Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Arranged Marriages

Phone call, last Tuesday.  It's my husband, "[Here is the part of the conversation you don't give a damn about].  Oh, and by the way," he says in a suspiciously casual tone, "I got a call from X, and he said he might be getting married on Saturday, so you should probably reschedule dinner with [our friends who most likely wish to remain anonymous]."  

"Might be getting married?"  

It turns out that Mr. X has been e-mailing a young lady in Dubai for the past few months, she had accompanied her parents to Florida this past week, and this young lady and Mr. X went out for coffee.  Before the frozen frappuccinos they ordered at Barnes and Noble could get all slushy, they were engaged to be married for the day after tomorrow.  

Welcome to the world of arranged marriages, kindly leave your notions regarding prolonged courtship at the door.

Truth be told, I'm no stranger to arranged marriages, at least if one counts my experience as one of association.  My parents' marriage was arranged, as was my sister's (sort of), many of my aunts and uncles, cousins, and, of course, friends.  So, the fact that Mr. X's nuptials were of the arranged persuasion was not what floored me.  I was more surprised by the speed.  Coffee on Tuesday, wedding on Saturday.

Interestingly, this express train to marital bliss is actually not entirely unusual in the world of arranged marriages.  I suppose having grown up in the West, I'm supposed to take the position that this sort of arrangement is archaic and perhaps a little oppressive, but I don't.

I've thought long and hard about the issue of arranged marriages, and, in all truth, it's fine by me.  (Yes, dear friends, you may go forth now in the world and happily engage in arranged marriages now that you have the coveted "Faiqa's seal of approval"!).  

The courtship phase between my husband and I lasted almost four years.  Nothing that I learned in those four years prepared me for the arguments, letdowns or blind rages that are intrinsic in any marriage.  In fact, I would go so far as to argue that the longer the courtship, the more pronounced the lie becomes that you actually know the person you are going to marry. Our prolonged courtship did, of course, afford us the advantage of being friends long before we were husband and wife.  And, I suppose, that the adamant pursuit to preserve that friendship certainly preserved our marriage on some certainly rough occasions.  

But back to arranged marriages and my pithy defense of them.  Some people argue that marriage is just a piece of paper.  I don't agree that it is just that.  Marriage is a contract, a legally binding one at that. When two people enter into this legal contract, they are, consciously or not, authenticating the superculture which has, in fact, imposed this contract upon them.  They are accepting that being someone's wife or someone's husband is defined by entities outside of the two of them.  This overtly extends to financial obligations, but insidiously refers to other BS such as who is supposed to do the dishes and who takes out the trash.  (Everyone knows husbands are supposed to take out the trash.)  

The problematic nature of a marriage that is not arranged, then, rears itself when legally married people exhibit an unwillingness to adhere to their superculture's definition of marriage.  (Why does my Mac keep underlining superculture as a typo?  Did I just make up that word?).  

Those of us who do not have arranged marriages often want to redefine what it means to be a husband or a wife.  Everything is negotiable: is it, in fact, until death do us part, and in sickness and in health?  Do I have to call your parents mom and dad?  What do you mean you're not changing your last name?  I'm not implying that this renegotiation should not be done, all I am saying is that it is potentially problematic.  (Personally, Faiqa Khan is all for renegotiation).

In the most perfect sense, an arranged marriage, in which both parties are willing participants, fully acknowledges the cultural parameters of marital definitions.  Everybody knows their part in this play, and there is likely to be little improvisation.  

Some people actually like that.  Some people like to know exactly where they stand, what is expected of them and that they can hold others accountable to a prescribed set of obligations and behaviors.  Furthermore, while those of us who did not have arranged marriages have the friendship created before our marriage to save us from our incessant bickering, individuals who have opted for arranged marriage have entire families devoted to the preservation of their marriage.  Why should we raise our unarranged marriage eyebrows at that?

As a disclaimer, I have to mention that I am firmly opposed to the arranged marriage of children and unwilling participants.  But then again, I am firmly opposed to the unarranged marriages of the same parties.  

