Thursday, May 10, 2012

Arranged marriage vs. love marriage

Yesterday, I attended a debate about arranged marriage vs. "love" marriage. It was a classroom exercise for some of my students from last semester. I was so proud of them as I watched them explain their points of view so passionately and articulately.

The subject of the debate, arranged marriage vs. love marriage, isn't the hypothetical, irrelevant debate prompt it might be in the US. Here in the UAE (and in the Gulf, and in parts of the wider Arab world), arranged marriage is still very much a thing. Even in countries/subcultures that have rejected the strict practice of arranged marriages, the process of courtship is very different from what we experience in the US. In Syria, my teenaged students used to tell me that they expected to have an engagement arranged by their family and the fiancee's family. It was only after the engagement that they'd be able to date that person. If things didn't work out, then the engagement could be cancelled. So you see how a so-called "love match" could still fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, toward arranged marriage. Maybe it should be called "arranged engagement"?

I really haven't thought about this subject for a long time. As I sat and listened to their debate, I considered my own opinion and how it might have changed over the years. I imagine there was a time when I was horrified by the idea of arranged marriage, and thought of it as an outdated, cruel, medieval practice. I don't think so anymore (assuming I ever did). I realize this statement could apply to a lot of controversial cultural practices, but I think if arranged marriage is dealt with properly, in a spirit of love and concern for all involved, and if it is appropriate for the cultural context, then there's no reason it can't turn out splendidly. Didn't our (the Mormons') own Spencer W. Kimball say that "soul mates are fiction and an illusion; and while every young man and young woman will seek with all diligence and prayerfulness to find a mate with whom life can be most compatible and beautiful, yet it is certain that almost any good man and any good woman can have happiness and a successful marriage if both are willing to pay the price"? (He did, at a 1976 talk at the BYU.) (And I know he was talking about Saturday's Warrior, not arranged marriage, but I think his point still applies.)

So as much as Americans might like to trumpet their love marriages in the face of more traditional arranged marriages, I think there is a touch of the arranged marriage alive and well in the West. Just a touch. Plus, I think if we looked closely, those of us with American or European mutt ancestry could find arranged-ish marriages in the not too far distant past.

Of course, what takes the fun out of debates is the realization that it's not all one way or all the other. The consensus, by definition, is that in some cultural contexts and with some individuals, arranged marriage is the best way to go. In others, love marriages are what is needed. It just depends. Most boring conclusion ever, but there it is.

My favorite part of the debate was the fun video they showed at the end. The team in charge of arguing in favor of love marriages made fun of arranged marriages, and vice versa. I asked if I could post it and they said yes. Take five minutes and watch it, if you want. The dialogue is hard to hear but you should be able to get the general idea of it. Enjoy seeing how these young Arabs treat this issue that hits very close to home.


Elena Bebe said...

I actually oppose arranged marriages simply because I view marriage as a union between two individuals, not two clans or families.
I know that this may sound culturally insensitive and I also know that many individuals consent to arranged marriages. However, to me the very aspect of "consent" is quite dubious when so many deeply-rooted social implications are involved in such a decision in the first place.

Jill said...

I disagree with the SWK quote. I think that being married to most Mormons would be torture, which might explain my current situation.

I'm not against arranged marriage if you have the option to opt out without too much social pressure. I think these days in a lot of places, it is more like a set up

Sarah Familia said...

I loved the video! Such an interesting little window into how the debate looks from their point of view. My husband's aunt, whose kids grew up with me, recommended that he ask me out when I got home from my mission. Not exactly an arranged marriage, but how far is that really from a semi-arranged marriage where the young people can choose yes or no as they please once they're introduced?

My opinion on arranged marriages was forever altered when I saw the lovely Bengali film, Apur Sansar. In the movie, through a strange set of circumstances (strange to me at least) Apu finds himself pressured into a sudden marriage with a woman he's never met. Their shy first meeting on their wedding night is one of the most beautiful scenes I've ever seen in a movie, and they quickly develop a deep love for one another.

Also, I do believe in the existence of soul mates. Maybe not everyone has one, but I do. And I see no reason why you can't end up with your soul mate via an arranged marriage.

Susanne said...

I loved your term "arranged engagement" as that is how it seems to be in the Arab context that I have heard about the most.

I don't quite get the whole marrying one family to another - and how involved the process is (e.g., asking about each and every family member to see if you are good enough to marry my son/daughter), but to each his own.

What I hate is the notion that the woman has to wait around for a man to visit her and approve of her. I'm sure it's just as hard for the guy having to make these awkward house calls - especially if he is shy!- , but I think I would hate waiting around for men (or their mothers - even worse!) to act. It sounds too much like window shopping to me.

But it's kind of cute, I suppose. I remember a Syrian friend living in Saudi, and his family was interviewing girls for him to meet when he came home for a short break. Even HE was interviewed by a relative of the girl who lived in Riyadh! I remember how nervous he was. But it all worked out. When he flew home to Damascus, he met the lady his family chose for him and they hit it off enough to get engaged within the week!

Thanks for sharing this. I love posts like this!

Nancy said...

A few members of our extended family view mine and Andrew's marriage as an arranged marriage (and are STILL really angry about it). Here's the truth: our parents (and specifically HIS parents, though my parents were not opposed) thought we'd be great together and so encouraged us to date each other and then when we discovered we liked each other to just go ahead and get married even though he'd only been home from his mission for *ahem.*

So we did.

Kind of like Sarah's family, I suppose...but it was a little more than a suggestion. It was like, "Do you want to marry our son?" kind of a suggestion.

