The New Face of Arranged Marriage

The New Face of Arranged Marriage May 28, 2014

Back in college the subject of arranged marriage came up in discussion during one of my small workshop classes. I don’t remember how. Perhaps someone had written it in a story we were talking about. What I do remember is the very negative reaction that everyone in the room had.

There was shock and anger and talking about it like it was a barbaric practice from ancient times and not something that people are still doing. I sat quietly, embarassed, and not wanting to admit that I tried to have an arranged marriage myself.

I was taught (not by my parents, but by SES) that marriage is a part of spiritual discipline. It’s not there for your happiness. All people are the Self, and so you just need a good man who is trying to perfect his soul the same as you are and love will grow. You love what you serve. Marriage is about working together and having a partnership, not about lust and passion. Arranged marriage makes a whole lot of sense from that perspective.

Imagine my surprise when, fourteen years after that college class, I came across a girl’s essay about her potential arranged marriage and the comments, which are mostly from non-desi westerners, were extremely positive!

I suspect that two things are at play here:

1) When people are able to set aside their stereotyped ideas about what arranged marriage is, they are able to learn that it no longer means marrying someone you’ve never met before. The vast majority of arranged marriages now involve meeting your potential spouse a few times before deciding that marriage is right for you.

2) The people commenting are mostly older than the people in my college class. I wonder if after going through the heartbreak of western dating,  being set up by your parents doesn’t begin to sound like a really nice option to have!

It’s heartening for me to see people being more open minded about it. I think love marriages can be wonderful and I think arranged marriages can also be wonderful. It really depends a lot on you, your situation, and your family.

And, though it may have been common for grandparents to have met their spouses on their wedding day, that’s really no longer the norm. There’s a nice hybrid happening now where parents may set up the date and both people know that they are dating in order to see if they are compatible for marriage, but they do have some time to see if they are a good fit.

There’s even a book on modern women and arranged marriage: Hitched.

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  • Amar

    marriage can be wrong anyways, then there is no reason to blame arranged anyways. arranges marriage means that the couple has respect for customs, virtually no teen pregnency.

    • Ambaa

      Yes. Arranged marriage can be good and it can be bad. Love marriage can be good and it can be bad.

      I think, though, sometimes even those who really respect tradition and want to particpate in customs…sometimes that’s just not what fate has in store for them!

      Sometimes love just happenes to you, even if you’re a traditionaly-minded young person, and I hope that that also gets respected!

      • Amar

        love marriage do take place in Hindus too, the fact is old barriers are vanishing now a days. factor even more influential is family, and society.

      • Amar

        destiny is unchallangable.

    • badtooth

      what do you mean by teenage pregnancy? there is a huge percentage of teen’s giving birth in nations with a high rate of arranged marriages.

      • Amar

        I said in context of Hindus.

        • badtooth

          I don’t know what you mean by “context of hindus”. my question is, how can you say there is no teen pregnancy because of arranged marriages, when arranged marriages lead to teens being married. and therefore one must assume a rate of some sort for pregnancy among those married teens. if 18% of girls are married before 15, a % of them must become pregnant. and the 15 to 19 year-olds who are married would add to the rate of teen pregnancy amoung the hindus.

          • Amar

            again, I meant “out of wedlock”. FYI there isn’t much teen pregnency as well. most of teen marriages are not in HIndus they are in musaltas, and furthermore now a days (atleast in North, where I lived), marriage before 18 is rare. I donot which society or part of country are you talking about.

  • Sabina

    It is so strange to me that people who grew up with freedom would want to choose something more restrictive! (This isn’t directed at you, Ambaa- I know that your upbringing was atypical to say the least, and that the culture you grew up in encouraged arranged marriage for many of the same reasons that Indian culture historically did/does too.)

    I had a conversation with a friend from grad school a couple of years ago, in which he was talking about how arranged marriage to someone you meet on your wedding day seemed “interesting,” and he said “I would like to try that. You know, see how it works out and if I could make it work.” This is one of the freest people I have known- someone whose life has been unrestricted beyond my imagination since he was a child- and he’s also a writer, so thought experiments like this are fun for him obviously… But I was appalled, because I thought of a story of one of my great-aunts (maybe great-great aunt? my dad told me this story and it happened when he was little, and in the house, and scared) who married someone of her choice, and how the man she married had everything “right” according to both families’ wishes (the “right” religion, village, caste, etc.)- and how this woman’s father took her into a room and viciously beat her after she got married. Beat her for daring to choose. Even though her choice was “right”- she dared to choose, and to love, rather than to knuckle down to a life of duty and sacrifice with someone who had been chosen FOR her.

