Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Love Lessons from India: The Virtue of Arranged Marriage

If hooking up is the problem, is arranged marriage the solution? If hooking up has supplanted dating on college campuses, are today's young people putting themselves in a position where they will have to rely on matchmakers to find them suitable mates?

If today's hook up scene is a species of controlled anarchy, with young women submitting themselves to serial traumas, to the point where their judgment in men seems, by their own estimation, to be impaired, could they solve the problem by handing the mate-selection process over to their parents?

For many in the West those will be fighting words. Americans make much of their autonomy and independence. Many would rather make a mistake that is fully their own than to make a good decision that was suggested by a parent.

They are excessively apt to assert their independence, and this shows a basic insecurity and immaturity.

For an Indian woman, Rulshika Tulchyan, educated and living in the West, it makes sense to have her parent directly involved in helping her to find a husband. Not because she could not do it herself, but, given the strange configurations of what remains of the dating world, her parents can function as her back-up, roughly as a matchmaker. Link here.

Tulchyan calls it an arranged marriage, but the experience she describes, and that I have heard about in several other cases, is much closer to matchmaking. If we imagine that an arranged marriage occurs when a man gives his twelve-year old daughter to an octogenarian, without her having any say in the matter, then clearly Indian custom is vastly different.

Indian matchmaking begins when her mother chooses a series of eligible marriage-minded men. Since the men are all interested in marriage, the woman's efforts are focused. Given that they have been chosen by her mother, they are all acceptable and suitable.

Since marriage is considered to be an alliance between two families, the consent of the parents is a vital aspect of the search. As Tulchyan explains, she would be disowned for marrying a man her parents did not approve of.

Once the men are chosen, the woman has the opportunity to spend time with them, to go out on dates, to get to know them. In the past these meetings involved a chaperon; today this is no longer the case.

After a certain amount of dating-- it can be short or it can be extended-- the couple decides whether or not to marry.

There is a clarity to the process, and an economy to it also. If a young woman like Tulchyan is pursuing her education and desires a career, matchmaking allows her to avoid wasting her time in a chaotic hook up or dating scene.

But, what about love? For Tulchyan the chaos of the dating scene make the term less precise than it used to be. She questions how modern women, with their extensive sexual and romantic experience, can really that they are in love. For her, a man who loves her will want to marry her; he will not live with her for years on end and not be willing to make a commitment.

When the match has been arranged by parents, the young people know that their behavior is being judged. This encourages them to treat each other honorably.

Compare this to the Western ideal where two autonomous individuals fall madly in love and wish to eternalize their love by vowing to be together forever. Even when, or especially when, family and community are opposed.

As we know, all of the great romances in Western history and literature are unacceptable. I am thinking of Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, and Abelard and Heloise. The great Western romances, eternalized in literature more than in life, always end in tragedy.

Idealizing romantic love sounds very nice; but it also sounds rather childish. Indian matchmaking, as with other forms of matchmaking, allows a place for love. It just does not allow love to be the most important factor.

Do you believe that marriage is a social alliance between families or the expression of a love that is so pure that the world cannot abide it?

How you answer that question will tell you your chances for success in finding a suitable mate and landing in a marriage that will endure.

Rulshika Tulchyan can choose between the Western way and the Indian way. Her experience has told her that the Western way is either broken or simply not for her. She has chosen to opt out of the Western mating turmoil and try a different approach. Among her peers this is not an unusual decision.

But what can a Western woman do? Surely, she can go to a matchmaker. They exist and they are doing a fairly brisk business. And she can ask her parents to try to introduce her to eligible young men. Many Western parents are more than willing to get involved, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

Or else, a Western woman can rethink her approach to the process of finding a mate. Instead of asking herself whether a man is good looking, fun, or great in bed... she might ask herself what Tulchyan asks herself: Would my parents approve?

After all, your parents know you better than anyone else does, and they love you more than anyone else does. Why would you not think that they would choose young men who would be most likely to make you happy?

Keep in mind that your parents will judge the prospective mate in terms of his or her character. And good character is essential for a durable marriage.

Even in the West, most young people do ask their parents for permission to get married. If their parents have qualms or doubts, these are most often ignored. Most Western parents do not have any significant input, and they are left with the choice of acquiescing or alienating their children and never seeing their grandchildren.

And yet, in my experience marriages tend to last longer and be happier when parents are wholeheartedly in favor.

You might think that the Indian approach is too extreme; you do not want to feel threatened with expulsion from the family for choosing the wrong mate. And yet, that is not a reason to ignore your parents or your community, and that is not a reason not to ask your parents to do some of the vetting for you.

8 comments:

Cappy said...

Y'know, it's a strange thing but living amongst the over-therapized, I have noted that many said parents attempt an alomst arranged level of interest in their kids relationships.

Anonymous said...

could they solve the problem by handing the mate-selection process over to their parents?

No. The majority of their parents had atrocious mate-selection skills.

--Gray

Anonymous said...

Instead of asking herself whether a man is good looking, fun, or great in bed... she might ask herself what Tulchyan asks herself: Would my parents approve?

Nah. Her couger mom wants to hook-up with him too.

--Gray

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Recruiting Animal said...

I have a friend from India. He had a girlfriend but his parents decided he would marry someone else. I like his wife. She's very nice. However, I wouldn't call that matchmaking.

I also have friend from Pakistan. When he was in North America and his parents were still back in Pakistan, he had a girlfriend he liked very much. I liked her too. But his parents didn't want him to marry someone from her province in Pakistan so they decided he would marry someone else. I like his wife but I wouldn't call that matchmaking.

Recruiting Animal said...

Ruchika Tulshyan on Forbes says: "It worked for them, their parents and the generations before them. So why shouldn’t it work for me?"

Well, I wouldn't trust what she says until you've had personal experience with the community she is talking about. What does it mean when she says it works?

And how well does it work? What do the participants expect from eachother? The same things we do here or less?

Ruchika states very clearly that she fears her parents' disapproval. Once Indians don't feel the fear of ostracism by their families, will they feel a stronger desire to take their lives in their own hands? I think so.

People here don't mind being introduced to people but they don't want to be under anyone's thumb. That's the real issue. You seem to think it's an unreasonable feeling. I don't.

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