I’ve had to explain the concept of an arranged marriage to many, many American friends. Depending on the tone of the question, I vary my response…
If the person is curious about the arranged marriage thing but does not seem judgmental, I try and explain it as simply as possible. Well, arranged marriages are a part of our our culture and it doesn’t seem weird to us, I say. I can see how you might be creeped out by the idea of your parents interfering in your life at such a personal level but it doesn’t feel as weird to us. Besides, while it’s true that in rural India the woman doesn’t really get a choice, the urban landscape is slowly changing. Most educated parents would be ok if their kids met someone they wanted to marry. We do get a chance to meet someone a couple of times before we decide to get married and we do get a choice. But it’s still insanely fast and I can see how it wouldn’t make sense to you.
Sometimes, I meet people who want to know how you can be married to a stranger and make it work. I explain that in my opinion, it takes the same things to make a marriage work no matter how you meet your spouse. It still takes a little romance, a lot of patience, a little less ego and accepting the other person’s little eccentricities. With an arranged marriage, we escape the “You have changed” fights because we don’t have a dating history to refer to, we just accept a few things and get on with it.
If the person is looking for me to validate their own notions that all Indians have the same kind of arranged marriage, I’m happy to oblige. Well, yes, our parents do decide who we marry, I tell them. And as incompatibility is not a socially accepted reason for divorce, you would be forced to get along with the person For The REST OF YOUR LIFE.
If the person seems to think it’s one of those things where India still needs to learn from the West, my response gets even wilder. Did you know that in many Indian families the parents decide who their daughter should marry the moment she is born? (well, it does happen in Bollywood movies)
Just as I don’t really understand American culture even though I get the rules, I don’t expect an American to ever agree with the concept of an arranged marriage. It just goes against everything American – freedom of choice, space, privacy… But we usually agree that there are some differences that must be accepted and not really understood. There’s no point, really.
I filled a whole blog with ramblings on arranged marriages and I while I am happily married, I am still fundamentally opposed to the idea of arranged marriages based on the “Engineer/Doctor/MBA, same caste, matching horoscopes, are the boy’s parents richer?” criteria. How could I ever expect someone from a completely different culture to think it makes sense?