Previous Posts in my series on marriage: Cousin marriage, forced marriage in Pakistan, forced marriage in Islam.
I had completely forgotten about completing this series until I saw Yasmine comment on Abez’s blog (no permalinks; look up the June 10 post titled “How I Own 1/7th of Riaz’s heart”).
Although Western socities tend to deride arranged marriages as backward and uncivilized and primitive, there do exist positive aspects. For example, Westerners focus more on the physical aspect of relationships, and are thus obsessed with love, sex, beauty, etc. As a result, people get married based on these factors and then get disenchanted with one another very easily. The divorce rate in Western countries such as the U.S. has skyrocketed. […]In contrast, Eastern cultures that practice arranged marriages place far more emphasis on the practical, such as integrity, diligence, ambition, humility, generosity, etc. People get married based on practical reasons, and work on building affection later. Strong characteristics like the ones described above are very conducive to building love and affection in Eastern marriages. As a result, these marriages are much longer-lasting than many Western marriages (at least, based on what i’ve seen so far). It’s BECAUSE the primary emphasis is NOT on love, sex, and physical beauty that arranged marriages are usually so successful, because the spouses get to know one another on a practical level first, looking beyond trivial issues such as beauty or lack thereof.
And, of course, i know it can go both ways: there ARE many arranged marriages that are just total hell, and there are marriages that started out based only on infatuation and grew stronger as time passed. But I think as long one as looks for the right characteristics in a potential spouse, then, arranged marriage or not, ‘s all good.
I won’t reply to her points directly but a discussion of the similar ideas comes later in this post.
First, we need to consider what an arranged marriage is. It is basically a marriage which is arranged by someone other than the couple themselves, usually their parents. It encompasses a lot of different varieties: the harshest arranged marriages are almost forced upon the bride or groom while the most liberal ones start with just an introduction of the coouple through their parents and the rest is up to the couple.
Traditionally in arranged marriages, the decision is made by the parents of the couple and they have to abide by that decision. It was quite likely that they would see each other for the first time after their wedding. These marriages are still prevalent though in lesser numbers than the past. I know quite a few people who are actually proud that they did not meet with their spouse before marriage and married a total stranger. Another thing that I have heard happen is that the parents are usually so confident of their child agreeing to whoever they arrange their marriage with that they don’t bother asking for their opinion before finalizing the proposal. The guy or girl is then left with little choice but to agree.
Then there is the emotional pressure or even emotional blackmail. Parents beseech their children to agree to a proposal before they die or make use of other emotional pressures. A very mild example is shown in this Washington Post article:
But the Patels didn’t drop the idea [of going to India from the US to look for a groom for their daughter], and Indian daughters hesitate to defy their parents. Many times her mother had prepared vegetarian meals for Vibha while she was away at college, and her father had driven nearly five hours to Blacksburg to deliver them, then turned around and headed home — how could she now dismiss their wishes? Her father’s eldest brother, dying in a nearby hospice with the whole family gathered around, yearned to see her engaged — shouldn’t she give him this final pleasure?
The more liberal arranged marriages nowadays are called “semi-arranged marriage,” or “arranged introduction” by some people. Here, the process starts with the parents but the guy and girl have input as well and the final decision is the couple’s. That’s why some proponents of arranged marriage say that it is no different than your mom setting you up on a date. However, there is a huge difference.
They [the parents] run ads, canvass Web sites, put the word out on the community grapevine: Dad’s aunt knows a nice Bengali family in Atlanta whose nephew is an electrical engineer. Mom’s medical school classmate in Detroit has a cousin with a single daughter working with computers in Bangalore.
After their parents perform due diligence — Hindu marriages are considered a union of two families, not merely two individuals, so bloodlines and reputations matter — the children meet and spend time together and decide whether their relationship has a future. A voluntary process, no different from having your friends fix you up, the fixed-up like to say.
But it is different. Families —- many of whom disapprove of or forbid dating —- don’t want to introduce their kids to someone to hang out with or move in with; they want a wedding, and soon. Vinay’s relatives think that after he’s spent three or four evenings with a woman, he ought to know: She’s his future bride or she’s history.
So the parents have a large amount of input in deciding who gets through the initial vetting. Also, there is pressure to make a decision. One is not allowed to take the time it takes to get to know someone, but has to decide on a deadline.
