Saturday, June 29, 2013

Indian customs: arranged marriage vs. love marriage

The first time I heard the term "Love marriage" was when I was hanging out with some Indian friends from college and they were talking about one of their friends who had "a love marriage". I said, "What do you mean by love marriage? Aren't all marriages love marriages?" The girls laughed. "No," they said, "in India, they believe that love comes after marriage". Of course, I knew about arranged marriages, but I assumed they got to meet each other and fall deeply in love before they got married. It was news to me that you are expected to fall in love after you get married. I thought, but what if you don't? In India, "love marriage" literally means "love before marriage".

In Western marriages, love is the only reason for marriage. The "I love you so much - I can't live without you - I want to wake up next to you every morning and stare at you - I want to marry you in front of everyone and live happily ever after".

In Indian marriages, the reason for marriage is to have children and hopefully there's a love story that develops somewhere in there. Indians are very conservative about sex and affection, so being in a marriage with the intent to produce children is the only safe way to explore one's sexuality with the opposite sex. 

(Famous Indian arranged marriage - Vivek Oberoi & Priyanka Alva)
(Image via)

So, how does one arrange a marriage? The first thing is that Indian parents are heavily involved. They decide when their child is ready to get married. Their son has to have a job that makes enough money, and they have to be mature enough to have a wife. If it is a daughter, the only requirement is that she has to be able to cook. Even though, most of the time, the child will still be living at home until they are married. It really is in the Indian mother's control - she decides when she is ready to pass the baton - to have someone else take care of her son/daughter. This also depends on whether the child is a boy or a girl. For an Indian son, most likely he will continue to live at home after marriage along with the new wife. The new wife is expected to "take care of her husband AND inlaws", sadly, kind of like a servant. If the son is living in a foreign country, then they are picking out a wife to take care of him abroad. If it is an Indian daughter, they are picking out a boy for her to go live with. As soon as Indian daughters are married, they are considered the other family's responsibility and property. She has to ask their permission to even visit her parents. The only time when she is allowed to go visit her parents for a longer time is when she is about to give birth - 3 months before the baby arrives, and 3 months after. This is because she cannot be a servant to her in-laws during this time.

The first way they will try to find a match is through family (I think this is totally gross). Through cousins, uncles, etc. Especially for a girl, since they will be more protective over her. And in India, it is custom that the girl's family will pay for the wedding. All the gold they buy for her & for her dowry, becomes her husband's property. Gold is not cheap. And in India, gold is considered to be an investment. So, they think that it is better to at least keep all this money within the family, even if it is a distant cousin.

If there is no one in the family who are of a marriageable age (For men, it is usually age 28-45; for women, it is 18-30) they will look at close friends and acquaintances, because then at least you know who these people are. Not just any close friends - they must be the same caste, same language speaking (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada). Even within India, they are hesitant to mix cultures. A Tamil brahmin marrying a Telugu brahmin would face just as much opposition as if they were marrying a foreigner, since even in each state the customs are different - and also there might be a language barrier.

(Shaadi.com Indian matrimony site)
(Image via)

If they can't find anyone at all, then they will go online. This has become quite popular in India, especially with Indian parents. They have sites like shaadi.com or bharatmatrimony.com, where you can narrow down all the suitable matches by age, height, body weight, number of brothers/sisters, income, caste, culture, religion, city, vegetarian/non-vegetarian, and most importantly - if you are astrologically compatible. Unlike Westerners with eharmony.com, on the majority of Indian marriage websites, the parents are the ones behind it. The parents are the ones writing the profiles and picking out the matches. For example, the profile will probably go something like this: "My daughter is a simple, hand-working girl who has a engineering Master's degree and is looking for a Tamil Brahmin Iyer husband who lives in the U.S." The about me section is usually referred to as "a resume" - kind of like they are applying for a job! We knew many Indian girls who we went to college with, who were just obtaining a degree so that their parents could put it on their "resume" to find a suitable husband. My husband would complain about these girls - he used to say "what is the point of getting a higher education if they are just going to throw it away when they get married?" For Indian girls, it is a chance to get out in the world, and away from their parents, before they have to settle down and be "a wife". And for Indians, a wife is a heavy job - taking care of husband, in-laws, cooking, cleaning, caring for children - the wife comes last.

