Thursday, April 27, 2006

Arranged Marriages and Love Marriages

In the dinner party of Niranjan's birthday, this topic came up: Which is better -- arranged or love?

Like the debate on beauty pageants it's a cliched topic. But unlike that it fails to sound repetitive, because it closely concerns all of us. We, almost all of whom are at a juncture of marriage, perhaps. We all have to make that choice sooner or later.

One of us -- a female -- had become quite sour about the whole process of arranged marriage. The parental intervention, the stiff introduction between prospective bride and groom, everything is 'yucky' for her. She had faced things like 'What are your interests?' 'Are you religious?' 'You must adjust with my parents.' 'Do you want to work after marriage?' etc so many times that she found it disgusting, almost hateful.

The whole idea of getting into a lifelong relation with a person whom one hardly knows, all because parents like him and his family, horoscopes match, and he is earning well and is settled abroad, seemed to her awefully obnoxious.

I had a short stint with the process of arranged marriage last year, by starting to look for a bride. I failed miserably to get myself really going in that direction. Unlike my lady friend above, I really don't have anything strictly against arranged marriages. But one reason why it didn't work out for me was that I was not at all enjoying the process. Something was wrenching my heart through the whole thing. I didn't know what it was, but I had to finally give up pretty early. The ordeal was just too much to bear. Also, it was a huge overhead for my mind, and was clearly interfering with my thoughts. In interest of my research work too, I had to postpone it to some later time if at all.

But, there are strong arguments made in favour of arranged marriages. The most commonly cited argument is statistical. It looks that success rate of marriages is higher among arranged ones. Love marriages also have a higher divorce rate. Another argument that is made is the logicalness and well-roundedness of the process. The decision is taken not under the effect of some strong -- almost mind boggling -- emotion which potentially warps our decision powers, but through a logical and social process, involving many opinions and taking into consideration many authentic points. Arranged marriage needn't be looked at as it used to be 50 years ago. Things have changed. The opinion of the bride and the groom are duly included in the decision making. A sufficiently long courtship period follows the initial negotiations in which the bride and the groom get to know one another and develop the bonding that may lead to a marriage they look forward to. An abortion of the whole thing if the bride and groom don't get along well is also not completely out of order for some forward looking families.

The arguments against arranged marriage are as follows. The 'success rate' of arranged marriages is more a 'survival rate'. Often couples drudge on in their marriage just because of social stigmas about separation even though they may just hate each other. This predicament can't be counted as a success. It's worse than a separation. Regarding the initial negotiation and the ensuing courtship, a major objection is the intentionality of the process. Right from the first step, the fact that it all would end in a marriage is there in every body's mind. Interactions, evaluations etc. all get biased in presence of this.

Counter-arguments to this are again that marriage is indeed a social arrangement, and that aspect can't be ignored. The involvement of the society in the making of a marriage is undeniable and can't be wished away. The elaborateness of the the processes leading to a marriage, and the elaborateness of the associated rituals of marriage, are all symbolic of the social importance of this contract, and are partially directly toward adding the 'social balast' that would keep it going at times of low spirits, perhaps at the cost of never letting it become a roller coaster ride of love and romance.

Well, things are in flux. I think there're people for whom arranged marriage is appropriate, while for some love marriages are appropriate. I don't deny the possibility that for some perhaps a live-in is correct, for some a marital commune is correct, for some perfect promiscuity may be the right thing. Right diagonally, a life of avowed celebacy may also be right for some.

Leaving out the extreme cases, let's try to identify the sections for whom arranged marriages might work, and those who should go for a love marriage. The ulterior motive is also to find out where I belong.

First and foremost, the concept of marriage is open to individual interpretation. The proportion of social involvement and personal emotions is subjective. Mind you! I am not saying 'arbitrary'. I am saying 'subjective'. That is, it may be different from person to person, but is decided not on personal whims and fancies but on a whole gamut of factors.

These factors are: our cultural background, our nature, our personality, our occupation and practical issues like location, nature of profession among others. I think, doing justice to each of these aspects is impossible within a writeup that wants to be called a blog and not a book. I will try to contemplate on as many in as limited words as possible.

