Arranged Marriage – Not Such A Bad Idea After All

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.

And seriously, Indian wedding clothes are AMAZING!

*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.


12 thoughts on “Arranged Marriage – Not Such A Bad Idea After All

  1. I’m totally with you on that. I often wish I was in the type of society where arranged marriages are commonplace. Though, honestly, I don’t know if I’d trust my family to choose a decent guy for me… some of my mom’s “I think you’ll like this guy” have been pretty iffy, and that’s when she actually follows through with introducing me to them (usually never).

    Anyhoo, I often say that “lust is a feeling, love is a choice.” Those feelings can grow and fade over time, much like flowers in the spring. Sometimes they’re there, sometimes they’re not. But love is choosing to care for someone even when the feeling isn’t as strong. It’s sticking with them through the hard times.

    Long story short, I would love an arranged marriage where, as you say, we just do it and figure the rest out as we go along.

  2. I was forced into an aranged marriage – thankfully I never got married! It does really depend on the social culture where you are – my family is from a big city in Pakistan, but they’re still stuck in the last century when it comes to arranged marriages. They don’t believe in choice – you get married to who they choose, and you stick with it – whether you’re happy or not. I think if you have a say in what’s going on, it is possible to have a happy marriage – however all the arranged marriages I’ve witnessed have been disasters, and divorce is heavily frowned upon.

    Good luck in whatever you decide to do – and there are lots of arranged marriage sites out there!

    A xxx

    • It sucks that you would be forced into something like that. To me that smacks of culture gone wrong. (Not that I really know what I’m talking about there) It seems like in its pure form arranged marriage is people who love you seeking out someone who they know would be a good match for you and make you happy. But in too many cases it’s been twisted to become a method of controlling women or making political alliances without taking personalities or feelings into account. I’m sorry that you had the bad kind of experience with it.

      And like I was explaining to Kate on Twitter, for me to seek out an arranged marriage site would be missing the point. I would rather have a trusted friend or relative pick someone for me. Although my brother is really the only one I trust. But my very good Punjabi friend says she’ll keep an eye out for me. 😉

  3. I agree with the thrust of your post entirely. When I was a teenager the idea of an arranged marriage filled me with horror. What, no romance?! No True Love??! By the time I’d got to 30 (and unmarried at that point) my opinion had done a complete turnaround to what you say here.

    But it all begs the question, do you dare put your money where your mouth is?! Have you tried a proper matchmaker? I’ve seen ads in Indian newspapers here in Australia for Indian men seeking women for marriage that say they don’t have to be Indian. I’d like to hear your thoughts on THIS! ;~)

  4. It’s actually true. The thing that goes wrong in many relationships is that each partner abuses the expectations of the other, or never clearly communicates what they are. When two people enter into an arranged marriage, the expectations are already there; they know the contract of the relationship, and usually will both work towards it to make it work.
    Everyone just wants to be loved.
    Awesome post, thanks for writing.

  5. I know I’m most certainly not a trusted friend, since you and I rarely converse directly, but while reading your blog, I have to temper down the itch to hitch (which is unusual for me).

    I have someone specific in mind and I think the two of you would be cute together. But I wouldn’t even begin to know how to “arrange” it. I’ll just find a way to get him to start reading your blog. Who knows? I’m not sure how he feels about arranged marriage, but I know he’s extremely sweet, a bit lonely, but also very busy in his home-run business. Not quite the same as arranging it though. At the very least, I think he’d enjoy reading your blog.

    I definitely understand the appeal. I also agree completely with this post, when the tradition of arranged marriage isn’t being abused, it is capable of creating beautiful teams that often unite entire families together, rather than causing fights over whose family to visit when and wishing the in-laws were capable of at least somewhat getting along.

    Good insight mentioning that part of the US’s high divorce rates likely do come by way of people hinging responsibility for their happiness solely on their spouses. My husband and I have one of the healthiest “choice” marriages I’ve encountered in the States, the comparisons more obviously make it the responsibility of their spouse to make them happy. We should all have other things that bring us joy that we can share with a spouse rather than looking to them to provide it.

    I suspect you’re also correct about worse-case scenarios. In fact, worse-case scenarios are verifiably more widely known for “making better stories” in all other areas, why not this one as well? I don’t know anyone in arranged marriages, but I have heard women in arranged marriages speak highly of them.

