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"the fact that your Indian parents have fallen in American love"
June 30, 2014 7:22 AM   Subscribe

The Arranged Marriage That Ended Happily Ever After: How My Parents Fell In Love, 30 Years Later
posted by the man of twists and turns (36 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
I read this a few days ago and quite liked it. It's refreshing to read something about arranged marriages that isn't all, "arranged marriages, what's up with that?"

Anil Dash (Mefi's Own!) wrote something in a similar vein around the time he got married.

Like the author my parents had an arranged marriage and seemingly have one of the best marriages out of everyone I know. (Well, actually, my parents just have a marriage. Myself and most of my peers have "love marriages". Oh Tamil people, never change.)
posted by chunking express at 7:53 AM on June 30 [6 favorites]


Like the author my parents had an arranged marriage and seemingly have one of the best marriages out of everyone I know.

Yes, there's no reason why an arranged marriage shouldn't as good (or as bad) as any other kind. To greater or lesser extents, every marriage is arranged: nobody makes a completely free choice.
posted by cincinnatus c at 7:58 AM on June 30 [4 favorites]


I'm Indian American and come from a fairly long line of not-arranged marriages even back to the early 20th century in India - some were more like "hey, we know this other single person" and some were more like "I love this person and will marry them despite many objections about race/religion/culture."

Also my parents' friends' kids have done mostly the same. People always ask me about the "but you don't even KNOW the person" type stuff and I have no personal data about that at all.
posted by sweetkid at 8:00 AM on June 30


grumble, my Indian parents fell in love before there was an America grumble... those two have been billing and cooing for 49 years...
posted by infini at 8:06 AM on June 30 [2 favorites]



grumble, my Indian parents fell in love before there was an America grumble..


huh?
posted by sweetkid at 8:07 AM on June 30 [1 favorite]


I am not Indian and my only knowledge of arranged marriages is that I attended one, but this struck me as a typically American or western story. Couple gets married, has kids, life takes over and they run family as best they can to get by. Finally kids go off to college and they are left alone with each other for the first time in 20+ years. Either they fall in love or they get divorced.
posted by 724A at 8:09 AM on June 30 [2 favorites]


sweet kid, was objecting to calling it "american love" ... that is all ... instead of just plain old global love

they used to watch "Love, American Style" though so who knows? ;p
posted by infini at 8:12 AM on June 30 [3 favorites]


oh yeah totally. Americans did not invent love.
posted by sweetkid at 8:15 AM on June 30


Even though I guess Don Draper claimed he did to sell nylons.
posted by sweetkid at 8:15 AM on June 30 [2 favorites]


I know people in Japan, including my in-laws as well as people my own age, who had an arranged marriage. It's not like you are marrying a complete stranger - you have to like each other first, and the whole thing is highly formalized, occurring over a succession of meetings that are chaperoned at first.

With my in-laws, who were both born around 1939 or so, the concept of self-actualization (where you get married to Prince Charming or Cinderella or whatever) that is so important to North Americans didn't exist as much back then. In the hierarchy of needs, achieving success in a particular role mattered more - being a a first-born son (as was the case of my FIL), a breadwinner, a father, and a husband (ranked in order of importance). For women, it was being a wife to the household, and a mother. That was self-actualization.

These days, the people I know in Japan who have opted for arranged marriages typically come from affluent families, so there is a desire to manage intergenerational wealth.

I would also say that even if you marry for love, as the Boomers have shown us, you still run the risk of divorce.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:16 AM on June 30 [4 favorites]


My Indian parents definitely married for love (they were completely wrong for each other by all the usual Indian standards - different religions, different mother tongues, my mom is older than my my dad by two years(!)), but their parents were actually surprisingly cool with it and they're still going strong more than 30 years later.

My paternal grandparents also had a "love marriage", and they had one of the best marriages I know of (despite my grandpa being an atheist and my grandma being a devout Christian, they managed to respect each other's faith or lack thereof).

My maternal grandparents married on the basis of liking each other's photographs (my grandpa also apparently liked that my grandma picked up his mother on a cycle - unheard of for girls in that time), and their families approving of the match. They grumble at each other like the old married couple they are, but you can't miss how much they care about each other.

I also married for love. Time will tell how well that goes, but a little respect and kindness goes a long way, no matter how your marriage starts out.
posted by peacheater at 8:31 AM on June 30 [6 favorites]


I would also say that even if you marry for love, as the Boomers have shown us, you still run the risk of divorce.

