- Marriage, then love — Why arranged marriages still work today
- Arranged marriage
- Practice in Various Cultures
- Arranged Marriage as An Instrument of Peace
- What Is an Arranged Marriage?
- Arranged Marriage Statistics
- A Bonding Experience
- Countries Where Arranged Marriages are Common
- Love is in the air
- Arranged Marriages
- Family Life: Arranged marriages remain a tradition in some cultures
- Why I Risked an Honor Killing to Reject an Arranged Marriage
- Thank you!
Marriage, then love — Why arranged marriages still work today
This is the fourth story of a five-part series on how alternative relationships are reshaping love in Canada. Each day this week, we’re exploring a different union model, from sexless and arranged marriages to mixed orientation and polyamory. Follow along on Twitter with the hashtag #SOTUCanada.
It was April Fool’s Day 1984 when Dave Singh Gill stepped off a plane in the U.K.
His flight from Edmonton, Alta., was two hours late, and it was no joking matter. The then-24-year-old was determined to get to his destination to meet his potential wife.
Dave wanted an arranged marriage.
When he finally arrived wearing jeans, a plaid shirt and cowboy boots, Loveleen Kaur Gill says her first impression was “absolutely not.”
But then something changed.
Story continues below advertisement “ we started talking … I think that was it, the rest is history,” she recalls.
The couple, now based in London, Ont., has been in a happy arranged marriage for 34 years. Although arranged marriages are a tradition usually associated with Asian and Middle Eastern countries, the same customs have also trickled down to communities in the U.K., Canada and the U.S.
On the surface, arranged marriages look just like any other marriage: two people in a loving, committed union sealed with a legally binding contract. But behind the scenes, they often start with introductions by family members or relatives and are finalized by the two individuals involved, giving them the ultimate choice to pick their spouse.
Dave and Loveleen during their Sikh wedding ceremony in 1984. Photo provided by Loveleen Gill.
According to the 2016 census by Statistics Canada, nearly half the Canadian population is married and 21.3 per cent of relationships are common-law. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of Canadian data on how many of these couples are in arranged marriages, but a previous ABC report claims at least 60 per cent of marriages worldwide are arranged, as well as 90 per cent of them in India. Other 2012 data suggests the divorce rate of an arranged marriage is less than four per cent.
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A recent Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News found one in 50 Canadians (two per cent) said they were in an arranged marriage, and five per cent of those poll respondents were between the ages of 18 and 34.
For Loveleen, 53, despite that first momentary reluctance, there was never a question in her mind that Dave wasn’t the one. Within minutes of meeting, he asked her to go for a walk and they talked for an hour and a half. Her fate was sealed.
READ MORE: Do couples living apart hold the secret to everlasting love?
“He really made me laugh and his personality was so different from some of the guys in England,” she says.
The two talked about jobs, families and dreams for the future. They discussed their ideal outlook on relationships and he asked her if she would be willing to move to Canada. She said she would give it a shot.
“It felt like I’d known him for years. It was as if it was meant to be,” Loveleen says. “When he back to Canada, I felt like something was missing … an arm or limb or my heart was missing. When he came back I knew I had to be with him.”
Coming together to form one
Arranged marriages have changed drastically over the last couple of decades, says Dr. Saunia Ahmad, director and clinical psychologist at the Toronto Psychology Clinic. In the past, (and this can still happen today), marriages were agreed upon by two families when their respective children were still young. Sometimes they would get engaged just a day after meeting for the first time; sometimes they met for the first time on their wedding day.
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Today, although some are introduced to entire families at the same time as their potential partners, they have the freedom to chat or go on informal dates for as long as they want before deciding to tie the knot.
Ahmad, who works with couples in arranged marriages and has researched the topic, says that while the idea of the union coming together sounds definite, there is still a lot of personal choice in the final decision, especially when you look at modern-day arrangements.
“My own parents met on their wedding night and never communicated before,” Ahmad explains. “But now there is more of a blended approach. The children have a lot more input.”
WATCH: The State of the Union series takes a deep dive into five alternative relationship models and uncovers the changing face of Canadian love.
0:35 State of the Union preview State of the Union preview
This could mean having your parents or other close family members act as matchmakers. The internet, technology and online dating have also changed the process, Ahmad says. Families send photos of potential partners to their children via text message, email or on some dating sites like Shaddi.com. Parents can even set up a dating profile for a child. A “bio data” has also become common, which is essentially a resume of a person’s information, achievements and photos.
“It’s not completely the parents choosing someone … Some people even date for a year,” Ahmad says.
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Loveleen says she decided to try an arranged marriage after her father passed away. She was 18 years old and told her mother she was thinking about getting out of the country. She talked to a family friend, who told her about a young man named Dave who was going to visit from Canada. She agreed to send him a photo of herself before they met.
“It was old school … and photo was taken from a distance. I couldn’t see him properly,” she says.
She knew she was taking a risk of marrying a man she didn’t know, but her parents had an arranged marriage, as well as her siblings. Some worked out and some didn’t, but that didn’t matter to Loveleen. She was willing to try.
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Dave and Loveleen during their English wedding ceremony in 1984. Photo provided by Loveleen Gill.
Dave, 58, decided on an arranged marriage months before seeing his bride-to-be. During that time, he says family members would chime in and offer suggestions on potential spouses. But when he met Loveleen, the search was over.
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“When I saw her she was beautiful,” he says.
After their meeting in April 1984, they took a trip to London and their attraction grew. Two weeks later, they legally got married in Nottingham, U.K., and had an Indian ceremony four months later.
“For me it was the stability of Dave and his family,” Loveleen explains. “He came from a good background and his family was the same religion I was … the same sense of humour.
A 21st-century arrangement
Samad Farooqui and Sadia Qavi are much younger than the Gills, but the two decided a modern-day arranged marriage was the best way to find a spouse.
“My parents were actively searching for a spouse for me and that’s how we connected,” Farooqui says. “We spoke to each other daily and met for a while until we made the decision our lives together.”
Qavi says before meeting her husband she wanted to focus on school and a career. Relationships weren’t on her mind.
“I never knew I could meet a guy through family whom I would have had an interest in,” she says. “We met at a nearby restaurant. … He became a part of my life so quickly that I didn’t even see myself falling in love.”
Sadia Qavi and Samad Farooqui. Photo provided by Sadia Qavi.
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After first meeting in November 2013, the couple decided to get married in June 2014. To some, that may seem fast, but to them, it wasn’t out of the ordinary. After all, they both had successful examples of arranged marriages in their respective families to draw from.
Ahmad says that for many, being in a relationship means finding someone who is committed and interested in something long-term. With the popularity of dating sites like Tinder or Bumble and the shift to relationships being more casual, an arranged marriage is sometimes seen as a guarantee of success.
“Some young South Asians get disappointed , and let their parents find someone more compatible,” Ahmad says, adding that at the end of the day, it’s also about making sure the spouse you find is someone your parents can be happy with.
READ MORE: A sexless marriage can work
Arranged marriages have changed because marriages themselves have changed, Ahmad adds. In the past, marriages were meant to solidify economic and social status. While these things can still matter today, companionship and compatibility are just as vital.
“People are more willing to leave a marriage if they are unhappy and parents want to make sure the marriage is successful.”
Some Asian communities still have taboos around getting divorced, which could also reflect why divorce rates in India, for example, are low.
“I talk to people from India these days and people are trying to not just education and looks, but the importance of who a person is,” Ahmad says.
It’s not a ‘love marriage’
For a long time, the narrative around communities that engage in arranged marriage has been associated with forced or child marriages. And while these are valid and ongoing problems in communities across the globe (and even here in Canada, according to a CTV report), couples in consensual modern-day arranged marriages may still feel stigmatized. An Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News found 73 per cent of respondents found “arranged marriages” not acceptable — which could explain an education gap in understanding what these marriages actually mean.
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WATCH: Five per cent of Canadians aged 18-34 had an arrange marriage, new Ipsos poll finds.
0:31 Five per cent of Canadians ages 18-34 had an arrange marriage, new poll finds Five per cent of Canadians ages 18-34 had an arrange marriage, new poll finds
In a Western culture that romanticizes love and courtship, some couples may feel embarrassed to go the arranged route.
