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Indian Arranged Marriages
March 30, 2005 8:43 AM   Subscribe

A look at arranged marriages for Indian-Americans.
posted by daksya (26 comments total)

 
I'll add two words to the entire concept.

Caveat Emptor



BTDT as they say...
posted by infini at 9:00 AM on March 30, 2005


At my previous job I worked with a lot of colleagues from India, and for a lot of them engaging in an arranged marriage was something perfectly normal.
posted by clevershark at 9:04 AM on March 30, 2005


I'm Indian (born in the States), and my wife is highly white and American. I'd never really cared about marrying an Indian girl or an American girl or whatever, although it mattered some to some of my friends and it mattered a great deal to others. I was vehemently opposed to arranged marriages, thinking they were ridiculous.

Then, after being married for awhile, arranged marriages made a lot more sense. As much as we thought otherwise, there was still a bit of an act going on while we were dating. We had put a fresh coat of paint on aspects of ourselves that we weren't too proud of, and after being married, those parts start to show through. What followed was a deconstruction of our images of each other and then a reconstruction of the truth. While a lot of what we initially saw in each other was still there, a more than trivial amount changed drastically. I like to say we fell out of lust and then grew to love each other.

I wouldn't trade our time dating for anything... at times it was memories of how we were that were the only thing that kept us together. At the same time, we both agreed that arranged marriages no longer seem completely repugnant to us. Granted, the people who have barely set eyes on each other is extreme, but the type of arranged marriages happening to kids like me these days, where they're introduced and after a few weeks or months get married produces very happy marriages with equal standing for the husband and wife. It's a bit of a hybrid of American and Indian values.

And entering that marriage without the preconceptions of people who have dated for years can be a boon. From what I've seen from my own marriage and that of friends, it's rarely what you expect it to be, and perhaps not having any basis for expectations is a blessing in disguise.
posted by AaRdVarK at 9:29 AM on March 30, 2005


Not being the marrying kind, as they say, I am half terrified, half intrigued by this. As long as there is an escape clause, I do see a good side to this.

I liked the observation that traditional Indian couples work to make themselves and their spouses happy. There is a point in a relationship where you have to say, I want to make this work for both of us. Sometimes the extended agony of "do I/we want this?" seems like narcissism to me.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 9:46 AM on March 30, 2005


As someone who is happily married to a guy her mom would never have picked out for her in a million years*--ech. There is work in marriage, of course, but there's work and there's WORK, if you know what I mean. The author seems a bit of an idiot, to me. Doesn't she have any idea what she wants in a partner? Is she so immature that she can't bear to take control of this aspect of her life and draw some boundaries with her parents? Why is getting married so important, anyway? Marriage should be a natural extension of an existing relationship, not an end in itself, imho.

The best advice I ever got was: decide that you are perfectly ok with being alone the rest of your life rather than marrying someone who isn't the right one. Because if you are afraid of being alone, then you will make compromises you shouldn't, and in the end, most likely regret it.

*and yet, they get along great now.
posted by emjaybee at 9:55 AM on March 30, 2005


emjaybee: Of course, to you, the idea of arranged marriage is distasteful. That's probably because your parents married out of love, and you were taught growing up that you would find a man and marry him because you loved him. Your cultural framework is very different from traditional Indian values. If you'd grown up with parents who had an arranged marriage, and taught your whole life that you'd marry a man virtually at random, and that you would both grow to love each other, it would probably work out just fine.
posted by salad spork at 10:30 AM on March 30, 2005


The author seems a bit of an idiot, to me.
--emjaybee
Oh, I don't know if that's really fair.
She's straddling two different sets of cultural values, and even European-American culture still dictates that marriage is an important goal in itself--a life stage--part of adulthood. I don't quite buy it myself--I'm 30 and unmarried and in no hurry to tie the knot--but for Indians and Indian-Americans, the culturally ingrained desire for this is generally much stronger, as the author describes.
Why is marriage so important? Well, it's still seen by many as the most basic requirement for starting a family, which for many people, is still the most important thing a person can do with his or her life.

