What is an arranged marriage?

This is a sensitive topic that touches on the values of many individuals and that should not be taken lightly. As we approach this subject, it is important to remember that there are many perspectives on the benefits and disadvantages of both what are called ‘arranged marriages‘ and ‘love marriages‘. Let us suspend judgment and consider different cultural perspectives and personal stories before we give our opinion.

What is an arranged marriage? In places where this is not a common practice any more, the words arranged marriage often bring to mind the image of two people being forced to get married, sometimes people of significantly different ages, or marriages were a dowry or money are involved. The bride and groom may have not even met in person or communicated before, but their families have and they have arranged a marriage that they consider appropriate for the bride and groom and that may last a long time. Although the terms are often exchanged or confused, arranged marriages are not the same as forced marriages, in which the freedom or will of the individuals being married is not taken into account and they may be threatened with violence or cast out from the family or society. In the case of forced marriages, this goes against basic human and children’s rights and it is often being addressed from the legislation or social work areas in the places where it happens. In the case of arranged marriages, we are considering those in which the family plays a role to help the younger ones to meet people who may be a suitable match for long-lasting, stable marriages in which love also may flourish over time as the fruit of living together.

New forms of arranged marriage still involve the families of the bride and the groom who, according to Dr. Robert Epstein, may act as a “screening of deal breakers”. This is often based on the premise that the families have known the bride and groom for many years and may help make a choice that is more suitable in the long term. So, in some cases, the relationship may not start with romance, as it is often the case in the so-called ‘love marriages’, but love may develop over time. The families may be a point of contact for the two people to meet, but then the relationship and the final decision will come from the bride and groom.

“I don’t think love marriage and arranged marriage are as different as we make them out to be,” said Michael J. Rosenfeld, an associate professor in the department of sociology at Stanford University. “The people we end up married to or partnered up with end up being similar to us in race, religion and class background and age, which means that they might not be all that different from the person that your mother would have picked for you.” From Ji Hyun Lee, Modern Lessons from Arranged Marriages.

Do new technologies play a role in this? With the spread of the Internet, social media and dating sites have become an avenue for families to look for candidates. Just as people who individually want to meet people on dating sites like Match.com, families may do so on sites such as Shaadi.com. Once the families have made the first contact, the two people may continue to interact through Facebook, over the phone and in person, with less involvement of the family, until they finally make a decision to formalize the relationship or not continue to date. In this article of the New York Times, Ji Hyun Lee talks further about some insights from arranged marriages nowadays. As a counterpoint, you may also want to read this article from writer Anita Jain whose family is trying to arrange her to meet with possible future grooms and her struggles to cope with familial pressure.

Watch a short film about two young people who get to know each other in this way.

In a very broad view, ‘arranged marriages’ may be more frequent in collectivistic societies where the extended family plays an active role and extended social relationships are highly valued, while ‘love marriages’ may be more frequent in individualistic societies and may sometimes begin with the romance factor. However, this should not be overstated. As societies change, the influence of laws, customs and media affect the way that people see their marriage unions and there is no clear-cut on how people make their choices. It is worth considering that different forms of relationships have different advantages and disadvantages, especially thinking about the viability in the long term, and that the families have a crucial role in both individualistic and collectivistic societies. In both love and arranged marriages, what is really important is the positive and supportive role of those around us.

Many films have tried to capture directly or as a secondary plot the blurry lines between love and arrangement for years, especially from those who live in intercultural contexts where both types of marriages are very close to each other. Some films that you may find interesting (watch out for spoilers in the videos, you may not want to click if you plan to watch the movie) are:

  • Arranged (2007): two girls in New York City go through similar experiences with their families as they begin to feel pressure to get married and find support in each other.

  • Outsourced (2006): the manager of a US call center is transferred to India, where he meets and develops feelings for someone.

  • The Age of Innocence (1993): in 19th century New York, a young lawyer finds himself caught between the arrangements and wishes of his family and the love for a woman he should not marry.

  • Monsoon Wedding (2001): Mira Nair portrays the complexity of a family in transition and the values across generations as they prepare the wedding of their youngest daughter.

  • Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995): in this classic musical, a Punjabi girl raised in the UK feels the imminent collision of her family traditions and her will to travel and fall in love on her own (following clip in Hindi).

If you read this article, please use it as a platform and continue to read about different stories and perspectives, remembering that this is a sensitive issue for many people and it is important to be respectful. Please feel free to comment on this post in a respectful manner as well and share resources that can be educational and add to the conversation.

One thought on “What is an arranged marriage?

  1. I may not be Indian nor am I from any other country that practices arrange marriages, but from what I can tell from looking at the statistics, it sounds like arrange marriages might be to best way to have a long standing relationship.

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