Then there are the stories of arranged marriages falling apart or families ending up in feuds, ones that Toronto resident Sumaiya Ahmed, 29, heard before she decided to enter one.
“Everyone thought I was crazy. Growing up in Toronto, it was hard for my friends to understand why I had opted for this,” she says. “I had too much to accomplish and didn’t think there was enough time to go out on dates.”
Sumaiya Ahmed and Asad Iqbal Malick. Photo provided by Sumaiya Ahmed.
She met her now-husband, Asad Iqbal Malick, over a brief conversation on Skype. The couple didn’t officially meet until their religious wedding ceremony three months later in August 2014.
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“Asad had a hard time comprehending what was happening and was a nervous wreck on the day. He constantly kept asking for water. We both were much more relaxed when we went out on an official date two days later,” she says.
READ MORE: How alternative relationships are reshaping love in Canada
But Malick says he never felt stigmatized for choosing an arranged marriage over a “love one.” (Love marriages are commonly used to describe non-arranged marriages.)
“In Pakistan, it is common … most of my cousins and friends opted for love marriages,” Malick says. “What was weird for them was not properly talking to or meeting my wife. I still have nightmares about that. In Canada though, I feel like I can’t talk about it openly.”
Yes, arranged marriages work
Arranged marriages work, experts argue, because people already have a mindset that they need to make it work. Sure, there are many marriages that fail, but the successful ones understand what it means to be committed.
For the Gills, it was about setting boundaries and making them work.
“Your boundaries are that you are married now and you’re going to love this person and do everything within your power to make it work,” Dave says. “The other way around you almost take your best shot before getting married and a few years later wonder where that person . In our case, the boundaries were set, we were married and I knew I was going to love this person.”
Loveleen and Dave Gill of London, Ont. Photo provided by Loveleen Gill.
Love marriages and arranged marriages each come with their own set of difficulties. There are no hard and fast rules for success. What’s necessary, Ahmad says, is that parents and relatives remain open minded and allow their children to be the adults in the situation, since the process of arranged marriage is always in flux.
Story continues below advertisement “It’s important for parents to understand their kids … Don’t act out of anxiety and fear, or out of concern for what people are going to think.”
Nowadays, an arranged meeting should be considered nothing more than a blind date set up by someone in your family, Loveleen explains.
Even though it has been decades since Dave has had to think about having an arranged marriage, he says the cornerstone of it hasn’t changed.
“You need to make the commitment first,” he says. “Our commitment was till death to us part.”
This week, Global News takes a look at alternative unions. Tomorrow we explore mixed-orientation unions. Follow along on Twitter with the hashtag #SOTUCanada.
These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between July 13 and 16, 2018, on behalf of Global News. For this survey, a sample of 1,501 Canadians aged 18+ was interviewed online via the Ipsos I-Say panel and non-panel sources. Quota sampling and weighting were employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ±3.0 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadian adults been polled.
— Illustrations by Laura Whelan
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Overview on Arranged Marriages
An arranged marriage describes a situation in which the parents of two people, of typically similar cultural background, are predetermined to be married by their parents or a third party. Arranged marriages are a part of a number of different cultures, both old and new. They present a very logical approach to the institute of marriage and are influenced by both cultural and economic factors. While some societies consider the idea of parents strategically selecting the life partner of their children, other cultures have continued this tradition even today. Typically recognized in eastern cultures, arranged marriages provide a number of benefits to both parties, although statistics have also shown an elevated risk of abuse and violence in situations of arranged marriages.
Arranged Marriages: Learn about the basic concepts behind arranged marriages.
Background Information About Arranged Marriages: PBS presents information about arranged marriages with additional resources.
Forced Marriage Report: An in depth report on arranged marriage, including cultural resources and how a marriage might be arranged.
Arranged Marriages in Countries and Cultures
The tradition of arranged marriage is most commonly found in eastern-based cultures, including Indian, Japanese, and Chinese cultures. However, it was at one time equally popular in western culture. In the Elizabethan era, it was not uncommon for parents in high society to arrange marriages among their children to ensure that they maintained the economic status and bloodlines that they greatly valued. Parents of the bride would commonly offer their daughter to the son of a family of equal economic status. These practices are still carried out today and often viewed as a business transaction, in which the bride is sometimes unaware of what has already been planned for her.
Arranged Marriages In Indian Culture: Detailed information about the tradition of arranged marriages in the Indian and Muslim cultures.
Caste, Dowry, & Arranged Marriages in Tamil Society: Old traditions are alive and well in modern Tamil society. Learn how traditional concepts have maintained their presence in the modern world.
Marriage in the Arab World: A detailed report about the concept of marriage and how it is perceived in the Arab culture.
The factors of arranging a marriage are sometimes very complex. They are typically financially and socially motivated and can act as a treaty between families. Stability and the welfare of the bride also play a significant role in the process of arranged marriages. To a father, making sure that his daughter children are properly taken care of financially is a primary responsibility. By stepping in to arrange a marriage for his daughters, a father can be assured that the husband will be able to provide financially for his daughter as an adult. Culture also has a profound impact on the practice of arranged marriages. Eastern cultures have carried the tradition of arranged marriage into the new millennium; and in many cases the children involved are on board with the idea, others feel that it is their responsibility to comply with arranged marriage for their family. Age, religion, economics, and family ties are all factors in determining a successful match, it is approached very logically without much attention given to the idea of love; it is a marriage that is strategic, love may come after. Along with a bride would also be a dowry, sometimes consisting of money or property, a dowry was meant as the brides contribution to the marriage, since it was traditionally unheard of for a women to contribute financially to an income, the dowry acted as a supplemental source to the new family.
Factors of Arranged Marriages: Many factors contribute to arranged marriages, including demographic and cultural ties.
Definition of Marriage: An overview of the institute of marriage, including information on arranged marriage and the factors that contribute to it.
The Role of Dowry: A resource for better understanding the role a dowry play in an arranged marriage.
Statistics of Arranged Marriages
It is estimated that between sixty and eighty percent of marriages in Afghanistan are arranged or forced in some way. Arranged marriages are culturally acceptable in the Afghan culture, and women are seldom given the choice to decline an arranged marriage. Statistics have also shown that arranged marriages have a significantly lower rate of divorce. In fact, the divorce rate is only 3%, compared to the American average of 53%. This may be because of the more traditional view involved, many couples simply do not believe in divorce.
Infidelity statistics- general statistics about infidelity, including the rate of infidelity in cases of arranged marriages.
Traditional values in the UK: An article discussion the reemergence of traditional values in Asian cultures within the United Kingdom, including statistics regarding the success rate of arranged marriages.
The History Behind Arranged Marriages
An ageless tradition, arranged marriages have long since been a part of eastern society. With roots in Indian and Oriental cultures, arranged marriages were made to maintain the status quo and continue to serve that function. Less popular now in western cultures, arranged marriages were common, especially within royalty. In more recent years, arranged marriage was used in the English monarchy with the union of the late Princess Diana and Price Charles.
Elizabethan Marriages and Weddings: Arranged marriages were very common in the Elizabethan era. Learn more about the early presence of arranged marriage in western culture.
Women in China – Past and Present: A guide to the role of women and arranged marriages in the past and present day China.
Marriage and Divorce in Japan: A history of marriages, both arranged and organic, and the divorce rate in Japan between 1600 and 2000.
Pros and Cons of Arranged Marriages
While many arranged marriages are successful, there are still some that face difficult challenges. Statistics have shown that arranged marriages exhibit a higher rate of domestic violence, and in some cases sexual abuse. Infidelity, as in many other marriages today, is more common than not. However, because of their deep cultural ties and adherence to family responsibilities, men and women put in dangerous situations seldom report any abuse for fear of being cast out of their family or even more sever consequences. Arranged marriages ensure that the new family is financially taken care of, and they often have strong ties to family and their cultural community. Some couples do fall in love after they are married and are thankful not to have had to search for love like many of us do.
Forced and Early Marriages: The Advocates for Human Rights warns against the dangers of arranged marriages and the increased risk of domestic violence.