To some extent, I share the the author's frustration. I've dated lots of guys. Long term, short term. For whatever reason, I always go into it hoping that "this is The One." It's disappointing when it doesn't work out. The author seems to have some idea of what she wants. I do, too. Hell, if I could assemble different traits from all the people I've dated, I could build the perfect mate...

Like most of Americans, I am programmed to believe that having more options (for a mate, a career, lunch) will make me happier, but this is not always the case. Sometimes having lots of options is just overwhelming and maddening and it is indeed difficult to determine what one actually wants. I've realized that I like and am compatible with a variety of personality traits--but trying to figure out which is the best, which qualities are the most important, is not as cut and dried as one might think.

At some level I can see how it makes an arranged marriage seem a lot more palatable.
posted by apis mellifera at 10:34 AM on March 30, 2005


emjaybee, you seem to have missed the point of the article. Did you really see her ambivalence as idiocy, or her bemused tolerance of her parents' actions as immaturity and being under her father's thumb?

The real meaning is in the parallels she draws with what modern Americans expect from love and relationships. I've had similar experiences and emotions, minus my parents' involvement, OR craigslist.

Great link, and great comment from Aardvark.
posted by artifarce at 10:49 AM on March 30, 2005


My take is that arranged marriage for the sake of arranged marriage is a farce and a sham. For example, if you leave India behind, come to the US or England or Dubai or whatever, and then start to lead an American (or whatever) type of life, and then marry your daughter off to some guy who just happens to have parents or grandparents from your same region/caste/etc. but you don't know his family and he basically selected your daughter out of a book, then I think you're doing something just because that's all you know and you are an idiot.
However if the arranged marriage is between two people who have known each other, or at least been introduced for a long period, and there is a family relationship of some sort, or at least their families have mutual interests, and the union represents something stronger then just tradition, and it's "the way it is done" where you live, then I have no problem with it.

But the arranged marriages that happen among ex-pats, who are doing it not because of family reasons or any good reason, but just because it's tradition, then I think it is wrong and will have disastrous longterm effects.
posted by chaz at 11:03 AM on March 30, 2005


When you look at the boneheaded things people do to "arrange" their own marriages --- speed dating, dating strangers from the internet, sleeping drunk with oddballs from the local watering hole --- you have to wonder whether the love marriage and the arranged marriage are really that different in scope.
posted by DenOfSizer at 11:14 AM on March 30, 2005


The whole idea of only marrying within your narrow ethnic group is pretty disgusting, actually, arranged or not.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:17 AM on March 30, 2005


The whole idea of only marrying within your narrow ethnic group is pretty disgusting, actually, arranged or not.

So why does it usually end up that way?
posted by clevershark at 11:26 AM on March 30, 2005


DenOfSizer writes "When you look at the boneheaded things people do to 'arrange' their own marriages --- speed dating, dating strangers from the internet, sleeping drunk with oddballs from the local watering hole "

Hey! I've slept with a lot of drunks from the local water hole, but it's offensive to me when you imply that was done with the object of matrimony.

Marriage (and often even ever hearing from them again) had nothing whatsoever to do with it!
posted by orthogonality at 11:31 AM on March 30, 2005


Arranged marriages have two big advantages, done right they're set up by people who know both parties and with love and insight can do a pretty good job of figuring out who will get along with who long term, and they have buy-in from the families. Again done right, there is a lot less outside pressure on such a marriage since everyone else thought it was a good idea in the first place.

On the other hand yes, out a country of a billion people marrying someone only a degree or two of separation away doesn't seem like such a good idea socially or biologically.
posted by scheptech at 12:09 PM on March 30, 2005


So why does it usually end up that way?

