Saturday, January 19, 2013

What We Can Learn from Arranged Marriage

All marriages are arranged.

Some are arranged by parents. Others are arranged by the prospective mates themselves.

Throughout human history most marriages have been arranged with the active involvement of parents. The human species, in its wisdom, has chosen not to entrust such an important decision to callow youths.

In Asia parental involvement is the norm. In America it tends not to be.

Even in America, however, the parents of Asian-American children are often directly involved in arranging meetings between prospective spouses. The same holds true among Orthodox Jews.

Needless to say, this takes a great deal of the mystery out of dating.

Obviously, the great American experiment in allowing young people to choose their mates without any parental involvement is proving definitively that it’s better for parents to be involved.

In all cases, parental involvement still allows young people to accept or reject a prospective spouse.

In America, we are so enamored with youthful exuberance and autonomy that we, as a culture, prefer a hands-off approach to mating. We have even made a fetish out of making  your own mistakes.

American parents today often refuse to interfere with youthful mating rituals. At times, they even refuse to offer an opinion.

Usually, they live to regret their reticence.

Why the silence? Most parents of rebellious adolescents know only too well that if they offer an opinion their children are likely to do just the opposite, as a point of youthful pride.

Some young people make it a point of pride to marry someone they know their parents would never accept.

American youth have been brought up to distrust and to defy authority. They are hypersensitive to any advice that might threaten their illusion of autonomy and independence.

Allowing young people independence has produced a marriage market that borders on anarchy.

Many older people are quietly distressed to see what is happening. They do their best to instruct their children on the criteria and standards they should use to make their way through the chaos, but that simply makes them involved at remove.

Given how much of a mess the mating game has become, many people long for the days when there was more parental involvement.

This morning The New York Times offers an excellent article on arranged marriage. It points out that, in the best of circumstances, young people who do not enlist the active involvement of their parents often filter prospective mates through criteria that their parents would use.

It makes perfect sense that parents would be involved in the choice of a spouse. Young people should be happy to accept the wisdom of people love them more than anyone else, who know them better than anyone else and who have considerable life experience in the area.

As the Times notes, parents can bring a more objective perspective to the mating game, and thus offer direction and guidance to young people who are likely to get carried away with love or lust or both.

What lessons can young Americans can draw from this article?

First, don’t date anyone you wouldn’t marry.

Second, don’t allow yourself to fall in love with someone you would never marry. .

Third, don’t marry anyone your parents would not accept.

Fourth, if you don’t know who your parents would accept make it your business to find out.

If your parents tell you that it doesn’t matter who you marry as long as you’re in love and are happy, they are either deluded or are lying to you.

Marriage is a social and very public commitment. Love is a private and personal commitment.

If you begin with nothing but true love, you are setting yourself up for failure.


JP said...

This is great advice, however it only applies where the parent know what is going on.

In my case, my parents didn't understand me or have the slightest idea what to do with me.

Granted, this caused more problems on the education/career side than the marriage side, but still.

Also, your parents have to have a baseline of competence.

Sam L. said...

Don't date someone you wouldn't marry: How can one be sure? Yes, I'm pretty sure some can be ruled out immediately, but what about those who can't?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Most of the time it's pretty clear. If you don't know and if your parents have semi-competent, ask them. If not them, try a trusted friend.

Anonymous said...

Hm. I've been very happily married for 21 years now. If I'd married the person my mother picked out I think I would have jumped off a bridge long ago. Nice enough guy, but about the most flamboyant homosexual imaginable.
And my husband's parents hated me from the day we met. There are worse problems to have. The girl they'd picked out was homely, with his mother's personality. I think he would have jumped off a bridge long ago too (or just went out for a pack of smokes one day never to return...).

Anonymous said...

I'm with the other commenters. My parents' circle was limited and their motives questionable. They themselves were unhappy and could not in a million years have arranged my marriage that has endured for 36 years and counting.

Even in 1977, or 1965, when I began dating, the world had already changed too fast.

We're in trouble as a culture, but this tribal fixture, in history often amounting to the open sale of daughters, is not a fix.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

As I understand it, parents in India present their children with a number of different options. Perhaps I was not clear enough, but parents only work to narrow down the field.

I am intrigued, nevertheless, to hear that American parents are so bad at choosing possible mates. My sense of Indian parents, from admittedly limited experience, is that they choose wisely and well... they do not offer as possibilities people who are wildly unqualified for the job.

Anonymous said...

Anon #:34 here:

I believe a key difference between parents in India and here are the result of a divorce culture. The assumption that a marriage is likely to fail creates a sort of perverse incentive, even for the grandparents tangential to the equation.

My mother, for instance, wanted me to marry a man who would stay with me and she considered my husband unlikely to do so (far too good looking and charismatic...something that would be a strong asset in a culture where families stay together). For his parents, the rationale was similar. They didn't know me and just saw a lovely blonde tart who would almost inevitably break their son's heart.

Sam L. said...

I did not date until I had moved away from home. And did not date much after. Married the second woman I dated a lot.

Indian Divorcee said...

I'm from India. Our parents arranged our marriages according to caste, socio-economomic status and religion. Whether or not we are attracted to each other or eventually fall in love is not a concern. Marriage is about duty to family and society, not about the personal or combined happiness of the individuals or couples involved.

Some people, Indians and foreigners both, will point to our low divorce rate as "success" but low divorce rate does not account for all the miserable, sometimes abusive marriages that are still "in tact".

Also, a young man and woman could be in love with a perfectly acceptable person but the parents will often still not give their blessings because they themselves did not pick her/him out.

Indian parents are total control freaks.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you for offering a different side of the story.

I have only had a relatively small number of discussions with people from India, but I had always heard that parents did allow their children to make their own choice, from among those selected. For more Westernized Indians there is greater freedom.

Indian Divorcee said...

"For more Westernized Indians there is greater freedom. "

The vast majority of people in India are not at all westernized. The vast majority of Indians live in rural villages, small towns or 2nd tier cities.

And again, if we have already fallen in love with someone, we are often forbidden to marry them and a marriage is quickly arranged to someone else!

This has resulted in multiple suicides in India.

And divorce is so severely stigmatized in India that parents would rather their daughter be killed by an abusive husband than divorce him!

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I meant Indians living in the USA. Again,I appreciate and am chagrined by the information you provide, but the Indians I know-- apparently a very limited number-- do suffer these kinds of restrictions.

Unknown said...
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