Posted by: cochinblogger | October 21, 2009

In Defense of Arranged Marriage

I present a piece I wrote in the Comments section of the following story:

http://www.worldhum.com/features/travel-stories/love-and-marriage-on-the-shatabdi-express-20090723/

It was written in the heat of the moment and the raw emotion quotient is a bit high, but I will allow it to stand. I will return to this topic later.

“Nice story, but skewed, possibly understandably so, given the writer’s cultural conditioning. Here is another take, possibly skewed too, from an Indian who is in an arranged marriage and has relatives and friends, some of whom have found their own partners and some of whom have had arranged marriages.

Most Indian youngsters today (at least, the urban middle class) are free to choose their own partners if they wish to. Even in the arranged marriage system, the prospective partners can size each other up with multiple meetings before deciding. Either party can veto.

As for the system followed in the West, it’s left to chance. Hooking up is usually more about sexual attraction that love, and that attraction naturally wears off in a couple of years. Look at Sarah Palin’s daughter. She and the stud who knocked her up found love, didn’t they? Yeah, the feeling typically lasts for a couple of years, and then the search for the next love of one’s life. And so on, from one partner to the next, in serial lover fashion.

And does anyone spare a thought for the kids jammed between the revolving doors of the marriages of their parents? No, it’s all about me and my satisfaction. Me, me , me!

Does anyone spare a thought for those who are socially awkward and physically unattractive? Some of them end up being so desperate to get married that they make unwise choices, hitching up with the first partner who is ready to sleep with them.

It’s a paradox that Westerners, who are normally so rational about everything else, are so irrational about how they choose their partners, trusting to an ephemeral emotion that statistics show will transmute into bitterness and hostility within a couple of years. The Western system (if the dating game can be called that) is not much better than wind pollination in plants. The Asian arranged marriage system ensures that partners have similar family backgrounds and interests. And if one does want to marry someone one meets, one can marry outside of the arranged marriage system. It’s the best of both worlds, in a way. It’s better and safer than trying to hook up with someone in a singles bar or trying the classifieds.

With the arranged system, one can meet many more prospective partners than one could by personally meeting people at work, etc. The field opens up! The families of prospective partners are known, including hereditary diseases (and criminal backgrounds!), if any. The background is intensively scrutinized. Unpleasant surprises post-marriage are minimized.

In fact, the writer of an article in a U.S. newspaper in the 1960s, considering the divorce rates then, wondered if it wasn’t better to return to the arranged marriage system.

I think there are Jewish communities that follow a similar system, the family encouraging compatible youngsters to meet.

There’s an underlying difference in perspective: For Asians, marriage performs a largely societal function, the perpetuation of the species (kids, family, etc.); for the Westerner, it’s about individual fulfillment.

The ideal would be to balance both perspectives.

Basically, it’s a gamble anyway, whatever the route taken, but as in every other endeavor, doing one’s homework improves the odds of success.

I wish someone would write the following piece. Middle-aged Indian meets middle-aged U.S.-raised Indian-American in a train somewhere in the U.S. They start talking. The Indian-American describes her first marriage and how it failed after 3 years, when the right guy appeared again like magic, whom she married. Now, 2 years later, that marriage is failing, and she’s carrying on with another guy who thinks she’s a goddess. There are passing references to the kids from the two marriages, and her plans to ditch her current husband and marry the guy who thinks she’s a goddess.

And as for this line in the article: “My husband and I? We’ve learned to work around each other,” it’s one of the best-kept secrets of most long-lived marriages of any stripe, but perhaps it’s a secret that’s being forgotten in the West because long-lived marriages are so rare?!”

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