her parents had placed in a local Kolkata newspaper, seeking a husband for her.
It was 1999 and Mou, 31, had decided she was ready to marry and settle down. Arin, then 33, came to the family home on Christmas Eve.
The plan was that the potential bride and groom would meet to talk and work out whether they might be able to get along well enough to spend the rest of their lives together.
If things looked promising, the families would negotiate the marriage. If it didn't go well, both would move on.
Mou remembers her father being very positive about Arin. "I liked him, too. He was a medical doctor and I was looking for someone quite knowledgeable, but also down to earth."
Arin was also struck by how genuine Mou seemed. They had similar families, backgrounds and lived just a few streets apart. "Sometimes you have that thing where you think 'I've met my match'. That's the feeling I had when I walked out of the house."
They married a few months later, in February 2000. By the time they became husband and wife, they had met just three times.
Mou says she could have decided to go it alone and find a husband herself, but arranged marriages were an established tradition in her family. "I relied on my dad and he liked my husband. [Arin is] very nice. That's why we've been together 15 years. I hope we have another 40 years to go."
Arin says an arranged marriage turns the usual plot of a "love marriage" on its head. "Love begins after the marriage, not before."
After the wedding, it took a couple of years to learn each other's likes and dislikes, hobbies and past-times. But really getting to know each other is a "never-ending" process.
Being thrown into a marriage has made them depend on each other and fostered a mutual trust, Mou says. Arin says having the benefit of age on their side might have helped, too.
"Thirty-one and 33 is a late age for marriage in India. Most people get married earlier. And the age gap between the bride and groom usually hovers around five or 10 years. It's rare to find less than four years. For us, it was a two-year gap and that's probably helped us gel together."
Questions of dowry, which Arin says often cause problems for arranged marriages among younger couples, were not a problem because they were already adults when they married.
Mou, Arin and their 9-year-old daughter Maurine moved to New Zealand about eight years ago when Arin was offered a role in the school of health sciences at the University of Canterbury. "He's a genius," Mou laughs.
They liked the idea of raising their daughter in New Zealand and have found being here without their families has helped to further strengthen their relationship.
Arin says arranged marriages often work because the families who organise it act as a sort of scaffold. However, there are also many couples who aren't happy but because of family expectations, don't split up.
"Because of the strong bond they have, they feel less likely to break apart. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? The divorce rate might be down but that doesn't always mean people are gelling with each other better."
Their daughter, Maurine, won't be encouraged into an arranged marriage. "She's growing up here," Mou says. "She'll decide what she wants."