In Muslim families, one-on-one meeting is generally out. So the couple get together along with their parents or in more liberal families with a chaperone. Try meeting your future wife for the only time before your wedding decision in front of both your parents and then try striking up a conversation with her.
People think that the do-it-yourself marriages (“love marriages”) in the West rely on superficial characteristics like physical beauty. Here’s the ad placed by Vinay’s parents:
Punjabi parents desire beautiful, professional, never married, US raised girl for handsome son, 34, 5’10”/150, fair, slim, athletic, engineer/MBA, consultant in DC area. Enjoys travel, sports, music. Please reply …
When parents go looking for a spouse for their child, they consider beauty, ethnicity, religion, education, social/financial status and even horoscopes. Which of these criteria are superficial? There are times when a guy’s mom would reject girls because of the smallest “defects” in physical appearance. Or because of the girl being a bit older than the guy (even by a few months).
Ethnicity and religion are very important factors that most parents don’t overlook for arranged marriages. I know a number of guys whose families insisted that they had to marry another Pathan (an ethnic group in NWFP, Pakistan and in Afghanistan) even though these guys and their families had otherwise completely assimilated in Lahore or Karachi for hundreds of years. No one in their families spoke Pashto or Dari, the languages that Pathans/Pashtuns speak. Still their families would not think of marrying someone outside their definition of the tribes that comprise the Pathans.
Imagine how many parents in the US are comfortable with their children marrying someone of another race. Now think what would happen if these parents could decide who could or could not marry their kid. The result would definitely be far less miscegenation. And that’s what happens in societies with arranged marriages.
In the end, the discussion of arranged and love marriages comes down to which is better. Obviously, the one that leads to more successful marriages. Proponents of arranged marriage claim that it is more successful, but their definition of success focusses on divorce rates.
It [arranged marriage] works better than Americans’ impulsive love marriages, which so often split apart. “We have less divorce,” Vibha’s mother points out. “That’s what results tell us.”
But are divorce rates really a measure of successful marriage? Do all the couples that don’t get divorced stay happy with each other? The prevalence of divorce in a society depends on a lot of factors including the stigma of divorce.
In fact, the advantages and drawbacks of arranged marriages can’t be so easily appraised. The incidence of divorce among Indian-born Americans is dramatically lower than among Americans generally, but that partly reflects the continuing stigma of divorce. Even as the divorce rate among Indian Americans appears to be increasing, the topic is rarely discussed. […]Divorce reflects poorly on an Indian family, and some proportion of arranged marriages endure not because they are successful or rewarding, but because leaving them would bring such shame.
In addition, the concept of a woman living independently is foreign to most people in South Asian culture. Also, a majority of women don’t work in Pakistan and hence find it difficult to have enough money to support themselves without getting married or after getting divorced.
And many endure because the definition of success differs from Western ideas. Traditional Indians don’t expect a partner to be that improbable combination of soul mate/confidante/red-hot lover/best friend. “The husband-wife bond is one of reliability and dependability and complementary family roles — raising children, caring for elders,” explains Karen Leonard, author of The South Asian Americans and a University of California-Irvine anthropologist. “They may communicate very little in intimate ways, and it’s still a good marriage.”
Hence, they are married as strangers and stay strangers all their lives.
Arranged marriages are the norm in Pakistan and if its proponents are right, then marriages should be very successful there in general. In terms of divorce rates, they are but then how to explain this:
Estimates of the percentage of women who experience domestic violence in Pakistan range from 70 to upwards of 90 percent.
A lot of people nowadays think that arranged marriages are somehow tied to Islam or Muslims. In fact, arranged marriages are common in a lot of societies in Africa and Asia. They are the norm in India and Japan among other countries.
What is the position of Islam on the topic of arranged marriage? As I mentioned in my post about forced marriage in Islam, traditional and conservative scholars require the approval of the bride’s guardian for her marriage (a position I disagree with). In addition, conservatives are wary of any kind of mixing of the sexes socially. Therefore, for women, there is not much of a practical way out of this dilemma. Some modern scholars however disagree and allow a couple to get married without parental involvement. They still disagree with dating, but meeting of the couple for the purpose of making a decision about marriage is allowed. So, the marriage would tend to be like the “semi-arranged marriage.”
A final question to anyone who favors arranged marriage and specially those who don’t want the couple to get to know each other before marriage: What do you think about having sex with a stranger to whom you are married? Or do you think a couple like that should wait until they know each other better?