Last week I had a fascinating conversation with two women from India, a mother and her 25 year old daughter. We met at a social event and we were enjoying the conversation so much we didn’t want to stop when the activity we were there for began!
The mother and daughter were from the upper class in India, not the kind of people I usually have a chance to speak at length with. The daughter moved here to attend university when she was 18, and the mother still lives in India but comes for a month at a time once or twice a year to visit her daughter.
(It’s not relevant to the topic but it was interesting to hear about the extent of household help the upper caste has – the mother has no children at home, but has five servants – one full time to live with her, one to drive her where she needs to go, someone to cook for her, a gardener, and a house cleaner. It’s because it’s only her at home that she only needs five servants, she said – her relatives with children still at home have nine servants. It’s just $60 a month for a full time servant. )
Anyway, one topic that we discussed at length (relative to the time we had to speak) was marriage – arranged marriage, in particular. The mother had an arranged marriage (she is probably around 45 or 50 years old), and explained to me that the parents intensively research and research to be sure all the important factors are in place. Since the daughter is still single after living here for seven years, I asked her what her perspective on marriage and dating is, and inquired if after being here so long her ideas have changed. She said she’d like to date for several months rather than have an arranged marriage. When I asked her mother what her thoughts on that is, she responded that she doesn’t mind, as long as her daughter finds someone suitable. The daughter laughed and told me, there’s no possible way on her own she’ll find someone her family deems suitable – there are simply too many criteria.
I asked the mother about her own engagement – she said her husband to be was pointed out to her at a dinner, told he was the one decided on, and asked what she thought of him. But she said she couldn’t marry someone she never spoke to, so a couple of times he snuck over to her house so they could speak to each other before the wedding. There are some obvious similarities to the chassidic manner of engagements (though in that case the couples meet each other once or twice for a short time before becoming engaged), and prior to meeting these women I had been thinking quite a lot about why that works so well – which is probably why we ended up having this conversation five minutes after meeting each other!
Part of why I think responsibly done arranged marriages work so well is that parents take their child’s happiness and future very seriously, and do all that they can to be sure the potential spouse is suitable in all ways. The children trust their parents implicitly to do what will be right for them. There’s a lot to think about, but my kids aren’t going to have arranged marriages, so it’s mostly philosophical to me. But the the 25 year old said something else I think is relevant to everyone. She said that they come into marriage with no expectations, and the relationship grows and develops from there. That’s exactly the opposite of the American approach to relationships – people get engaged/married on an emotional high, have huge amounts of expectation, and it often goes downhill from there.
Isn’t it true that the cause of most unhappiness in marriage is due to our unmet expectations of our spouse? We create a lot of our own struggle because we find it so hard to accept the person we marry for who he is, insisting in our own mind (or even verbally) that he be different. The more acceptance we can develop for our spouses, the happier we’ll be.
But that’s the challenge….