In defence of arranged marriage
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“So tell me, does your culture really still have arranged marriages?” Yes, Becky, and it’s none of your damn business.
Let’s take a second to define what I mean by arranged marriage. You see, when my grandparents’ marriage was arranged, that meant their parents sorted out the whole thing and they never met each other before their wedding day. That was back in India in the 1930s.
Since then, they emigrated to the UK, and when it was time to marry off their children, it was done a little differently. My parents underwent a series of introductions with other eligible young people from the community. Awkward as it was for all parties involved, the key part of this system is that the young people had a little time to get to know each other, and they reserved the right to say no.
Now in my generation, yet another step removed from the terrifying prospect of marrying a complete stranger, we do things a little differently again. To me, the term “arranged marriage” and all the horrifying connotations it holds does a disservice to the traditional process and the cultural values we hold dear.
At 21, I’ve already got relatives lining up eligible potential partners to introduce me to, and unlike Kumail Nanjiani in The Big Sick, I don’t think it’s all a big joke.
South Asian cultures revolve heavily around family and marriage, so many South Asian kids are raised to think about when they get married, rather than if. This isn’t particularly radical or controversial — many cultures hold marriage in high esteem, and though parents and children may disagree on the minutiae, parents generally want the best for their kids.
Right, so we’ve established that the 'arrangement' now is more of an 'introduction' than anything else. I can hear a phantom Becky gasping “how could you have your parents involved in your dating life?” Look, I get it; that part is weird for us too - but it’s worth it.
The question is “why?” right? Why would young people raised in the West subscribe to this system? I’ll tell you: for immigrant communities, navigating culture is a pretty tricky balancing act. Sometimes it’s nice to think that we have the best of two worlds, but other times it feels like we’re not enough to fit in properly in either world.
Choice of life partner is certainly a huge decision in everyone’s lives, but for many immigrants, it carries the added weight of deciding whether to safeguard the future of their diaspora culture by marrying within their community, or not. Though some of this pressure might come from family or the fear of judgement from the rest of the community, a lot of us actually have a far more positive approach.
Rather than being pressured into marrying someone from the same community as me, I want to. The key here is the agency in the whole process. South Asian women particularly are so often robbed of their agency, not by their own culture (that’s a whole different issue!), but by the Western gaze which just loves to paint us as helpless victims of an inferior culture.
That’s a large part of the reason I felt this article needed to be written; because of the pity in Becky's eyes when she asks me if I’m going to be forced into a marriage. How dare the Beckys of the world pity me?
I personally want to marry someone from the same culture as me because my culture is a huge part of my identity, and I want to have that in common with my partner. I want them to be able to speak my mother tongue with my mother, and me with theirs, and I want to raise children who value the culture we gift them.
Turning to my family to help me find a partner, then, is born of necessity. My specific community is pretty small, so the likelihood of me meeting someone in my daily life is just as tiny. My family has a network of friends and acquaintances within the community that they can put the word out to, and watch the prospects come flooding in.
Now look, this isn’t some Fiddler on the Roof level matchmaking. Though some aunties might try and pawn their useless sons off on me, I trust my parents to act as a filter. They know me and they know what sort of person I might like.
This generation is even exempt from the traditional initial meeting of both sets of parents and their mortified children sitting down to tea and stilted small-talk. These days, my parents might give me a phone number. We can WhatsApp, meet up, see how we like each other; it’s just a more personalised real-life dating service.
There’s actually a whole lot of pressure lifted this way. There’s no worrying about whether your parents will like your boyfriend, or whether he’ll fit into your family — something that’s really important to a lot of South Asians. This way, all of that stuff is sorted. On paper, you’re a match — all that’s left to the two of you is to figure out if you’re compatible in real life. And if you’re not? No biggie. Give it a try with someone else.
Sure, it’s not for everyone, and I’m not trying to prove that it’s better than going out and finding someone on your own. All I’m looking for is a bit of respect and understanding from white feminists who assume I need saving from my own culture.
You can hold on to that pity, Becky, I don’t need it.