The Gate to Marriage: A description of the benefits of arranged marriages, as well as the downfalls it might present. Tungsten Rings and Popular Wedding Bands
In an arranged marriage, the marital partners are chosen by parents, community elders, matchmakers, or religious leaders in an effort to guide young people through the process of finding the right person to marry. Arranged marriages worldwide encompass a wide variety of procedures, cultural customs, length of courtship, as well as the practical and spiritual reasons for the matching of the partners. Generally, such a match is based on considerations other than pre-existing mutual attraction. Traditional arranged marriages became less common in the twentieth century, with the majority of young people in most cultures selecting their own spouse, with or without parental approval. However, with the increasing prevalence of divorce among marriages for love, advocates of arranged marriage argue that its values—where the expectation of love is weak at the beginning but ideally grows over time—makes for a stronger and more lasting marital bond.
Historically, arranged marriages between kings or clan leaders have been utilized to cement political alliances. In more recent times, Reverend Sun Myung Moon revived this idea, promoting cross-cultural arranged marriages as a way to promote world peace.
The term “arranged marriage” is usually used to describe a marriage which involves the parents in a process of selecting marriage partners for their children, with or without the help of a matchmaker. There are several types:
Child marriage: The parents of a small child (even infants) arrange a future marriage with another child’s parents. The children are betrothed or promised to each other. Often the two children never even meet each other until the wedding ceremony, when they are both of an acceptable marriageable age—which differs based upon custom. In some cultures, the age is at or even before the onset of puberty. Many people who have been married in this way do grow to love and cherish their spouses after the marriage.
Exchange Marriage: This form of marriage involves a reciprocal exchange of spouses between two nations, groups, or tribes. For example, among the Australian Aborigines, the ideal model of any marriage contract is that two men of different groups should marry each other’s sisters. This creates a completely symmetrical arrangement, strengthened by the implicit threat that if one husband abuses his wife, the other husband can retaliate against his sister.
Diplomatic Marriage: Marriages are arranged for political reasons, to cement alliances between royal families. The monarchs of Europe were all related by blood due to frequent diplomatic marriages.
Introduction only: The parents introduce their child to a potential spouse that they found through a personal recommendation or a website. The parents may briefly talk to the parents of the prospective spouse. From that point, it is up to the children to manage the relationship and make a choice based on whatever factors they value, love or otherwise (although premarital sex is usually frowned upon). The parents may try to influence the child’s choice, or generally pressure their child to choose someone while they are still of “marriageable age.”
Love-cum-arranged marriage: This is matrimony between a mutually acceptable and consenting couple that has been facilitated by the couple’s parents. Etymological note: cum is Latin for “with” or “together with.”
Mail Order: Sometimes, the term “arranged marriage” may be used even if the parents had no direct involvement in selecting the spouse. A “mail-order bride” is selected by a man from a catalog of women from other countries, sometimes with the assistance of a marriage agency. Mail-order husbands also exist through “reverse publications.” Rather than waiting to be contacted, women can contact men directly from advertisements in publications. In such a case, an arranged marriage may be beneficial because the man’s parents can become acquainted with the woman and her family to better ensure that she is not misrepresenting herself in order to simply immigrate to a wealthy country. Also, the woman’s parents can learn about the man and his family to ensure that their daughter will be safe in a foreign country.
Modern arranged marriage: The parents choose several possible mates for the child, sometimes with the help of the child (who may indicate which photos he or she likes, for example). The parents will then arrange a meeting with the family of the prospective mate, and the two children will often have a short unsupervised meeting, such as an hour-long walk around the neighborhood. The child then chooses who they wish to marry (if anyone), although parents may exert varying degrees of pressure on the child to make a certain choice.
Modern arranged marriage with courtship: This is similar to the modern arranged marriage, except that the children have a chance to get to know each other over a longer period of time via e-mail, phone, or multiple in-person meetings, before making a decision.
World Wide Web Services: For more information on matching and online services, see Matchmaker.
Practice in Various Cultures
In traditional Indian Hindu society, the caste system prohibits males and females from mixing freely, and so young people rely on arranged marriages by their parents to find their spouse. Educational and economic backgrounds are taken into consideration by the parents. Age and dowry are also important aspects of the matching.
Since marriage is considered a marriage of the families rather than just the individuals, the process involved in an arranged marriage can be different depending on the communities and families. Generally, it involves a search for a match, exchange of information, background checks, determining the marriage logistics (dowry, house, wedding expenses etc.), arrangement of acceptance, and the beginning of an engagement period.
In twenty-first century India, the caste system is somewhat less rigid, and the preferences of the couple are taken into account. It is possible to marry outside of the sub-caste, one’s own language, or province as long as they are still within the same caste. Also, the popularity of “love marriages” over arranged marriages has increased with changes in education and the increasing focus on women’s rights.
In Pakistan, several types of exchange marriage exist. In certain tribal regions and rural areas there is a custom known as “Pait Likkhi” (Urdu: پیٹ لکھی) (Pait (Urdu: پیٹ ) means “stomach” and Likkhi (Urdu: لکھی) means “written;” literally written on stomach). This involves two families agreeing to marry their children while they are still infants, or even before they are born. The actual marriage takes place when groom and bride are in their late teens or adults. “Watta satta” (Urdu: وٹہ سٹہ, literally “give” and “take”) is the custom of exchange brides between two clans. In order for a family to arrange a marriage for their son, they must also have a daughter to be married in return. If there is no sister to exchange in return for a son’s spouse, a cousin, or more distant relative is acceptable.
Participants in these marriage customs stress that they follow Islamic law (Sharia). The law in Pakistan prohibits women from marrying without parental consent, based on Islamic teachings in the Qur’an that require fathers to protect their daughters, which has been interpreted as advocating arranged marriages. Specifically, it is seen as a father’s duty to find suitable husbands for his daughters. However, he should not force them into unwanted marriages.
Nevertheless, there are also child marriage practices in Pakistan that appear to violate Islamic laws. For instance, “Vani” (Urdu: ونی) is a child marriage custom in tribal areas in which blood feuds are settled with forced marriages. A young bride may spend her life paying for the crime of her male relative.
Even though arranged marriages were once the norm in Chinese society, it has become common practice for young people to choose their own spouse. However, after the couple decides to marry, the parents, or older relatives, take over all the arrangements, observing the traditional customs. In Chinese culture, a marriage is not just between two people, but an establishing of a relationship between two families. The groom’s parents investigate the reputation and lineage of the bride’s family. A meeting will take place for the families to meet, usually with the bride and groom present. The bride’s family will take this opportunity to ask about the status and wealth of the groom’s family, and to ensure that their daughter will be treated well. If the parents are not happy about the background of the other family, the wedding does not take place. If both families accept the match, the wedding and engagement negotiations continue according to traditional customs.
Shim-pua marriage (Taiwanese: sin-pū-á, sim-pū-á) was a Taiwanese tradition of arranged marriage, where a poor family, burdened by too many children, would sell a young daughter to a richer family for labor, and in exchange, the poorer family would be married into the richer family, through the daughter. The girl acted both as an adopted daughter to be married with a young male member of the adopted family in the future and as free labor. Shim-pua marriage fell out of practice in the 1970s, due to increased wealth from Taiwan’s economic success.
By the end of the twentieth century in Japan, approximately 30 percent of marriages continued to be the traditional arranged marriages called omiai (Japanese: お見合い). Those seeking an arranged marriage enlist the help of a nakōdo (Japanese: 仲人), “go-between” or matchmaker. After being matched, the couple meets and decides if they feel suitable for each other. The parents are usually present at the first meeting. The couple continues to meet socially over a period of time before deciding to marry.
In Korea, traditionally the primary emphasis for marriages was on lineage and prosperity of the family. The social status of the husband’s family was greatly affected by the marriage, and so marriage between different social classes was rare. A matchmaker relayed information about social and economic status as well as other factors. Often agreements for the future wedding were made when the participants were very young. According to the traditional way of the past, the couple did not meet one another until the wedding. By the late twentieth century, arranged marriages had become rare except in rural areas. In these cases a matchmaker is still involved, but the couple makes the final decision about marriage. This process, called chungmae, allows the couple to meet but several traditional procedures are still followed.
