Friday, June 12, 2009

Great Expectations, Divorce and the Benefits of an Arranged Marriage

Arranged marriages in the 21st century--I must be joking, right? But there is a huge segment of the world population where arranged marriages are still the norm. Case in point, Farahad Zama's column in last Sunday's N.Y. Times Modern Love column.

Farahad is now a middle-aged man of Indian ancestry and over a decade ago, he happily submitted to his family's plan for an arranged marriage with a girl he'd never met. They married two months later after spending all of forty-five minutes together and by his account, are happily so. He believes there are benefits to falling in love after marriage.

Sounds heretical to American sensibilities where belief is that falling in love is a pre-requisite to a happy marriage--or is it? Farahad points to our country's divorce rate as a reason to be skeptical. He posits the notion that perhaps it is our high (read unrealistic) expectations, a result of having stars in our eyes when we marry, that may lead to the shock and disappointment of discovering that your romantic white knight is no longer the man who comes home tired at night or the adventurous imp you married has turned into a cranky mother of a toddler.

Do we expect too much from the men we fall in love with and vice versa?

Farahad writes: "I think that in arranged marriages one starts with lower expectations and realizes the need for compromise is essential in a successful bond, and that is probably its biggest benefit."

My critique partner, Shobhan Bantwal, who is also Indian and has a fabulous novel coming out in September from Kensington called The Sari Shop Widow, has been happily married for decades. Her marriage was arranged.
India's divorce rate is amongst the lowest in the world at 1.1% compared to the U.S. divorce rate of 50%. Still how much is due to cultural taboo and how many of those Indian marriages are actually happy ones is any one's guess. But it does give one pause and something to consider.

Farahad concludes: " What I am sure about is that our marriage, arranged with other considerations in mind, took us from acquaintance to love and kept us together until we realized that our differences are the yin and yang that make our relationship whole. Now we consider ourselves absolutely perfect for each other. Somewhere in that is a lesson, I am sure."

As a romance writer and reader I must say I've always loved the "marriage of convenience" plot, whether the mail-order bride of the West or the economic and titled alliances of the Regency, I enjoy reading about a hero and heroine who start out their marriage as strangers with little in common and yet must find a way to build trust and make it all work. Even today, you can find contemporary romances where the plot is about two dissimilar people forced into a marriage situation.

Maybe the reason I enjoy them so much is that you get to see the "married" side of romance and all the pitfalls inherent in trying to sustain a viable marriage, something I can relate to. Because even the best marriages take a lot of work and compromise, something those of us with decades long "happy marriages" know all too well.

So do we expect too much from those we fall in love with? Could there be some benefits to arranged matches with "other considerations" beyond love in mind? Do you enjoy the Marriage of Convenience plot line?


Skhye said...

Oh, don't make me philosophize or get all theoretical. Arranged marriages work(ed). It's good to see someone point out the pros.

Let me just say cultural definition of marriage affects a culture's definition of love. ;) I find our US categorization of arranged marriage right up there with the rest of things deemed taboo. Arranged marriages work wonderfully in romances because of conflict. We just connect with that conflict. One of my favorite novels is THE FAR PAVILLIONS. Check it out. ;) ~the anthropologist

Chris Redding said...

The reason I never would have submitted to an arranged marriage is because I never could have trusted my parents to make the right choice.
I know I did.
We'll be celebrating 19 years this August.
Is it always easy? No.
Do I always like him? No.
Do I always love him. Yes. and that's what I always come back to.

Kathye Quick said...

I really don't like marriage of coveniences - plots ot real life.

But they do exist in both venues and aparently do well.

One of my son's friends is Muslum and had an arranged marriage. They are blissfully happy today with two children.


I do remember him coming to our house and changing for the prom after he told his parents he was going out with my son to do guy things (partly true, I suppose).

I guess then it all depends on the two people involved.

But still, I don't like to read arranged marriage books - overdone, IMO

Celia Yeary said...

Anne--I love the concept of arranged marriages in romance novels. Especially the mail-order bride plot. I've never written one, and probably won't, but my release is about two people who married compulsively--it might as well have been arranged. Same thing. If arranged marriages work, they're in a culture that practices it widespread, it's accepted, and expected. Not all are like that--the arranged marriages of the Mormon-breakaway group here in Texas--you've seen it in the news. Thirteen year-olds married to 45 year-old men. Not a pleasant thing to imagine, but of course, this situation is not between two adults.The sort we're talking about are. Some of the best stories have been about mail-order brides, though. I don't know what to say about falling in love placing expectations too high. I guess I can't agree with that. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't.It depends on the individual. Good topic. Celia

Anne Carrole said...

Skhye--thanks for stopping by and I totally agree that culture dictates romance too.

Chris, I like my freedom of choice--and my choice, too!

Kathye-when I thought of it, it surprised me at how a pretty good percentage of the world population "engages" in arranged marriages--not for me, thanks!

Celia, agree about the culture being in place--and totally agree about the Morman's-makes me shudder!

Thanks all for stopping by!

Shobhan Bantwal said...

As a woman who had an arranged marriage over 35 years ago and is still blissfully in love and content, I'm all for it. I'm the Shobhan Bantwal Anne refers to on her insightful blog. On the other hand, there is something to be said for falling in love first and marrying later. As long as the partners are matched well, either system should work.

In my upcoming book, THE SARI SHOP WIDOW, I have portrayed the challenges a young Indian-American widow faces when she rediscovers the magic of love, family and her old-fashioned traditions.

Thank you Anne, for giving my book such wonderful exposure.

Paty Jager said...

Anne, I like the freedom of choice in a spouse(30 years) and all things. And though I tried to do and be what my parents wanted- I learned to be happy I have to do what I want, so I wouldn't do well in a country that arranges marriages. LOL But I have read many good books with marriage of convenience and liked them.

Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

Arranged marriages? Had we succumbed to that pressure, my dh would have married the girl his parents chose, not me. (Heck, after 34 years, I'm still That Girl!)

However, sometimes it works. And, perhaps, it is because the expectations are lower. I don't know.

What I do know is the first time I kissed my sweetie (under the mistletoe *g*) it felt like every hair on my head stood at attention--and still does every now and again. Do I believe in HEA? You betcha.

Josh Lockwood said...

My current wip is based on a girl running away to escape an arranged marriage, but I'm not quite sure how to handle it. Whether she meets the intended and realizes they're not so bad together, or whether she finally meets the man of her dreams and defies convention.

Lots of conflict either way and your blogging about it has definitely shed some light on the subject for me.

Thanks for that.

Anne Carrole said...

Thanks Shobhan for stopping by1:)
Paty, I shudder to think who my parents would have arranged for me--like you I'm too independent to let someone else decide

Gwendolyn--toasting your HEA!:)

Josh--interesting wip--let me know what you decide!

Thanks, everyone for stopping by!

Renee said...

Wow, this is a topic. I love the plot of arranged marriages finding that HEA. And after watching my oldest dd go through one loser of a bf after another, I think I'd do much better in finding her soul mate.

I have a neighbor who married a gentleman from India. His parents had arranged his marriage with a girl from India, actually it had been arranged for his brother, but when his brother begged off he was the second on the list. Obviously, he begged off too when he chased my neighbor. Sadly, their marriage did end in divorce.