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Why I Think Arranged Marriages Might Not Be Such A Bad Idea After All

Posted on April 5, 2016 in Society

By Srinivas Krishnaswamy:

vivaah_arranged marriages_2
A still from ‘Vivaah‘.

One of the many changes that India is going through is the way people find love and get married. India, long considered the bastion of arranged marriages, is seeing a rapid adoption of online dating sites and dating apps. The huge growth in smartphones and internet penetration, a young population, and increasing exposure to ‘western’ influences through travel and media are possibly contributing to the growth of dating in India.

While dating is still an alien concept in smaller towns and rural India, people are exercising greater choice in selecting their spouse even through arranged marriages!

Here are some conclusions on how arranged marriages are changing based on the India Human Development Survey that covered over 42,000 households across India. Among women,

1) Over 85% of the college graduates had a say in selecting their spouse whereas only about 40% of women with no education had a say in the decision to choose their spouse.
2) Over 70% of respondents in metros and urban areas actively participated in selecting their spouse while the participation was less than 50% among women in rural areas.
3) Also, women in the age group of 25 to 29 had a greater say in choosing their spouse while this number was lower among women in older age groups.

Clearly, there is a strong undercurrent among Indians to exercise greater control or express their opinion about who they want to get married to and this is bound to gain momentum.

Is Dating Better Than Arranged Marriages?

If you are a young man or woman in India with a good education and exposure to the modern world outside India, you might easily conclude that arranged marriages promote bigotry and racism.
Stereotypical matrimony ads in newspapers, and a host of videos that poke fun at arranged marriages, and horror stories about social evils like dowry might push you to conclude that dating might be the only sane option left for finding a soulmate.

According to Stephanie Coontz, Director of Research and Public Education for the Council on Contemporary Families, “Many arranged marriages in many countries are associated with a lack of choice for young people and are particularly repressive to women. The fact that arranged marriages tend to be more stable is not a measure of success because we know that people are sometimes held in them without any options.”

However true the issues surrounding arranged marriage, there are hidden virtues in arranged marriages that have helped sustain the practice for centuries. A key point to remember is that if we approach arranged marriages as a genuine attempt to find a soulmate and stop forcing or pressurising people to marry against their wishes, it’s not all bad. Strangely, western experts seem to agree on the virtues of arranged marriages as well!

Here are views about arranged marriages that will surprise you and make you rethink your stance on arranged marriages.

1) According to Brian J. Willoughby, an assistant professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University,

“Whether it be financial support for weddings, schooling or housing, or emotional support for either partner, parents provide valuable resources for couples as they navigate the marital transition.”

2) Michael Ben Zehabe is an author, columnist, and speaker. He wrote a book for his daughter that is a collection of wisdom from the various women in the Bible on how to make love last a lifetime. The author believes in the fact that ancient scriptures and books have a lot of wisdom applicable in our contemporary life.

“Our matriarchs had an interesting advantage over today’s western women. Matriarchs didn’t begin their marriage with love. Instead, they were taught how to love. They entered marriage with an earnest determination to grow a love that would sustain their marriage for a lifetime.”

3) Diane Sollee is the founder of SmartMarriages. It’s a movement that aims to strengthen the institution of marriage. Through her seminars, training programs, and outreach, Diane helps couples navigate their marriages through the minefields of day-to-day issues and challenges. She thinks all marriages are “arranged” and for any marriage to be successful, you need to work on it and invest in it.

“In actuality, all marriages are “arranged” marriages whether they’re arranged by some website matchmaker, our parents, or by Mother Nature and her magic. In each case you’re matched up with someone you don’t know and with whom you need to – gradually and progressively – fall ever more deeply in love.”

4) Michael Rosenfeld is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Stanford University. He has done extensive research and studies on marriages, interracial marriages, and same-sex marriages.

“The people we end up married to or partnered up with end up being similar to us in race, religion and class background and age, which means that they might not be all that different from the person that your mother would have picked for you.”

5) According to a study titled, ‘Are the Young and the Educated More Likely to Have “Love” than Arranged Marriage?‘ from the University of Maryland:

“A key reason for ‘parent supervised arranged marriages with participation’ emerging as the most common form of marriage arrangement is that it is best suited for a cultural context that does not have a dating culture of the kind existing in the West. Such a “dating culture” requires that it be socially acceptable for the young to “romantically link up with each other without any kind of adult supervision in a setting that is not defined directly as leading to marriage” and to “try out” different potential mates before deciding on a marriage partner.”

6) Dr. Robert Epstein from the Harvard University has studied the subject of arranged marriages for eight years that focused on arranged marriage practices among Indian, Pakistani and Orthodox Jewish communities. Here is what he had to say about arranged marriages.

“The general idea is we must not leave our love lives to chance. We plan our education, our careers and our finances but we’re still uncomfortable with the idea that we should plan our love lives. I do not advocate arranged marriages but I think a lot can be learned from them.”

To sum up, arranged marriages have their advantages. As long as people marry out of free will and are not forced into a marriage, the fundamental principles of arranged marriages, namely, rational thinking, involvement of parents, and the belief that a deep bond can develop over time should be appreciated and celebrated.