Arranged marriage vis-à-vis a love marriage – which is better?
Arranged marriages, according to trend expert Marian Salzman, will get more popular in the west. This is what she said in her book, Next Now:
…arranged marriage makes sense in a world in which the search for “the one” has disappointed so many people.”
I wonder if she is implying that arranged marriages are more stable and do not disappoint. There are others who are propagating this. One of them is Reva Seth who recently wrote First Comes Marriage in which she presents the argument that arranged marriages are better than love marriages and likely to be more successful.
Are people in arranged marriages happier?
I do not believe that arranged marriages are happier than love marriages or vice versa (when I say arranged it does not mean forced as in the India I grew up in, girls and boys are eager to marry the arranged way and would feel upset if their parents abdicated the responsibility). If there is evidence that arranged marriages last longer it has more to do with the kind of people who enter them. It is quite possible that the majority of those who opt for an arranged marriage come from traditional societies where the idea is to compromise, and sometimes people compromise to an extreme degree just to keep the marriage together as society disapproves of divorces. This does not mean that arranged marriages are loveless or that they are unhappy, but if they are unhappy, there could well be a reluctance to divorce.
Another reason why there is less divorce in arranged marriages is that people entering arranged marriages want to marry, are ready to marry. This factor should never be underestimated in the success of a marriage as people who want marriage are more likely to work at it. In a love marriage on the other hand, both the partners may not be equally eager to marry, and may not even be mentally ready to have children. If there are such differences in attitudes amongst the two, the chances of divorce increase.
Different reasons for unhappiness
But as I said, it’s not the kind of marriage per se that is critical to a couple’s happiness, it’s the kind of people who enter it and their mindset at the time of marriage. However, I always did wonder if the kind of marriage (arranged or love) has a bearing on the reasons for divorce.
From my own subjective viewpoint I can’t help feeling that people who marry for love are more like to be unhappy if their partner’s behavior is perceived to change after marriage…in other words personality differences which can arise once the initial flush of physical love starts to wane. Most people assume that love marriages get into trouble because people from different backgrounds marry and cannot adjust but I don’t think this is the main reason because when two people fall in love they already know that they are from different backgrounds. Generally they feel their love can surmount anything and everything…they have great hopes from each other and they expect unquestioning love and support from their partners. This kind of support may not be forthcoming.
In an arranged marriage, two people even if they have chemistry with each other and are half in love, do not really know each other that well and therefore their expectation levels are lower. If things go wrong in their relationship, it could be because they have been lied to by the other party. This can happen in an arranged match as the prospective bride/groom already knows what the other is looking for and can pretend to have it.
Things can also go wrong in an arranged marriage when couples imagine that a common background, similar interests and lifestyle also translates into common values. They could perhaps even imagine that it means a certain type of personality or temperament. Nothing is further from the truth! A common background can never assure anyone of common values or even a particular type of temperament as one’s background has too many variables. A lot depends on the individual family situation that the partner grew up in. People are not the stereotypes that we imagine them to be from their resume! Huge mistakes can be made if there is no attempt to get into the details. And if one prospective partner is bent on fooling another, no amount of “meetings” can help. Sure, this kind of subterfuge can happen in a love marriage too, but the chances are lower as one does not meet the other with the intention to get married and there are better chances of seeing him/her in a more natural (as opposed to artificial) environment. One could get to know his/her friends, which may not be possible in an arranged match.
What’s best, love or arranged?
Maybe it could have been arranged…if life was like it was then…when arranged marriages happened only between families that knew each other, where the couple knew of each other through common friends and acquaintances. When I was growing up this was how marriages were arranged. Even if one picked up a name from a newspaper there was a huge army of people in the family who started to make enquiries and tried to find common acquaintances and friends. As there was no question of marrying into an unknown family, it ensured a certain degree of safety.Today, not only are inquiries superficial, the kind of benevolent family network that existed a few decades ago does not exist.
So the only thing left is to extend the courting period as much as possible and ask direct questions to the other party. One has to ensure that there is no miscommunication because even though there may not be an attempt to fool another, wrong assumptions can be made. Also, attempts should be made to contact as many friends, relatives and acquaintances of the family as possible. Finding a not very friendly relative always helps. It is my belief that that if a family has little or no contact with relatives, a red flag should go up (in the Indian context).
Whether an arranged match or a love match is better also depends a great deal on the personality of the individual. People brought up on a diet of love and romance will never feel comfortable with an arranged match, however many arguments are presented in its favour. And then there are those who feel it is demeaning to flirt and try to get a partner that way. In any case, some people from traditional societies just don’t know how and often make the wrong choice. Girls and boys in western countries are used to dating from a young age and by the time they are in their mid twenties have developed some sort of antenna to find a suitable partner but a person from a traditional society who is not exposed to the opposite sex could make a grave mistake.
Those with a long list of dos and don’ts about their future partners are unlikely to find someone in their social circle and an arranged marraige may be suitable for them. For example, if a person is rigid about aspects like religion, or say veganism, or wants to marry a scientologist, then it’s best to try the matrimonial columns/website. But they could also look into themselves and see whether their rigidity simply means that they want a submissive partner. I personally believe that it is possible to be happy even if one’s food habits are different as long as one does not expect the other to share them. Same way, it is possible for two people from different religions to be happy as long as they give each other the space.
Overall I think there are no rules and I personally feel that it’s best to keep an open mind about both kinds of unions. It does seem impossible to say whether arranged marriages are happier or love marriages. Perhaps if people in the west start taking to arranged marriages in a big way then we might find out whether arranged matches make for longer lasting unions because it will be easier to compare arranged marriages with love marriages. To make a sensible comparison one needs plenty of people from a society which accepts divorcees and a society where there is some measure of gender equality.
(Please note that I am not an expert on these issues and these are my personal views.)
Related Reading: What kills a marriage quicker: A physical affair or an emotional one?
It is possible to arrange love
A British reality TV show which arranges marriages online
Matrimonial websites get specialised
Divorce rates of the world
Internet marraige bureaus thriving in India
Even India’s urban elite not likely to marry outside their religion
Do children affect the health of a marriage?
Checking out the other sex