THE BLOG

Arranged Marriages Can Be Happy Marriages Too

12/03/2014 12:47 EST | Updated 02/02/2015 05:59 EST
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My parents have been married for 25 years. Baba is a sci-fi and fantasy nerd who read Jurassic Park on their honeymoon. Mummy is a Martha Stewart type, the ultimate hostess and an Agatha Christie buff. They're different in a lot of ways, but their marriage has survived through the hardships of immigrating to a new country. Baba worked far from home for a few years while raising two high-maintenance daughters -- me and my big sister.

You might not guess it, but my parents had an arranged marriage.

The Western narrative of an arranged marriage is quite severe: A family forces their oppressed daughter to marry a man 20 years her senior and she sees him for the first time at the altar. It's true that in many places, that continues to happen. Forced marriage is a misogynistic practice and one that violates basic human rights.

But the truth is in the language -- arranged marriage is not the same as forced marriage. Having your marriage arranged is essentially like going through a matchmaker. The parents search for suitable singles within their cultural community and recommend them. In my family, and in many families like mine, you're allowed to say no. The suitors your parents present to you are simply suggestions.

That's how my parents' arranged marriage was set up. They were initially recommended to each other by their parents and they were able to get to know each other. After a while, they both consented to the marriage. I guess you could say it's kind of like speed-dating. Contrary to popular assumptions, it doesn't just happen for a period of a few days. Arranged marriages take time, planning and a lot of getting to know your potential partner.

It's tempting to view arranged marriage from the polarized dichotomy of good marriage and bad marriage. Arranged marriages often being sorted into the latter, perceived through a frame of "Eastern backwardness." Many choose to believe that arranged marriages are inherently loveless and depraved, the product of a foreign place labelled culturally inferior. It's simpler to believe that than to acknowledge the complexities of arranged marriage. Like any relationship, its on a spectrum that is impacted by several factors; finances, social status, the prevalence of domestic violence, cultural differences, etc.

I've seen arranged marriages go wrong within my own family and community but I've also seen them go right. Out of my mother's five sisters, one of them had an arranged marriage that was toxic and unhealthy while three of them have successful marriages. One is still single and has rejected the suitors that were presented to her. Almost all of my cousins had arranged marriages and are doing very well.

Though the success rate of an arranged marriage might vary, the same can be said about marriages that are not arranged. I've seen some that continue to be successful and healthy while others have turned into a dysfunctional mess. How can we really define what is the right way to get married? I've known some women who feel they can't meet someone on their own and want that help from their parents.

I recall being asked whether my family would force me into an arranged marriage. I was deeply hurt by the question. My family force me into marriage? How could they think that? How could my father, whose eyes watered when he read The Lovely Bones, and my mother, a fierce independent women, do a thing as heinous as to force me to marry someone? My parents and I have cultural and generational differences due to our different upbringings but even with their more traditional values, they wouldn't force me into marriage.

Many negative assumptions about arranged marriage are fuelled by xenophobia and a sense of superiority. There is one right way to do things and any other way that differs is wrong.

Though I'm not comfortable with having an arranged marriage myself, I still won't stand for rude and uninformed comments about the process. It's not right for me but that doesn't make it automatically wrong. If I want to right to have a marriage out of love, I cannot insist that others be stripped of their right to actually want parental and community guidance in their marriage.

You can choose to believe the stereotypes about arranged marriages but my parents and similar individuals continue to shatter those ideas. My parent's marriage might not be conventional in the Western sense but it's certainly not loveless.

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