Love and marriage in India and the West
I am sure you have realised what date it was yesterday, so I dont need any cows .
What was true is that I do love India and find particularly northern Indian women very charming and attractive. But I am very happy not to have to worry about an Indian wedding at this stage ;-). And
..there is no girl called Nadya in the office
Good, enough joking for now. Now that we talk about the interesting issue of marriage in India, Ill better write a bit more about it.
Marry for life
Whether wedding gifts are the norm here in India (let alone in the form of animals), I dont know. What I do know is that marriage is a huge thing here in India. In India you marry for life. Here your marriage is not just between you and your partner, but it is also between your family and her/his family. The family is seen as responsible for the marriage as much as the partners themselves. And also when a marriage fails that is seen as a shame for the whole family. So when I wrote in my 1st of April e-mail that the importance of the family was something I did not feel very comfortable about. That would definitely be the case for this individualist Westerner.
Divorce is still not done, although I am sure it happens more and more now that India is developing so quickly. But, it still happens that a divorced women (it is always the women who pay the price in religious countries), is supposed not to marry again and seen as a fallen women. So there you have some of the less positive aspects of India.
Something else that also still happens is arranged marriages. But my originally very negative idea about that has become a bit more absolute now that I know more about it. The most extreme form is that the parents decide who the children marry and they see their future for the first time in their life at the wedding. That still happens but is becoming more and more an exception. A little less extreme is that they have met before, but still cannot say no if they dont like their future wife or husband.
Then, more common is that the family proposes possible future partners and enables the children to meet. Without the presence of the parents, that is. So the family looks into other good families and tries to make a good match. They kind of operate as a dating office, you might say. This way the son or daughter can meet many possible wives or husbands and choose whoever they like. So the family does not decide, but proposes and selects a large number of candidates. Still something we in the west cannot imagine. Imagine your mother selecting possible partners for you. But this is a very different situation than the one I wrote about before.
A work contact of mine here in Delhi, a modern, intelligent architect, who is in his early 30s explained to me how this worked in his case. Around 30 he - and his family and the rest of society - felt that it was time to marry. So for half a year or so he dated many many women, with the clear objective to find a wife, not just a girlfriend. Whether most or all where suggested by his mother, I dont remember, but they were definitely not all his selection.
He then met a girl he really liked. The same outlook on life, attractive in his eyes, etc., etc. They then started going out to get to know each other better, and, I have to check that a preliminary date for the marriage is set. At this stage there is no commitment yet, but it is not just playing around, but seriously seeing if they are compatible to marry soon. He told me that they both could say no if they felt that their marriage would not work, but that at that stage there were already expectations from the family, so it would not be easy to do that.
He told me that they really liked each other and he is now happily married for a few years.
The western way of first falling in love and then getting married is gaining in popularity in India, but is as far as I understand, still the exception. Here they call that love marriages, something that is okay in modern families. But I also understand that many young people dont make a conscious decision either way. If I fall in love with someone I could end up marrying that person. However if by 30 or so I still havent found anyone it is fine to follow the procedure described above. Here it doesnt matter how you find your husband or wife, what matters is that you find a husband or wife by your mid-thirties at the latest.
Happy arranged marriages
Now comes the interesting part. According to what I hear from people and read in the papers, arranged marriages as described above, are not only more lasting (which makes sense with so much pressure of the family to not get divorced), but also very often happier. How could that be? I have an explanation based on my own experiences with love and what I have read in books from experts in the field of love and relationships.
I am just reading a book on this topic and that includes a checklist of six questions for a good relationship. It is checklist to be used before you commit or even before you madly fall in love. One of the questions is: Do I fancy the other person?, all the other criteria are things like Do we have the same outlook on life? Do we have similar norms and values? Do we have similar ideas about work and children? Do I notice any character flaws in the other person?
The author then remarks: Many relationships are based on the first criteria only: Do I fancy the other person? And that is why they so often fail. When you fall madly in love you are blinded for the incompatible character traits of your girlfriend. So you might have the most amazing sex, but when the honeymoon period of infatuation is over you have to live with this person and then the answers to the other 5 questions become more important.
The arranged marriages work the other way around. Here all the focus is on the other 5 criteria. Are we compatible in all the other ways apart from the physical attraction? If then these people start to appreciate and know each other, love and sexual attraction can grow. So this more organized and planned kind of marriage, what we in the west might see as not romantic can actually work very well. Another aspect of course is that because the stakes are high, the marriage should not fail, there is a higher level of commitment and no marriage or relationship can survive without a strong commitment. Problems always come. If you then are not committed to make the relationship work the decision is quickly made to end the relationship.
Both these factors, I think explain why there are so many break-ups and divorces in the west.
My own relationship experience
If I know look back on my own relationship I have to say that it was based on more criteria than just Do I fancy the other person?. I didnt even fancy here in the first few days we met, but then quickly fell madly in love. We certainly share(d) a lot of common values and how we look(ed) at the outside world. But when it came to our ideas about the importance of work versus relationship, the level of commitment to the relationship, the ideas about struggle in the relationship and how to overcome them, and ideas about personal growth we had very different ideas that in the end decided the fate of our relationship.
So there you are, my idea that arranged marriages are all bad is not as black and white anymore. I am not planning to ask my mother to select some nice women for me (dont worry mum), but definitely do (and also did of course, but no confirmed again) understand that a good and lasting relationship needs to be based on much more than just sexual attraction.
Okay, more than enough for now. All the best,