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Does the Arranged Marriage Work?

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Author: Uma Shankari

Article source: Used with author's permission.

You marry someone your parents arranged for you! How do you marry someone you don't know? Can it really work?" the American woman asked. She taught me editing and international reporting at the J school in Bangalore.

Ms.Susan Postlewaite, I'm addressing this to you.

The arranged marriages in India have evolved over the years and come in many shades. At one end of the spectrum we have marriages where parents force their decision, sometimes through tactical emotional pressure, without bothering to ask their children's opinion. At the other end, we have the liberal ones where the family is used merely as a networking resource for dating. In recent years Indian matchmaking has gone high-tech, and a number of marital websites have sprouted across the internet like,,,, and

Your question now. Yes, the arranged marriage can work. And the success rates? Quite high.

No, I won't base the conclusion on the lower divorce rates in India.

Because they do not tell the entire story - the story of increasing violence against women - educated and uneducated - who stick it out in a loveless marriage and brave the cruelties for the sake of children, having nowhere to go in a society which accepts the male domination as a natural order of things. Besides there are minefields specific to many Indian marriages, such as how to live in joint families and manage the expectations of not only the spouse, but the in-laws as well.

Instead I would focus on the proof-of-concept of arranged marriages and its dynamics in the present day India where the new breed of MBA-educated women are no longer prepared to be docile wives, yet they give the green signal to their parents to look for a potential partner.

In most progressive families the parents decide who gets through the initial vetting, but the final decision is the couple's. Some parents make material demands in the spousal search for their children who might consider such factors irrelevant and robbing the mystery and allure of the marriage. But many parents are cool - "I'm happy if you are happy" - so they do their bit, and the time-strapped children are happy to be relieved of the tedium. One is not allowed to take the time it takes to get to know someone, but has to decide on a deadline. The couple get married based on practical reasons, and work on building affection later. They look beyond trivial issues and get to know one another at first on a practical level alone - like education, career, and attitude - and try not to be too judgemental.

So now, why does that work? May be it is culture, tradition or whatever; once you're married, the society puts pressure to keep it working. One doesn't jump out the first available exit point at the sign of a firework. Everybody, including the family and friends, works at dousing the fire.

In the movie Fiddler on the Roof,based on the life in the early twentieth century in the Russian village of Anatevka, Tevye, the milkman, asks his wife Golde if she loved him. And she replies

Do I love you?
For twenty-five years I've washed your clothes
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house
Given you children, milked the cow
After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?

But Tevye insists; and Golde says, "I suppose I do" and together they sing

It doesn't change a thing
But even so
After twenty-five years
It's nice to know

So they didn't call it love; but nevertheless love followed years of committed companionship as automatically as a shadow.

Dr Howard J. Markman, from the University of Denver, and co-author of Fighting For Your Marriage believes that the western culture puts a premium on the capriciousness of love.

Markman says that most marriages fail because we enter relationships with poor communication skills and unrealistic expectations. There's a science to staying in love; at the heart of love is intimacy and friendship, not passion and drama. Too many people believe in the myth that passion provides us with the fuel to get through life together.

Robert Epstein, who is editor-in-chief of Psychology Today and a research professor at the California School of Professional Psychology, declares that love is anything but blind. He believes that instead of simply waiting for Mr. or Mrs. Right to come into our lives, we can "make a conscious, serious and sustained effort" to trust, communicate, resolve mutual conflicts, and love somebody with whom we share some attraction and a basic compatibility.

That's arranged marriage for you, Susan.

Uma Shankari is a Bangalore-based freelance writer, passionate about writing on development issues.

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