Arranged Marriage in Islam
Arranged marriages are the cultural norm for many Islamic cultures. These are not forced upon the participants. The couple makes the decision whether to accept the marriage or not, since Islamic law prohibits marrying anyone against his or her will.
Among Muslims, an arranged marriage refers to a marriage where husband and wife became acquainted during meetings initially arranged by their parents, with the stated intention of finding a spouse. This process usually starts with the family asking questions about the personality, beauty, family, education, and finances of a potential partner. After finding someone that appears to be compatible, they make a recommendation for the couple to begin meeting and begin a period of courtship. Islam prohibits unmarried, unrelated men and women being alone together and physical relationships are not part of the meetings.
Arranged Marriage in Judaism
Shidduch (or shiduch) (Hebrew: שידוך, pl. shiduchim שידוכי means a ” match” between a man and a woman, as well as the system of introducing eligible and marriageable singles to each other in Orthodox Jewish communities.
The Talmud (tractate Kiddushin 41a) states that a man may not marry a woman until having seen her first. This edict is based on the Torah statement: “Love your neighbor (re’acha) like yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), where the word “neighbor” can be interpreted as “spouse.” In other words, a marriage that is arranged so completely that the prospective couple has not even seen each other is strongly discouraged, based on the understanding that such a marriage is likely to be doomed without love.
In many groups belonging to Orthodox Judaism, dating between the sexes is limited to the search of a partner for marriage, and only follows a period during which both sides (usually the parents, close relatives or friends of the persons involved) make inquiries regarding the prospective partner, such as on his/her character and level of religious observance.
A shidduch is often begun by a suggestion from close family members, friends or by people (men and women) who have made this process their hobby or even their vocation (a shadkhan or “matchmaker”). A professional shadkhan often charges a fee for his or her services.
After the match has been proposed, the prospective partners see each other a number of times. It depends on the community practice how many times a couple meets before a decision has to be made whether there will be an engagement or not.
Arranged Marriage as An Instrument of Peace
Historically, diplomatic marriages between members of royal families have been a means to seal political alliances. The form of the marriage set the terms of the alliance. When a king of one state married a the princess of a neighboring state, it signaled the former state’s superiority. For example, the Bible brags about King Solomon’s marriage to the daughter of Pharaoh (1 Kings 3:1, 9:16) because it established Israel’s rank above Egypt. When a king married his son to a neighboring state’s daughter, it indicated an alliance among equals, as when Marie Antoinette, the fourth daughter of Maria Theresa, Queen of Austria-Hungary, married the dauphin (crown prince) of France, who would become King Louis XVI.
Cross-Cultural Arranged Marriages for Peace and Nation-Building
Did you know? Arranged marriages have been employed to unite enemy nations and create a culture of peace
While arranged marriages are normally contracted among families within the same community, far-sighted leaders have employed arranged marriages to bind together disparate cultures and nationalities in their realms. The most notable of these was Alexander the Great, who in 324 married 10,000 of his officers to Persian women. The mass wedding, held at Susa, was a model of Alexander’s desire to consummate the union of the Greek and Iranian peoples.
In modern times, Reverend Sun Myung Moon advocated cross-cultural arranged marriages as a means of peace-building. Couples from enemy nations who work out great differences in the crucible of married life are said to contribute to the resolution of their nations’ historical and cultural conflicts. Thus, in 1988 he arranged marriages of 6,500 couples where one partner was Korean and the other was from Japan—Korea’s historical enemy resented for the brutality of its colonial rule during the first half of the twentieth century. The international couples recognized the challenge of creating harmony between each other in spite of their different nationalities, cultures, and historical memories, as a way to contribute to the reconciliation between their nations. Reverend Moon described the process:
Imagine two enemy families who have cursed each other throughout their lives, people who would never dream of living together. What would happen if these families joined together through a cross-cultural Holy Marriage Blessing? A son from one family and a daughter from the other family become husband and wife, love each other and build a happy home. Would the parents in each family curse their own children? When their son loves this beautiful daughter of a hated enemy, and she as their daughter-in-law gives birth… the grandparents would smile with pleasure. In time the two lineages that were once soaked with enmity will be transformed.
The debate surrounds one main question: can an individual be trusted to make his or her own decision about choosing a mate, and if not, can the parents do a better job of it?
Compounding that, the debate depends on variables, such as the closeness of the family and societal expectations, which can vary greatly among and within cultures.
Opponents of arranged marriages often believe that only individuals have the right to make such a choice, and that they will ultimately be happier making their own decisions. In such a view, the romantic attraction between the partners is a primary consideration.
Critics are also concerned about a person’s ability to adapt to another person from a different background, especially if they have spent no time together before their marriage. In cases of international arranged marriages, brides may face cultural and linguistic barriers in their new countries and with their husbands. Husbands are unfamiliar with their new wife’s culture, language, food preferences, or religious practices.
Critics also note that some parents or matchmakers may have stereotyped ideas and the spouses and/or families may be disappointed. Equally, the parents may have a self-centered motivation, choosing a spouse based on their family connections or occupation, rather than on suitability to their own child.
Proponents of arranged marriage often note that individuals can be too easily influenced by the effects of romantic love to make a good choice. In some societies, such as China, the relationships between generations in the family are more valued than the marital relationship. The whole purpose of the marriage is to have a family.
Religious couples believe their marriage should have God at its center, and through that connection true love will emerge between them. If their spouse is introduced to them by their parents or religious leader, the couple can make the first step toward centering their marriage on a higher purpose rather than their own individual desires.
Furthermore, proponents believe that parents can be trusted to make a match that is in the best interests of their children. They hold that parents have much practical experience to draw from and are less misguided by emotions and hormones. Love has been known to blind people to potential problems in the relationship such as the Arabic saying: “the mirror of love is blind, it makes zucchini into okra.” In addition to this, it is common for families to be involved in the relationship and therefore natural for the families to feel connected to the lives of the couple. This tends to create a network of support for the couple.
Arranged marriages have existed since ancient times and the process has continued to be developed along with the technological advances. Critics and proponents of arranged marriage both agree that true love is the main component for a happy marriage and family. Spiritual and cultural backgrounds and practices play a large part in arranged marriages. While some critics like to see a couple spend more time together before the marriage in order to understand each other’s character and personality, many proponents of arranged marriage expect this process to take place after the commitment of marriage.
Exchange marriages between children of different, possibly enemy, families in some cases lead to increased resentment and hatred, and in others to the resolution of old grievances and the embrace of former enemies into one family. The difference stems from the basic motivation for the marriage. Marrying the son or daughter of your enemy does not always bring reconciliation, especially when, as in some arranged marriages in Pakistan, the marriage takes place in order for the parent to “pay” for a crime (such as murder) and the daughter of the criminal spends her life suffering at the mercy of the resentful family. The key to overcoming such resentments or feuds is the desire of the couple to overcome the past and develop new relationships.
When the relationship between two people is based on self-centered desires, any kind of marriage is doomed to produce difficulties. On the other hand, when a couple is committed to putting their family’s welfare above their own desires, obstacles can be overcome naturally and such a couple can find lasting happiness. In an arranged marriage, their efforts to this end are strengthened because they recognize that their union has significance for more than just themselves; it means the uniting of two families, two clans, even two nations.
- “Love-cum-arranged Marriage” Double-Tongued Dictionary. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
- Vikas Kamat, India’s Arranged Marriages, Indian Culture. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
- Love Marriage Vs Arranged Marriage – A Comprehensive Analysis. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
- Hanan G. Jacoby and Ghazala Mansuri, Watta Satta: Exchange Marriage and Women’s Welfare in Rural Pakistan Retrieved February 22, 2017.
- Dennis O’Neil, Sex and Marriage: An Introduction to The Cultural Rules Regulating Sexual Access and Marriage; Overview: Part I Retrieved February 22, 2017.
- Barbara Plett, Forced child marriage tests Pakistan law, BBC News, December 5, 2005. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
- Getting Married in Japan. About: Japanese Language. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
- Timothy R. Tangherlini, Review of “Getting Married in Korea: Of Gender, Morality, and Modernity,: by Laurel Kendall Korean Studies Review 6 (1998). Retrieved February 22, 2017.