These sites have made it easier to find matches, but it is very common that once there is a possible match, to hire a private investigator to check the person out. Indian parents are known to fib about their children on these sites - say they're making a bit more than they actually are, say they're traditional when they're not, say that they haven't been divorced, or even say that they have a green card when they are really on a contract job. Sometimes I find this a bit problematic, because what if your parents don't really know you? There's a lot of things I don't tell my parents, and Indians are even more private than that. Also, do parents know best? Or do they know best for themselves?

It is also very common for parents to round up matches, AFTER their child has said that they are going to have a love marriage of their own picking. From the Indian parents' mentality, they are just trying to give their child some selection - kind of like the old saying, "don't put all your eggs in one basket". While this is highly offensive, they are just trying to show some other options, and also assert their control. Indian parents' usually have a view of love marriages as lustful. They think their child is all caught up in romantic love, that they are not considering compatibility, such as if the person is financially secure, if they come from a "bad" family, and so on.

After an arranged match has been declared suitable, it is really up to the modernity of the parents as to how much these two people are allowed to get to know each other. Usually it will be supervised, or at least take place in public places. The first meeting will almost always be with both the two families, wherein the groom will dramatically walk in and the girl will serve him tea - this process is called "seeing the girl". The couple will be able to chat by themselves in viewing distance of the parents, and if they don't like each other they can refuse the match.

(Famous Indian love marriages - Shammi Kapoor and Geeta Bali - met on a movie set and married in secret)
(Image via)

The main difference though, in Indian marriages vs. the Western style of "love marriage" is that Indians believe that everything has to be all perfectly set up before you are to get married and (maybe) fall in love with your spouse. Men have to have a job and a steady income, enough to support himself, his wife, future children, and in-laws if they are elder. They have to already have their degree and be a few years into working. But usually, Indian parents will start casually looking for a match they second they step into the office - because god forbid, they fall in love with someone at work! That is actually quite common - 90% of the "love marriages" in India come from meeting someone at work and falling in love with them. Usually, it is a large company that has been outsourced to India, such as HP, Deloitte, American Express, HSBC, Thomson Reuters, Microsoft, Dell...(click HERE for a full list)...and they suddenly can interact with LOTS of men/women away from home who are all of a marriageable age, and whose parents are probably looking for matches. These offices are totally like a giant arena for speed dating!

In Western marriages & "love marriages" we believe in the struggle - falling in love before you have your life set up. Sometimes you don't have a job, sometimes you're just a student in college with loans. We believe in struggling together before marriage - we believe that's what prepares you for marriage - because sometimes, in the great journey of life, you go through tough times, especially financially. You don't always have a job. You're struggling to make ends meet and paying rent. You don't own a home yet. Sometimes one partner has to get two jobs to support the other partner while he's going to school. We also believe in the importance of living together before marriage, (and for the non-religious types) sleeping together before marriage. What if the other person snores like a water buffalo? What if he has a revolting kissing style? What if he doesn't help doing the dishes? When you live with someone, you really get to know them. You know if they are faithful. You know when they take their bowel movements. You get to know everything about them. And this is what Westerners feel prepare them for marriage - is essentially living as a married couple before marriage - to see if this is the person that you like to be around 24/7 - the person that you will spend the next 70+ years of your life with. You also have the daunting task of introducing them to each others' families, and defending your match to all who don't approve.

The main difference is that Indians don't really date, openly that is. There is no concept of dating. No girlfriend/boyfriend. Now there is, in the more modern types, in large cities, but it is still taboo - you wouldn't go up to your mother and say "I'll be back tomorrow, I'm just gonna go visit my girlfriend" - not even in Mumbai. It is only after an engagement date is set up (publicly) that they are allowed to "date" their future spouse.

Arranged marriages can go extremely well or horribly wrong. But the same can be said about love marriages. There is no right or wrong answer - it depends on the person. Do you trust your parents to know what is best for you? Do you want romantic love & a marriage-like relationship before marriage? It depends. Either way, marriage is marriage. It's easy and it's hard, no matter how you got together. You have to learn to compromise, and think as a team, and consider someone else first.