Our background defines largely what the marriage would circumstantially lead to eventually. In a traditional Indian setting, it would mean a very highly increased interaction between two large families. Even to this day, this setting persists in many of the very affluent and modern families. Reports galore that this family system is regaining its vitality among urban affluents due to the many advantages it provides. In this setting, the highly social nature of marriage can't be ignored. A nicely arranged marriage would be a wise thing here.

A different scenario arises in the typical urban people. Nuclear families with much reduced interaction with the extended family, fast paced professional life, frequent migrations, have reduced the presence of the concept of family as a strong binding force in people's life. Parental bonding, after the kid is grown up and has moved out of home, is predominantly at the emotional -- and not practical -- level. In this case, the relation with the spouse is expectedly going to be strongest bonding that a person would have in his life. The interaction of the spouse with parents is going to be occasional. Marriage is hence a much more personal affair here. Love marriage looks fine here.

Secondly, a clarification is in place here as to what we mean by a 'love marriage.' There're hybrid forms : arranged love marriage (both know each other through family; families are tacitly OK with the alliance; emotions grow under the auspices of the families), and love arranged marriage (emotions are already there; families are consulted at a late stage with high probability of consent; subsequent proceedings happen like in arranged marriage). There's yet another form : 'personally arranged marriage.' The bride and groom 'decide' to marry each other, may be or may be not involving friends and family in the decision process. The emotional dynamics don't radically differ from that of arranged marriage, but, as is clear, the marriage is a personal event, not a social one.

A marriage preceded by conditions straight out of a Mills and Boon is what we can all agree to mean by a 'love marriage.' Somewhere in the course, there'll be this stretch where there's a storm of uncontrollable emotions, attraction (which I will refrain from calling 'sexual' considering there might be some romantically inclined among my readers). A stage where nothing matters but that fact that separation is very painful, and togetherness is just bliss. No reasons, no decisions, no society, no nothing. Just a rapid undulation between deadly pain and heavenly ecstacy. That's usually understood as the feeling of 'love'. That feeling may become the prime motivator for a marital alliance. If that happens, the marriage is undesputably a 'love marriage.'

What leads to such stormy feelings? Sorry to say, but I am inclined to attribute it again to our biology. We all are looking for mates, and the presence of suitable mates instigates biological reactions which are way too deep in our genes for us to be able to comprehend them, leave alone controlling them. I am almost convinced that a purely conscious appreciation of good qualities may lead to appreciation, admiration, or in the extreme case, to love of the friendly kind. To stir up attractions of such unearthly proportions as happens in a romantic relation must require something else than mere conscious appreciation of good qualities. It's either biology, or mystical. Being of an agnostic type, I prefer the former.

The above clarification was to point out the involuntariness of the process of falling in love. Love happens; we don't do it (here I am reminded of some very forgettable Hindi movie song here which says that in Hindi). Hence, one can't really decide to fall in love. Yes, one can decide to stiffle that storm while it's still brewing in interest of other considerations; or may let it go full-swing and take control. A marriage is a deliberate action and is always arranged. It may follow the event of love (if that's already happened), or may not.

So, neither the falling in love, or the premise of social circumstances are controllable in some sense. Both may be the reason for marriage. If God forbid, they contend, and not cooperate, for being the prime antecedant of a marriage, which ought to be chosen?

The uncotrolledness of love (AKA attraction) definitely speaks against it and has been used as an argument by elders to support arranged marriages. But the biological aspect, instead of being taken as a debasing factor, should be considered a great natural indication of the appropriateness of an alliance. The biological attraction has been said to result from some kind of deep biological calculations that happen at the level of our genes. It might be an indicator that there's biological match there. This may result in the creation of a healthy progeny, which again has never been ousted from the list of prime reasons of marriage.

Predating all these arguments, there's an issue of a much more practical nature. Many of us have been brought up in a strongly traditional upbringing. This has given us a corresponding personality. Then, we have been hurled into circumstances where things are in no way traditional. Our present speaks for a typical love marriage. Our past warrants an arranged one.

