“Arranged Marriage in America: Is It for You?” by Josey Miller

You’ve tried online dating, blind dating, speed dating. You’ve tried following The Rules and breaking them. You’ve patiently pressed snooze on your biological clock, but you’re ready to find your husband and start a life together already. Only let’s face it: With our current marriage-seeking methods and mindset, the odds of relationship success seem mediocre at best. Extended courtship the Western way hardly guarantees lasting love. It just may be time to try something new…rather, something old: arranged marriage. Sound crazy? Couples who’ve been there don’t think so.

What Is Arranged Marriage?

An arranged marriage is set up not by the couple, but by their families. The parents meet first and then coordinate the initial introduction between their children. In Western arranged marriages the potential bride and groom are offered a few opportunities for conversation before they’re expected to decide whether they want to commit to the marriage. That’s a drastic change from traditional arranged marriages where the bride and groom were entitled to less input, if any at all, and often met at the altar.

In some cases couples genuinely get to know each other before they wed. They do, however, commit before things advance, not after. Deven Vora, who lives in NYC and has been married for 16 years, says that he and his wife dated for a year prior to marriage, but, he says “Once we declared that we liked one another, the intent was always to be married.”

First Comes Marriage, Then Comes Love?

One arranged bride I spoke to, Rahel Abraham, describes herself as a very practical person and says she didn’t have any Hollywood romance expectations. “I knew before I met him that it wasn’t going to be love at first sight. I was too busy thinking about the future and what it would be like if I married him. There wasn’t much time to think about love!” Before Ruchi Gadia, who’s been married in New York City for four years, met her now-husband, she wondered, “Will I have enough time to decide if I like him? Will bells ring? Will it be easy to talk to him?” She says she was pleasantly surprised.

But despite the unlikeliness that the couple will have fallen for each other prior to tying the knot, “it’s not that romantic love isn’t valued,” according to Jayamala Madathil, Ph.D., who wrote her dissertation on arranged marriage and whose own marriage was arranged. She stresses that it’s just a more practical approach: “A person enters an arranged union knowing that there are many unknowns, and that adjustments will be necessary to make the relationship work.

Compromise and dealing with the unexpected are necessary in love marriages, too, but the love part can make it harder to consider practical concerns before the wedding. “[Arranged marriages are] not about finding the ‘perfect mate,'” says Madathil. “The emphasis is on making the relationship a success.”

Vora adds that dating in the West often weighs attraction too heavily. “Your parents look more objectively at your compatibility in terms of shared values and priorities, at education, goals, family background—beyond the physical attributes.”

You’re Not Alone

Another factor that typically differentiates arranged marriages from conventional Western ones is the omnipresence of family. Since your parents and other relatives are so involved in finding your mate, they feel invested in the success of your marriage, which can be good and bad.

“When you get married this way, it’s not so easy to get divorced,” Abraham says. “Very often you find yourself being emotionally blackmailed. Your parents will directly or indirectly tell you that you would be letting them down.”

Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., a University of Washington professor of sociology, says this is why arranged marriages would be unlikely to work for most Americans. “For an East Indian living in America whose parents are going to do it anyway? No big deal,” she says. “But for an American? I could only see it working if you come from an environment where you’re accustomed to parental control—and that’s hardly the average American. An American in an arranged marriage sounds like a recipe for disaster.” Vora agrees, but for a different reason: “I just don’t see the level of commitment here that is required for an arranged marriage to work.”

Could Arranged Marriage Be Right For You?

But Dr. Madathil underlines that if you trust in your family, the arranged-marriage process can run smoothly. Both families typically have to endorse the union, and, from there, Rahel Abraham believes attitude is everything: “Your mindset is most important. The higher your expectations, the more difficult it will be to find a spouse.”

No matter how frustrated with dating you might be, Dr. Schwartz, doesn’t recommend turning to arranged marriage. “Being fixed up into a marriage, as opposed to being fixed up with someone to date, is not a cure. It’s not going to defeat all the problems you’ve had with dating in the past.” If you’re finding dating difficult, she says you’re just picking the wrong men to date: “Maybe you just need some therapy.” Running From Mr. Right

And, as for the CBS show Arranged Marriage that’s scheduled for 2010 and casting now? Steer clear, says Dr. Schwartz. “I bet there will be all sorts of prenuptial agreements. I bet they’ll have very few people who go through with it and, if they do, the marriages won’t last.” And arranged-marriage brides agree. “It will be entertaining for all the wrong reasons,” says Anannya Das Gupta, who’s been married in Chicago for eight years. “The pressure of being on a reality TV show will add a level of complexity that will make these ‘arranged marriages’ very different from real ones.” Gadia adds, “I hope the show is realistic so that people know it’s serious stuff.”

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