Checking out the other sex
The unmentionable aspect in arranged marriages is the evaluation of potential brides and bridegrooms as if they are products on display. Some of these “product attributes” are blatantly seen in matrimonial advertisements, but some are not. Some are of the kind that are checked out on the quiet. But I see something similar happening in love marriages…before the actual love happens.
Let’s first see what happens in arranged marriages
Where boys are concerned it is common to hear marriage brokers, parents as well as the girls who want to marry them ask for the height of the boy, his shade of colour, whether he is ‘smart’ or not, his salary, or if this is not forthcoming, his designation, the company he works in, what sort of house he lives in (bungalow, apartment), how rich his parents are, his age and so on. I am not mentioning community here because arranged marriages are usually within one’s community, although this is changing.
When it comes to girls, the marriage brokers, parents as well as the boys who want to marry them check out the age and height of the girl, her shade of colour, her features, her education level (some want more, some want less), whether she has a job or not (some want a working girl, many a homebody), her homemaking skills like cooking, whether she is religious or not, whether she is a virgin, her “reputation,” extra-curricular activities, how well-off her parents are, whether she is an only child (this is preferable as she will inherit parents’ wealth), whether she has a brother (not having one is a disadvantage because it means she might have to look after her parents in their old age), her eye-sight, her overall health, whether she is hep or not (traditional is preferred by most, the reason why most girls wear Indian clothes during “seeing” sessions) and so on.
I am not getting into dowry here at all, because that is not the point of this post and in any case everyone does not demand dowry. And even if one does bring dowry into the picture, the attributes of the girl still matter.
Finally, what an individual deems important depends a lot on his value system so I don’t want to generalise here. As value systems slowly change one finds that people are looking beyond caste barriers…though other barriers take their place. While some criteria for “evaluation” can be repulsive, there are always all kinds of people in the world aren’t there! Even if it was falling in love such people would be careful not to fall in love with the “wrong” person, though exceptions prove the rule.
Shortlisting people according to background before “seeing” them is not that terrible because how else will you shortlist? I can never get over the fact that many people see arranged marriages as some sort of disgusting way of getting married…because I don’t think love marriages are all that different. I mean, it’s not as if all those who go in for arranged marriages have money as the main criteria..it can also be about looking for people from a similar background. But if there are gold diggers in the arranged marriage system, I am sure there are plenty of those in the love marriage system as well.
But ofcourse I am only talking of arranged marriages in modern India, where no forcing takes place. I had written about this, why I think arranged marriages can be a matter of choice, so I don’t want to go into that again. I had a love marriage so I am not writing something personal here, but trying to look at the issue objectively.
When it comes to love marriages, if a girl or boy is on the look-out for a potential partner won’t he/she hang out in the kind of place where her preferred type hangs out so there is a better chance of meeting the right person? Haven’t we all had an ideal man or woman in our mind ever since our teenage years? We just don’t fall in love with anybody! Stories like Pretty Woman or Raja are rare. All of us have an “ideal” in our minds before we meet the person we eventually marry, and if we are the kind who will never go for an arranged match, we tend to look for that person in some likely places. That is not radically different from an arranged marriage. The main difference as I see it is that arranged marriages are organised by others, while love marriages depend entirely on the individual concerned.
In today’s India where parents and grown-up children have different value systems, arranged marriages are changing their character, with more potential brides and bridegrooms registering on matrimonial sites on their own. It sounds a queasy thing to do for someone who prefers to go for a party where his or her kind of people might attend, but there are similarities in both. The latter could perhaps be a safer bet.
Do people who go for love marriages look for different things in their partners? I don’t think so…take the physical aspect. I mean the checking out of physical attributes of the potential partner. This happens in both kinds of marriages although many people assume that girls don’t check out the physical attributes of guys in arranged marriages. Well, it’s not usually talked about openly, not in India anyway, but guys can be so clueless about this! Even when it comes to dating, girls do check out the physical attributes of a guy although they may not talk about it openly. Men talk about it without qualms.
Let me give you an example of someone I know well. She had laid down some criteria for her prospective bridegroom:
A full head of hair (including checking out if father was bald!)
Mininum height 5 feet 10 (she was five feet six)
Another had some other attributes:
Thin and tall.
No paunch under any circumstances!
Now, as physical attraction is requisite in any marriage, love or arranged, having these preferences seems normal to me, specially as these might change if one actually meets the person. Chemistry just might happen when people meet, and this can happen even in an arranged marriage.
(Photo is by me and copyrighted)