- Hena Zuberi, Arranged Marriage is not Forced Marriage. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
- Sun Myung Moon, God’s Ideal Family and the Kingdom of the Peaceful, Ideal World. March 25 – April 3, 2006. Republic of Korea.
- 11.0 11.1 Xu Xiaohe and Martin King Whyte “Love Matches and Arranged Marriages: A Chinese Replication.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 52: 3 (Aug., 1990): 709-722.
- Greer Litton Fox, “Love Match and Arranged Marriage in a Modernizing Nation: Mate Selection in Ankara Turkey.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 37(1) (1975-02): 180-193.
- Jo Reaves, “NEWS: Marriage in China Not So Different than in the West.” Asian Pages (4)18 (1994): 4.
- Epstein, Robert, Mayuri Pandit, and Mansi Thakar, How Love Emerges in Arranged Marriages: Two Cross-Cultural Studies Journal of Comparative Family Studies 43 (2013): 341-360. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
- Fox, Greer Litton. “Love Match and Arranged Marriage in a Modernizing Nation: Mate Selection in Ankara Turkey.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 37(1) (1975-02): 180-193.
- Moon, Sun Myung. God’s Ideal Family – the Model for World Peace, 2005. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
- Moon, Sun Myung. God’s Ideal Family and the Kingdom of the Peaceful, Ideal World. March 25 – April 3, 2006. Republic of Korea.
- Reaves, Jo. “NEWS: Marriage in China Not So Different than in the West.” Asian Pages (4)18 (1994): 4.
- Stein, Shani. The Survival Guide to Shidduchim. New York, NY: Feldheim Publishers, 1997. ISBN 1568711328
- Xiaohe, Xu, and Martin King Whyte. “Love Matches and Arranged Marriages: A Chinese Replication.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 52(3) (August, 1990): 709-722.
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Marriages that are arranged can be controversial but take place throughout the world. There are different traditions, some religious, that still espouse this type of union.
What Is an Arranged Marriage?
A basic definition of marriage is a formal union of two people who choose each other as husband and wife in the eyes of a government or religious group. In an arranged marriage, the two individuals are selected for each other by their parents or other relatives. This type of marriage often broadens the relationship from an individual partnership and views the union as a joining of two groups rather than two people.
Prior to the 20th century, love-based marriage was not the norm in many cultures. Societies and cultures with a strong emphasis on family name and extended family practiced arranged marriage as a way to advance the whole family unit either financially, in social status, or in politics. Throughout history you see arranged marriages in royal families and common families during as far back as Biblical times according to the New World Encyclopedia. As people moved through each century these traditions carried on, but often also adopted new practices and procedures when societal thinking changed.
Distinct cultures and groups have different methods for choosing marriage partners which include different reasons of importance. While the concept may be hard to understand for those outside cultures choosing this style of marriage, it is important to note this is not the same concept as a forced marriage. Arranged marriages offer individuals the final say whereas forced marriages involve excessive coercion and may proceed with the union even when one individual does not consent or is under duress.
- Exchange – This involves two groups and two couples. One person from each couple is from group A and one person from each couple is from group B. There is usually a familial connection in the matching such as two men from different tribes marrying each other’s sisters.
- Diplomatic – Couples are formed based on political alliances. This has historically been done within royal families.
- Introduction – Parents find a good match for their child who is of marriage age and introduce the two. The couple is then left to define their own relationship and decide if the match is right.
- Modern – Parents choose several potential mates for their child then interview these potential matches and their families. The child then interacts with each potential mate and decides which to marry. As a way to help parents broaden their scope of potential mates, some choose to employ professional matchmakers. In India, these matchmakers are called marriage brokers and thrive in a market for marriage professionals raking in nearly $400 billion. These third party professionals keep databases filled with resumes and take some pressure off parents to find the perfect match for their child.
Arranged marriages are a common practice in world history says the New World Encyclopedia. There are a variety of good reasons why many groups have chosen this path.
- The flurry of emotions surround feelings of love can cloud judgement. This kind of marriage takes away this impulse and replaces it with a thoughtful approach to finding a good life mate.
- Parents, extended family, and other people important in an individual’s lives get the chance to be involved in this momentous decision, making it a less selfish choice. Also, those around you may know your strengths, weaknesses, and needs better than you do.
- Cultural traditions are preserved across time.
- They invite peace and harmony between two groups.
- Arranged marriages remove any stress involved in the dating process.
- Challenge individuals to find ways to work together and work out differences. Couples start from nothing and build a friendship then a lasting bond.
As with any relationship, there are no guarantees for happiness. While there are plenty of good reasons to go for it, there are also negative reasons for why it may not be your best choice. Occupytheory.org suggests the only way to make an informed decision before entering into an arranged marriage is to understand the benefits and potential issues.
- Incompatibility is possible and people may not feel free to leave unhealthy relationships.
- Pressures from family members or groups can cloud an individual’s freedom to make choices they feel are best for their life. In some cases, people who go against the marriage chosen for them could lose contact with family or affiliation with their group.
- Too many outside opinions and meddling in the relationship could be problematic for the couple in working out their own issues.
- Finances can play a negative role in arranged marriages if there is an expensive dowry involved which can leave a new couple in debt or if the individuals aren’t aware of each other’s financial situations prior to marriage.
- Developing a relationship takes a long time and marrying someone you hardly know sometimes comes with unclear expectations about things like sex.
Arranged Marriage Statistics
Statistics indicate arranged marriage is a modern practice around the globe. More than 26 million of these marriages take place each year on Earth. This accounts for just over 50 percent of worldwide marriages. The divorce rate for these couples is around 6 percent, which is significantly lower than divorce rates in Westernized countries, like America or England, who average 40-50 percent.
Despite cultural differences and opinions, one study found no differences in marital satisfaction between people living in arranged marriages in India and people in the U.S. living in free choice marriages. In terms of reproduction free choice marriages and arranged ones see little differences in the number of children born to a couple.
Arranged marriages do take place in America, but statistics are scarce because of the stigma associated with this type of marriage as it is often used interchangeably in the U.S. with forced marriage. While it is unclear how common arranged marriage is exactly, statistics do show this practice is common across generations in religious groups like Orthodox Jewish, Islamic, and Amish living in America. This traditional practice embraces old-world ideals and helps groups maintain a cultural identity. In one study of Indian-American couples, about half of respondents said their marriage was arranged and these couples reported the same levels of love and commitment as couples who chose their own mate based on love.
Part of the explanation for success and happiness in America is because, in general, western cultures exhibit a more modern approach to these unions. The parents help choose mates, but the man and woman to be married always have choices and the final say according to Brides Magazine.
As with many types of marriage, there is a segment of the U.S. population who practice forced marriage under the guise of arranged marriage. Unchained at Last reports between 2000-2010 nearly 250,000 children under age 18 were married in the U.S. Although the minimum age to marry in most states is 18, almost all states allow parental consent to marriage for minors. Child marriage is rare in the U.S., but is considered inhumane as long as it exists at all, like in states where it is most common such as Southern and Western states.
In Nigeria, arranged marriages are common, especially in rural areas. In a true arranged marriage there the union starts with an introduction ceremony where the two families gather so the man can formally ask for the woman’s hand in marriage and offer a dowry. Then the families gather for an engagement ceremony where the woman formally accepts the proposal. These ceremonies take place over the course of a few days with the wedding ceremony directly after.
Although proper arranged marriages do exist, statistics indicate forced marriages are the norm in rural impoverished areas. As one of the world’s most impoverished countries, Niger uses forced marriages of child brides to provide money for the family. Estimates suggest 75 percent of girls are married before ages 18. Other areas of Africa see similar statistics with some of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. In the Central African Republic and Chad about 70 percent of girls are married before age 18.
Indian culture embraces arranged marriage as a way for parents to help their children find the best possible mate. In India, nearly 90 percent of marriages are arranged. What’s most interesting is the divorce rate for this country largely consisting of arranged marriage couples sits around 1 percent.
