‘Arranged’ marriages get a pretty bad rap in the media. It seems that many people don’t seem to be able to make the distinction between an arranged marriage, which merely involves the guy and girl being introduced by some third party, and a forced marriage, which involves compulsion and duress. As Muslims, we don’t use those frames of reference because we’re well aware that this distinction exists. I personally tend to replace the word ‘arranged’ with ‘traditional’, because meeting a partner through this way often involves following a set of culturally appropriate behaviours.
Whenever a friend of mine undertakes the traditional marriage journey, I marvel at the relative ease with which it often unfolds. It usually goes like this:
Family member/family friend suggests a guy>Guy comes over to the girl’s house>They meet a few times>They talk weddings, career plans and life plans>They get engaged>Party time >Then a few months later, it’s party time again, because they’re getting married.
I suggest that the smoothness of these proceedings can be explained by two things:
1.) Treading a well-worn path
My friends who did things this way concede that by choosing the road
not taken, they saved themselves a lot of hassle. For these people, meeting a partner in this way was simply the done thing and they had no particular reason to object. Why would they? As girls, they didn’t have to do much at all. A guy will come to their house, and if they like him, they can choose to see him again, and if not, they simply pull out the ‘no naseeb’ line. It involves minimal effort, besides dressing nicely and serving tea to the guests.
The girl’s behaviour, the guy’s behaviour and the behaviour of the respective families throughout the process are all dictated to some extent by cultural norms. The timing of the engagement and wedding will be arranged in reference to both these cultural norms and what suits the couple. The rituals and traditions are all well-established. When there are problems, there are mechanisms in place to solve them. If it doesn’t work out, and it sometimes doesn’t despite all of these safeguards, the hurt is arguably somewhat less than it would be if they found their partner themselves, which leads me on to my next point.
2.) Maintaining an emotional distance
I’m not trying to suggest that people can’t and don’t fall in love through the traditional method. Obviously people wouldn’t proceed with getting married if they didn’t at least like each other on some level. But because of the business-like way it begins, it is possible to remain somewhat more detached than the average person in a relationship. Meeting someone this way forces people to consider a potential spouse’s on-paper traits first and foremost. They assess the person’s family, and see if they can spot any warning signs there. They may also assess the person’s answers to pre-prepared questions and ‘grade’ them accordingly.
Before they get engaged, the guy and girl generally don’t meet on their own. Some communicate on the phone during this time, while others keep contact outside of the girl’s living room to a minimum. Warm yet business-like emails may be exchanged, sometimes with a relative of either party CC’d in to prevent anything from getting out of hand. This lack of alone time obviously inhibits the couple’s ability to form powerful emotional bonds before they are at least Islamically married in most cases.
All of the above may sound clinical, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Strong emotions inevitably add complexity to any relationship, and so removing them from the equation, at least to begin with, can ensure things proceed a lot more smoothly. Passion and intensity may sound great on paper, but in reality they may cause arguments and romantic misunderstandings. ‘Love comes after marriage’ is the oft-repeated maxim, and I don’t doubt that this can be the case for these couples.
Personally, I think doing things the traditional way is fantastic. All ventures in the sphere of the heart are laden with risk, and this method attempts to minimise risk. This is why some friends of mine never considered doing things any other way. But it’s certainly not for everyone. Some may feel that it’s too stiff and formal. Others may feel intimidated by the idea of being put on show in front of a strange family, while others simply have become enamoured with the concept of finding ‘the one’. They want their feelings to guide them towards their choice of spouse, not the other way around.
But most Muslims I’ve observed are somewhere in the middle. The Muslims I’ve spoken to about this tend to see the traditional method of meeting a partner as an alternate path open to them, or a back-up if their independent romantic expeditions go awry. They’d like to meet someone on their own, but if it doesn’t happen, they know they always have the traditional method to fall back on. Some girls even give themselves up until a certain age to find a partner on their own, and if they haven’t, they’ll start working the traditional circuit. Others have had a failed ‘love’ relationship and wish to avoid further heartbreak; they see the traditional method as their best chance of doing so.
What do you think of the traditional method? Are you open to it or do you think it’s not for you?