Do Arranged Marriages Work?
“How does this whole arranged marriage thing work in your country?”
Whether I am getting a haircut or sitting on a plane, that’s the question I get all the time.
“Did you have a say in choosing your husband?”
“Is it true that it’s completely arranged?”
“Wow! What if you don’t like who your parents choose for you?”
Do Arranged Marriages Work?
Sure. Sometimes. But in an arranged marriage, just like in any other relationship, it’s up to you and your partner to make it work. Nowadays, the number of traditionally arranged marriages is not as large as it used to be, even in India. More and more people are opting for a more modern version where some or all of the traditional steps are skipped.
If you’re wondering how a marriage could possibly be “arranged,” this is how it happens in urban India.
Parents of young men and women of “marriageable age” spread the word about their children to friends and family. A surprisingly large number of people meet their spouses this way.
Many traditional families use the astrological birth chart or horoscope to find the best matches. In this method, an astrologer or matchmaker compares the birth charts of prospective brides and grooms, makes calculations, and predicts if the matches would be good. Ridiculous though it may seem, there are astrologers who believe in the science behind it all and who have been very successful in making accurate predictions for years.
Matchmaking Web Sites
There are dedicated matchmaking Web sites like shaadi.com, bharatmatrimony.com, and jeevansaathi.com that help you shortlist matches of people from your state or your community with many different filters of criteria. In many cases, it’s the parents who upload their son’s or daughter’s profile, keep track of the responses, reply, and shortlist the suitable candidates!
Family Background Check
Once a handful of applicants have been shortlisted, the next step is to find out more about the families themselves. It’s something like an informal, subtle background check. Since marriage is considered a lifetime commitment, this background check and family verification step is taken very seriously.
Still, it doesn’t mean that every member of the extended family has to pass security clearance. Instead, it’s a process where both families try to learn more about each other by asking around and making observations. This process may not directly lead to a decision, but it can help in determining whether the families have anything in common, whether their lifestyles are similar, if their beliefs match, and if it’s even necessary to proceed to the next step–introducing the couple.
One of the crucial steps in the process happens when both sides exchange pictures of the young man and woman in question. In my opinion, this step is awarded far more importance than it warrants. Sure, everybody wants a good-looking husband or a beautiful wife, but using a picture to decide whether or not to proceed further seems very shallow–not to mention misguided. Still, this is an important step and happens in almost every arranged marriage.
The last decade or so has seen the rise of a trend where men and women get to know each other better through phone calls, e-mails, IMs, and other high-tech means of communication. Since one or both of them are likely to be living in a different state or country, these long distance chats could go on for a few months before the families proceed to the next step. The only difference between this process and dating sites is that each member of the couple e-mails or talks to each other with the clear intention of finding out what kind of a spouse the other would make. I met my husband for the first time the day before our wedding, although we had been chatting over the phone and Internet for months.
The Family Date
Once the families and the couple agree that they like each other, they set a date to meet formally. Usually, the prospective bride’s family hosts this meeting. During it, the prospective couple is discreetly left alone for a little while to talk and see if they like each other’s company. The parents and other elders chat in a different room, with the girl’s family serving homemade sweet dishes and delicacies.
This whole process lasts an hour or two, at the end of which three possibilities arise:
1. The families part ways on a good note, promising to be in touch.
2. The girl and the boy give clear indications of liking each other a lot, and sometimes, if everyone agrees, an engagement follows almost immediately.
3. It is very clear that the two parties do not get along very well, and they end the process right there.
If the meeting was successful, the elders set dates for the engagement and wedding. In some cases, the process is drawn out. But usually that short, first meeting is likely to be when they decide on these dates and plans, which may seem shocking to most of us who are unfamiliar with that scenario. But in many arranged marriages, couples do come to a decision in that time.
Of course, not all arranged marriages are successful, and not all couples are happy. An arranged marriage is still hard work, just like any other marriage. But considering the fact that the decision of a lifetime is based on a pre-planned, supervised one-hour date, I think the statistics in favor of arranged marriages are mind-blowing.
How on Earth does such a marriage work?
As to why arranged marriages work, there’s really no specific answer. Maybe it’s because people who agree to the process in the first place are somewhat more tolerant and less demanding about their expectations. Maybe they are more accommodating of habits, likes, and dislikes than they would be if they were to go out in search of someone. Maybe their priorities are not whether they like the same books and movies, but instead whether they can grow to love and respect each other and their families, values, and shortcomings.
The emphasis is more on practical life than on passion or emotion–possibly because the principle that a marriage is for life and should never be broken is ingrained so deeply that couples try to stay happy together no matter what.
It is said that in an arranged marriage, getting married comes first, then comes the baby, then comes love! I don’t entirely agree with this, but let’s not forget that the formula seems to work for millions of couples! The tradition of arranged marriages has been around in India for thousands of years. The methodology and medium may have changed, but the mystery and magic remain.
[Photo by author]