Love and Other Creations of the Mind
What is marriage? I don’t know anything other than what I’ve seen on TV or in adults around me. The image that I get is of a beautiful, idealistic hope that most wish to be a part of. I see a miraculous connection between two people that results in a desire to spend eternity with that single human being. I see the ultimate choice of which person to share this journey with. It sounds incredible; but sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes one chooses the wrong person, or jumps to the conclusion of perfection too early. Sometimes one desperately chases the idea but never meets the tangible human. For better or for worse, marriage to me is less of an infinite, unique, and unbreakable bond, and more of an impermanent leap of faith.
One other Andover student and I became engaged in a conversation with three village women aged 19, 24, and 27. All three were single, but said that all of their friends were married. All three had college degrees and hoped to work if their future husband would allow it. All three were going to have arranged marriages. All three were excited.
“But wouldn't you prefer a love marriage?” I asked. “Wouldn’t you want to choose the person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with?”
Part of the answer lay in family and societal demands, economic security, and other external pressures. But the part that I found most alien and perplexing was the genuine excitement that these three single women felt for their own future arranged marriages. An arranged marriage is simpler, and it leaves less up to chance. They argued that very few love marriages work out, and the desperate race to find a partner often leads to heartbreak. In addition to this, their concept of marriage was more centered on economic security, familial satisfaction, and simplicity than choice. “My father will find me a man who he believes I will get along with and who will be able to provide for me. We will get to know each other for a few months and, if it works, we will marry,” one girl explained. “Love grows.”
She then turned the question on me. “What would you prefer?”
The question caught me off guard. No one had ever asked me anything like this before. “I guess it’s my culture,” I stammered. “And I think there’s something really beautiful about choosing the person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with.” I shrugged. “I’m not sure.”
When visiting another culture, it is important not to immediately dismiss their practices as wrong. I initially entered the village with opinions and assumptions about arranged marriages, but I left feeling confused. While I still believe that there are subtler societal pressures at work surrounding these unions, I can recognize that not all marriages are created equal. Coming in with seemingly flawless American ideals of equality and freedom of choice can mar one’s image of cultural practices and traditions. These women seemed to be genuinely happy and excited for their futures, and they looked at my society with the same skeptical curiosity with which I viewed theirs. Their innocent questioning allowed me to think about a system that I always accepted as a sole possibility, and understand one that I had never encountered. I found that trying to explain the American concept of marriage to three Indian village women was almost as hard as trying to understand theirs.
Some arranged marriages work. Some don’t.
Some love marriages work. Some don’t.
Is either right or wrong? Perhaps. Perhaps not.