Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Arranged vs. Love Marriages

Let's just throw some stereotypes out there to examine how our society has decided to understand this topic.

Arranged Marriages:
  • Marriage as a business agreement
  • Partners don't necessarily like each other
  • Young middle eastern women paired with much older middle eastern men
  • Women treated poorly, often acting as sacrifices for their families

"Love" Marriages:
  • Starts with natural enjoyment of each other
  • Full of romance and happiness
  • Love triumphs over practicality 
  • Sacrificing money or familial values for the sake of romantic love as a noble act
The comparisons begin as love vs. business, and quickly move toward us vs. them value judgments: west vs. east, Christian vs. World Religion, right vs. wrong. The stereotypes surrounding arranged marriages startle me. And seriously, I think if we take a look at the stereotypes surrounding the "love" marriages, we can see that they don't actually hold true in real life. Even the vocabulary that we assign to marriages of personal choice are biased; it reminds me of the names we use in the pro-life v. pro-choice debates, which imply that the opponents are anti-life and anti-choice. Are we to imagine that arranged marriages are void of love?

We in western culture need to take a closer look at the positive aspects of arranged marriages. For one, arranged marriages have lower divorce rates than marriages of personal choice. I can only guess here, but I suspect that the different mindsets that people carry into their marriages influence divorce rates. 

In American society, we always have divorce looming over our heads. Divorce doesn't necessarily feel like a choice that we may make, but like a punishment for if we fail to bubble in the correct answer in the multiple choice test of choosing our mates. We see many marriages begin with intense infatuation just to teeter out as reality takes it toll; this used to be known as the seven-year disillusionment phase, but marriage counselors now claim it takes place at the four year mark.

For people in arranged marriages, the partner is not a test answer, he or she is the lot that life gave, and it's up to them to make it good. With this mindset, people know that they will be with their partners for the rest of their lives, and the question of "was there a better choice out there for me?" is moot. This dedication can lead to deeper love than the infatuation or idolatry that we so often see in western romance.

Shout out to the The Wedding Planner, where in a touching scene, Maria's father reveals to her that he and her mother had an arranged marriage. In his story, they couldn't stand the sight of each other in the beginning, but when he got sick, she took care of him and he appreciated her. Over time, the appreciation grew to respect, and the respect grew to a deep love.

Okay, so maybe it's not fair of me to fight stereotypes with media portrayals, but, my point is still important: love is complicated, and for us to claim that there is a right and a wrong way to approach it is ignorant. Maybe love in an arranged marriage happens the same way that familial love happens. We don't choose our family members, they are arranged for us by the powers that be. Yet, when we spend 18 years of growing and learning with these people we call family, many of us grow attached to them, sometimes despite deep conflict.

Owen and I feel that our marriage lies somewhere in the middle of an arranged marriage and a marriage of personal choice. Obviously, we found each other, and chose to get married, but we don't feel like we chose each other. As I've alluded to before, each of us thought that the other was super weird when we first started dating. We spent over a year resisting each other, and even when we finally did decide to date we were both wary of the relationship-- when I told my parents about Owen, I said, "yeah, don't get too attached... it probably won't last more than two weeks, but we're giving it a try to see what happens."

We both believe that something beyond ourselves has drawn us together, or arranged for us to be together. Left to our own devices, we would both be with opposite gendered versions of ourselves: Owen would be with a blonde haired, blue eyed, scandinavian woman, raised Lutheran and midwestern, with low energy levels, and I would be with a blunt yet goofy, tall, dark haired man with Italian lineage. Both of us are better off with each other than with our "ideal mates," partly because we can learn so much more from each other than we could from people who conform to our individual world views.

In believing that we've been brought together by outside forces, we also believe that we do not have the right to end our union. We don't want to treat our marriage as if divorce is an option. By examining the pragmatism of arranged marriages and considering the mindset taken when entering an arranged marriage, I think that we can have a clearer understanding of how to keep ourselves grounded in reality. It's not always going to be romantic, our personalities will sometimes clash, and we will sometimes argue, but we will stay together.

More pros of arranged marriage that I found interesting according to various Wikipedia articles (also, side note, Wikipedia does not get enough credit; it is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit and the most accurate and comprehensive encyclopedia in the world, and I am in awe of it):
  • Arranged marriages allow individuals that may have difficulty finding a mate such as the socially inept, disabled, and etc. to find a mate and get married.
  • Parents can contribute to the offspring's life by utilizing the benefits of experience to choose the right mate for him/her, taking pragmatic concerns seriously.
  • Many modern arranged marriages include the couple's consent. The families are highly involved in the matchmaking process, but the individuals getting married have the last word (as a bonus, they go into the marriages already knowing that their in-laws approve of them!)


  1. Hey, Summer. I agree that if you don't make divorce an option, it's not. Marriage is not always easy, but when you work through the tough times, the love and relationship grows stronger. Do stuff together, work on your relationship, never take each other for granted, and enjoy life together! Choose to love!