Arranged marriage. Those two words used to send a shiver of fear down my spine growing up. After all, who would want to marry the man their parents pick out, in a marriage where - at least initially - love, passion and intimacy have no place. However, as I got older and none the wiser in the dating department, I begrudgingly succumbed to the idea of letting my parents – horror of all horrors – set me up.
My resigned acceptance came after my mother so lovingly convinced me that after 24 years of age my market value would go down, which in turn would affect the prospects of getting a ‘suitable’ husband. It wasn’t an easy concept to swallow; there were times when I argued, huffed and yes as ashamed as I am to admit to it, threw a tantrum. It was a frightening notion to accept and I adjudicated that if I was to go down that road then I wouldn’t go quietly.
In retrospect, I realize it was definitely easier to let them do the searching because, as most other parents do, they desire the best for their children. Living in a society where work or school leaves very limited time to socialize and look for someone outside of your own circle of friends, it takes away the unnecessary burden of finding a partner yourself. They also have a wider range of selections due to meddling relatives and marriage brokers, whereas mine would be limited to social settings and maybe online dating...? And if it doesn’t work out, you don’t have to do the dirty work and give him the boot...you can let your parents do that for you: it definitely saves you from an awkward conversation.
However, even though it seems easier, our choices can be greatly limited due to a major factor that parents seem to place in high esteem. This would be the dreaded horoscope - a grid with 12 boxes that determines whether the marriage is ordained by the gods. Unless your parents are liberal minded, which sadly mine are not, this is not a big issue.
But for those who are more attached to traditional practices it puts at stake the possibility of meeting someone you might actually like. The value of the horoscope is placed on top with personality, chemistry and compatibility drowning at the bottom, struggling for a chance at survival. If the charts don’t match up then getting to know each other is a big no-no.
It can be quite disheartening considering the good catches that have come my way such as doctors, surgeons, engineers and yes, even fire fighters: men who symbolize a sense of sophistication and who seemingly handle themselves in a social setting (stereotyping here? Possibly. But these professions have a certain pizzazz to them that you cannot really expect from a ‘computer professional’ for example). Sadly, those encounters led to nowhere simply because our horoscopes decided to clash like the Titans. Instead, who I ended up with were either bald, pinched face men whose appearance resembled a rat or men who looked like wife beaters (who do I choose?).
Am I being too judgemental and shallow? Perhaps. But taking into consideration that this is the man I’m going to spend the rest of my life with, I’m allowed to have some kind of standard while my “market value” is still relatively high. After all, I’m sure these men have interesting personalities, but what is it they say, if you don’t feel an initial bang then they’re probably not the one. So I can safely say I didn’t feel any bang. Rather what I felt was my insides shrivelling and a heightened animalistic need to escape.
Am I the only one who feels this way? No. A few of my single girlfriends have capitulated themselves to a similar fate. The expectation of culture calls for Tamil girls to tie the knot before their thirties- a difficult battle to win when you are a lone voice against a sea of voices calling for you to honour tradition out of sense of duty.
As a veteran in the whole arranged marriage process, I’ve been commanded a list of DOs and DON’Ts as to what constitutes an acceptable behaviour when conversing with any possible to-be-husbands. Instead of letting out a big guff of laughter, I was ‘encouraged’ to produce a giggle. I wasn’t supposed to be too opinionated or have strong beliefs as to what the role of women after marriage should be, and I was to dress relatively feminine to capture the man’s physical interest.
Yes, it was a highly irritating process to go through for a former tomboy and I begrudgingly submitted myself to some not all of the requirements (my defence: false advertisement could lead to divorce). My reasons (validly so) for being myself didn’t hold much merit within my family, after all, I was suppose to metamorphose into something akin to a preying mantis: get the man by giving him false ideas and after the thali has been tied, imprison him to a life of ‘What the heck did I get myself into?’
However, despite all these rules imparted on me, one thing I’ve come to realize is that it is vital to be true to who you are. The first time I tried to act within the set rules, I ended up feeling emotionally drained and physically exhausted (this is just one evening, can you imagine the rest of my life?). You are not doing anyone any favours by pretending and in the end your marriage will start off based on a false foundation. It’s important for parents to understand and fully grasp that marriage is not only about the next step in life where you produce babies with a life partner; it’s about a sacred life-long union between two people where the meaning holds true compatibility in every aspect: physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual and sexual.
Marriage is not a beautiful garden you walk into. It’s a boring, empty, insipid yard where you and your partner need to plant the seeds that you regularly water to cultivate the beautiful garden that others can admire. It is hard work, plain and simple, and you need to be emotionally ready to go into it. For many years my mother and extended family members would constantly bombard me with proposals. I was only 20 at the time and I was in no way ready for marriage. Yet despite my own objections, the pressure didn’t stop. My one saving grace was the support I got from my father who amidst the commotion would gently pull me aside and ask me if this was what I wanted and actually listened to what I had to say. In the end he would remind me that it was my choice to say yes or no.
It’s important for women to realize that they do have a choice and to make the right choice for themselves, not for the family. After all, it is not about finding the perfect man but the man that is perfect for you. Unlike the life we’d be living in Sri Lanka, women have options here and in a day and age where women are independent and can hold their own, the grounds for arranged marriage no longer holds the same reasons as it would have done in the past. Don’t be afraid to set standards and don’t let family pressure and fear of losing your “market value” make you settle for something less than you deserve.