    Maybe there are good things about arranged marriage. Some of them do seem to work. But it is weird to me that people who have no cultural pressure to have an arranged marriage would even think about embracing it. I get that a “modified” arranged marriage, in which you meet the person first and personally assess compatibility, is different. But my friend’s comment, about how it would be interesting to try out an old-school, meet-person-on-wedding-day arranged marriage, struck me as very odd. It upset me in a way that I couldn’t quite define.

    • Ambaa

      Wow, just to see if he could make it work? That’s…weird. Marriage is pretty serious business, I think! To me that feels yucky partly because it sounds like making a game out of a serious cultural issue. He sounds like he’s trying to be an anthropologist about it while we have *lived* it and its effects.

      • Sabina

        Exactly. I think he was just getting carried away with a thought experiment. But I suppose, if you’ve never seen an arranged marriage or what happens to people in it when cultural mores dictate staying together no matter what AND always sacrificing one’s personal interests, then it seems like a fun exciting experiment for two people to try together, as opposed to steeling oneself for what could become a life sentence of oppression. I think it made me especially mad because this friend is a guy, and therefore doesn’t really get how much women especially have been made to suffer in such arrangements. [Not that men don’t suffer too if they’re stuck in loveless marriages or marriages that don’t work- they do. I’m thinking specifically about how there’s so much cultural pressure on women to sacrifice and be “selfless,” in a way that’s not applied equally to men.]

        • Ambaa

          I totally agree!

    • Amar

      the difference is in customs, a marriage in Hindus is a coupling of next 7 generations. what is good here in West might not be as good there. one can not and ought not generalize this.

  • badtooth

    aren’t there like 5,000 burning brides in india every year.

    • Ambaa

      You always manage to find the sensationalist article. Imagine what’s said about us with our school mass murders!

      • badtooth

        no need to imagine. the bbc just did an article about how our gun culture will forever lead to school shootings. 60 minutes on sunday had a football coach on who was a hero at a school shooting. still i think 3 died. we talk about and examine these things all the time. i’m sure the europeans and canadians and australians and japanese shake their heads everytime there is another mass shooting. you can criticise america all you want. in fact it should be incouraged.

        • Ambaa

          But that’s exactly what I mean. All of our cultures have issues that we need to work on and are trying to get better. To point out all the issues that India has makes it look like one is looking down on them and saying we’re better. No one is without fault here. We all need to work to protect the vulnerable in our societies.

          • badtooth

            yes, we need to work to protect the most vulnerable. but your comparison of gun violence and grooms burning their brides alive because they don’t like the dowery. or 12 year-old girls being forced to marry old men they don’t know. is a non sequitur. the shooters are not operating within a cultural norm. when entire villiages stand by and do nothing, or worse participate. the killers are given an all clear on their actions. you did see the story out of pakistan where the family stoned the pregnant woman for marrying the wrong man, in broad daylight in front of the courthouse. police did nothing. (14 year-old girl in nigeria poisoned her 35 year-old husband she was forced to marry, 8 year-old girl in yemen dies on her wedding night from internal bleeding. these are not anomolies, these are cultural norms that should be criticised at every oppurtunity) did you read the link? 18% of girls are married before age 15 in india. that is rediculous.
            but yes america is not perfect, 2 little 12 year-old gilrls just stabbed one of their friends trying to kill her to please “slenderman”.

          • IaMJ

            “grooms burning their brides alive because they don’t like the dowery. or
            12 year-old girls being forced to marry old men they don’t know. is a
            non sequitur.”

            It may be a surprise to you but in many such cases the actual culprits are the women in the groom’s house. In particular bride’s mother and sister. They hold a lot of influence on the groom and brainwash him to do things as per their wish. Demanding dowry(money), jewellery and other things from the bride’s house.

            One must not go for the popular opinion as there also have been cases of false dowry/harassment charges against the broom. and this number is increasing day by day. Changes in the Indian Law are making the matters even worse for men.

          • Amar

            I’m strictly against “ove over other”, no one here on Earth is complete, it means you have your own plus and minuses, I have my own, I won’t compete with you and so do you, emphasize pluses.

  • Amar

    there are a whole lot of reasons, but overall man is a victim of woman in Hindu society today. list of reasons go on and on. this is one of the main reason- in my view.

    • Ambaa

      In my observation of men and women here in America, I have found that each feels victimized by the other, each side feels like the other has more power. I think the media is teaching us to think we are at war. The truth is, we all feel out of control and we all have similar desires that we’re trying to accomplish. Men and women are not that different and we’re on the same team.

      • Amar

        how about this.
        Women initiate between 66% and 90% of all divorces.
        It was for me a surprise that her satisfaction (orgasm) plays a pivotal role in marriage.

        • Ambaa

          I don’t think that’s the only kind of satisfaction that factors into women getting divorces.

          Again in my observation I see women not feeling like they are being listened to in their marraiges.