    I wouldn’t go as far to say that arranged marriage is better than choice marriage, or vice-versa (not that I think you were saying that). Particularly if your family doesn’t understand you at all…you should meet some of the people my family has tried to hook me up with in the past…like Daria Morgendorfer’s parents trying to hook her up with that nice church-going boy named Chuck AKA Upchuck, the wannabe player (Daria reference). I do think you’re right, the expectations going in likely do contribute heavily to the high divorce rate of choice marriages. Better to go in, whichever way you “take the plunge,” with a partnership in mind, two individuals helping -each other- through life and mutually sharing yourselves and the good times as well as bad, than to go in under a misguided notion that marriage is a miracle fix-all that will transform your life from sad to happy.

    Great post again, I hope someone close to you finds the perfect guy, you’re such a beautiful person and deserve a partner to share life with.

  6. I am so glad I’m not dating any more- but I have to say I don;t think I would have trusted either of my parents to pick a husband for me. I did well the second time- he’s a keeper 🙂 Maybe try a matchmaker- if ti doesn’t go well at least you’ll have good material for a book. And if you do go to match maker I want you to blog about it!

  7. A fascinating read and yes of course earlier in European culture all marriages were arranged. One has only to think of how marriage is represented in Shakespeare to see that. Also the Christian marriage ceremony has the father give away the daughter! Additionally we think we marry for love, but suggestions are that good marriages are based on more practical needs. So I think you’re right. I do hope you find someone good. I recommend marriage thoroughly; my wife is my best friend and my soul mate.

    • Thanks Richard! I would qualify the statement that in earlier European cultrures ALL marriages were arranged by saying almost all marriages of a certain social class were arranged. But yeah, you have to wonder if something was standard practice for so long that there had to be at least some value to it. Something there works.

      And I’m not in a real hurry to get married at this point. Maybe when I’m in my 40s. 😉

  8. I have come to the conclusion that the problem these days is: no one knows what to do in relationships! We need rules. Not necessarily arranged marriages but rules of courtship. You know, if a guy does ‘something’, it means he On the first date you do this, the second date you do that etc… It has become so informal that no one knows what to do anymore.
    Maybe its my middle class English upbringing, but I never knew if a boy liked me, and neither did many of my friends. I think people have become so worried about either being accused of sexual harassment or ‘what their mates think’, they don’t know what to do. Either that or I grew up with some really cautious and diffident males. Obviously its not nice to be sexually harassed but a little bit of attention, just a tiny bit, was what was lacking when I was growing up.
    As I said to you before Merry, in countries like Italy and Brazil, men PAY ATTENTION TO WOMEN, whatever age or condition they are. It is just flirting, no intent to do anything else. In England, men seem to be too scared to approach women, unless they are ‘obvious’ i.e. showing lots of bare flesh and making it obvious they like the man. ‘Nice’ women are more or less left alone to wonder what is wrong with them. I thought I was the only girl to not have a boyfriend til I was 22, but then I found out many of my friends were exactly the same- nice, unobvious girls who just hadn’t received any attention.
    I think its a ‘class’ thing in England. In my experience, the ‘middle class’ boys are so hung up about dating that they never get round to it. ‘Working class’ boys however, just come right out with it and say what they think.
    That is why we need more rules.

    • Good point there about the rules. People laugh at Victorianisms like the language of fans and the language of flowers, but man, you could really communicate if you folded or tapped your fan a certain way, and a guy could absolutely make things clear whether he sent you red roses or yellow! There are a lot of things about those by-gone eras that we miss out on. (A correctly-fitting corset is another – talk about pefect back support! But I digress)

      I wonder if it’s something with English-speaking nations? Have we become so polite that we’re shooting ourselves in the foot? I love those stiff-upper-lip British guys (I mean, REALLY love!) but it sounds like I would have my work cut out for me if I ever met one in real life that I truly fancied. 😉

  9. Yes, you’re right Merry, you would have your work cut out. Some men over here just need a good kick up the bum to DO anything. They need women to come along and force them to get into relationships, I know so many.
    There is a definite class divide though, as I said. Hence why I married a working class ‘bloke’ who wasn’t afraid to say ‘I like you, come out with me, do you like motorbikes?’ Rather than a middle class one who faffed about and never got round to anything :/

Comments are closed.