Several years ago, I would’ve gone on a rant about my view on arranged marriages.
They are “very old-fashioned,” “controlling” and “force the women to be submissive and without a voice.” I was grateful to be living in America where that “doesn’t happen.” Here women “are valued and have a choice in who they marry.” For the life of me, I could not imagine why families would do this to their daughters. I saw news reports about teenaged daughters being married off to older companion with tears in their eyes and stern expressions on their parents’ faces. Clearly, I determined, that is not the way marriage is supposed to be. We are not supposed to be forced into marrying someone whom we do not know. Adults should choose who they marry, not their family members. We marry people because we love them, not to collect a dowry. Women date men to find their “Mr. Right.” Their divorce rates are so low because women have no say and they are forced to remain in the marriage or they will be beaten, or worse, killed. My list could go on and on. I knew, without a doubt, that arranged marriages were wrong and downright mean.
And then I met my husband. Now, before the assumptions begin – no, I was not part of an arranged marriage. However, his family members do participate in arranged marriages and so he has firsthand knowledge of this practice. Before I begin to tell you my journey from knowing it’s “Mr. Right” to gaining an understanding of “Mr. Who,” let’s address a difference. “Arranged” marriages are not the same as “forced” marriages. Here is a brief video by CNN that shows examples of both. I do not agree with forced marriages, nor with marrying off young children. I understand that circumstances create different views in regards to age, but I still do not feel comfortable with marriages among individuals whom I, personally, consider still children. In addition, we must acknowledge that there’s extremism in every aspect of humanity. That being said, there are families who do not fit the generalizations that I am going to write about. This is true when you speak of cultures, religions, socioeconomic classes and many other aspects of the human race. Nevertheless, I do believe that what I have learned stands true for the majority of arranged marriages that take place across the world during this period of time in our history. Now, moving on….
After meeting my husband, and meeting many other men and women who have participated in arranged marriages, my views began to change. My shifting view was gradual, and I have not come to the full conclusion that all arranged marriages are better than “love” (or “free-choice”) marriages; however, I have come to develop a strong level of respect for the practice of arranged marriage and this is why:
- You maintain a piece of your culture that places family/community before self. Now, this may seem like a very foreign concept, but I do believe it carries merit. Today’s society appears to be filled with self-serving life choices. Once we begin to strongly focusing on “I,” we begin to lose the concept of community. Although one can find success independently, there’s much to be said about working together as a unit/family/community for the betterment of the whole. That being said, cultures who practice arranged marriages maintain that aspect of their heritage throughout the years. Historically, arranged marriages also served the purpose of bringing
fighting tribes together, creating peace and strengthening ties among the various groups. This peaceful effort decreased individualistic mindsets and made for a stronger community. The practice brings honor to the family and, generally speaking, you marry a companion who shares similar beliefs as you. This does not eliminate differences, for these will always be present when two become one. Nevertheless, it does provide a simpler path towards maintaining religion, native language, culinary heritage (is that a term, or did I just invent it?) and other aspects of one’s culture that can quickly be lost as populations migrate to new countries, or societies shift with the ever-growing power of the Internet. Joining in an arranged marriage helps to solidify the longevity of one’s culture.
- Decreased divorce rates due to the belief in the sanctity of marriage. In the religion of Islam, an Imam is only to marry a couple if they both agree to the marriage. Now, it may happen that social pressures lead people into feeling they must get married to the person their family has presented, but the belief of joint agreement is stated in the Quran. Study upon study has shown that the divorce rates among arranged marriages is significantly lower than those of love marriages. Whereas divorce rates among love-marriages tends to be over 50%, the rate within the arranged marriage community has maintained single-digit statistics. Many people will try to argue that divorce does not happen in “those” marriages because the wife is not allowed to leave. Yes, there are some places where this stipulation is true; however, it is not the same amongst all populations who practice this tradition. In some cultures, spouses can divorce, but there are different beliefs as to when it is “okay” to get a divorce. It is often not socially acceptable to call off a marriage because things are not going as well as you had envisioned. Many people also explain that there are lower expectations within arranged marriages. One author explains the low expectations in saying, “This is because in-depth knowledge is crucial to forming accurate expectations, and more knowledge produces higher expectations.” So, since couples in arranged marriages rarely know each other in great depth before the marriage ceremony, the level of expectation is different than a couple who have dated for a few years and gotten the chance to know each other while mentally creating expectations of what marriage will be like between the two. There is an Arabic saying that is roughly translated into, “It is better to have a fruitless berry tree, than no tree at all.” This is basically saying that it is better to have a husband who doesn’t do much, than no husband at all. The reason for this (lightly-taken) phrase is because in many countries around the world, there is an additional sense of security – in finances, raising a family and honor – to be in a marriage, then for a woman to go through life solo. It also demonstrates the lower expectations that are explained in the link above. Along with different marriage expectations, there’s the belief in these marriages to try and work through hardships and find ways to honor the vows you made, instead of seeking a divorce. There is more pressure in some cultures to work things out in a marriage, than there is in the more Westernized cultures – thus decreasing the likelihood that arranged marriages will end in divorce. Huffington Post had an article on the 10 Most Common Reasons People Divorce. If you browse through these reasons, you will see that many are avoided within the structure and design of an arranged marriage. And one big reason for that is my next point….