          I see the husbands being fine in the situation and not realizing that their wives are getting more and more starved for respect, attention, and don’t feel like they are being heard.

          When she finally can’t take it anymore, it looks like it’s all her fault because she’s the one who filed.

          This isn’t always the case, of course, but I’ve seen it numerous times.

          • Amar

            difference of opinion here- respectfully. In my view and experience- women can compromise on everything if she is satisfied, and if not she becomes more vocal day by day. pointing fault out of nothing is another symptom. on being heard I’d say upto a level it is acceptable, after that women might think some other way. of course every women want respect, and there is a wide gap between respect and disrespect. these are matters which can be solved- if women is satisfied.
            another factor may be level of expectations.

          • abhimanyu sirmaur

            you seem like another version of Sigmund Freud.

            By the way don’t you think you talking like a misogynist.
            You are having some personal problem in your life and this is not the forum to solve it.

          • Amar

            how come you got the impression that anything here is out of context. specify.


    I’ve been married since 1990. MY wife and I had an arranged marriage. To this day I have never told her that I love her but deep down inside she know I do. I said to my self that I will tell her on my last day when I’m about to die or either it’s her time.

    I think people have wrong perception of an arranged marriage and I don’t think that’s true any more, well it wasn’t in my case. Like you said it can be good or it can be bad, but it all depends on you, I think.

    When I met my wife first time Oh BTW, it wasn’t on the day we got married. I couldn’t take my eyes off her ( wide Grin ). We talked, well she mostly talked and I kind of agreed with what ever she was saying ( wide Grin ) but it wasn’t that. I was looking at her face and her top anatomy 🙂 in kind of nodding way ( don’t judge me I was only 19). which she thought was so nice of me to listen to her and agree with what she was saying, but in reality I was better than David Becham. 🙂 In what I was doing. I only told her what I was doing when we went on holiday 2013 and we were talking about what we thought of each other, and I told her and I ended up getting her elbow in my ribs. Women talks about truth and says that they want to know what their other half are thinking and when you tell them the truth they don’t like it. I will never understand women ( wide grin ).

    To this day I don’t remember what she was talking about ( wide Grin ).

    I come from a family where My eldest sister married by her own choice and she is divorced. My second sister had an arranged marriage and she is still married. My third sister married a man of her choice and was divorced in less then three months. I had an arranged marriage and I am still married. 🙂 My youngest brother had an arranged marriage and he is also still married. We all had choice in what we did.

    • Ambaa

      Awwww! Thank you for sharing this story.

  • jayvbellis

    American college mis educated women aren’t getting married.

    We need some options.

    • Ambaa

      So what?

      Who cares if they get married? Is the human race in danger of dying out?

      Listen, I’m a very educated western woman. I have a MA degree. I spent most of my twenties trying extremely hard to get married. Guess what? It was the guys who prevented it. So don’t blame women for that.

      Now that I finally am married, I love it. But I’m glad I didn’t settle for something less perfect earlier in my life.

      • jayvbellis

        I’m not blaming women, just noting with sadness that the current situation isn’t working well and it’s very unhealthy.

        Our college educated women need some other options. What works in other societies like Hindu communities, Orthodox Jews. What worked in the past in America?

        Arranged marriages, match makers? How about the system in the traditional Irish culture featured in the John Wayne movie “The Quiet Man”?

        • Ambaa

          Ah, I understand. I do like the idea of multiple options. It’s hard when you really want to get married and you can’t find a way to do it!

  • Rohan

    “I sat quietly, embarrassed, and not wanting to admit that I tried to have an arranged marriage myself”

    Cant believe that ,think thats trying too hard at being a Hindu.
    The thing about arranged marriage imo is that they find you a girl to get married with , now a woman is no object or like some shoe which you check out beforehand to see whether it fits you which makes it look cheap in my eyes
    It also limits the choice or right to marry.
    My mother refused to have an arranged marriage and told her parents that she wont marry a stranger.She found her partner and it was an inter-caste marriage which is why her parents disowned her.Fortunately they have also told me that it would be great if you found somebody on your own rather than we ‘handing you’ somebody

    • Ambaa

      Can you believe, when I was trying to have an arranged marriage I didn’t identify as Hindu and didn’t know my beliefs were coming from Hindu philosophy?

      There was no trying to be anything there!

      It had to do with the way I was brought up. As young people in a cult, we were strongly encouraged to have arranged marriages.

      Looking back at it now, though, I am very grateful that my potential marriage fell through. It took me a long time, but I found the perfect partner for me and that wouldn’t have happened if the arranged marriage had worked.

  • krish wadhwa

    Arranged marriage is a gamble, too many marriages are unofficially fixed after 2-3 meeting or 1 meeting. it is very difficult for Indian men & girl to get married in an arrange marriage.