The concept of arranged marriages has changed. And, not just for men. As a woman, ideally, your life partner should be someone with whom you can share interests and who will encourage your independence. As with any relationship, friendship is the key. Good communication from the beginning will help ensure that yours is a lasting, loving partnership. Let's take a look at how to go about looking for these characteristics in the context of an arranged marriage. New avatars: Arranged marriages are not like they were, say, 20 years ago. "It is now more like meeting someone through your family or like being set up for a blind date," says Rachna Shukla, 25, a Web designer who had an arranged marriage earlier this year. "Parents or friends introduce the couple and let them talk via phone or email, meet a couple of times, and then ask for a decision. If the couple says No, it's a No. However, when parents are involved, there will inevitably be some pressure as they can't help but give their opinion and advice," she adds. These days, couples often initiate the dialogue themselves, through matrimonial sites (as parents may not be familiar with computers) and end up being the ones introducing each other to their parents. "I call it an 'arranged introduction'<WBR>, as the choice is solely left to the couple. I feel this is the natural direction in which 'arranged marriages' are headed," says Chetna Johari, 27, a computer engineer who is presently on the manhunt. "Another difference is that it is no longer only the guy who decides first. Girls have an equal prerogative to do so. Also, as women are now more career-oriented and financially independent, they are usually not in a hurry," continues Chetna. What are you looking for? The first thing to keep in mind is to make a list (at least mentally) of attributes you would want in your life partner, so you can focus better on your search. Depending upon your preferences, some factors that might be taken into consideration (not necessarily in this order) are -- job, salary, educational qualifications, appearance (looks, height, weight, etc.), caste, horoscope, values (traditional, liberal or moderate), habits (drinking, smoking, etc.), location, family background, social standing, etc. Inform your parents: It's best to spell out any preferences beforehand, so your parents can search accordingly and the list can be narrowed down. This way, you will save your parents' time as well. "As I have a non-transferable job in Delhi, I would prefer a Delhi-based match," says Shalini Srivastava, 24, who works with an NGO and is looking for a life partner. Meeting your 'could-be': Deciding to marry someone is one of the most important decisions of your life. If you are confused, unsure or awkward, don't fret -- so is the other person. Just a few things you can keep in mind when you meet your could-be significant other: Do's: Wear something that is both flattering and comfortable. Try meeting away from relatives. Choose a neutral venue like a coffee shop. Pretend that you are on a blind date and try to enjoy yourself. Don'ts: Don't approach the meeting with the mindset that you have to marry this person. Don't think you'll be sure to hate him either. Before, during, and after: Before meeting, try getting in touch with the person over the phone or through e-mail to prepare you, to some extent, for what to expect. During the meeting, keep an open mindset. Relax and just be yourself. Don't hesitate to discuss important issues. Afterwards, think calmly and give yourself time to assess. Although this meeting may not indicate if this is 'the' person you should marry, it can certainly tell you whether you want to get to know the person better and take a step forward. If, at any time during the meeting, you realise it won't work, keep your cool, be polite, and try to keep it as short as possible. "Trusting your gut feeling is the most important -- if you feel something is not right, it probably is not," advises Rachna. Ask away!: It's perfectly okay to ask any questions you have in mind. But remember, timing is the key. For example, it can be outright insulting and offensive if the very first question is 'How much do you earn, both net and gross?' "Sometimes, information is not offered voluntarily and one hesitates to ask. But, if the answer to a question is important in taking matters further, there is no harm in asking. Maybe the person you ask will feel offended. But, when you are taking such an important decision, you have to take that risk. Isn't it better that they feel bad now, rather than you feeling worse later?" asks Rachna. General questions that could be asked once you get familiar: Are you ready for marriage? How would you describe yourself? How do you like to spend your free time? How do you feel about smoking and/or drinking? What are you looking for in a spouse? How much time do you want to decide? What are your preferences, in terms of food (non-vegetarian or vegetarian)? How do you feel about pets? What is your family like? What are your likes and dislikes? How do you act when you get upset? How often will we visit our extended family (if staying apart from them)? Do you believe in sharing housework? Appropriate questions on the profession front: What are your future career plans? How much time do you spend at work? Are you looking for a working wife, housewife, or is it immaterial to you? What would we do in the situation that I get transferred? Background research: Although researching the boy's background might seem painstaking, it is very important. "My friend got married to a very charming boy with a very good job. As he was from a reputed family too, they didn't bother to ask about his habits. It was only after marrying him that she found out he had a drinking problem," says Shalini. The difficulty of researching goes up a notch when the boy is abroad, especially if you don't have any friends/relatives to help you out there. This was the case with Asha (name changed), who married an NRI in the US only to discover, when she got there, that he had a live-in American girlfriend. Thus, it would be wise to make discreet inquiries outside with the help of relatives and friends, with respect to his job, family background, age, education, habits, financial condition, medical history, lifestyle, etc. "You can get an employer verification to find out if he is working there or not. Definitely check the visa status. You may also ask for a proof of employment letter, request a medical test, etc. Try calling discreetly at an odd hour to see who picks up the phone at night. You can hire a detective to do a background check (this is expensive, however). If you have friends and family abroad, ask them to meet him and find out more," says Chetna. Additionally, communicate regularly through email, phone, chat, etc. to get a better idea about the person.