A typical arrangement starts when parents begin to screen potential mates for their child through networking, advertisements, and even online services. The two are introduced at a family gathering then have the chance to court with chaperones for a few days. After the brief courtship, each person then decides if they want to move forward with the relationship or not. While some might argue this practice is popular for older generations, approximately 75 percent of young Indian people say they would choose arranged marriage over free choice marriage.
A Bonding Experience
Arranged marriages allow young people the opportunity to make an important life decision with the help of their friends and family. All marriages have challenges, advantages, and disadvantages and these types of marriages are no different.
Countries Where Arranged Marriages are Common
An arranged marriage can be understood as a system according to which the parents or eldest male members of two families proceed through various stages of negotiations and eventually arrange the marriage of the girl and the boy from their respective families. The defining aspect of an arranged marriage is that it is accepted by the spouses as a practical partnership rather than a match based purely on romantic love. In this sense of the term, arranged marriages were practiced in most parts of the world in the past. However with the rise of individualism and a weakening of traditional communities, the practice fell out of favor in Western and other developed societies. However even today arranged marriages are common in countries which largely follow a traditional social model.
In India, all decisions pertaining to the marriage, beginning from the choice of a partner to the date and economics of wedding are taken by the elders of the respective families. Traditionally this would be the eldest male member of the extended family of the groom and bride with senior ladies being consulted privately. This is slightly different from the older arranged marriages in western societies where it would be the father of the boy or girl and not the entire kin-group measuring the desirability of a potential match. The other defining characteristics of Indian arranged marriages are the importance of caste. Arranged marriages in India strictly adhere to religious and caste regulations. Both the partners must not only belong to the same religion but also to the same caste and preferably follow compulsions of sub-castes as well. It is the primacy of the caste regulations that differentiate Indian arranged marriages from those which used to exist in aristocratic Western societies in the previous centuries. While the Western model gave supreme importance to religion, lineage and class, Indian arranged marriages traditionally depended on keeping the caste lines intact. Even now an arranged marriage is fixed in same caste groups with inter-caste marriages still being restricted to love marriages. Other traits of arranged marriages in India like negotiations regarding dowry, the role of the matchmaker, the bias towards patriarchy and matching of horoscopes in found in many traditional Oriental cultures as well.
This is another country from the Indian subcontinent that largely follows the system of arranged marriages, backed by Sharia law which prohibits women from marrying without parental consent. Here the system of arranged marriage is based on Islamic teachings in the Quran that require fathers to protect their daughters, which has been interpreted as advocating arranged marriages. Interestingly even though the Muslim-majority Pakistan is widely different in religious terms from Hindu-majority India, in both countries arranged marriages are the norm. This can be taken as an indication that arranged marriage is more of a socio-cultural and particularly a patriarchal phenomenon rather than being a characteristic of any particular religion. In Pakistan, several types of arranged marriage exist. In certain tribal regions and rural areas there is a custom known as “Pait Likkhi”. This involves two families agreeing to marry their children while they are still infants, or even before they are born. The actual marriage takes place when groom and bride are in their late teens or adults. Then there is the “Watta satta” which in Urdu literally means “give-and-take” and involves the custom of exchange brides between two clans. In order for a family to arrange a marriage for their son, they must also have a daughter to be married in return. If there is no sister to exchange in return for a son’s spouse, a cousin or more distant relative is also accepted.
Arranged marriages are also common in other countries which follow Sharia or Islamic law as the basis of their legal system like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman.
Among the Oriental societies, Japan is one of those countries where the system of arranged marriages continues to be practiced. By the end of the twentieth century in Japan, approximately 30 percent of marriages continued to be the traditional arranged marriages called omiai. One of the most important figures in Japanese arranged marriages is that of the ‘nakodo’ who can be considered both a formal matchmaker and a more informal “go-between”. After the nakodo initiates a match, the prospective bride and groom meet and decide if they are suitable for each other. The parents are usually present at the first meeting. The couple continues to meet socially over a period of time before deciding to marry.
Modern China moved away from the system of arranged marriages with the ushering in of communism and its impact on all social and cultural institutions of the country. Yet arranged marriages continue to be practiced in many rural areas of China which have been relatively untouched by new political philosophies. Even in semi-urban areas today, Chinese men and women follow arranged marriages with a twist – they usually choose their own life partners and then their respective families take over. The groom’s parents usually investigate the reputation and lineage of the bride’s family. According to traditional Chinese pre-wedding rituals, a meeting takes place for the families to meet, usually with the bride and groom present. The bride’s family takes this opportunity to ask about the status and wealth of the groom’s family so as to ensure that their daughter will be treated well. If the parents are not happy about the background of the other family, the wedding may not even take place. If both families accept the match, the wedding and engagement negotiations continue according to traditional customs. In China it is the primacy of family negotiations and observance of traditional rituals that are more characteristic of arranged marriages rather than inability to choose one’s own life partner.
In orthodox Jewish communities, a version of arranged marriages known as Shidduch is practiced. According to the prospective groom and bride are introduced to each other by family or community elders and then they are allowed to get to know each other or even date in the modern sense. In communities that uphold this perspective today, dating is reserved for the purpose of finding a suitable marriage partner. In other words, dating just to have fun or to meet people, is against Jewish law. Even in contemporary, non-Orthodox families, it is expected of young Jewish singles to date only for the purpose of marriage and procreation.
Love is in the air
To westerners who put a lot of emphasis on love and marriage or shall we say love before marriage love is the only thing you need to be happy. But for societies who believe that arranged marriages will flourish and endure forever, love, at least for the time being, can take the back seat.
Arranged Marriages: Fact # 1
Arranged marriages are viewed as a social and economic necessity, the terms of which are agreed upon by the families of the future groom and bride. The question of whether the bride and groom are in love is not a priority; what’s important is that the marriage is stable with staying power.
Point of clarification: indeed, love makes the world go round. We all want to be madly and passionately in love. But just because arranged marriages are not premised exclusively on love, it doesn’t mean that it does not exist in the relationship. It may be born on day 1 of the marriage or can grow after a few years. We should not be misled by the notion that spouses in arranged marriages have no say about their partners. In some countries the man or woman can refuse a selected spouse. Because consent by both is imperative, who is to say that love does not or cannot exist?
Arranged Marriages: Fact # 2
Arranged marriages are an accepted practice in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Japan and India, Bangladesh and some Muslim/Islam countries. Arranged marriages have another name: Sheri and Bob Tritof also call them pragmatic marriages. They are successful traditions in many cultures. Although no statistics are available to prove it, about 60 to 80 percent of arranged marriages in Afghanistan are of the forced kind. This means that the consent of the marrying parties does not carry any weight. Of that percentage, many succeed.
Point of clarification: it is unfortunate that arranged marriages are taken in a negative light by western societies. This is attributed to a lack of knowledge about the whole concept of arranged marriages. Not all these marriages are forced. Parents ensure that their sons and daughters are satisfied with their parents’ choices. The children’s consent is vital, and should a prospective partner be refused, parents will simply have to find another suitable choice. A courtship period is also allowed by certain cultures, and in more modern societies like India, the couple is encouraged to go out on dates so they can get to know each other better.
Arranged Marriages: Fact # 3
Sadly, it is a fact that despite the few and isolated stories covered by the media of young women being forced into marriages, there are equally, if not more, successful arranged marriages. The argument is that because parents know their children best and have the wisdom and wherewithal to select the best candidate, the marriage will benefit from the support and encouragement of their elders and hence will be durable and permanently. There are significantly fewer divorces or separations between people of arranged marriages.
Point of clarification: we need to be careful about taking arranged marriages from the perspective of the divorce rate. It is true that only a few arranged marriages end in divorce, but is the reason really the arranged marriage itself or the fact that in more traditional and conservative societies, people usually don’t get divorced anyway and stay within the marriage hoping to work things out.
Arranged Marriages: Fact # 4
The general belief is that arranged marriages in Muslim religions are very restrictive and encroach on the personal freedoms of women. This belief is a little erroneous because in many Muslim countries, the consent of both parties is required and couples must ‘see each other’ before marriage but must never be left alone, unsupervised. There is a dowry involved (like in India) and four witnesses are needed (two males and two females).