I'm reminded of Stanley Hauerwas' saying: "We always marry the wrong person." Don't get me wrong, making love and compatibility the foundation of marriage is a great thing that the modern West has done, but love and compatibility are hard things to define, in part because people are hard to define: they change from how you first knew them and have unexplored depths even after decades of acquaintance. But then, it's commonplace to observe that marriage is work and can't be left on autopilot, and that's true whether you're talking about an arranged marriage or a love marriage (Indian English, you are awesome).
posted by Cash4Lead at 9:47 AM on June 30 [1 favorite]


My grandparent's marriage was arranged back in rural Ireland the early 1900s. It's probably the worst-cast scenario of arranged marriages - neither family cared all that much about the desires of either the bride or groom; it was only about making sure that good faming land and assets remained in the hands of the two families. My grandfather was, to use modern parlance, a total dick and my grandmother's only option was to tolerate it. I am constantly in awe that she didn't have some tragic drowning "accident" down at the nearby river.

That said, I think arranged marriages can work out well for everyone involved, provided that both families prioritize their children's long-term happiness over financial concerns.
posted by echolalia67 at 10:36 AM on June 30 [2 favorites]


I suspect that the root cause for the frequent success of arranged marriages is less the arranged aspect of them and more different cultural ideas about what it means to commit to a marriage and work at it. That way of looking at a marriage is probably transferable even to their children who opt for "love marriages." Purely unscientific conjecture based on anecdata, mind you. But it sure matches up with what I've seen.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:00 AM on June 30 [5 favorites]


That said, I think arranged marriages can work out well for everyone involved, provided that both families prioritize their children's long-term happiness over financial concerns.

Well, marriages are arranged for financial concerns. Otherwise, it's just being set up.

I suspect that the root cause for the frequent success of arranged marriages is less the arranged aspect of them and more different cultural ideas about what it means to commit to a marriage and work at it.

Extreme social pressure and specific expectations in a culture where tradition and familiy are strong enough to tell you who to marry in the first place probably have a lot to do with "success" rates.
posted by spaltavian at 11:07 AM on June 30 [1 favorite]


Mandatory Fiddler on the Roof link.
posted by duffell at 11:12 AM on June 30


Yeah, when you're basically not "allowed" to get a divorce no matter how much you hate your spouse, no matter how much cruelty or neglect you have to deal with, I don't know what kind of success rate you can talk about.

My cousin got an arranged marriage, and they divorced within a couple of years because it turned out that her husband was a jerk. Of course, in my culture divorce is OK. You're not supposed to suffer for the rest of your life because you (or your family) made a poor choice. And choosing a spouse based on paper qualifications and meaningless things like family reputation is 100% guaranteed to result in lots and lots of bad choices.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:27 AM on June 30 [2 favorites]


And choosing a spouse based on paper qualifications and meaningless things like family reputation is 100% guaranteed to result in lots and lots of bad choices.

Except when it doesn't.
posted by chunking express at 12:05 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]


And choosing a spouse based on paper qualifications and meaningless things like family reputation is 100% guaranteed to result in lots and lots of bad choices.

Arranged marriages and taboos against divorce are not ideal, for sure, but they have been the source of a lot of societal stability in a lot of cultures (including overwhelmingly in European cultures until really very recently), for centuries.

I'm not saying we should go back, but saying it's 100% a bad idea seems ... simplistic.
posted by iotic at 12:05 PM on June 30 [3 favorites]


Sure, if you think "societal stability" is at all an appropriate metric in deciding who to marry.
posted by spaltavian at 12:09 PM on June 30 [2 favorites]


I really like the writing in this article. I have no thoughts about arranged marriage in particular, but I've been reading a bunch of John Gottman lately, and I have to say the whole "Jed singing the fight" bit fits right in to the idea of good, productive fighting & making up.
posted by dame at 12:17 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]


Indian English, you are awesome

Dear Sir,

I am thinking that you are being familiar with our usage of the Queen's English, mutatis mutandis, and try though I might, I cannot seem to recollect how formal, stiff and structured my letters used to be with reference to the context of the business environment. By Jove, I seem to have misplaced my ability post my relocation abroad circa the late nineteen nineties. I used to be unusually fluent in the formalities and courtesies required while undertaking correspondence with the necessary parties involved.

Thanking you in advance,
etc.,

Sample from the delightful Purdue University guide to writing for business audiences in India:

A copy of the aforesaid report will be forthcoming from the concerned person today itself, after which it would be my greatest pleasure to revert and discuss about the same for your valued feedback.

To enable other guests avail this facility, you are kindly requested to use the equipments for a maximum duration of 30 minutes time period.


