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My Arranged Marriage

My Arranged Marriage

July 09, 2011

How I nearly had an arranged marriage, and why I could never go through with it.

No, that title isn't a metaphor for something. I was recently the recipient of a genuine arranged marriage proposal.

It shocked me that anyone in Kerala might consider me a serious prospect for their daughter's future, seeing as how white folks are assumed to hop in and out of partnerships like IPL players switching teams (except those wholesome Chennai Super Kings and their good southern values). They're also liable to fly your cherished jewel to their home country, thousands of miles from your loving clutches, and bring them back maybe once every few years – probably dressed in tight-fitting Western clothing.

These widely held opinions may or may not be true in different cases but the end result is that over the course of three years in Kerala, I've only ever known of one white male/Malayali female marriage (in which the woman did in fact work as a prostitute). I was thus shocked when a friend called me up and said, “Man I am finding one poor family for you, they are having one daughter but they cannot pay any dowry, you should just marry her, yaar, and then you can stay in India isn't it...”

What shocked me more, however, was how quickly – immediately – I replied with a strong “NO”.

If you want to be sure of how you feel about something, there's nothing better than being forced to consider living it for the rest of your life. Up until that phone call, I'd thought of arranged marriage as something valuable and central to Indian and NRI society. I'd even come to think that it makes more sense than a so-called 'love' marriage. I like how couples are meticulously matched across multiple criteria, and how the couple, once married, just have to make it work. People in arranged marriages learn to love with realistic and practical explanations as the foundation, not fleeting delights like a sense of humour and great sex. They go through the whole process together, and when it works out, the bonds are the strongest and deepest I've ever seen between two people.

This is for middle-to-upper-class families, anyway. The family willing to offer their daughter to me didn't belong to that group. My friend had bluntly informed me that they were a 'poor family' looking to marry her off and effectively clear the threat she posed to their livelihood, and that this girl was a perfect way for me to stay in India – which was of course true. I should just do it, he said.

The potential problems and obstacles raced through my head. Language barrier. Socioeconomic difference. Expectations in-laws might have of me. Vastly different upbringings. Her likely conservative mindset clashing with my fairly liberal one. My desire for a challenging, motivating partner not being met... or at least, being met in a way I never wanted or expected. With all these thoughts flooding me in a second, more basic considerations such as her physical attractiveness (or for that matter her cooking abilities) didn't even come into it.

Now I know we Westerners have a tendency to search for what's wrong with our relationships, often in place of focusing on what's right. But all these doubts, long-felt but crystallised into clear thought by this unexpected proposal, were just too much. I realised that the things which are most important to me about a loving partnership – time spent, and particularly communication shared, on a path to true acceptance, respect and devotion – would only come after the point of marriage. Hence, I rebuffed my friend's offer. The cultural differences just felt far too great to overcome.

Later, I questioned what my response would have been if the family were, say, from a caste which doesn't include dowry in marriage, whose members have all spent time abroad, who speak good English and have opinions that they're willing to share openly. The notion gives me pause, for sure, but I'm pretty sure my response would have been exactly the same. I'm not interested in marrying someone for the sake of being able to stay in a country. More than that, in traditional India, marriage is all about growing the emotional connection once the legal bond is made; the bottom line is that I'm from a Western country and we do things the other way around. Neither approach is better or worse. It's just a nurture difference that's difficult to overlap.

What I also realised in time was that as much as anything else, the friend who called me really wanted me to stay in India and was willing to go so far as to find me a wife for me in order to make that happen. It was such a nice gesture, and I thanked him for it once I got over the shock. Still, I wasn't about to change my mind. I retain as much respect as ever for the system of arranged marriages, and I hope that Indian society continues to embrace it. It's just not for me... at least, not yet!

10 Comments

  • Sheeba
    By
    Sheeba
    29.10.11 10:37 AM
    Hi,
    I enjoy reading your blogs ,one of the reasons is that I am married to a white British man, so would like to know their perspective of Kerala. But I think my husband has a better understanding of Kerala and how families are built in Kerala than you, i feel.Well I come from a well todo christian family in kerala, am a teacher and still I thought i would find a suitable lifepartner from west.aferall all these are invidividual decisions,east or west all same, finding the right soulmate is imp, they may not have money or beauty but u shud be able to have a soul bonding only then it will survive. Unless you dont have it arranged or love it wont bring happiness.Lucky for you and also that girl that u didnt act on ure friends proposal,
  • IFriend
    By
    IFriend
    11.08.11 09:52 AM
    @flawsophy..
    "Also, do new zealanders consider themselves part of the “western world” and not “far east of the middle earth” ?"
    - That totally depends on your point of reference (on the globe, that is..) buddy!

