Friday, May 7, 2010

Marriages are made in heaven II

After my blogpost titled marriages are made in heaven, I got some comments, and a lot of flack from friends who assumed I was very prejudiced and anti-arranged-marriage. Now, while it is true that I think arranged marriages are a supremely inefficient way of finding someone you can love and live with for the long term, I am not thrilled with what passes for a love match in most Indian couples either. So, in deference to fans and readers and well wishers…’s chapter 2 (the LOVE MARRIAGE).

One very dear friend, in his comment to the previous post, mentioned the fact that, in India at least, love marriages seem to fare equally badly, if not far worse than arranged marriages. I’ve had this thrown in my face before as well, every time I have committed the grave sin of bad mouthing the great Indian marriage. Usually, it is people who have chosen to go the good old way, or are planning to, and usually it is a knee-jerk “us and them” kind of reaction rather than a considered one. And, what’s worse, it comes from a place that assumes that I mean to applaud “love matches” uncritically.

Anyway, whining aside :D, one needs to examine what these people mean by failure of a marriage. The concept of a mismatch, of absence of sharing, of not finding your soul mate, of an irretrievable breakdown of a marriage has no place in our combined mental ethos. After all, culturally, we expect none of those things from a marriage. Marriage, to us, is a huge ritualistic tying of the knot between two families of comparable worth/social standing. The principal characters expect little from it other than a few years of regular sex tapering off as the kids arrive and take over the entire focus of life.

Since we expect estrangement and a lack of true communion, since we expect the “fires” to cool after a while, and to be two people co-existing, we don’t see it as a FAILURE of the marriage. So, for these detractors of mine….a failed marriage is ONLY one that ends in a divorce. And yes, love marriages do end in divorce more easily, if only because there are fewer social pressures involved that would force the charade to continue, and because there is a greater degree of expectation of true communion. As someone pointed out recently, arranged marriages seem to be something you go into with the mentality of “que sera sera” and a complete absence of any thought of ANY POSSIBLE OUT. No matter what, unless the excrement REALLY comes in contact with the ceiling air agitator, it is a ‘saat janmon ka bandhan’ to be borne with or without fighting, whining and making each other completely miserable, “till death do us part”.

Does that mean I think love marriages are better? NO I do not think the common Indian love marriage is much better than the great Indian arranged marriage, at least in the way that I see it practiced around me. Couples who have been boyfriend and girlfriend for decades finally get married and, as likely as not, split within the year. Couples, who couldn’t wait to tie the knot, suddenly find the ties tighter than they would like and lose no time in untying themselves. Even if they do manage to survive the first few years, I am seeing increasing incidences of estrangement and dissatisfaction later in life, leading to more and more cases of infidelity and abandonment.

So what do I think is the problem here? Not very hard to see if you just think of what passes for love, relationship, or “affair” (I have a problem with the usage of this word in Indian English… but that’s another blog post in the making) here. First of all, there isn’t usually a concept of getting to really know the person or of love growing out of acquaintance, even friendship. On the contrary, once someone is in the “friend zone’ they tend to get automatically disqualified as a prospective spouse or partner. So, essentially, one just sees someone one likes, mistakes a liking or attraction for the physical aspects of that person for love, and goes up to them to say ‘I love you’ or some such.

With a beginning like that, are the next weeks, months, years any better? Does the couple somehow redeem itself and reach a depth of understanding and adjustment that is necessary for a combined life? In most cases…. NO. The time between the creation of the couple and the solemnisation of the pact is usually spent in ROMANCE. This is a BAD word for me, because it smacks so much of shallow pretence and has so little potential for real communication. Playing the ILU ILU game for years and years is, in no way, a method of forming or advancing the steel strong bonds they will need to weather a life together. Presents, valentine cards, candlelit dinners and moonlit walks are great, provided one works on the important things too – like communication, and adjustment, and what I think versus what you think, and how I was raised versus how you were raised.

In the absence of such negotiation, married or cohabiting life comes as a huge shock! No matter how many years of two hours a day you have spent together, you NEVER know the issues that will crop up….until you are actually living under the same roof. That’s when the daily aggravations of slob versus neatnik, MCP versus open mind, toilet seat up/down, snoring, and hell alone knows what else, raise their ugly head. Having not built up the bedrock of strength and mutual respect that will anchor the relationship despite all possible irritants, things get blown out of proportion when the scales finally fall from the eyes and the true colors of the beloved, the real person behind the rose tinted boyfriend/girlfriend, is finally revealed.

Of course, there are exceptions. I know many couples who took their time, REALLY looked long and hard at the other, and at the relationship, saw all the problems and faults, and then decided they could deal with it. Those are the strongest couples… you guys know who you are, who I am talking about, so take a bow guys….KUDOS! And YES YES YES, in this sense, love marriages are better, if only for the simple reason that an arranged marriage hardly gives you the time or the choice to make that examination. Other than that, unless one grows a brain and shows some maturity, it’s a “lose-lose” scenario -- neither system works.


  1. Big fan of cohabiting, and am doing so now. I was raised religiously, a background I now reject, but many have gone out of their way to tell me that divorce rates are higher for couples who live together first, etc. etc. And to echo your sentiment, THAT'S BECAUSE THEY DON'T BELIEVE IN DIVORCE! It implies nothing about happiness! Anyway, you're touching on a lot of nerves with me lately, I guess, haha.

    I suppose it would seem unfair of me to criticize arranged marriages as an outsider (non-Indian), but I do think it's fair to say, their success depends entirely on what you want out of them. A socio-political union that will probably produce children? They're just fine. Otherwise, any love and satisfaction you reap from such a union has to be purely coincidental, and you've effectively removed yourself from the debate.

  2. IF you have an independent mind, are an individualist, need your own space (a lot of it) - both kinds of marriages will be ultimately stifling spiritually. Nobody can ever know another fully, often not even fractionally partially. So, each of us is really alone - that's life.

  3. yes Rita. but the question is which kind gives you a slightly better chance to have some kind of equality, understanding,communication. is it even possible to have any of that?

  4. Good Article Jia.. But still "increasing incidences of estrangement and dissatisfaction later" is-because of the mindsets what couple have towards each other before/after marriage and its again because of lack of "Trueness" as you have mentioned.