As a first generation Indo-Canadian, I have always been told by my parents that arranged marriage is the way to go if you want a long lasting relationship with someone who won’t cheat on you, break your heart, and take all your money in a painful divorce. Despite being born and brought up for most of my life in Canada, my mother has always been adamant in ensuring that my values align with hers and with what was instilled in her by her parents. From disapproving frowns every time we would see a couple lip-locking on the bus, to hurriedly changing the channel every time a “naughty” scene comes on TV (usually just a couple holding hands), my mother has reminded me time and again that finding a spouse is an endeavor that should be left up to the parents.
For these reasons, I find Debie Thomas’ article in the Slate, to be compelling, relatable, and also a little hard to digest. The article is about an Indo-American’s experience with having an arranged marriage in the face of conflicting cultures: the conservative culture instilled by her parents and the American culture she was brought up in.
I’ve always been unsure of how to perceive arranged marriages: the idea of getting married for the sake of getting married and having children, and waiting for a comfortable love to follow. My own parents met on their wedding day. My older cousins have had prospective grooms lined up by their parents. Even my family friends’ kids in Canada have had what I like to call an “imitation arranged marriage”.
My mother often tells me how “modern” India has become in its approach to arranged marriage. “It’s not like it used to be, you know. These days, couples date!” But they only date after getting the okay from their parents. And “dating” typically consists of getting coffee a couple times and, as Thomas describes, giving each other the rundown on educational backgrounds and interests – at least, from what I’ve heard.
It’s easy to have a contemptuous attitude towards arranged marriages. The idea of treating marriage like some kind of business rather than a proclamation of love can be hard to digest for many.
“Love’s fine for people here,” my mother has often reminded me. “But that’s not the way it works in our culture. That’s why we don’t get divorced as often as people here do.”
I have to admit, she has a point there. When you look at the staggering divorce rates in this province alone, it’s enough to leave anyone jaded. Couple that with films like this and it’s the age old question which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Love or marriage?
When I look at my parents’ marriage, I don’t see two people who are miserable in each others’ companies and are just sticking it out. I don’t see that in other family members’ marriages, either. But Thomas’ article does make me wonder whether there is anything lost from getting married this way. So is it better to get married first and worry about love later? Or would that leave someone brought up in Canada — similar to myself — wishing for more?
While I don’t have the answers to the questions the article brings up, I think it’s a great conversation starter, not just for first-generation (and second-generation) Indians, but for people of other cultures as well. It brings up the important question of how a person with different (and sometimes conflicting) cultural backgrounds can begin to reconcile the two worlds without losing themselves in the process.