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(My in-laws had a love marriage in the 70's - the first in the family to do so)

Our love story was a little different. My in-laws had a love marriage and that is how I believe they learned to accept me. When Maddy brought me to India, after just a year of dating, I was his "girlfriend". I had 6 years to get to know my husband's family & for them to get used to the idea of me - before we were officially married. I don't think that any of his family expected us to stay together long enough to get married, so they referred to me as "his school friend" until we were married, which was hurtful to me, at times, especially after we had got engaged. 

(My first trip to India I was considered to be my husband's "school friend", even though we were secretly engaged, in the Western sense)

Sometimes we didn't have jobs at the same time. We moved cities together - three cities! My husband had a terrible accident and was hospitalized, and I had to drop everything and nurse him back to health. We went through so much together before we were married. By the time we actually got married, it was a breeze. Although it was only after we got married that I felt I finally had the permission from his family, to get pregnant and start a family.

In hindsight, I'm glad he told his family about me from the first day. They had time to get used to me. They had time to get to know me. I had time to learn all the customs and culture. Even though I used to get frustrated that nobody took me seriously enough, I'm glad I was patient with them. It made the transition of accepting me easier, for the entire family.

(At our wedding reception, me being welcomed as an official member of the family, 6 years later)


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21 comments

  1. I kind of got lucky with this, my story is completely different from yours. When I visited my boyfriends family, I was immediately considered his wife, even though we had only been dating for a year and a half. Their logic was that, in their community, parents would never let their daughter even go to another city to see a boy, so since my parents had allowed me to go with him to another country, for three weeks, we must be more than just "dating". It was very nice, even though I couldnt talk to them they made me feel very welcome.

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    1. Girl, for real, you are soooo lucky. You hit the inlaws jackpot!!! Bravo :))) That is wonderful. It is very rare, especially in Indian culture. You guys will have a lovely family together, perfect match!

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  2. Hi, I have lived in India most of my life and understand the marriage customs very well. I would like to point out that the statement, "The first way they will try to find a match is through family", might not have been explained properly to you. When someone says through family, it is most likely that they are talking about finding a match through someone not related by blood to them, but through relationships like a significant others extended family. For example, your husband's cousins and your cousins, may also be considered to be related as distant cousins according to Indian customs. And a match between them would be possible and can be arranged through family. But marriage between blood relatives is definitely not the norm! Rather, it is frowned upon in the conservative Indian society.

    It is interesting to read your writings, and you are right on most points that you make. Please do keep up the good work, I am thoroughly enjoying reading your blog.

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    1. Thanks so much for reading and welcome :)

      Yes, we still have cousin-marriages in our family which flabbergasts me (not even a distant cousin), but I noticed it is becoming less and less especially in the past 10 years, thank god. I think people have realized that marrying a cousin does not mean an easy road either...lol.
      As a foreigner I can't wrap my head around being attracted to someone who looks identical to their own sibling...ick!

      You are totally correct though, it is more the norm to be arranged through family connections.

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  3. I am glad i was introduced to your blog, really happy for you, your husband, Maya and your in-laws in hindsight they could not have found a better daughter in-law.

    I can imagine how much of a struggle it would have been to get accustomed to Indian culture.

    And I couldn't agree more with your statement "Either way, marriage is marriage. It's easy and it's hard, no matter how you got together. You have to learn to compromise, and think as a team, and consider someone else first."... it really is so very true, with both partners are not interested or willing to work towards making it work, then it will never work. I do feel sad for some of my cousins who feel they have no option but to stick with their husbands because they have children.

    Hopefully soon there will be less stigma especially against women in general when it comes to choosing a life partner or deciding to part ways because that seems to be the only recourse at removing yourself from situation that is clearly not working or improve in any manner.

    Love the posts, love the candid insights. All the very best to you and your family. Cheers :)

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    1. I'm so glad! What a wonderful comment! Thank you for reading! I'm glad you like my unfiltered views!
      Yes, it has worked out quite well with our personalities, we have all adjusted together which has been great. We are all in the same boat. I'm glad that they have adjusted with me...
      To get used to the culture, is a struggle at times, it comes naturally at other times, but most of all it is a learning experience. For some things there are explanations as to the traditions, for others there are none. There are lots of ups and downs, but I try to find the humor in it all!
      Most of all I want to be able to tell my daughter when she asks me about her father's culture.

