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By: Sasha Dhesi
“Arranged marriage.” The phrase probably causes a shudder down the spine of anyone from a culture who practices it but grew up in the West. I’ve seen countless Indian-American comedians joke that they wouldn’t even let their mothers pick their clothes, let alone their spouse, and it’s a sentiment I share. The cultural difference between my mother and I means we’re always at odds about things as trivial as how I should do my eyebrows to the more serious career decisions. But you’re speaking to a girl who has seen a dozen romantic comedies a year and can’t bring herself to make a Tinder account because it just feels too much like I’m giving up on romance. An arranged marriage just doesn’t make sense for me, but after watching my parents grow and change through their relationship, I’ve learned that an arranged marriage may have an undeserved reputation.
My parents don’t have a romantic story. There was no meet-cute, no elaborate story to satisfy my inquisitive ears growing up. No, my parents had a boring arranged marriage. My parents met a few weeks’ prior to their wedding and have been married now for about 22 years. With all that said and done, I couldn’t tell the difference between my parents’ marriage and those of my friends whose parents had “love marriages.” It became increasingly clear that what made their marriage work wasn’t some grand romantic love that carried them through every fight but rather a willingness to adapt.
Now it should be noted that many people stay in arranged marriages for the wrong reasons. In most South Asian cultures divorce is heavily stigmatized, so people often stay in unhealthy or abusive relationships out of cultural pressure. I personally know of many toxic couples that are only together to avoid the community backlash. These issues aren’t due to the arranged marriage though. I doubt anyone decides to abuse someone because they didn’t specifically choose their spouse. Arranged marriages don’t magically solve the issues that may arise, but it’s not necessarily the part of the equation that’s causing issues.
The main reason why my parents seem to do so well together isn’t because they’re made for each other or that they’re soulmates. Rather, they’re happy because they’re willing to listen to each other and adapt to each other. Because they had an arranged marriage, they had very little expectations about what the other would be like, and didn’t have these idealized images in their heads of what the other should be like. Instead, they went into their marriage willing to compromise.
We often go into relationships with this concept of the ‘perfect’ person, who accepts you for everything you are. But you’re never going to find that because you yourself are not perfect. It’s ultimately unfair to assume that someone should bear the weight of your flaws. This also ignores that you’re never going to find a person who doesn’t have some sort of tick that bothers you. Any sort of long-term relationship is a commitment to that person, warts and all, but we get so wrapped up in this ideal “the One” who’s going to take care of all of your faults without having any of their own. What you want isn’t a lifelong partner, rather someone who’ll let you stagnate completely. But those in arranged marriages usually don’t have this mindset. Dating usually requires a level of idealization to work, but an arranged marriage takes it out of the equation completely. Instead, you’re left with a person who you have to listen to in order to learn how to be with them.
While I don’t have some wonderful story to share about how my parents met, I do get to come home to them sharing a loveseat together while they watch the news, and listen to one lament about how they miss the other when traveling. While I am not going to have an arranged marriage, I don’t think we should bash them altogether. Whether it’s arranged or not, the only way to sustain a relationship is to willingly adapt to your partner and grow with them. For those who are comfortable with it, arranged marriages are definitely an option that can lead to an incredibly fulfilling life.