I don't have a problem with people being more likely to marry others of their ethnicity. That's understandable since the population is not homogenous and you are simply more likely to know people of your ethnicity. It's when it is considered unacceptable to marry someone different that I find disgusting. Like this Armenian kid I know went out with an Asian girl for about a year, and his mom was PISSED. And I have the feeling she wouldn't be much less pissed if the girl was Italian or Polish instead of Asian. I look on it as a symptom of a sort of tribalism that is not good.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:14 PM on March 30, 2005


I don't think I'm being too hard on her, or on anyone contemplating marriage. It's a big step that will affect your happiness, and the happiness of your possible kids, for the rest of your life. It's irresponsible, if you have a choice (which exempts her parents, people still in India, etc.) not to take it seriously. I've been a witness to far too many marriages where the participants said "oh well" threw up their hands, and married the first available warm body, because marriage was "important" to them--but not important enough to be discriminating about what they wanted. And they regretted it, though I suppose their therapists and divorce lawyers did not.

I appreciate that she's having a hard time breaking out of her culture. But if she marries some guy she barely knows and proceeds to be miserable (or heaven forbid, he's a wife-beater or cheats on her), then she's still stuck with a nasty, life-derailing situation.
posted by emjaybee at 12:16 PM on March 30, 2005


TheOnlyCoolTim : The whole idea of only marrying within your narrow ethnic group is pretty disgusting, actually, arranged or not.

Why? Plenty of people will date only within their own religion, or nationality, or income group, or whatever. How is marrying within an ethnic group different?

Surely you want to end up marrying someone with whom you will feel comfortable, who shares your (basic) values, who you can respect etc. For many people (not everyone), that implies someone from a familiar, similar background. Hence the desire to limit the pool to people of a certain 'group'. And don't we all self-select in some way? We date certain 'types', or people who've achieved a certain educational level, etc.
posted by darsh at 12:21 PM on March 30, 2005


Ah. Never mind
posted by darsh at 12:23 PM on March 30, 2005


Chaz: But the arranged marriages that happen among ex-pats, who are doing it not because of family reasons or any good reason, but just because it's tradition, then I think it is wrong and will have disastrous longterm effects.

Yes. More so when the spouse is brought in from the home country - "traditional family values" being the purported reason, and comes in on a "dependent spouse visa" H4 to the H1B worker, or if the Indian is a US citizen, as a "conditional green card" holder, the imported spouse is legally and financially dependant upon the person already established here.

The conditions set up by this are so inherently unbalanced with respect to the power of being legally and financially dependant that unless the marriage totally works from the beginning or the new wife is truly timid and subservient, issues occur that are at best unhealthy and at worst abusive.

Speaking from personal experience, an arranged marriage can seem like a viable option to consider at age 32 (the age I was when I married in such a way) because as another poster said, you've seen your parents have a loving marriage and other family members survive reasonably successfully :) so even if you did not grow up believing in it ( I attended an american school for example) you think to yourself, well why not? My dad sent me a password to a database he'd shortlisted from one such website for global indian matrimony.

But as Chaz points out, when you do not get the opportunity to spend more than a day or two with the individual - or as in my case, I'd emailed and called but met him only a week before the wedding, the surprises after the wedding can be amusing at best, and I'd rather not go into the worst.

I'd still say it's a workable option for those brought up in that culture, and who expect to undergo it, but the author's tone and article are not idiotic so much as amusing - that *is* exactly how it is... I called it the "Great Husband Hunt" and would post updates to friends. It does have great potential to provide you with a fund of stories.

As for myself? The article made me reflect on where I'm at now (3.5 years divorced after 2 years in the marriage) making a new life in a new country because the culture and society does not support a divorcee in India.
posted by infini at 12:31 PM on March 30, 2005


emjaybee:

I appreciate that she's having a hard time breaking out of her culture. But if she marries some guy she barely knows and proceeds to be miserable (or heaven forbid, he's a wife-beater or cheats on her), then she's still stuck with a nasty, life-derailing situation.