      I myself don't believe in arranged marriage, I find the lack of connection to not be there, it feels too planned out to me. And I also don't believe in marrying someone based on their caste, community, religion, education, job or looks - because all that says nothing about the other person's character or compatibility etc. I feel like in arranged marriages, they get married at what age society dictates to them, whether or not they are ready.
      I believe so much in chemistry, in die-hard love, in soul mates, in falling in love, and the Western style of dating...it takes a lot of balls to go up to your parents and say "this is the person I've picked, take it or leave it", and that same loving force against opposition can be utilized later on when other problems arise. In a way, love marriages are an easier adjustment to married life. I find arranged marriages to be a but ill-equipped that way, because shit happens in life! You don't always have everything set up as it appears to be in the matrimonial ad....LOL!
      The stigma is crazy against love marriages being "lustful", if it was "lustful" it wouldn't last more than 2 weeks! Especially the stigma against Indian girls, not trusting them to make decisions about love.

      That being said, even though I don't understand it, I applaud those who make it work, or pick it for their personal choice. Love is love. Anybody is lucky to find their soulmate, however it happened. To each his own. Honestly considering the gender ratio in India, a lot of people may need help online! LOL!

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  4. About finding a match within the family.. That is very frowned upon as a conservative society... We are always expected to tie rakhi( a sacred thread a sister ties to a brother as a token to protect her all life) to our brothers no matter how distant a cousin .... So marrying a Cousin , Uncle etc is a big No-No!
    The next important factor is astrological compatibility even if they do find a suitable groom or bride through someone. Ex : If they find a suitable groom and their horoscope doesn't match with the prospective bride even if he has ( green card, MS, good salary, good family etc ) that candidate will not go through with next round of interview ( oops sorry I mean marriage) :-P
    The rest as you pointed out is absolutely right... It is purely a brain ( reason based mechanical ) society I feel , where heart ( feelings) is not given much value . And that in itself is unfortunate.
    I personally feel the only reason to get married is because you love someone not because you are a horny 30 Old ( virgin mostly) ... Or someone Who wants a child because it's expected of them in society.
    One of the main reason population in India is so high. Everyone is expected to have a child...irrespective of the fact that they want to or not.

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    1. The situation of cousin/uncle marriages very much exists in India. Cousins related a certain way are brothers(Chacha's sons), cousins related in a different way are suitors( Mamas and their sons). This is prevalent in villages in South India and sometimes in well developed cities too. I am not sure about the North.

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    2. @aditi - sometimes it shocks me how much importance is given to astrological compatibility and how seriously it is taken, Like, what about chemistry? And like you said, what about love?
      So much is dictated by society's standards....people truly do not have a choice..

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    3. @anonymous - we have a ton of cousin marriages in our family much like what you said, we are South Indian...

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  5. If I was to go along with an arranged marriage what is the comman money figure that the parents give to the other family in order for this to happen??

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    1. Regardless of financial standing, it is in the thousands usually ($), given in the form of gifts - like furniture, gold, car, property. Not to mention the girls side has to pay for the wedding & venue etc.
      But people are rejecting this nowadays.

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    2. @Alexandra

      As dowry consists of voluntary gifts and money to the couple or traditional gifts to the boy's family, it is acceptable. But the problem arises when it becomes a matter of prestige. This practice is fueled both by the girl's side and boy's side just to look good in the society. Both parties are equally responsible for promoting this greed.

      Dowry is prevalent all over the country among all communities but in some communities it difficult to get a girl married without obscene amounts of dowry. In India, typically young people never their own stuff as they lived with their parents. Once you are married, they are gifted with money, ornaments, utensils, furniture etc. to kick start their household. More like and investment for future. As long as this is the spirit behind dowry, it is good. It should be a tradition and not extortion.

      Now, a new problem has arisen. According Indian Dowry Laws, if a women files police complaint against her husband and inlaws for dowry embarrassment, the entire family is put behind bars merely on a complaint. It is a non bailable offense. Many innocent families have suffered due to false complaints. This has lead to demand for making a list of dowry items so that such situations can be avoided. I guess it is a case of political correctness gone bad.

      http://blogs.rediff.com/fighting498a/2012/12/01/misuse-of-dowry-laws-in-india/

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    3. @anonymous - I totally agree - "it should be a tradition and not an extortion"....I saw a documentary a while ago, wherein even poor Indians are feeling this pressure to have an elaborate costly wedding plus a large dowry - so regardless of financial standing, it seems that all classes of Indians are getting roped into it. I personally feel like the wedding industry in India has gotten way out of control and it is all for show, meanwhile everyone in the family is stressed out to the core, and the couple has little preparation for the journey of marriage because they are so focused on the wedding only.
      One of our girl cousins are getting married this year, and the first match they found did not work out because the boy's family tried to harass for dowry. That too, the boy's family was a police commissioner's son, deplorable...thank god they broke it off with him and found someone better.

