Affairs of the heart: Taking a pragmatic approach

Published in the writer’s New Indian Express column, ‘Ringside View’ on 4th September 2010.

In the UK, arranged marriages are unheard of. We prefer the elaborate ritual of dating to try and find our potential husbands. I recently compared this process to a friend as being similar to applying for a job, going for a series of “interviews”, or dates, where you essentially have to sell yourself and your capabilities before being given an opportunity. Attached to this process are unwritten rules governing when to contact the other person, physical contact and certain things you should not say. The ultimate dating weapon, “The Rules”, a book giving women direct instructions in the art of dating is one example that capitalizes on this culture. Many of my friends hate dating and whilst at University, I found it an exhausting (and expensive) experience, going for meals and to the cinema with men who are often completely unsuitable matches. A character from the hit US show, Sex and the City, 30-something character Charlotte exclaimed, exasperated: “I’ve been dating since I was fifteen! I’m exhausted! Where is he?”

I was aware of arranged marriages from living in Nepal, but always considered them to be the product of a patriarchal culture where women were coerced into marrying men to benefit their family’s social networks. In the UK, we largely perceive Indians as tied to their families, to tradition and unable to go out and meet a potential partner themselves. This is undoubtedly true in some cases, but with this strong commitment to family values comes a deep respect for the sanctity of marriage, a product of Hindu and Islamic philosophies.

Unfortunately, this is largely lacking in England, where approximately 45% of marriages end in divorce. The reasons for this are due to a myriad of factors but often, many claim that boredom replaced the initial passion leading to adultery, which causes many divorces. Arguably, it is modernization (exposure to education, employment and culture) that influences divorce rates. India’s entry into the globalized economy will undoubtedly cause the 1.1% rate to increase as more women enter into formal employment and individuals realize they have the ability to choose their own partners.

Working closely with Indian postgraduates, I have acquired a fuller understanding of what arranged marriage entails. Unlike in the UK, there is no awareness of “falling in love”, their definition of love is instead something that grows over time, a pragmatic love that benefits their families and grows after a marriage to a man chosen by the people who know them best, who is equal to them in terms of education and a good match for their character. When I began to change my definition of love, moving away from fairy tales and romance that pervade British culture, I can appreciate the attraction of arranged marriages.

Marriage, whether in the UK or India, is an exciting lifelong process of learning, respecting differences and sharing a life together. Unfortunately in the UK, as soon as a difficulty arises or boredom sets in, marriages begin to break down and it becomes all too easy to give up due to the media-fuelled importance placed on passionate relationships, dating and romance. The British certainly have something to learn from the notion that passion can flourish only after trust, commitment and respect, integral to arranged marriages, has been established.

As for me, I’m still reading romance novels but am open to the idea of taking a pragmatic approach to marriage. As an old romantic, I still believe you can fall in love and enjoy a successful relationship with a man of your choosing, but I’m beginning to suspect that the best way to achieve this is through an arranged marriage, bypassing the messy process of dating.


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