I realized yesterday as we were all sitting around at Family Dinner talking about the many various things we’re all up to that I quite literally don’t have time for a boyfriend. I would love to have a man in my life, don’t get me wrong. It would be fabulous to have someone there for me when I needed him. It would be nice just to have someone around. And I could certainly use the financial help of an added income. But in no way, shape, or form do I have time to date. Between work, writing, and maintaining the relationships I already have there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.
What I need is an arranged marriage.
Whoa, whoa, you say, slow down. An arranged marriage? Are you out of your mind?
No. I’m not. I have a lot of Indian friends. Several of them are in arranged marriages. In fact, one of my very bestest best friends is in an arranged marriage and her relationship is healthier and happier than many of the other ‘love matches’ I know of. She loves her husband, and he loves her, and they have a happy life together.
It’s all about expectations. Western culture has a whole different set of expectations from marriage than Indian culture does. Plus we in the West have a lot of misconceptions about how arranged marriages are entered into and what they mean to the people involved.
In a nutshell, here’s how my friend explained her experience to me. Arranged marriage is one of two equally viable and accepted options, the other one being love marriages. She was dating a guy and hoped he would propose, but he didn’t. So when some of her female family members mentioned that they knew of a guy who would be perfect for her she said okay and agreed to meet him with the intent of getting engaged to him if she liked him. Her husband had spent most of his life in the US and many of his family members had married whoever they wanted, Indian, American, white, black, and Hispanic. But when the option of an arranged marriage came up for him he said okay and went to India to meet my friend. My friend liked him okay when she met him and said yes to the marriage. As she tells me, nothing is set in stone and nothing is forced. The girl always has the option of refusing the man her family has found for her.* She had a good feeling about her future husband and went off of that. It wasn’t love at first sight, she didn’t feel any sense of ‘you complete me’. It was more like the time had come for her to grow up and enter the responsibility of marriage and this guy seemed like a nice enough guy for her to spend the rest of her life with. It also meant moving to a new country and starting a new life, which was fun and exciting to her. So after a year of mostly talking on the phone they got married and she moved to the US. After a rocky-ish start (that is none of my business repeating) they got used to each other and fell in love. Now they are very much in love and proud parents.
I’m always struck by how well my friend and her husband work together as independent units and together. They each have their own lives but those lives dovetail very well together. It seems to me like all of the arranged marriage couples I know have full and complete lives and interests on their own but they also gel very well together. I think this might be because neither one of the people in the marriage hangs their happiness on the other. I have seen so many American marriages fall apart because one or the other party got upset that the other wasn’t giving them what they need. And that’s all well and good. We all have needs. But I personally think a lot more harm comes out of relying on the other person to make you happy, to define you, and to fulfill you than good. But if you go into marriage with the understanding that you are responsible for making yourself happy and fulfilled and then bringing that into a relationship rather than expecting the relationship to make you happy then you’re doing much better. And the divorce rate in India is about 1% whereas in the US it’s hovering around 50%.
But wait, you say. Isn’t it, like, next to impossible legally and socially to get a divorce in India? No. It’s not any harder than it is here. Although there are some family and social pressures in remote villages. But those same pressures also exist in the West, let’s face it.
Here’s another story for you. My dear friend has a cousin who also had an arranged marriage. It was a total disaster. They were horribly unsuited for each other and the husband’s family tried to impose some serious old-school conservative rules on my friend’s cousin. I know this woman. She is NOT old school conservative. Her in-laws expected her to be a good, meek Indian wife, stay at home all the time, and pop out babies. She had one daughter and decided she wanted no more of it. So what did she do? She got a divorce. And it’s just like any old American divorce with shared custody and child-support and all that. Granted, my friend’s cousin is a bit of a train-wreck, bless her heart, but she tried it, didn’t like it, and got out of it. No one is forced to stay in an arranged marriage.
I think it was probably the same in Western culture of yesteryear. People married for reasons other than love. They stayed married because it was what they were expected to do as mature adults. When we think of arranged marriage in the 21st century West we think of the worst-case scenarios. I don’t think it was like that all the time. Maybe those women from days gone by didn’t go out there and peruse the market, date a bunch of guys, fall in love with one and marry him and live happily ever after. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t ever fall in love with their husbands or live lives of contentment in a family unit that was dedicated to each other and making it work. If every case was a worst case then the institution would never have lasted. No, I think it’s far more likely that most arranged marriages lead to lives of steady contentment. But stability is too boring to be reported, so all we hear about is misery and unhappiness.
Which brings me back around to me. I have always hated dating. I would rather dig ditches then sort through profiles on dating sites or hang out in bars. I never feel comfortable in those early days of getting close to someone, worrying if they like you as much as you like them, and building up to THE CONVERSATION. I have always said that I would much rather start three months in to dating someone, when you already know you’re together and there isn’t any question about where the relationship is going. Yes, I need an arranged marriage. Let someone else do the grunt work for me. Find a nice guy and invite him over for tea so I can see if I get a good vibe from him. And if I do, then let’s just get married and work everything else out as we go along without all the fuss of ‘he loves me, he loves me not’. I would rather have a love that grows over time than one that bursts like a firework and fades into disappointment. I’m weird like that.
I may be weird, but I also think it’s a shame that our culture doesn’t have that option available for those who want it.
*My friend comes from a relatively well-off family living in a large town but not one of the metros (Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, etc.). She tells me there are still problems in villages that are lagging behind the rest of the country in a lot of ways.