Talking very practically, to create a sufficiently large probability of success in falling in love and coming across a suitable alliance through it would mean going through it several times while you have time. This requires certain degree of aggressiveness in the disposition.

I have known people who have gone through several full-blown relations within a span of a few years. Within this span they have gone through all the experiences that qualify each of those flings as a full-blown affair. These people, assuming they have an idea what it means to be in a love from which you won't eventually fall out, stand a very high practical chance of coming across a suitable alliance.

On the other hand, I have never been in a relation. I have been in circumstances which I could say as threshold of a romantic relations. It's never worked out for me beyond that. But the shock and dejection that has followed each of these experiences has always left me numb with pain, enough to keep me from feeling any tingle of similar emotions for many year to come. Clearly, people like me surely stand far fewer chances of meeting a suitable aliance through the way of love. All that just going by numbers.

This puts us (me!) in a very knotty predicament. Love is no commodity one can purchase in the market. You wait for it to come your way. Experience has told that for people like me it's not an everyday matter to meet love. Time's limited.

On the other hand, somewhere deep down, that high school lad, who had very timely turned into a man, still craves for that creature who will turn my life topsy turvy, and more importantly, will allow me to do the same to hers! We all simultaneously live in several worlds. Spiritual, intellectual, social. And at some point we have a natural propensity to seek a proof of our suitability in that world. We also live in a biological world, the Darwinian world. We all have a natural wish to prove our fitness in that world too!


Well, I know I am exposing myself in a very obscene way. But that with a confidence that I am echoing the predicament of a huge number of eligible bachelors and spinsters of the world.

The bottomline is: For many of us, it's hardly the question of whether we should go for love marriage or arranged marriage. I don't think, many of us are in a position of making many choices regarding this. For us the prime question is: how on earth do we reconcile with whichever of these two might eventually come our way?


Pritesh said...

Hi! Sujju,

Well, first of all my sincere compliments for the lovely blog on an issue that haunts all of us, since all of us are in this "marriageable" age.......

And my stand on this is that I would prefer any of the intermediates. Arranged love or love arranged marriage sounds ok to ME! It's like extremes aren't good! Love-cum-arranged is my cup-of-tea (and some palmist told me that I will opt for that anwyay ;-))...........

Very good blog Sujju! :)

And ya, please remove this word verification from your blog comments! IT's exasperating to type them while posting the comment......

unforgiven said...

Lets put it this way. The entire concept of marriage is flawed.

Screw arranged or love ;)

Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...


Then perhaps you fall in the other categories: live-in, communes, or celebacy!

On a serious note, I think it 'is' flawed. Yet, it mayn't mean that we throw it away rightaway. Over the centuries, we might come up with a descendent of this concept which will fulfil whatever a marriage is supposed to, but with none of its disadvantages.

There're interesting parallels in other subjects. With trendy and powerful computing devices which are small enough to be carried in the pockets, we are now able to smile at the computers of 50s and 60s which used to read programs from punched cards, were made of thermionic emission devices, and used to occupy a building per computer. But after all they are the devices which gave place to useful computers of today!

Ya. One day, our marriages will also evolve into something lightweight and powerful! :)


unforgiven said...

Actually, let me take a slightly different viewpoint when it comes to the future.

I believe that its not that marriages will go away but the equality of men and women that is starting now will have us evolve into a much more similar species.

Women won't nag as much and men would actually sometimes want to get up from the couch and go dancing! :)

Of course thinking more objectively, marriages may become more communal with the permanency being gone and sometimes even more than two people being in a marriage.

That is a concept that I am extremely uncomfortable with though so I prefer to stick to my vision of the future of marriages ;)

Either case, that hasn't happened yet and unless I find a girl that isn't so err "girly" (totally psychologically I mean though! I definitely want her to be rather 'girly' physically! :P) and doesn't find me so offensively 'boy'ish, then its a different thing.

I doubt if that will ever happen though so I am happy being celibate.