Point of clarification: Muslim religions believe consent is important; however, it discourages modern western practices such as dating, living-in and long courtships.
Arranged Marriages: Fact # 5
Arranged marriages also exist in China and Indonesia and in cultures where Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism are the predominant religions. Again, couples do not date. They may spend 15 minutes meeting each other and then wed in a few months, as reported by Del Jones in a USA Today article dated February 2006.
Point of clarification: Keo Mony wrote that the Buddhist culture in Cambodia dictates that it is the sacred duty of parents to marry off their children to good families. Arranged marriages have survived to this day, thanks to the pervasive influence of religion and tradition. In Cambodia, children are expected to repay their gratitude to their parents for finding them suitable partners. Fulfilling one’s marital obligations is one of way repaying that gratitude. The rituals and protocol of arranged marriages may vary from one country to another and from one religion to the next.
In rural parts of China, arranged and semi-arranged marriages are still common, although the Chinese government introduced a new Marriage Law in 1980 setting the legal for women (20) and men (22) to marry. The law confirmed the government’s approval for free-choice marriage, right to divorce, and the abolition of child marriages. The free-choice marriage is limited to urban centers.
No one will argue that there are more than five facts regarding arranged marriages but we have mentioned the more common ones. These facts could be skewed depending on the country and the religion so that what may be true in say Sri Lanka may not necessarily apply to Bangladesh.
Remember too that arranged marriages are also practiced in western societies, especially among royalty and the aristocratic classes. You may be aware that the marriage of the Prince of Wales and Diana Spencer was in a way arranged, since Queen Elizabeth had no doubt screened several women and assessed their potential to be the wife of Prince Charles. Decades before that, King Edward had to abdicate his throne because he married a divorced American commoner.
Family Life: Arranged marriages remain a tradition in some cultures
M. Felix Ramirez: Family Life
This world is full of many traditions spread across many cultures.
There are not many traditions my husband and our family take part in or celebrate. We used to hide the Christmas presents so the kids thought that Santa came during the night, but as they got older and wiser, that tradition stopped. Of course, we still honor the traditions of Thanksgiving dinner, opening gifts at relatives’ homes on Christmas Eve and opening presents on Christmas Day at our home.
As far as traditions go, there isn’t much more than those in which we participate. I know I have friends who celebrate many different traditions as part to their cultural beliefs and I enjoy the things they share with me on Facebook.
Speaking of cultural traditions, I have a friend who is Pakistani and he is about to embark on a journey that I would personally not have the guts to do. He is part of an arranged marriage.
Arranged marriages are a tradition going way back in history, an old tradition that is still in practice today. According to Wikipedia.com, the bride and groom usually do not meet prior to the wedding day, with any talk between them akin to small talk. This form of marriage is considered traditional, but is losing popularity among the newer generations. There are two other types of arranged marriages, but this is the type in which my friend will take part.
I asked my friend a few questions and he was more than forthcoming with his answers.
When asked if he was excited or nervous, my friend explained he is a bit nervous since he does not know his fiancee’s family. He explained he was only sort of excited because his father had died suddenly last year, which was a huge blow. He wanted to delay the marriage, but his family wanted to push forward with the plans as they were already underway before the death of his father.
My friend is almost 30 years old. He waited longer than most do in his culture as he wanted to be able to establish himself and be independent of his parents prior to marriage. It was for those reasons that he didn’t agree to getting married young. He is the youngest in the family and when it came time to choose his bride, he was afforded more freedom when making the choice.
The expectations after marriage are for him to be respectful to both families and to be supportive of his new wife. At the end of the day, his mother wants to see him happy with life. His siblings all had arranged marriages and they are all happy. Of course, he was quick to mention that there are ups and downs in any marriage.
In some arranged marriages, there is a dowry, but the details of this arranged marriage will remain a secret within the family, so out of respect for my friend’s traditions, I didn’t poke any further. Also, the details of the dowry are written in the marriage contract.
The ceremony itself can last up to three days, but my friend’s wedding will take two days. There is one day for the bride and one day for the groom. Within those days, there are various functions he will get to experience for the first time as a groom. After marriage, they could start having children right away if they so choose.
As for where they will live after marriage, he says definitely the USA. Cheers to them!
M. Felix Ramirez is a resident of Fairfield. She writes a weekly column that focuses on family issues and is published in the Daily Republic.
We rarely recognise our own prejudices and so it takes something significant to open our eyes. The challenge to my fixed views started with a call from my husband’s boss. “Can you come and collect a box of your husband’s stuff from the office?” he asked. “We’re swapping desks, you see.”
We were recently married and my new husband was away on business. This was a strange request not least because we lived in Guildford, Surrey and his office in Twickenham in south-west London wasn’t exactly around the corner. I responded with the sensible suggestion that the stuff be left under his new desk and that on return from his business trip, he could bring it home himself. “But,” said my husband’s boss, “there are confidential things like cheque books. We don’t really want to leave it here.”
“Fine,” I said and set off by car to collect the box. Back at home, I placed it in the hall thinking nothing of it until later in the day. In the evening, I lifted off the lid and at the top was a cheque book, just as I had been told. It was what lay underneath that would change my life irreversibly in ways I could never have foreseen.
Although we had met at university, there was nothing else predictable about us. He was German and had been brought up in Australia. His commitment to the idea of us was such that not only did he choose to live in the UK, but he converted to Islam to marry me. And what a wedding. We celebrated in a French chateau high on a hill among chequered fields lined with grapevines. Every detail was perfect. The dress, the speeches, even the wedding meal, which went on for hours and included an assortment of delicious hand-selected vegetables picked that morning from the chateau gardens. Afterwards, we flew to the Maldives for an idyllic honeymoon on an island no bigger than the chateau in which we were married.
So what had I to fear? In the box, underneath the cheque book was a letter. It was handwritten, addressed to my husband care of his office and revealed that he was involved with another woman.
After this discovery, there was, I confess, nearly a bunny boiler episode during which I confronted my husband over the phone, cross examining him on every detail. I structured it as a form of entrapment during which at first I didn’t reveal the fact I knew everything. Great practice for a trainee lawyer. (Tip for soon-to-be-divorcees – don’t do this!) And then there was the call to the woman to let her know her boyfriend is married. She didn’t know. (Tip for soon-to-be-divorcees – do this!)
By the time the divorce was final, I had lost all faith in romantic love. It was, in my estimation, an illusion arising from indoctrination by endless romantic movies and children’s fairytales. I threw myself into my legal career.
I wonder if it possible to want something and not want it with equal and opposite force? I didn’t want to live my life alone and had always wanted children. And the idea of remaining unmarried was also virtually unacceptable for girls from my cultural and religious background. We were taught from early childhood the sacred importance of creating and maintaining family bonds, and that the breaking of a family bond is to cut yourself off from the mercy of God.
After some years, I landed a great new job and decided to take a break before starting. I had always wanted to learn more about my heritage and family and a trip with my mother to visit my grandmother in Pakistan seemed like the perfect way to do this. I decided to interview her. I took recording equipment and prepared my questions carefully. As I had a limited grasp of the language, I also knew that recording the interviews would enable me to get help translating the answers I didn’t fully understand.
The trip was amazing and my grandmother was an inspiration. She took to the idea of being recorded with relish. She even read out poems she had written in between my questions. The interviews took place each morning for about an hour. Afterwards, my mother and I would visit relatives, shop in the amazing marketplaces of Lahore and enjoy delicious freshly made curries with chapattis and rice. On street corners, for pennies, we bought paw paws the size of watermelons, thought nothing of eating 50 satsumas between us in one sitting and enjoyed endless hours of chatting and togetherness with friends and family.
About a week into our visit, when relatives arrived to see us, I noticed a strange man in the corner of the living room. He was wearing a shirt that was about two sizes too small for him and a fixed grin he directed towards the coffee table between us. He was introduced by my uncle by name, but nothing more. More such men started appearing randomly at restaurants and gatherings. They would come and join us at the table or hover near a wall, like the tall man who was directed to sit next to me at a takatak restaurant (the name is onomatopoeic from the sound of the cooking process. Curries are chopped rhythmically as they are cooking on giant circular hotplates by men wielding what look like wallpaper strippers in each hand). I attempted a conversation with that particular man, but he didn’t reply. He smiled and looked away with every question I asked, like a shy child.
