As you can imagine, during my tour of India, I spent a lot of time talking to my guide about various aspects of Indian life; how different skin colour is regarded, how many languages people often speak and, naturally, arranged marriage. The conversations about marriage in India took place numerous times and, each time it came up, my opinion on it had changed a little bit. Now I’m here to pass these conversations onto you, dear Internets.
I should note that some of the things that I write might seem weird or sexist by North American standards but, you really can’t read it and think about it in North American terms. One of the first things I learned while being in Southeast Asia was that I couldn’t expect Western standards and that I was in their country so I need to respect them and their customs, no matter how strange or backward it seemed to me. So, bear with me!
Let me rewind about 14 years: I remember, in grade 4, learning about India. I remembered that women wear saris, Hindus believe that cows are sacred, people dry cow poop to burn it for fuel and that people usually had arranged marriages. I remembered “arranged marriage” being explained to me as basically a blind date but, instead of going on a date and seeing if you could imagine yourself coupled up with this person in the long term, you get effing MARRIED. FOREVER. No getting to know each other, no cute coffee dates, no last minute trips to Minneapolis and driving threw several snow storms to get there in a tiny car that’s 15 years old, not even getting to see each other before you vow to spend the rest of your life together. I remember it sounding awful.
Then, just before I came to India, I was pondering what I knew (or thought I knew) about India. One of the things I thought of was arranged marriages. I figured that they happened in the past a lot but not really anymore, at least in cities. I figured it would probably still be pretty big in rural areas.
But my guide told me that this notion is wrong. In fact, most people still have their spouses chosen by their parents, including my guide. Clearly, my impression that India would have developed to the stage of many countries in the world in 14 years was wrong. How could they not have gotten over the whole arranged marriage business? Don’t the youth of today know any better?
Well, at least that’s what I thought at first. Then my guide explained to me that, to us, it must seem totally crazy to marry someone you’ve never even seen before (how awkward would having sex on your wedding night be?! “Hey…I just met you and this is crazy…” “Don’t get cute with me.” “So…we’re not having sex then?”) but, on some level, it has to work otherwise they would’ve stopped using it completely.
For instance, although the caste system is illegal and its relevance is slowly diminishing, it’s still a part of every day life. When parents are choosing a spouse for their child, they want to make sure they’re really good so they want another member of that caste. The fact that the culture is very entwined in paying respect to older people plays into this, meaning that children will respect the wishes of their parents.
Another point that SN made–and that started to make me think of arranged marriage in a totally different way–was that parents don’t want their children to be alone for the rest of their lives. By pre-arranging a spouse for them, they can guarantee that their child has someone to spend their life with and they can almost guarantee that they’ll have grandkids.
After hearing all this and talking about it numerous times, I started thinking that it’s not such a bad system. I thought this especially after finding out that, while arranged marriages still exist, usually the young people involved are now allowed to meet a few times before they get married…and both parties have veto power. As in, either of the young people can say “Hell no! I’m not marrying them!” and their parents have to live with that.
Wouldn’t it be great to never have to feel obligated to go out and try to find a date? Wouldn’t it feel amazing never to have to worry that you’ll be alone for the rest of your life? Wouldn’t it remove a lot of stress to know that you’ll never have to play dating mind games (“He hasn’t called me and it’s been three days…should I call him? Is that desperate?? Maybe if I’m just really casual about it…”)? What if you never had to date at all? As much as I love the Beef, I think it would be pretty great if I didn’t have to worry about finding a partner. So many people treat it like another job…that you do on the weekends in your free time and we kind of have to since we’re taught that love won’t come to us.
I think India has kind of got it right. There’s much less stress for the children, although it’s probably fairly stressful to marry someone you’ve never met. There are no games, no uncertainty and, hey, love will come if you spend enough time with someone. Unless that someone is the psycho bitch that I had to share a room with during my tour of India. In that case, death will come.
However, the tradition of arranged marriages also means that everyone is either “single” or “married”. There is no “dating” or “in a relationship” in India, hence why nobody (ie: young and sometimes attractive men) understood what I meant by “Not married…but I have a boyfriend”. After awhile, I got tired of trying to explain it and started telling people “Yes, I’m married”. It’s easier to keep the men away because the young men all assume that Western women are “easier”. I suppose we are in comparison to Indian women since you’d have to get her parents’ approval and then try to win her over, neither of which has any guarantees.
A very important post coming soon, Internets!