/end derail, get back to the marriage arrangements now, honoured brothers and sisters
posted by infini at 12:54 PM on June 30 [5 favorites]


My grandparent's marriage was arranged back in rural Ireland the early 1900s. It's probably the worst-cast scenario of arranged marriages - neither family cared all that much about the desires of either the bride or groom; it was only about making sure that good faming land and assets remained in the hands of the two families. My grandfather was, to use modern parlance, a total dick and my grandmother's only option was to tolerate it. I am constantly in awe that she didn't have some tragic drowning "accident" down at the nearby river.

I almost wrote "Are you my cousin?!" But then I read it again; I think my grandparents got married in the 30s or 40s. I guess it was a common scenario.
posted by bleep at 1:17 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]


Although in my family's case it's a miracle that my grandad didn't have some "accident".
posted by bleep at 1:18 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]


*infini stops being facetious and RTFA*

*sniffles*
posted by infini at 1:57 PM on June 30


cincinnatus : Yes, there's no reason why an arranged marriage shouldn't as good (or as bad) as any other kind. To greater or lesser extents, every marriage is arranged: nobody makes a completely free choice.

That's a helluva contrived way to say, "Forcing a young woman to marry a man against her will is A-OK!"

If no one makes a completely free choice, then remember: the next time you get punched in the face, it wasn't the fist's owner's choice.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:30 PM on June 30


The concept of arranged marriage in general makes my insides itch, but this is a really sweet story. It strikes me that it's almost like a workplace romance - the kind that might result when any two people work together on an intense, emotionally-draining but rewarding project (raising kids, in this case). It must be a really amazing feeling to fall in love when you already know the other person so well and have so many shared memories, and have such a strong foundation of mutual respect.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:42 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]


My Indian parents have insisted on arranged marriage for me my whole life and continue to do so, so I'm too close to this particular subject to be unbiased. The article is nice for what it is, but glosses over the negatives entirely - at least from my standpoint as an American-born Indian. It's a practice where getting married to a doctor (or failing that, some other high earning professional) is of utmost concern over anything else. In that way it's really focused on perpetuating class structures, and perpetuating Indians pursuing a handful of professions to the exclusion of nearly everything else. It privileges money and material comfort over everything else (dreams, passions, unorthodox lifestyles), and you grow up with that mentality. There's a whole hell of a lot of ways people can be incompatible with each other. My parents frequently got in screaming fights but never considered divorce because it just wasn't done. You live with your misery - women live with awful, patriarchial, cruel husbands and are sometimes abused without thinking of any alternatives. Some of my cousins and family friends have gotten arranged marriages here in America, and a good portion of them ended in awfulness and divorce. In one case, she was being beat up by her husband and she stuck it out for a few years because there was a stigma against her leaving him. Oh, there's also a deep cultural stigma against women remarrying - they are seen as "tainted goods" and have trouble finding another partner after that. Outside of that abuse story, other divorces happened because these two people were simply NOTHING like each other, had completely different wants, needs, personalities - sometimes that's a problem that can't be overcome by any amount of "you grow to love each other" sentiments. There's some wisdom to those sentiments, but there's also a lot of magical hopeful thinking there which is not supported by the realities of two people who need to be mostly on the same page in life.

There are other things to say about it - being forced to marry exclusively within your race never sat right with me. I don't know. Mostly it's been this huge cultural weight that's been forced upon me and I'm not a fan of anyone lightly saying that it's as good as or better than any other marriage, when there's a HUGE host of complicating factors present.
posted by naju at 4:07 PM on June 30 [13 favorites]


Some of my cousins and family friends have gotten arranged marriages here in America, and a good portion of them ended in awfulness and divorce.

I am intrigued at the question of how one could better compare outcomes, because this sounds perfectly accurate for my cousins and friends, most of whom have non-arranged marriages. (Or more accurate both grammatically and descriptively, disarranged marriages, in many cases.)

The smaller number of people I've known with arranged marriages seemed like they fit into similar patterns, to the extent someone outside can tell. (Since even seemingly very happy marriages can turn out to have deep unhappinesses inside, I'm cautious about making definitive pronouncements.)

I guess I'm thoroughly western in my wanting to privilege an individual's autonomy and freedom to explore their desires over their family's interests, but I'm also willing to acknowledge that this doesn't work out well for some people and I'm slow to criticize a different system that I don't deeply understand.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:54 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]


Yes, my family is a mix of arranged marriages and love marriages. I was opposed to arranged marriages growing up but I've come to see the positives of the more modern interpretation of arranged marriages, at least in how my family does it. They're much more along the lines of essentially a blind date, except that there's been significant research done into the other person's background, family, education etc. There is no pressure to say yes to any one person (a female cousin of mine has said no to at least 20 potential suitors in this way), but of course there is the usual overall pressure to just get married that exists in both Western and Subcontinental cultures.