Of course assuming celibacy doesn't preclude the usual..
..wait, forgot, not my blog. I need to watch my language here :D

serendipity said...


Marriage is the most difficult predicament to live in. I am convinced that it is an institution cooked up, so that the brood can be looked after. How can one be connected to another person, spiritually, intellectually, biologically and socially at all times in life. As we grow, we become different people. Arranged or love, I think it takes a lot of effort on both parties to keep a relationship connected at several levels.

I feel no connection to my spouse on most levels, although my life looks perfect to the world.
I think we all live lives by the path of least resistance.

It is easier to live in the marriage not being married than to go through motions of whatever the alternative is especially when kids are involved.

It is also easier to find fulfillment at work than try to find a connection in a difficult relationship.

So unless there is overt abuse, most marriages go on.

Even in those couples that have had love marriages, I am not really sure how many actually feel connected.

I think the degree of connection varies between two people over a period of time. Fortunate are those who can find at least 50% connectivity 50% of the time.

I am operating on 10% of connectivity 10% of time. The other 90%, I am at work.

Anonymous said...

serendipity, liked your comment.

i think this is how my marriage will be, and im not even wed yet.

Anonymous said...

I don't lik Bloggers. Why? Simple, they do not rely on facts. They are 'observational' second-hand journalists. They write from a standpoint of 'People need to hear what I think'.

Case in point, this blog about arranged marriage. You say you support arranged marriage because of statistics yet offer ZERO STATISTICS to support your claim. You are just yet another 'Blogger' to write about issues, having no facts to back them up, or even a credible knowledge of the subject to justify your "journalistic" inquiries into the subject matter.

If you do have any "facts" about arranged marriage I would love to see them. email me at I would love to review them, as that is why I CAME TO THIS BLOG ARTICLE IN THE FIRST PLACE. Sheesh.

If you're going to blog at least approach it with some journalist ambitions.

Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...

Hello Sir,

Thanks for writing. Though, I have this suspicion that some viagra selling website wants my email id or something so that they can send some gazillion spams. x-(
Or may be you are one of my friends trying to pull my leg. :P

Well. Anyway...

Is "'observational' second-hand journalists" supposed to be a critical phrase. I liked being called that way! Will you sue me if I change the name of my Blog to this? :)

Your comment: "You say you support arranged marriage because of statistics yet offer ZERO STATISTICS to support your claim."
Answer: Where did I say I support arranged marriages? And where did I say that my support is based on statistics? The only point where the word 'statistics' occurs in the article is where I 'quote' an argument in support of arranged marriages which professes to be statistical. I didn't talk about the authenticity of the figures, nor do my ensuing thoughts have anything to do with facts.

I don't have any 'facts' about arranged marriages. Except that I am now married myself, the arranged way. :)

About the general things about blogging. I don't think anyone needs to hear what I think. I don't force (or even request) anyone to read my blogs. If there's any merit in what and how I write, people read my articles. I am not able to quote facts and statistics all the time. But I do think that I do well in keeping out statements which claim to state facts.. For example: " They write from a standpoint of 'People need to hear what I think'." It's hard to feel confident from this statement that the writer has really done a rigorous case-study on the psychology of bloggers.

One more thing I trying avoiding doing is to write prescriptive statements. Example: "If you're going to blog at least approach it with some journalist ambitions." It's legal to state thoughts, opinions and ideas. I do them, and back them up with good thoughts, if not facts. As far as I understand, most of what I write is fact-agnostic; they don't get broken by facts. I like to call my analysis 'philosophical.' Please don't get offended by that if you are a philosophy major.

I, and other people, blog because it's fun. Free web-space is available, and I get no feeling that I am forcing my thoughts on anyone. I think, I will continue blogging just the way I have been doing.

And I will post this in the comment on the blog so that my reply is visible to people, just in case you indeed happen to be a porn-site or viagra-seller's spammer. :)


Anonymous said...

I like your dissection of the contradictions so many of us are facing in the multi-choice world today.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the wedding and best of luck!