Ultimately, it was OUR choice though. And I think in that sense I'm not opposed to an arranged engagement, as you called it. Because in a sense mine was...kind of...but not to the extent that the still-angry extended family feel it was.

Arranged marriage is an interesting topic, too. A lot of Bollywood movies deal with that topic—some stories work out well and the couple grows in love and others don't work as well and they hate each other for life.

Anyway...I think that sometimes people do a horrible job at choosing spouses and sometimes I think if they'd just listen to suggestions they'd find that other people know them about as well as they know themselves. For example, one of my sisters married someone who made her unhappy and everyone could see it but her...until she discovered it a decade later and now she's in a horrible mess. It's not like we didn't warn her. But she "loved" him. So...there's that (and that's not the only example I can think of, either).

I'll stop talking now. I have to go wake up my kids. :)

Nancy said...

By "sarah's family" I meant "Sarah's story." I suppose I was thinking "Sarah Familia" while I was typing. Sometimes my fingers fly faster than my brain can catch up... :D

JosephJ said...

I don't have a problem with the SWK quote in the kind of way that I don't have a problem with communism. In the ideal case where everyone is selfless and kind and generous, it is likely to work out. And yet, some things are harder to forgive, and some traits are harder to overlook. So the "any matched with any" kind of fails in practice.

Also, there's still some degree of approval/interview process expected even in the West, though it happens after the courtship is underway. The tradition might be dying a little, but I still remember how nervous I felt when getting ready to talk to Jen's father about our intent to marry...

Jessie said...

I'm at work so I haven't seen the movie yet, I just wanted to say that the first time I'd EVER heard the term "love marriage" was when my husband's Pakistani classmate asked me if ours was a love marriage. Just like that: "How long have you been married? Was it a love marriage?" Of course I knew that in other cultures, his included, arranged marriages were a thing, but I never knew that the opposite of an arranged marriage was called a "love marriage" so I just sort of sat there with my mouth open until he clarified.

I don't believe in soul mates, thank goodness. I couldn't imagine the pressure you'd feel if, when dating, you were asking yourself the question, "Is this the ONLY MAN that can make me happy? The ONE PERSON I'm destined to be with, of all the people in the world?"

Glenda The Good said...

Seeing as my parents have done such a horrible job of picking out their own spouses, multiple times, there is no way I would trust them to pick a spouse for me. But then Dr. J and are our lucky in the fact that in ten years we've just continued to grow more complementary. I can appreciate the value of family approval and unity though. My in-laws are great (both Jason's parents and grandparents). I feel really blessed to be in their family and that events with all the family...mine and his go so well. When Cheetah was born all of them worked together and coordinated to make sure we were taken care of. I lucked into that. I can see a parent wanting to help pick it out for their children. I know in a lot of Asian/Arab cultures (I'm talking the continent here so pretty much all the groups) divorce is not readily accessible or very highly discouraged. I wonder how access to easier divorces would change the marriage dynamic in both arranged and "love" marriages in these countries. We know lots of foreign med students whose parents will do something similar to nancy's and set their kids up with a few potential mates each time they come home. If they hit it off a marriage is arranged. A lot of them end up who knows :)

Susanne said...

Glenda makes a good point. In the Muslim Feminists group the ladies sometimes argue that one reason arranged marriages are so successful (i.e., fewer divorces) is because divorces are not easily available to the women in those cultures. Divorced women are often seen as used goods and it's more honorable/bearable for them to stay married to lousy men than be stigmatized or "shamed."

I'm no fan of divorce, but I'm glad it's an option and not hard to obtain for women as it is in many countries where MEN have most of those rights. Abused wives should never have to stay with their husbands because society looks down on divorced women.

Finding My Way Softly said...

Loved the video!

Maybe this is reverse engineered arranged marriage, but when I remarried, my oldest son took my current husband, and asked him a ton of questions (way more and intimate than I could imagine my parents asking) and after the conversation was done, he then asked him if he wanted to marry me. :-) Gotta love precocious kids.

Ariana said...

Ok, that video was hilarious!!

Suzanne Bubnash said...

In our family we only have to go back to my Ruthenian grandparents to find an arranged marriage--and that was in the US in 1912. If my grandparents had stayed in the old country they would have been 2-3 years older at the time of an arranged marriage. But life was hard in the coal fields of Pennsylvania, so my grandmother's brother arranged her marriage when she was a month past her 16th birthday, and grandfather was 20. They were married 54 years when he passed away.

It was certainly not all roses; in the 1920s they had a serious disagreement about their living situation and didn't speak for about a year. They endured mine strikes, family deaths, the Great Depression, sending 4 boys to war. Then grandfather was crippled by a mine accident for the last 15 years of his life, and grandmother took care of him round the clock. Years after his death she told me how much she missed him.

The point is, they endured through thick and thin when one or the other could have walked away. An arranged marriage evolved into a love marriage.

Liz Johnson said...

I admit that I was too busy having a weird flashback to my out-of-the-US high school experience to really pay attention to the video. It's really weird how much the little things in that video (clothing, chairs, mannerisms) took me back to high school. WEIRD WEIRD WEIRD.

Here's my underwhelming conclusion - marriage is a crapshoot no matter how you go about it, because you're dealing with two people who can make choices detrimental to the other at any given time. Ideally, each person chooses to be there and has the choice to leave. But really... it's a gamble. You can do things to increase your odds of success, but there are no guarantees.

I realize this makes me sounds like such a Debbie Downer, but I just think any courtship rituals/customs are weird, arranged or love or whatever. I mean, has anybody spent time around US young adults lately? I have, and... yeah. It's a wonder the human species has survived.


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