Yes. and as she writes, when she visited india, as an unmarried person (regardless of gender ) she was counted with the children. This is true, it doesn't matter if you're 32, if you're not married you sit with the kids. Marriage in Indian culture and society, especially for women, is the only way of having any status or role in society and family structure. The pressure is enormous.
posted by infini at 12:36 PM on March 30, 2005


seeing how the authors has said to have dated a wide variety of people and is still considering the idea of an 'arranged-marriage', i would conclude the following:

1. she wants to have a spouse and build a life with that person

2. she wants the person to feel the same way (i.e. not career before family)

3. she can't find that person on her own

provided the two that are involved are truly honest about what it is that they want to do, i see no harm in 'speed-dating'. as far as i can tell, speed-dating is just the idea of dating with the sole intention of marriage. to be efficient, i'd guess you would lay out your goals/priorities/tendencies/etc and without the pretenses, attempts to impress, nor discovery process.

provided that you and your family/friends have the same assessment of your potential partner (thus combining the points of view of many trusted people), you can be reasonably sure things will work, at least as likely as any other marriage.

this is, admittedly, based on the assumption of people being honest and your family's point of view is to be trusted.

It's when it is considered unacceptable to marry someone different that I find disgusting.

agreed! it's a different problem when you think you have found the one you want to marry and your family/friends/community protest. arranged marraige is useful for people who can't find that person ...

basically, arranged marriage is good for some, but not for all
posted by maulik at 12:39 PM on March 30, 2005


darsh: Surely you want to end up marrying someone with whom you will feel comfortable, who shares your (basic) values, who you can respect etc. For many people (not everyone), that implies someone from a familiar, similar background. Hence the desire to limit the pool to people of a certain 'group'.

Your conclusion (last sentence) does not follow. If you want someone with similar values, find someone with similar values. They are distributed among all ethnic groups. You'll find plenty of close-minded people among Indians and open-minded among others. Let ethnicity be one of many attributes in a person, rather than the prejudiced filter. At most, one may make the case that you're more likely to find resonance among people with similar roots, but that ought to be a purely logistical issue, not the expression of a disguised ethnic or racial discomfort.
posted by Gyan at 2:24 PM on March 30, 2005


At the end of my year as an exchange student in India, my host mother sat me down, begged me not to have a love marriage ("you'll think love can conquer all, neither of you will work at it, you'll end up unhappy and hurt") and to please let her find me a nice Saraswat boy.

This was a very loving and kind offer. I think she would have found me a very nice Saraswat boy, of a good family, and done everything in her power to make sure he treated me well. I might even have been happy, who knows?

I didn't take her up on it, for a number of reasons, but I'm still touched by her care for me. There are a lot worse things in the world than arranged marriages.
posted by QIbHom at 2:38 PM on March 30, 2005


One of the best arguments for arranged marriages, especially outside India, is that you tend to share a common language. (other than english or whatever).
posted by dhruva at 7:35 PM on March 30, 2005


The best advice I ever got was: decide that you are perfectly ok with being alone the rest of your life rather than marrying someone who isn't the right one. Because if you are afraid of being alone, then you will make compromises you shouldn't, and in the end, most likely regret it.

On our very first date, my fiance and I had a little debate about being our "optimum selves." Unless you consider it optimal to be completely alone, some sort of interpersonal chemistry will always play a role in your happiness.
posted by NortonDC at 9:26 PM on March 30, 2005


Gyan: You'll find plenty of close-minded people among Indians and open-minded among others.

I absolutely agree. But for a lot of people, (again, not everyone), values implies religion, which in turn implies a certain religious and ethnic group. Take the authors example - she's Jain, and there aren't that many Jains in other ethnic groups. If the values in Jainism, are important to her, she's sort of limited. I'm not saying this is good or bad, just that it can be a convenient marker for many.
posted by darsh at 4:59 AM on March 31, 2005


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