“I do”, If You Say So

By Karam Johal

Does the term “arranged marriage” have such barbaric and primitive implications that one can only be met with horrified faces and noises of protest upon mentioning it? It must, because that’s the reaction I get every time. Not about myself, of course, but about every adult family member in my parents’ generation.

I spent a large part of my typically self-righteous teenage years not understanding the decisions that my parents make, but this one takes the cake. Not only did my mother marry and move in with a complete stranger, but she did so knowing she would have to move across the world to do so. I think this is pretty extraordinary, but apparently it was typical among the several other women in my family that did the exact same thing.

Not all arranged marriages are as life-altering, of course. Nor are they all as long-lasting. So what are the motivations to agree to one?

It is said that people do crazy things for love. I find it hard to believe there is much love for one’s arranged fiance prior to the wedding, but there has got to be some intense love for one’s parents.

An AP World History teacher of mine once comforted me with the idea that the exams we take in high school are trivial compared to the rest of the tests life will throw at you, and he was adamant that the greatest test of all is choosing who to marry. I didn’t trust my parents’ advice when it came to studying for the SAT, and I thought that was a pretty important test. I know several people, however, who trusted their parents with “the greatest test of all.” Was that out of love for their parents? Or was it something else?

In many cultures that still practice arranged marriages, fear of  upsetting or embarrassing one’s parents is a prominent motivator in all aspects of life. For most people, earning a high grade point average, getting a good job and especially finding a significant other bring thoughts of how mom and dad will take it. But how many people in our generation would place the greatest decision of their lives in their parents’ hands?

Then again, they’ve made most of our other major decisions. They have raised us, sent us to school, set curfews and boundaries and handed out punishments. In many households, parents have control over their children’s lives for the first 18 years. Is another major decision after that really so different?

Perhaps the terms of an arranged marriage have evolved. In my grandmother’s day, she was married by 14 and went off to begin her duties as a wife by age 16. Lets fast-forward to 60 years later, and now my cousins are getting married with mere “approval” from their parents at age 30. Today, I see more “facilitated” marriages than arranged ones, in which parents and offspring come to a mutual decision about who should join the family and often with a lot more arguing and disrespect toward the parents than there was 60 years ago.

But do these marriages last? Vowing to share a lifetime with someone you don’t know is a pretty risky thing, but it appears to work out more often than not. Perhaps these people whose arranged marriages last are simply so dedicated to their culture and family that they will not break an alliance, despite marital troubles. Maybe sometimes it’s easier to let the hardest decisions be made for you. Maybe choosing your own partner is just as risky as having no say in the matter.

Perhaps sometimes, our parents really do  know what’s best for us — no matter how much we may begrudge them for it.