I've seen both types be good and bad. I've seen arranged marriages that stay together simply because divorce isn't an option and there's children involved. But I've seen that many times over in love marriages also. I've seen arranged marriages where each partner deeply admires the other and work together to build a solid life together even with different personalities, but they're not necessarily "in" love.

It's a deeply complex, and personal situation, that only works as well for each family as it can within that family.

There's also the hugely offensive side of things that exist in arranged matchings that, while, it exists in dating profiles etc, I think is less explicit. Ie. I know of people that have been rejected openly because their skin is too dark, because they were too short or too tall, because they only had a diploma as opposed to a bachelor's degree, or because there was a herditary risk of cancer in their family (ouch!).

When you're an outsider looking in on this world of "exotic" arranged marriages, just know there is no one truth to whether they are a force of good or not. I think I lean slightly that they are not such a good force...with all the supposed free choice, there is a lot of unsaid pressure that exists around these type of transactions that may force relationships to "work" even though they really shouldn't.
posted by liquorice at 5:03 PM on June 30 [3 favorites]


Basically there's no method to ensure a happy pair-bonding for life but A. Who's to say that's even an interesting or valuable metric, given how people change over time, and B. I'm going to say any method that results in 100% no-strings-attached buy-in from both parties is better than a system that doesn't. An arranged marriage that both people want 100% without any coercion, that they can leave at any time without consequence? That's fine. A "love match" that the woman can't leave? That's bad.
posted by bleep at 5:04 PM on June 30


I am intrigued at the question of how one could better compare outcomes, because this sounds perfectly accurate for my cousins and friends, most of whom have non-arranged marriages.

Well the touted "success" of arranged marriages you hear about is that it rarely ends in awfulness and divorce. So I think it's worth at least poking a hole or two in that. And also acknowledging that in many of the cases where it doesn't end in divorce, it may be due to a particular stigma against divorce or destabilized family structures in the culture (much more of a stigma than anything that exists in Western marriage.) If you're looking for definitive proof that there's more awfulness in arranged marriages, well I don't have any, but it doesn't look like there's anything magically amazing about it from where I stand, and in some cases, more intense incompatibility and unhappiness than any of my non-arranged divorced friends have faced.
posted by naju at 5:05 PM on June 30 [3 favorites]


I've only known one arranged relationship that ended up in divorce (don't take this as an indicator that arranged marriages are in any way more successful) and it ended horribly and much worse than any love divorce I've seen. The unique aspect of it was how the entire family and extended family felt betrayed, ashamed and guilty for contributing and allowing the marriage to happen. We all met X and heard about their background and gave our approval even with some concerns. When, in the end, all the lies and deception came out, we all wondered to ourselves - should we have said something before? Should we have spoken up when we had some doubts? The parents, especially, took it hard as they felt it had been their responsibility to find a suitable individual for their child to marry and that they had failed their child incredibly.
posted by liquorice at 5:12 PM on June 30 [4 favorites]


cincinnatus : Yes, there's no reason why an arranged marriage shouldn't as good (or as bad) as any other kind. To greater or lesser extents, every marriage is arranged: nobody makes a completely free choice.

That's a helluva contrived way to say, "Forcing a young woman to marry a man against her will is A-OK!"


What a weird interpretation. You're completely wrong.
posted by cincinnatus c at 2:11 AM on July 1


Finally kids go off to college and they are left alone with each other for the first time in 20+ years. Either they fall in love or they get divorced.

The problem here is that even in the best case outcome, the children never see a loving relationship between two people modeled for them and in fact get told by their parents that concerns about such a thing are unimportant. Marriage as "a union of two people who manage to tolerate each other under the same roof" is all well and good when survival is impossible without marriage and children, but if marriage is to be considered something other than a social obligation, children need to grow up seeing what a healthy loving relationship is like.
posted by deanc at 6:06 AM on July 1 [1 favorite]


Well, marriages are arranged for financial concerns. Otherwise, it's just being set up.

Most of the time when I'm around people talking about playing matchmaker for their friends and family the consistent thing that I hear is something like, "I hate to think of him/her being alone in the world without someone to care for them..." or "he/she would make such a wonderful husband/father or wife/mother..."
Yes marriage as an institution has it's roots in wealth & asset management, but underneath that is a desire for the people we cherish to be in a caring, stable relationship.
posted by echolalia67 at 4:56 PM on July 1


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