And then there was the man who was the spitting image of the subway ghost in the movie Ghost. I discovered these meetings were my grandmother’s attempt at arranging a marriage for me. I wasn’t fazed. I was a strong, independent woman. I could handle this. I explained politely that I wasn’t interested in an arranged marriage. I had so little in common with someone brought up in Pakistan and, anyway, the minimum requirement for me, if I were to be fussy, was the ability to thread words together to form a sentence. However, I understood my mother and grandmother meant well, so I went along with these strange, uncomfortable meetings.
Both my grandmother and mother had had arranged marriages, which is hardly surprising. They were born and brought up in India and Pakistan and that was they way things were done. My grandmother had never even set eyes on her husband before their wedding day. She told me she was so keen to get a glimpse of her husband-to-be that she climbed on to an upside-down bucket in the bathroom and peered out of a small window as he left. I, on the other hand, considered myself to be modern British Asian and there was no need for that archaic practice any more. I would meet Mr Right myself and things would be wonderful.
Except they weren’t. Mr Right had been anything but.
The day before we were due to leave Lahore, a friend of the family came to visit the relative with whom we were staying. He and his son – a young, handsome, intelligent man – were unaware that my mother and I were visiting from London so were thrilled to be meeting us. His son walked over from the other side of the living room and introduced himself. He sat beside me and we spoke about my time in Lahore, my life in London, the business he had started and much more. I noticed my grandmother’s eyes on us from the corner of the room. When his father indicated it was time to leave, he asked if I would mind if he emailed me. Without hesitating, I noted down my email address and we exchanged telephone numbers. As he left, he smiled at me. A smile that held nothing back (my sister would later refer to it as his “winning smile”).
Almost as soon as we landed back in London, my grandmother had already discussed the possibility of marriage with the family friend and a proposal was made. A few months later, Kamran and I were married.
Before getting married, I felt conflicted. I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing, but I decided to challenge my fears and reservations and dive in.
The wedding took place over several days. It was colourful and loud with bhangra dancing and great urns of the most delicious food. Afterwards, we travelled several hours to Murree for our honeymoon, a stunning town in the foothills of the Himalayas. From the balcony of the hotel, we could see clouds below us in the valley.
Marrying in this way was the best decision I have ever made. Now I see an arranged marriage as more of an introduction service, like online dating.
We now have two sons and are very much soulmates. I cannot imagine my life with anyone else and it is amazing to think this all came about from a willingness to open my mind to an alternative possibility.
I realise now that the rigid views we hold can limit our lives. It isn’t easy to recognise them and harder still to change them. I had always understood this from my work as a discrimination lawyer, but it took these extremes of life experiences to finally break down my beliefs about how to find a life partner and, hopefully, a match made in heaven.
• Set Me Free by Hina Belitz is published by Headline Review, £7.99. To order a copy for £6.55, go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call the Guardian Bookshop on 0330 333 6846
Why I Risked an Honor Killing to Reject an Arranged Marriage
Do not fall in love with somebody who does not belong to our caste. Of all the rules I had to follow as a girl, this was the most important.
I was born in a small town in Haryana, India. I was taught to be obedient and to say yes to everything my parents asked me to do. This three letter word defined my life.
The day I reached puberty, the perspective of people around me suddenly changed. It started with people telling me not to play with boys anymore. I said yes, I won’t play because I want to be an obedient girl. This yes followed me like a ghost everywhere, every day. But my soul never agreed.
Relatives would advise my parents to lock me inside the house to show me my right place in the kitchen. They never forgot to remind me that I could not even think of a marriage built on love. Family friends would advise my parents to quickly have me married so that I would not be their responsibility anymore.
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I live in a state where the ratio of girls to boys is 873 females for every 1,000 males. This is the result of parents illegally determining the sex of the baby in the womb and aborting if it’s a girl. I live in a state where “honor killing” is widespread. I grew up reading stories in newspapers about parents who killed their own children to protect their honor. And I belong to a caste that has always valued protecting the community and traditions over a family member’s feelings, emotions, and decisions.
Whenever I tried to gather the courage to say no, I was labeled stubborn and disobedient. The girls around me were saying yes. The only rebels I remember who said no to their parents were outcast by society, their friends, and even their families. I wanted to be the best girl and a good example. Eventually, I became a “yes girl.”
But as I got older, my soul battled with that yes. I started to listen and say no. No rewarded me with some of the best things in my life: my graduation, my job and my independent life miles away from home. But I knew there was still one hard rule I could never break: Do not fall in love with somebody who does not belong to our caste.
The more you fear something, the bigger it appears in your life. Eventually, my worst nightmare came true—I fell in love, and the man of my dreams was from the wrong caste.
When I met him, I was still meeting boys for an arranged marriage because I wanted to be the yes girl and follow the rule book. That feeling of being in a stranger’s house where you are being judged still scares me. Sometimes the mother would touch me because she wanted to check my skin and hair. Those meetings were nothing less than a terrifying flea market.
I was 23 when I met my soul mate. I could see he had so much love in his heart and support for my ambitions. But my mind would never fail to remind me of the consequences of even thinking of us being together.
I was afraid I was inviting chaos and breaking my parent’s hearts, that I was risking my own life. What I wanted is the most beautiful feeling on this planet: love. And it’s what I deserve.
It’s not that my parents didn’t love me. But, I think they had learned to love that “yes girl.” My soul mate was the first person who ever asked me, “What is your dream?” I had no answer. I didn’t know I was allowed to have a dream. And if I had a dream, I didn’t know I could talk openly about it.
With that one question, my inner soul cried tears of joy. My soul was yelling, say yes to him. After a long two-year battle between my soul and my head, I finally said yes to marriage, knowing that this yes would mean saying no to my family and community.
I somehow collected my strength and broke the news to my family. I still remember the moment I told them. The lights in the room started flickering. I was scared to death because I couldn’t even see their reaction. I was preparing myself to be hit. My heart still races when I think of those fearful flickering minutes of my life.
My parents didn’t hit me. Instead, they warned me that they would go and kill him. I answered, “You need to kill me first.” They put me under house arrest and would not allow me to go back to work. Every day I would wake up to the words that their biggest mistake in life was to educate me. This hurt deeply. Every hour of every day, I would negotiate. “Please let me go back to my job,” I’d say. “My professional life has nothing to do with my personal life.”
One day, after promising that I loved them and would never do anything to bring them shame, my family finally allowed me to leave. I was back to work, thankful to God that I was in one piece, but filled with so many fearful thoughts.
This battle to get one yes from my parents went on for four more years. They stopped talking to me. They warned me that they would disown me if I married him. Every time they threatened or warned me, I would leave everything and travel two days by train just to hug them and tell them I loved them. They fired every warning and threat at me that they could.
I felt hurt every single time and felt like giving up on them. But I believed they loved me, and they just needed to believe that they would be okay and society would also be OK if I married the man I love. My soul mate joined me in showering love on my parents. He started sending them flowers and cards with handwritten notes.
It took four years, but this one no to my parents has changed my life completely. My parents finally said yes. Because my parents finally supported me, society followed.
Now, everyone accepts us. So many people tell me they have never met such an outstanding person as the man I love. Our wedding was the most joyful wedding in our family. We have opened the doors for all my sisters and friends. They now know that it’s okay to get married to the one you love.
There are laws now against honor killing in our state, but do you think those laws are what stopped my family from killing me? No. It’s the love and support of people around us that allowed our family to take a bold step and be an example for others. We need to say no to societal laws and yes to implementing governmental laws.
My story changed completely the day I said no to the environment I grew up in; the day I said no to all my worst fears; the day I said no to an arranged life partner and yes to my life. If every single girl learns to stand up for herself and say no to what she doesn’t feel is right for her future—the whole dynamics of her future can change.
Upasana Chauhan is a contributor from India. This piece was originally published on World Pulse. Sign up to get international stories of women leading social change delivered to your inbox every month here.
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