Thursday, May 14, 2009


Talk of marriage is in the air lately. New York Governor David Patterson introduced legislation to legalize gay marriage. In every major Christian denomination, the question of who can marry and who can't is being debated heatedly. Some lawmakers in the South have proposed a new form of marriage that would be designed to make it harder to get a divorce; and studies show that the percentage of couples living together without benefit of marriage is rising. So it was of interest to me to see an item in Newsweek written by someone of Indian extraction(the nation, not Native American) about how arranged marriages were more stable, less prone to divorce, and preferable to the standard practice in most "Western" nations. The moment I read "arranged marriage", my mind began to spin. Images of Jane Austin, the Middle Ages, and dowries danced in my head. Being able to "arrange" a marriage evokes a time past when women were chattel with no rights, just a piece of property to be handed from one owner to the next. No, absolutely not, we will never take a step backward and reduce women to a business transaction again. It might be acceptable in a backward, chauvinistic, fundamentalist nation like India, but never in a modern future-looking female friendly country like ours. The whole idea is ludicrous, isn't it? We believe in choice. We support individuals coming together in love, committing to a future together. We believe that this is not something that can be "arranged". We believe that there is a special magic and special scheme out there for everyone, don't we? Would any of us trust our parents to pick us a mate? Thank God we have evolved, moved forward, and have abandoned such silly notions. We do this mating dance so much better than they do. Our young people are taught from the age of puberty on that marriage is an ideal to strive for. They are constantly reminded about that dream day when you walk down the aisle in your Vera Wang dress, surrounded by flowers and candles, attended to by bridesmaids and ushers. You invite hundreds of friends; and after the sacred ceremony retire to a hall or ballroom to eat, drink, and be merry. Who could forget such blessed moments as Star Jones' wedding with a carriage, footman, and all the trappings that go with a million dollar wedding; or Princess Di walking down the aisle with a train that stretched for miles? Those were beautiful, romantic, artistic beginnings to a life of marital bliss. Magazines, books, newspapers, television, and movies tell us to search for that one true love. Love is why we marry. Love is forever. Love will bring us together. (I have been trying to work the Captain and Tenniel into a conversation for a long time.) We fall in love, search for love, pine for the love of our life, dream of that love coming along and sweeping us off our feet. We flock to movies like Knotting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, An Affair to Remember, Sleepless in Seattle, and You've Got Mail because they speak to our belief and desire to find that one elusive person who will fulfill our lives, make us complete, who we can ride off into the sunset with, and grow old together with into our twilight years. We are a nation of movers and shakers. We are on the cutting edge of all the new technologies, and the way we search out a partner is equally systematic. We have establishments where people gather to converse, mingle, watch, and look. We call them bars. At these "bars", we drink beverages with cute romantic names like "Sex on the Beach" or the "Screaming Orgasm". We get loose and feeling good, and then we "hit" on each other and maybe even go home together; another match made in heaven. During certain seasons, like spring, we go to resorts and bake in the sun, drink quaint concoctions like a "Suicide" or "Kamikaze" and "hook up" knowing that the love of our life is just around the next round. We have "love" cruises and entire companies set up to help us play and meet so that we can begin a life of stable, tranquil happiness. With the advent of the computer, we can join e-Harmony, Facebook, or we can Tweet each other or sign up for If that is too slow or cumbersome, we can try "Speed Daddy" and meet 25 possible future spouses in less than an hour. If all else fails, if none of this works, if you haven't found someone at work or the local watering hole; you can always use the sure fire, can't miss approach...the blind date. We, the enlightened West, know that eventually one of these methods will work; and we get married and live happily ever after. Don't we? Well, the divorce rate in our nation is said to be over 50%. This must be because those people met in a bar, online, or at spring break. If they had met in church or through a church group, and believed in God; then their marriage would last, be blessed with children, and be the model of stability and longevity. Maybe, but the states with the highest divorce rates, except for Nevada, are all below the buckle of the Bible Belt. It does not appear that reading the Bible literally helps very much in keeping a marriage together. In the Newsweek piece the author noted that arranged marriages have a lower rate of divorce. He pointed out that they don't marry because they are in love; but rather marry and grow into being in love. Since parents are involved in the arrangement, they have a vested interest in seeing it work. They help the couple economically (money worries and disputes being one of the top causes of divorce). They can provide care for children when the couple is stressed to the max. They, and other family members, represent a form of peer pressure to settle disputes, and not let them get out of hand. They are an informal network of marriage counselors and "shoulders to cry on" on occasion. I spoke to a friend recently who comes from the "gypsy" culture in this country. Their roots go back to Eastern Europe, but they are entirely Americanized now. Yet marriages are still "arranged" for many members of the community. It is not mandated; and some choose to go their own way and find their own partners. He told me that the "arranged" marriages rarely end in divorce; but that the marriages of those who choose their own partners seem to end with the same frequency as those in the society around them. So should we all find someone to arrange a partner for us and live happily ever after? Should we abandon the ideal of romantic love for the pragmatic practice of having someone picked for us? No, I am not arguing for that; but I am saying we need to ask if there is anything about an "arranged" marriage that might help us understand what we truly want in a partner and how to make it a success. How we meet someone and what we know about them and their family could be keys to a successful relationship. Parents know the other family. They may work together or socialize together. They know if there are shared values and desires. Perhaps that is what eHarmony is trying to duplicate with their 300 question survey, etc. How many couples marry only to discover that the other person shares few if any of their values? We are a mobile society. The extended family has vanished for most of us. We don't have uncles, aunts, and cousins to act as a safety valve, counseling service, childcare provider, etc. Most of us are a nuclear family at best. So how in todays society do we find substitutes for what the family used to and sometimes still does provide? Should we find substitutes? An arranged marriage still sounds very wrong to smacks of another time and place. It brings up memories of a male dominated society with women as property. It is a non-starter. However, if it is true that divorce is less and relationships more stable; is there anything we can learn from that system? What do you want for your children? A stable, happy, long-lasting relationship or a series of short-termed encounters that can be traumatic and less than happy? Marriage is not for everyone, but if it is for you; how will you do it the best? What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

No comments:

Post a Comment