Arranged Marriages: The Myth of Match-Making

~ Anna Mathew ’10

“Marriage is not a word…it’s a sentence…a life sentence.” So goes the joke reflecting the fear of the average American when it comes to taking the ultimate plunge. Yes, there is an implicit fear of commitment in American culture…and the prospect of marriage is thus extremely hyped up. It’s an entirely different spectrum from that which my parents grew up in thirty years ago in South India. Now, let’s be clear here. India has often gotten an unfair stereotype when it comes to arranged marriages. The idea of forced loveless unions being thrust among young people is often times misconstrued as supremely weird.

The truth of the matter is that marriage values vary greatly in countries in Asia, particularly in India. Its true in many rural, uneducated parts of the world, arranged marriages can be a ritual of cruelty…and the images can be quite graphic: Young girls betrothed in exchange for dowry-committed to men 40 years their senior destined to live a life of misery. There’s no denying that some of these images are true, but marriage culture in India and other parts of the developing world is more diverse than other people think. For instance, in many parts of urban India, many young people look at arranged marriages as nothing more than a “global dating service.” And while India has certainly progressed over the past couple decades to the point that many young people’s dating lives easily mirror that of their peers in the Western World, it still has retained many traditions when it comes to marriage culture.

Having grown up in a family where my parent’s generation had sort of entered the transition from arranged to love marriage (some of my aunts and uncles fell in love before marriage, while most of my other relatives were fortunate to fall in love after their marriage), I had a good a exposure to the reality of arranged marriages…a reality that helped me understand the larger misconception. My exposure to living in the world of “happily ever after” and “true love” espoused by the millions of Disney movies and romantic comedies I endlessly watched tempered with the practicality and rationality of the arranged marriages I witnessed gave me a profound perspective on love and even the possibility of choosing a life partner.

Americans are obsessed with knowing with a hundred certainty before committing the to the life sentence. The general attitude is that, “Unless you have a really good reason, you shouldn’t be getting married.” This serves in an extreme contrast to the perspective of my mother when at 23 years having just completed her college degree, she met my father…for all but less than an hour. Having immigrated to the United States 12 years ago and finally gotten the necessary immigration paperwork and established the financial security and stability he needed, he had come back to India for the purpose of getting married. At the time, my mother was not keen on moving to the United States and leaving the only life she knew behind. But as she later said, “Unless I had a really good reason, I couldn’t say no.” I could have thought of a million reasons for her. The fact that they had both met each other in less than one hour, however, did not constitute a good enough reason.

The entire process baffled me. The very basis of my parents’ marriage and that of the dozens of arranged marriage couples violated the very tenets of American principles before getting married. But it taught me the reality of avoiding formulas when it comes to the idea of creating a perfect and sustainable marriage. Sometimes people bound together by the same principles and sense of commitment can make things work.