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On Marriage and Matchmaking

Parthiv N. Parekh Email Parthiv N. Parekh
October 2009
On Marriage and Matchmaking

“Do I want to marry?” “Am I ready to bite the bullet?”

“How do I know—really know—if I have found my soul mate?”

These are some crucial questions that many from today’s generation are increasingly asking—questions that, to their disbelief, were not heavy on the minds of their parents’ generation. In those days, marriage was simply taken in stride as an inevitable event of life. The spouse you were married to was not unlike the body you were born with—good, bad, or ugly, you just worked with it. And despite this finality about it, the matchmaking just sort of happened, without you having to think too deeply about it.

“Incredible!” today’s youngsters would say. But what is truly incredible is that despite the light approach to such a weighty decision like marriage, divorces were rare.

Yes, yes, I know: many simply endured dysfunctional and even abusive marriages. I am also not blind to the disparity that was stacked against women in the patriarchal society of the times—which tainted marriages like it did most everything.

Yet the majority of them were exemplary marriages, if judged by such criteria as personal growth, sacrifice, endurance, tolerance, and consideration for the spouse, children, family and society. The romance was subtle but deep—not the kind that is visible in gestures of red roses or evenings out. Love was lived, more than it was vocalized or demonstrated—in such things as a wife making ends meet on a shoestring budget without a hint of complaint, or a husband making the family paramount in his life over other interests or engagements.

This is not to condemn contemporary expressions of love, or contemporary lives that allow for more personal space and luxuries. Nothing against a beautiful bouquet of red roses or other indulgences—as long as couples understand that they are the icing on the cake, not primary (or even necessary) determinants of love and caring.

These contemplations on marriage, no matter how important, must be preceded by those on the process of matchmaking. A recurring theme here is the topic of arranged marriages. While many westerners find this practice quaint, many Indian Americans seem to be ambiguous about it. What arranged marriages meant in generations past in India is not what they are as commonly practiced here in the Indian American community.

In the past, the primary driver of marriage and matchmaking decisions were the parents and the family. There was a degree of subtle imposition on the suitor. While outright force was rare, social and traditional norms did not allow for too much self-will on the part of the one getting married. Hence, the match was truly “arranged” by parents and others.

Today, all that an arranged marriage means is that parents or family simply facilitate the introduction. But the primary responsibility of crucial decisions about when to marry (if at all) and to whom, rests squarely on the individual. That being the case, the difference between an “arranged marriage” and a “love marriage” is hardly as significant as it once was. To a degree, the difference is simply about whether the couple met due to introductions facilitated by others or on their own.

So why such a fuss about arranged marriages amongst some? Why such a hang-up about having parents or family interested and involved? How or why would it be different than a friend setting up a blind date? Unless there is truly a disconnect between parents and a child due to a prominent generation or cultural gap, or personal dynamics, why do some consider such parental involvement a less-than-desired option?

A blind aping of your mainstream peers—who generally don’t rely on any help from family in such a personal decision like marriage—may not serve your needs as an Indian American with distinct social, cultural and traditional needs. Are you willing to disregard these integral elements of your cultural identity? Should you?

A true, healthy assimilation would be when you are willing, able and free to find your life partner—while also accepting, and even asking for, help from your family.

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