- Families intend to select a mate that will bring honor to their family/tribe through that individual’s history, personality traits and their potential as a spouse. Again, there are exceptions; however, most parents seek to unite their child with a person who will be a strong match for him/her. Often, the family will learn of a potential mate through word-of-mouth and then they will conduct, what makes me think of, an investigation. They will look into that person’s family to determine what type of family nucleus is present. Questions will be asked about the potential suitor within the neighborhood, that person’s place of employment, amongst his/her friends and many other avenues of life. The family’s objective is to find an ideal match. They are searching for personality traits and longevity with a successful union, instead of relying on initial physical appearance and the quickly formed intimacy that sparks an initial attraction, yet often eventually fades away. It is believed that the family can discern between genuine character and the initial first impression that a person can make – though rarely continue to uphold. Due to this intensive work by the family members on behalf of the child that is to be wed, a marriage between two compatible individuals is often the result.
As I mentioned, I have had the honor of meeting many couples who were formed through arranged marriages. From these introductions, I have come to a few conclusions: (1) There are people in America who practice the tradition of arrange marriages. So my previous belief that it doesn’t happen “here” is unfounded. There’s also an interesting “hybrid” happening for young adults who were born in one country, but then raised in America. Read more about an example of that experience here. (2) Not all women are tearfully forced into arranged marriages with scornful looking parents dictating the decision. In recent times, more families are having the children actively participate in the process of choosing a spouse. It has become more of parents creating a selection pool and then the young adult deciding which mate would be the best match (and of course there are also apps now days). (3) There are circumstances that I may never fully understand because I have not been forced to ‘walk in those shoes,’ and I do not believe I should judge such situations. This belief is in regards to decisions such as: do we marry off our young daughter with the hope that she will be taken out of poverty? Do we sell off our farm, our sole income, to provide the quality of a wedding that is honoring to the groom’s family? Do we agree to this marriage, knowing that our child will then move to another country and we will not see him/her again? Do we allow our “older” daughter to marry a man who has known challenges because then we know that she will be taken care of after we are dead? Should we withhold allowing our younger daughters to get married until the oldest is wed? There are many questions that one cannot begin to fathom answering until you are in that position and this realization lead me to have a certain level of respect for that which I cannot imagine. (4) Just because a woman is part of an arrange marriage does not mean that she is valued any less than a woman who is part of a love marriage. I have met many women from arranged marriages who are highly honored and respected by their husbands. Though their voice might not be heard as loud as others, it still holds enormous power in decisions within their household. (5) Not experiencing dating might limit your ability to know what type of spouse you’d most like; however, it also limits your possibility of experiencing heartbreak and taking on emotional baggage. The families are taking care of the responsibility of determining if this person would make a good husband/wife, without the soon-to-be-wed having to go through the emotional roller coaster that can often occur while looking for “Mr. Right.” (I must admit, it sounds pretty nice to be able to avoid the heartache and other emotional scars that failed relationships may bring.) Throughout my experiences, I have had the joy of watching love grow. I’ve seen a man and woman who hardly know each other, get married and then fall in love with each other. It is a beautiful thing because you witness them falling in love with who the person is on the inside. They love their character, their position (husband, wife, father, mother) and they love the life they’re creating together. When years pass and physical changes take place, it will be the love rooted in the deeper aspects of a person that remain. It is this authentically evolving love that changes “Mr. Who” into one’s “Mr. Right.”
What are your views on arranged and love marriages? Has your view changed over time? Share your thoughts in the comment section.
Ahmeli… that we can try to understand things from another culture’s point-of-view instead of judging them because they do not fit into what we believe is “right.”
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