One of the lasting impressions that I will take away from this past semester of English is something I never would have expected. It is not that I have become proficient at dissecting sentence structure, or that I can tell you definitively what is a dangling participle, or that I may have finally decoded how to properly employ a colon. Through the varied cultures represented in our class and the engaging discussions we had, I am taking away a much deeper understanding of how our cultures differ, and in one way specifically, arranged marriages.
I am a first generation American. I was born here and afforded all the norms and standards of American culture. To me, love, and specifically my choice in a mate is a tremendously personal endeavor. Growing up I would never even have thought to consult with my father about a partner, and I could never have conceived of a less desirable circumstance than to allow him to choose for me, and to go along with his decision. After all, although he was not born here, he too grew up in American culture and was free to choose each one of his three wives. Three wives! What on Earth could he possibly know about choosing the right person?
The mental image I have always had of arranged marriage is a shotgun wedding. One or possibly two unwilling participants being forced into a union by their families. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. It is simply a cultural difference. There were at least two and possibly three classmates this semester whose culture and customs dictate that they be part of an arranged marriage. They don’t fear or resent this process though. They trust in a custom that is deeply rooted in their culture. They believe their family and the family of their future spouse has their best interest in mind and will choose a suitable partner that is willing and able to be a provider and to further and strengthen their family.
The more we talked about what arranged marriage actually means, the more I thought about the way marriage tends to work in American culture. Generally speaking American relationships start from one thing – sexual attraction. They burn red hot and passionately for the first few years. A lot of the time marriage takes place within those first few years. Studies have concluded, however, that relationships hit a wall at seven years. The strong will survive and those that aren’t come to an end. That really got me thinking – once that lust wears off and you’re left with another person, what remains? Is there love? Is there a strong partnership? Is there a person you admire or one you resent?
One of the biggest differences, it seems to me, is that an arranged marriage goes in the reverse order. It starts as a partnership. Over time a working relationship is forged and out of that working relationship it is possible for love to grow.
Who is to say which way is right. I know today as I approach 30 and with a trail of failed relationships in my past, that my picker doesn’t work that well. I believe that if our culture dictated for me to be willing to listen to my family in this matter, that they surely would have picked better matches for me than I picked for myself. They have only ever had my best interest in mind, whereas I can only see what is directly in front of me and have been blinded by good looks on more than one occasion.
At some point during this past semester I got the phone number of one of the very cute girls in class who happens to be in an arranged marriage, with questionable motives, I admit. But in getting to know her I’ve gotten to see how happy and excited she is to meet her future husband who is arriving in town in a matter of days. We’ve agreed to continue on with our friendship and I’ll get to continue to learn more about this process through her experiences.