Archive for Thursday, April 14, 2005

Arranged marriages offer lesson in durability

April 14, 2005

One of the most fascinating concepts in the country of my childhood is the concept of arranged marriages. It is assumed that most Asian, especially Indian, cultures embrace this practice to this day. Although it is still a part of the Indian culture, it is slowly becoming a forgotten practice, thanks mainly to the Western influence permeating the Asian countries via movies and music.

Growing up, I had the opportunity to personally see and understand this concept within my family and friends. My parents are a product of this concept and 30 years later, they still remain committed to each other.

The first time my parents met was on the wedding day. Prior to that, they had only seen each other once. That was when my dad and his family visited my mom's family to see if my dad would agree to marry her. He had to decide by just looking at her while she served tea to my dad and his family. My mom was all decked out in her finest sari and jewelry, and my dad had an eternity of three minutes to decide if he wanted her to be his wife. After he gave his approval, the next time he saw her was on their wedding day.

This is a hard concept for those in the West to comprehend. Many westerners question this absurdity of arranged marriage, especially when they can live together and decide if they are compatible. Interestingly, I have read statistics that show couples who get married after living together have a higher chance of the marriage ending in divorce.

My parents and their generation made a choice to learn to love and make the marriage work. Maybe that is why a lot of the Asian marriages last longer. The divorce rate is very low compared to the West. It is an oxymoron when you consider the higher divorce rate is among the people who chose their own life partner versus the ones where their partner is chosen for them.

I also remember vividly, going with my uncle as a youngster to see his future wife. His parents chose her, and they wanted him to pay her a casual visit to ensure there was an interest in marriage. I went along, not knowing the significance of that meeting. I remember my aunty-to-be was very nervous around us. She was timid and barely spoke. My uncle was subdued and treated the visit with absolute formality. His future in-laws were accommodating to us but not overly friendly. Before long, the engagement was set and my uncle was able to court his wife-to-be. They just became grandparents for the first time last month.

In these days, although arranged marriages still occur, the couples are given more time to get to know one another before the wedding date. The key to an arranged marriage is the compatibility of the couples as determined by astrology. Their birth signs play a significant role in who gets matched. Once they are determined compatible, the couples can date, or court. That gives them some time to fall in love before they ever get married, unlike my parent's generation, where they had to wait until after their nuptials.

My sister didn't have much of a choice when it came to marriage. She had resigned and willingly accepted the concept of arranged marriage. One of my brothers also decided to have my parents choose his wife. My youngest brother, who is more "westernized," was given the choice of finding his own or doing it the traditional way. But out of respect for my parents, he decided to let them choose his mate. The search is on now for a July wedding. Anyone know an eligible lady for a handsome 34-year-old Malaysian man?

So why do many of these arranged marriages seem to last while so-called "love marriages" fail? When I asked my family and friends who have done this, they all have the same philosophy. They tell me that once they are married, they learn to love one another, despite their shortcomings. It's the work that goes into it and the effort that draws them closer. Failure is not an option. They learn to work out any problems they face.

You know the feeling you get when you first meet someone you like? They start their marriage that way. The relationship is new and exciting, they are on their best behavior.

Unlike the West, by the time people get married, some might have lost that initial thrill. And, if they had lived together, they have experienced a physical relationship that might be taken for granted. There are very little new things to experience after they get married. Marriage becomes a formality to legalize their relationship.

Obviously this is not common, but statistics indicate 50 percent of U.S. marriages end in divorce.

When I told my parents that I had someone I wanted to marry, they were very apprehensive. The fact that my wife was from a different culture and religion was something they weren't ready for. They never forced me into an arranged marriage, but they had women who were astrologically compatible waiting in the wings if I had indicated that was what I wanted.

Most of my parents' apprehension stemmed from the fact that they didn't know my wife and also from the stereotype of a typical American woman, as dictated by movies and TV shows.

After my family got to meet her, the apprehension was no longer there. They got to see her for the wonderful person she is and her willingness to accept my family was something that took them by surprise.

I am so proud of my wife. She has won my parents over so easily with her sincerity and love for them. My mom, who doesn't speak English, adores her. She is also my mom's favorite daughter-in-law.

Regardless of how one gets married, what prevails in the end is the will of the couple to love each other and make the marriage work in all circumstances.

Going into a marriage as a phase in life can be detrimental. Marriage is not a phase that we can try out. It is a lifestyle option we choose to share with a special person, no matter how we find them.

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