Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Rearranging Marriage

I received news this morning that a good friend of mine in the Home Country got married. One day she was engaged, the next day she met the guy and that evening they were married. All within the space of three days.

As someone who grew up in that culture, this should not surprise me. Indeed, it didn't for a very long time. My own personal theory had been that if I didn't find someone by 25 I'd let my parents arrange my marriage. This was way before I knew what love was. Since I found love, I can't imagine anything worse than an arranged marriage. I can't imagine marrying someone I don't know who is just in it out of a sense of duty, who doesn't love me or know me.

Love is an overrated concept in my culture, almost embarrassing, somewhere dropped into the same box of other embarrassing things like sex and mini skirt wearing. It's a silly luxury that most people think will ruin your life. They say in my part of the world that a bride cries on her wedding day not because she is getting married and has to leave her home, but because she is mourning the secret love that can now never come to anything.

My culture is littered with love stories that come to nothing. Every single one of our folk legends circles around female protagonists who fell in love, earned the scorn of society and thus perished in some way or, more cruelly, had to live on after her lover was killed. They serve almost as a warning to future generations: loving of your own free will comes to nothing. Best listen to your parents. My type of relationship, where you chose your partner, is called a Love Marriage and is considered selfish and ridiculous.

I know for sure that me and my older sister who chose our own husbands are gossiped endlessly about back home. I know this because back in the day we did it too, despite our own parents choosing each other. That's how strong the mindset is.

I'm not saying arranged marriages are a terrible system. In my life at this moment I am surrounded by miserable couples who chose each other of their own free will. It's just that I feel like a life lived without love is such a waste, such a pity.

But then it's easy to walk down one path when you don't even know that the other one exists. Had I never discovered what it felt like to love someone enough to fight everything to be together, most probably I too would be walking down the other path. I had no idea I had such a great capacity to love another person, it took me totally by surprise. But it also meant that I was left astonished by how narrowly I escaped a life lived without such love. I had no expectations - I was happy to save my love for any children I might have.

This is the culture I grew up. This was how it was. We didn't question. And now I can't imagine anything more terrible.

I know what most girls in the Home Country are like, I was one of them. We carry around a lot of guilt and fear of intimacy. When I reflect on how many problems me and Mr Zeus had because of my mental restrictions, that too despite the fact that we loved each other and he worked so hard to help me, it makes me wonder and feel incredibly sad: how do you make love when there was no love that brought you together, not even lust, because us good Home Country girls aren't supposed to feel that either?

But then again I guess it comes down to not knowing any better.

I hope it all works out for my friend. The problem is that if it doesn't, as is often the case nowadays, you aren't paying the price for your mistake. You are paying the price for someone else's mistake.

I wanted so much for my girlfriends back home to fall in love and get married, like I did. But what are the chances when a society is so heavily stacked against you. It was only after falling in love that I realised I was surrounded by art, music, poetry, paintings, all dedicated to love, a thousand times more than all the other themes put together. I began to wonder if the meaning of life is love itself.

To not love and be loved back. What an incredible pity, be that an arranged marriage in Asia, a marriage of convenience in London or a shotgun marriage in Greece.


itelli said...

"Love is an overrated concept"

Full stop.

bollybutton said...

Oh itelli don't be bitter! Love is everything!

Anonymous said...

You must know some cases of arranged marriages that have resulted in a "love match" over time - of the four arranged marriages I know, three have become very strong love matches - the fourth, unfortunately, is in danger . . .

Psofofeggaro said...

You know, better be sorry for your mistakes than be sorry for not doing them :/
There are a lot of misserable couples around, yes, but they fit to that category. Our mothers and grannies, where somewhat married in a closely pattern like this having husbands been chosen by fammily, but having a illusion of "chosing" him, or better, "refusing", usually quiting sex when they had "done their duty", having kids that is.
I know what you mean, my maternal's side has pretty simmilar belifs too. I embaresed them much, and was forced to a mariage due to pregnancy at 18, but i know a lot of people around me envy me because we show how much we love each other.
when religion, social standards and parents get involved in your life, it never follows the path of happiness. :(

Anonymous said...

"The problem is that if it doesn't, as is often the case nowadays, you aren't paying the price for your mistake. You are paying the price for someone else's mistake."

Well said! I like this entry. :)

bollybutton said...

