‘It’s a love marriage,” I told my daughter, giving her the latest gossip from my friends’ circle.
“Love marriage?” she repeated, sounding incredulous. “Mum, what century are you living in? Are you talking about love as opposed to arranged marriages? Who has arranged marriages nowadays?”
I felt chastised, and a little behind the times. In the good ole days, there were two kinds of marriages: love or arranged. “Love” marriages, where the couple met on their own and often married without parental consent, were frowned upon or reluctantly accepted. There were many horror stories floating around, of such-and-such a girl who married someone far below her in station, and who spent the rest of her life in penury, while her obedient sisters married well and lived lives of happy fulfilment. Or worse still, of someone who let her heart rule her head and jumped into wedlock, only to find that the boy was already married with a couple of kids in tow! (It was usually the woman who got the short end of the stick, rarely the man). We don’t really know if these stories were true, whether those marriages were as unhappy or disastrous as were made out to be. I suspect they were just made up to instil into our young minds the dire and dreadful consequences of not listening to our parents.
In “arranged” marriages, on the other hand, especially in the subcontinent and much of the Eastern world, parents did the spade work of choosing your life partner. There was a thorough vetting of the boy or the girl and their families before they were actually introduced to each other. Of course, if they felt they were not right for each other, they could always refuse. But usually, the parents’ wishes prevailed.
All this seems to imply that nowadays, just about everyone who enters into holy matrimony does so after falling madly in love. And going by the law of opposites, that “arranged” marriages are obsolete and very last century.
Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. Arranged marriages are alive and well, although in a new garb. Just look at all the thriving matrimonial websites. In this age of the information superhighway, a new matrimonial site is added almost every other day. Gone are the ‘middlemen’ — the aunts and uncles and cousins and your nosy next-door neighbour — who’d be suggesting matches. Indeed, given the alarming divorce rate, no one it seems wants to suggest a suitable match, in case they are blamed for what may follow.
The only difference between the old fashioned arranged marriage and these modern-day ones is that it’s the boy or girl — not the parents — in the driving seat. Usually, profiles are put up by the young people themselves, who are very clear-headed about what they are looking for in a future partner. Most young people who meet on these matrimonial or dating sites take their own time in getting to know the other person and are not to be hurried. This is indeed a wise move, as such a serious and life-changing decision can never be taken in a hurry.
Besides, this is not just an “Eastern” phenomenon. “Arranged” marriages seem to have spread to the West too. These are rarely called matrimonial sites but dating sites or apps where one can meet potential partners. In fact, the West seems to have in many ways taken this one step further, with the phenomenon of speed dating, where a person meets many potential matches over an evening. A bell is rung or a whistle blown three or five minutes after meeting a new match, and they go on to the next person. At the end of the evening, those who are interested in someone inform the organizers who they’d like to provide their contact information to, and if the other party shows a similar interest, hey presto, you’re off on your second date!
And then there are “blind dates” where a boy and a girl are set up by a friend or family member, someone who they think would be a good fit. But the two persons involved have never seen each other or met before. Does this ring a bell somewhere?
So if you think arranged marriages are obsolete, think again! The rules of the game remain the same, except that the main players have changed.
Padmini B. Sankar is a Dubai-based freelance writer.