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  6. Hi, I would like to point out that although you made some fair points in terms of the way in-laws extort the dowry and weddings, I feel like you were a little unfair about arranged marriages in the modern world.
    1) For my first point, I'd like to point out that Indians truly value education. Perhaps in small rural areas do women seek to add degrees for some husband-"resume," but I know plenty of indian women with their own aspirations and dreams. Plenty of mothers and fathers, especially from middle class and upper class families have the value for education that they instill into their own children. Perhaps the women that don't show any inclination to further their education or have career goals are married off earlier (early 20s rather than later 20s) due to them needing some financial security since they don't necessarily have careers. Again, times are changing, and a modern household has two working parents.

    2) The idea that "love marriages" or "western marriages" is better than an "arranged marriage" is a fallible concept. Marriages have been arranged in every culture (greek, roman, chinese, korean, etc) for generations, and although now uncommon in the western world, have been part of its history as well. In India, with its huge emphasis on patriarchy, the abundance of domestic violence and lack of respect for women, parents are scared to marry their daughters into a family where she may be abused. Thus, the idea that looking though your family (for family friends not marrying family), is a common way to ease parents' discomfort. After all, if you have known the family for years, you hope that they will treat your daughter in the way that they have treated you for years. Is peace of mind really such a horrible concept in a country that has much bigger issues to deal with? Does different necessarily mean bad or wrong?

    3) You talk about chemistry and connection. If your parents pick out some possible suitors and leave the choice up to you, do you absolutely doubt that you will never have any chemistry or connection with them? As you said, a marriage is hard work, and just because someone didn't find her husband by herself, does it mean that her marriage is doomed to fail? I feel like in any marriage, the short time of giddy and romantic feelings are overshadowed by patience, trust, and the willingness to make things work. Those all depend on the individuals themselves, and have nothing to do with how they were introduced.

    Anyway, those were just my two-cents. I hope you don't feel like I was trying to offend you or demean the western marriage concept. That was never my intention. I was just trying to present another opinion, another facet to the argument.

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    1. Great points added, thanks. Insightful!

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  7. 90% of the marriages end up as a burden when the connection / communication stops.
    When you have a lot to say and when the other is not interested in lending u a ear or simply is quiet "to avoid probs" and to long last the marriage.
    May it be arranged or love..... it feels good only as long as the communication/love bridge is alive.

    So, do we fall in the 90% or in the remaining 10%?
    It is upto you to decide... your heart will know in which % you fall.

    It doesn't matter whether you married a gal frm India or Western.... this applies.


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  8. you are telling my story as we speak….right now I'm living in the US and I'm living with his mother and brother and everything u are telling me here i feel ….omg….i need advice ???

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  9. Your life is lucky. I commented earlier. Maybe God doesn't want me to live or to stay in a relationship with my hindu boyfriend because God knows I want to live where I am also working, going everywhere and doing everything we want like the modern way as compared to their ways in India. I want to get him back because of your blogs and its as if I wanna beg too to come back and win for me again but I cannot live forever at home to be servant. I studied 5 years for Engineering and wanted to be a future successful engineering daughter, lover, wife, or daughter in-law, not like just a plain housewife who will serve them forever. Maybe this is what God wants tell about me. Its still painful coz this man that I loved so much was a good person. I never had a problem with him and both of us were still recovering. Now we were still friends, but seeing as friends is also painful

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  10. U r so lucky. ..I fell in love with an Indian. ..n I'm from other country. ..but I don't think he's taking seriously our relation ... if just he would fight for us...I would fight too...but he is giving up 😢

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  11. Anonymous March 7, 2017
    I am a westener, I have been chatting with an Indian man for two years..we have shared so much together, even tears. Now he tells me through tears that his family have arranged a marriage for him. I am devastated. I told him he should do what his heart tells him, he told them he loves me, but they won't here of it. I am lost and don't know what to do.

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