And another thing... a lot of people like to catch hold of the idea that arranged marriages bear particularly oppressive upon the women involved in those marriages.  I'd like to counter that, barring a "forced" marriage, which is an entirely different entity than an arranged marriage, I don't think arranged marriages are any more oppressive than plain old marriages.  I'm sure that any married woman who gets her legs waxed would be inclined to agree with me.

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Blogger Avitable said...

Wow, quite a stance you're taking there. I just don't understand the concept of arranged marriages. I see a marriage as an agreement between two people to love each other, and I can't see how you can arrange something like that.

Additionally, I don't want either of our families poking their noses in our business, but if the families have a stake in the marriage, they arguably have a right to impose judgment or their will on the relationship in some capacity.

Tuesday, 29 July, 2008  
Anonymous Faiqa said...

Of course, you're feelings are 100% understandable.

I like to get cosmic with the concept of love. I believe that all human beings love each other, that they are created that way to begin with. As we mature, we stop loving the people we don't understand (this philosophy extends beyond marriage btw). So, if two people, whose marriage is arranged make a commitment to understand one another from the get-go, the love should just follow naturally.

Let's face it, the world is filled with divorced people who loved each other when they got married. The dissolution comes from lack of understanding and respect. Of course, love is essential and undeniably an important facet of marriage. However, there can be no love without understanding and respect. I think these come first.

Tuesday, 29 July, 2008  
Blogger Avitable said...

As a pessimist and a cynic, I think that everybody sucks unless I personally vet them, so I can't really see the "all humans love each other" concept. But I can see that if you believe that, you could approve of an arranged marriage.

Of course, I agree with you completely that understanding and respect are fundamental to a successful marriage, along with love.

Tuesday, 29 July, 2008  
Anonymous Faiqa said...

long live the pessimists and the cynics. without them, life would be one, long, unbearable infomercial.

Tuesday, 29 July, 2008  
Blogger Tariq said...

It's been a few years since I read/heard about this topic. Both 'arrangements' have their advantages and disadvantages and anybody that completely ignores the 'pluses' of either one of them is just too narrow minded. The points that stood out for me are that in an arranged marriage, each member of the family knows his/her role which provides much needed structure. However, in a non-arranged marriage, friendship and love prevail!

Thursday, 31 July, 2008  
Anonymous Faiqa said...

Tariq- Nobody could have arranged for someone better than me for you, anyway. And the same goes for me. Thank you for the compulsory comment.

Thursday, 31 July, 2008  
Anonymous Mae East said...

All humans may start out loving each other, but all love is not the same.

Do you love your father in the same manner that you love your husband?

Of course not.

What is required for marriage is sexual chemistry, over and above the friendship and more universal aspects of love.

All human beings do not possess sexual chemistry with all other human beings.

Friday, 22 August, 2008  
Anonymous Faiqa said...

mae east- true, all love is different. but, i am discussing arranged marriage in the context of when those who are going to be married actually meet one another before the marriage is arranged. and, i've been to enough night clubs and college parties in my lifetime to know that "sexual chemistry" takes even less time to develop than romantic love.

Friday, 22 August, 2008  
Anonymous Mae East said...

I count "romantic love" under the category of "sexual chemistry".

Perhaps my wording is not clear, but what I was getting at is that in order for a marriage to be successful (happy), you have to not be grossed out by the idea of having sexual contact with your spouse.

Call it sexual chemistry, romantic love, or whatever. You have to be able to be turned on by them, not turned off.

While I agree with you that all other things being equal, (such as language, culture, the basic things that parents who arrange marriages for their kids usually take into consideration), yes, it is possible to build some sort of love relationship (friendship) with practically anyone we meet.

But mating is something entirely different. Mating (successfully) requires an added one or two more components.

I know arranged marriage couples who are miserable because they NEVER had ANY sexual chemistry between them. No attraction on that level whatsoever. (gives rise to depression or infidelity, often both).

And I know arranged marriage couples who are happy as anything, but then there were sparks between them before they married, and that's why they agreed to go ahead with the arrangement.

It's important, this romance, chemistry, attraction, whatever you want to call it. It's important.

Monday, 01 September, 2008  
Blogger Faiqa said...

very well said mae. i agree.

Monday, 01 September, 2008  

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