    @ Prasanna Raghavan
    "You westerners (you claim so)come over there and put things into black and white without studying about them in detail."
    - Isn't claimng westerners put everything into black and white itself in "black and white"??!
    Categorization is human nature.. and the fact that everything isn't black and white is natural itself! Generalizing is nothing but "black and white".. and when talking about a society, you can only generalize (meaning, exceptions always exist!)
    IMHO, Morris is actually doing something we "keralites" never do.. that is 'analyzing our society'. He is also mildly hinting that it is sometimes 'retarded', which i think is completely awesome, because it is only an outsider who is able to point out our flaws!!
    So, cut him some slack, lady!

    "India’s lower castes are already a battered people. Do not insult them more."
    - Morris replied; "The notion gives me pause, for sure, but I’m pretty sure my response would have been exactly the same."
    So, how is he insulting them any further??

    "so you imply that ‘bonds are the strongest and deepest I’ve ever seen between two people’ is true only for the middle and the upper classes and not for the poor. This is the biggest blunder you make."
    - well, I think Morris was trying to convey the very same idea you called a blunder..., only backwards!
    [...maybe something more along the lines of- the poor out of all in the society are the ones who probably do not possess the attribute of 'bonds being the strongest and deepest'... perhaps due to the lack of money (depending on the reason behind it)??]

    “My desire for a challenging, motivating partner not being met… or at least, being met in a way I never wanted or expected.”
    LOL!! That's hillarious!
  • divya
    By
    divya
    09.08.11 02:15 PM
    i have watched india- A love story, and i was once engaged to a bengali speaking indian from orissa, and i do not think the arranged marriage thing is good. i respect it as an indian culture but i dont support some of the reasons, becoause none of us has ever lived in the future to know who is the perfect match for whom. the y outrightly rule you out before even knowing what kind of a person she is, and because of differnce in race. i think the reasons are just absurd and archaic.
  • sound
    By
    sound
    11.07.11 09:47 PM
    Nice piece of writing. Though I dont agree that all love marriages are based only on sense of humor or sex. Atleast not for everybody. The Indian cities might show a trace of this kind of a choice but if the person is serious I think its not just about humor/sex. I have known people who have been together for 3 yrs 8 yrs and gotten married after they worked for a while. They are happy too and who said arranged marriages are perfect. Ask some of the people in India you will be shocked to find that they just dont tell the issues they go through outside. Divorce is not an easy option and the parents dont support it so both partners live under the same roof and just act happy. Only if you dig deep will you find parents who forced their kids to marry someone else when they actually liked another person. So its wrong to say love marriages are loosely builty while arranged marriages have more sense. Both have their pro's and con's and have to see which works for the person involved.
  • Jaai
    By
    Jaai
    11.07.11 08:35 PM
    "My desire for a challenging, motivating partner not being met… or at least, being met in a way I never wanted or expected."
    I'm still laughing.
  • priya
    By
    priya
    11.07.11 10:32 AM
    Gosh, you just got saved...lol..Congrats!
  • Prasanna Raghavan
    By
    Prasanna Raghavan
    10.07.11 06:48 PM
    Barneby you marrying a Kerala girl and drawing conclusions about the culture of a people about which you are still ignorant are two different things.

    1. You wrote:'This is for middle-to-upper-class families, anyway. The family willing to offer their daughter to me didn’t belong to that group.'

    so you imply that 'bonds are the strongest and deepest I’ve ever seen between two people' is true only for the middle and the upper classes and not for the poor. This is the biggest blunder you make. I do not know from whom you are truly learning these things.

    2.Also it is not a caste phenomenon.

    you wrote:

    ''Later, I questioned what my response would have been if the family were, say, from a caste which doesn’t include dowry in marriage, whose members have all spent time''

    You westerners (you claim so)come over there and put things into black and white without studying about them in detail.India's lower castes are already a battered people. Do not insult them more.

    Before u write things better research on them . Also the thing of Caste is a very complicated thing there.

  • flawsophy
    By
    flawsophy
    09.07.11 08:03 PM
    I think this line below made my day :

    "If you want to be sure of how you feel about something, there’s nothing better than being forced to consider living it for the rest of your life."

    and It was an offer you can totally, totally refuse ... :)

    I think the accent is different in an arranged marriage as opposed to the love marriage. Any marriage is done both for mutual emotional bonding as well as pragmatic reasons. The arranged marriage focuses on the practicality too much - and doesn't have the beauty of a sweet song but has that realism of a warzone :)

    Also, do new zealanders consider themselves part of the "western world" and not "far east of the middle earth" ? :P
  • Sandy
    By
    Sandy
    09.07.11 01:05 PM
    Well...to add to what is there above, in India, even in love marriages, where things seem to be going the western way of having met, known, understood and lived some while with the person, marriage can bring in an entirely upside down world. India seems not to be cut out for love marriages with sustained feelings of passion, love and mutual respect once the knot is tied. Tell me about it...been there, done that and damn am I singed.
  • magiceye
    By
    magiceye
    09.07.11 07:02 AM
    very well written!

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