Hi anonymous, you are absolutely right, I know of such marriages too. I believe though that you can get used to anything given enough time. The few couples I know in the home country who adore each other and don't hide it are made fun off, and not just teased. They are ridiculed, as in "Oh my God! Look at her, she's just holding her husband's hand! In front of everybody!!" This is an actual conversation I heard last year back home about a couple.
Some arranged marriages do work out very well but that's a matter of statistics. Some fail miserably and the majority just get along in life, politely doing their duties. Imagine if you fall madly in love at 55 with someone, your one true love. I would feel furious that my entire life passed and now it was too late, when I could have loved someone like that all along if I had been allowed to.
Another argument for arranged marriages is that you have the support of your parents and elders to sort out any problems in the marriage. This is why I can't go to my Dad for advice if I ever need it, because he says you chose it so you deal with it.

In my opinion the whole system of arranged marriage is designed to exercise control. It's designed to keep adults as children. If you're not adult enough to know what's best for you (another argument - our parents know what's best for us ... even if we're 28!!) and to solve your own marital problems you should not be getting married anyway.

I appreciate comments on both sides of the argument though. Keep them coming. I wish all my generation in the Home Country would start refusing arranged marriages flat out. Maybe something would change.

Louise said...

Hi Bollybutton, I am a regular reader of your blog - but quiet on the commenting front. However, I have been thinking about your post yesterday and remember that Gandhiji once said "In the West people fall in love and then marry. In the East people marry and then fall in love." I don't know if he was trying to say one was better than the other.

My own opinion is that arranged marriages, if done the right way, have a lot to offer for a large section of the population (farmers in rural areas, very shy women, ordinary men and women who just have not met the person of their choice, older women who have been so busy with their lives, they did happen to meet someone - because a "love marriage" depends on the chance that you will meet that special someone somehow)

I had a "love marriage" myself - and am still very happy in that marriage. However, I know many many friends who have had arranged marriages and who are also very happy. Not one of them was rushed into marriage the way your friend seems to have been. Usually they meet the prospective groom, and his family, and in many cases, might even be allowed to go out with him at least once on their own. If they don't like him, most educated parents will respect that and look further. (Admitedly, in some cases, there was more "pushing".)

Here in Greece, and in other European countries I have many single friends (mainly women) who would love to be married and have kids but cannot meet men. They are not the "Club loving" types, or are shy, or whatever. They would love for someone to arrange their marriages... that is why they join dating clubs - and basicially look for someone to introduce them to prospective men.... the same job their parents did.

Sesi said...

I love my husband very much. He loves me back, as far as I know. I could not even imagine living with a stranger in the same house, sleeping in the same bed! EW! Sharing a bathroom with a stranger?! EWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!
Sure, you might fall in love over time, but in my book, love is not something you do over time, it is something that hits you in the head hard.
Like when I met my husband, I instantly visualized us being old living in a cute little house.
You might get used to each other at best at arranged marriages, or grow a fondness or affection. But love? That's either there from day 1 or not.
I consider myself lucky to have married the man I fell in love with. We have had our ups and downs as everyone else, but in the core it is our love that keeps us together. The sense of illness you get when the other one is missing, you know what I'm talking about!

Louise said...

But not everyone is lucky enough to meet that one person that makes you feel sick when they are not with you.

It depends very much on the society you grow up in. In many societies girls and boys of 15-16 are "in love". In others parts of the world, girls and boys don't even mix....

And also for some people, love is something that you do over time.... (and for some falling out of love is also something you do over time.)

Cupid's bow does not strike us all in the same way.

smaro said...

Hi Bollybutton. I know I have arrived at this discussion quite belatedly, but a lot of it struck a chord with me.

As a teenager and even now when I am in a happy, wonderful relationship, I have always thought that marriage for love and romantic love was a luxury and a recent phenomenon in human history. I had an intense, short-lived bollywood story love affair with a turned out to be exhausting.

Arrangements of all sorts and for all sorts of reasons from aligning children to preserve wealth, aligning prestiguous family names, marriages of convenience, marriages arranged between cousins..all are things that I can accept because we take for granted our freedom to be able to choose who we love and to even experience what love is in this sense.

On the other hand, as some posts have said, some of us are never lucky enough to meet that person that we can't live without, whose love and existence in our lives makes everything life throws at us bearable, makes us better people or makes us wish to be better.

For me, I love wholeheartedly and quickly. I am loyal and I value friendship and the opportunity to be totally oneself, totally normal, casual and peaceful with someone sharing everyday life. The intense, hot relationship that some people may envision romantic love to entail is an added bonus to the mix, something that makes you appreciate each other and grow more in love with each other.

I too had intimacy issues that my wonderful boyfriend and I are working through. He too had issues. Previous girls had obviously searched for the more heated love and werent interested in the what else was there-the steady, supportive, unconditional love that I enjoy with him. I think that sort of love can be found just as easily in a partnership of arrangement or a partnership of choice. That I think is possibly the love that is envisaged when arranged marriages occur..the heat isnt the factor..the partnership is...