Whenever I tell my friends that I've thought about getting married to a guy that my parents will pick for me, I always get the same response.
"Wait a minute, an arranged marriage!?"
"But why? Aren't you worried!?"
"Last I checked it's not the 1900s."
Et cetera, et cetera.
They're right, it's definitely not the 1900s anymore. Times are changing and society is moving forward.
Like any other woman, when I was younger I was adamant about being in a love marriage -- falling in love and getting married with or without my parents' approval was the dream, just like in the movies. Of course my parents continuously squashed that idea right out of my head.
I still remember that one day a few years ago when we went out for a lovely family dinner like we do every few weeks. Of course I, being the petulant child that I sometimes am, brought up the topic of matrimony and asked my parents outright why they wanted me to have an arranged marriage. That's right, I came straight out and asked them. Shocker, right? But I can tell you now that this was the most informative conversation I have ever had with my parents in all my 20-something years of life.
"We just want a happy life for you," my dad explained to me. I told him that I knew this. Every father dreams of a content life for his children.
"But it's my life. I'm the one getting married, so I should decide who I marry," I argued back. As a born and bred Canadian, the whole concept of an arranged marriage was unsettling to me.
What I did not understand was how much my parents truly worried about my future. They were concerned that maybe in my immaturity I would fall in love with the wrong guy, make bad decisions, and do something stupid that I would regret for the rest of my life.
In the South Asian community, marriage is a big deal. It is a sacred pact between man, woman and God that is honoured for a lifetime. Divorce is rare. Once you're in it, you're in it for life. In a Hindu marriage, a crucial part of the pact is the parents. A marriage is not just the union of a man and a woman -- it is the union of two families. The parents of the couple are just as important as the couple themselves.
Upon realizing this, I understood why my parents would be concerned if I entered into a love marriage where I chose the man I would marry. They were worried that our families would not be compatible. In an arranged marriage, they would be certain that the match would be good for all parties involved. It sounds very much like a contract, doesn't it? Terms like parties, arrangement and signatures are plentiful. I couldn't believe that the sanctity of marriage was torn apart by something like a contract, so I delved into my own research.
The more I learned about the traditions of my culture, the more I realized that our marriages are both a contract and a sacred journey across lifetimes. In an arranged marriage, couples are matched based on their horoscopes and numerology. When you are born, every single element matters: the date of birth, the time of birth, the direction you were facing when you were born, the position of the planets, which stars were the brightest -- every tiny detail was recorded.
This data, after being organized into a chart, is kept with the family as the child grows and becomes a young man or woman ready to tie the knot. Their charts are then compared with others to be matched, and the best one is always a happy and prosperous union. I believe that these matches are the souls of two lovers from past lifetimes to be reunited again. Hinduism believes in reincarnation. So maybe God places us in a certain place at a certain time for us to be able to find our true match again in our current lives.
I thought about the pitfalls of this method. What if the match my parents found for me wasn't truly my soulmate? What if the man who is truly my other half isn't from a family that would be compatible with mine? I argued with my parents for a long time before I realized that they were right in their own way. I have made terrible choices before, so what prevents me from making more in the future? Or perhaps a part of me doubts my abilities to find the "right" guy.
Arranged marriage used to be a huge deal for me until I had this discussion with my parents. That was when I realized that an arranged marriage isn't the end of the world. So what if I don't like him? I can just say no if I realize that we're not suited for each other. I'm sure that I would be allowed this freedom, even if our charts were a close match.
After a few weeks of chewing the idea over in my mind, I brought the subject up again with my mom.
"If I go ahead with your whole arranged marriage thing, I have a few conditions," I said to her. Firstly, I wanted plenty of time before the wedding to get to know the guy I would be hitched to for the rest of my life. Secondly, I wanted to at least have a few options in case one didn't work out. Thirdly, I definitely did not want a huge age difference between us -- this scenario has happened so often in my extended family that I was frightened of it being passed down to me. As I stated these conditions out loud, I realized it made me sound a little shallow -- it was like picking the best cow of the lot to make the most delicious burger.
"Of course all of that goes without saying," my mom replied without batting an eye. I felt like I had misunderstood them all this time. Whenever I thought of an arranged marriage, I had this grotesque image of being forced to wed someone who didn't respect or love me. I thought that my parents were being unfair and stifling. Only then did I realize that I was just being an idiot.
My parents told me that their own marriage was an arranged one, but I know that they have grown to truly love each other overtime. To this day, I sometimes catch them holding hands while taking a walk on warm summer evenings or snuggling on the couch paying idle attention to a made-for-TV movie. Their marriage has given me hope and their love has given me faith.
Now, I wonder if I should completely trust my parents and place my future in their hands. And yet I can't help but wonder -- if I'm ever in a situation where I happen to find my soulmate myself, would they understand and learn to accept him too?
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The wedding may be over and done with, but this doesn't mean the excitement shouldn't continue. Take turns devising a trip or planning a special occasion like an anniversary. "Remember, you don’t have to wait for a special event to have some excitement. Try taking a last-minute overnight road trip or simply try a new restaurant," says divorce attorney Bruce Provda.
Don’t believe you’ll be able to change a person or even get them to act more like you just because you’re married, Provda says. "Accept the fact that your spouse’s background and life choices have created them to be a different person from you even if your belief systems are in sync." Instead of trying to mould someone into your idea of the “perfect” person, remind yourself about his or her differences.
Your love for your spouse shouldn’t be a mystery, so make sure to get in some public displays of affection when you can. Hold hands if you're walking through the mall or exchange a casual kiss after dinner. "Showing affection affirms the connection between you and your partner," Provda says.
Avoiding conflict won’t help build the relationship, in fact it will just add stress, Provda says. "While you can’t be scared to express tension or face confrontation, never say anything intentionally mean or intended to hurt the other person."
Being aloof can imply a level of deceit. "If you believe you have to shield part of yourself from your partner in order to be appealing, you’re actually creating low-level tensions that only work to erode the bond and your attraction for each other," Provda says. And yes, it may sound cliché, but honesty is the best policy.
Make sure you share the important things, Provda says. "Marriage isn’t a 50-50 proposition. It is a 100-100 deal that brings a true depth of relationship through a depth of knowledge." If you're having a bad day, talk it out, and if something is bothering you about finances, the children or extended family members, make sure both of you can talk it out. "Doing so consistently will help build a connection that gets more complex and deeper as you go through life."
After the surge of romance and honeymoon phase wears off, it’s time to understand reality will set in. "It may be time to reassess where you, as a couple are, and what you are willing to do to make the marriage work. Then you have the choice to readjust the relationship or walk away." Staying in a unhappy and unhealthy marriage is never beneficial to either person, but giving up is just taking the easy way out.
Sure, it sounds old school, but marriage really is about understanding your partner’s needs, Provda says. "You have to be willing to offer what the other person in the relationship needs in order to get their needs fulfilled," he says — and this should work both ways!
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