This debate is seldom heard in the west, but just a cursory glance at eastern message boards will tell you that it is just as much a hot button issue in the Majority World as reproductive rights are in the US.
The typical western response will be, “What’s to debate?”
Quite a lot, actually, and listening to the argument may give some insight into the reality that other points of view exist.
It starts with the purpose of marriage. In the old days, east and west were pretty much in agreement on that. The purpose of marriage is to regulate sexual behavior and establish and continue a family into the next generation.
Especially among the upper classes in Old Europe, arranged marriage was the rule and not the exception. Love matches were more likely to take place among the serfs, who had no property to consider, and whose family ties were not considered worth bothering about to the extent of solidifying them, and whatever subsequent generations they produced would be, like their parents, disposable, valueless serfs.
The ideal of individual and personal happiness, if considered at all, was thought of as secondary to the ideal of duty. Duty to one’s family, to one’s caste, or class, to one’s community, to society. Naturally, this was especially true of women.
An essential purpose of the marriage, procreation, is in fact still the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, which has millions of followers in the west, though relatively few cling to this particular tenet.
Love, arranged marriage proponents are fond of saying, should rightly come after marriage, not before it. In reality, what is more likely to develop is a fond affection, but not the intense emotion that the love match advocates mean by love.
That all-consuming passion, say the AM bunch, is a fact of human life, but certainly not something on which to base something as serious as marriage. That is, it is considered a fact of life for men, in fact, in many countries, it is accepted practice that a man’s first wife must be the one chosen for him by his parents, and once he has performed his duty and insured the next generation of the family genes, he is free to marry the girl he loves as his second wife. What bliss that must be, the eyes of the west roll.
Why would the girl consent to that? She knew he loved her, yet he married another, and now, a father, he comes to her and says, OK baby, this is our moment. Great.
And what about wife number one? There she is with the baby and her husband of a year or so is planning his second wedding.
Not to all women. Remember the perspective is not the same. Wife number one did not choose this husband. In marrying him, and having his child, she was doing her duty, the duty she has always known she would have. She is not any more in love with him than he with her, and his taking a second wife, since she has produced a son, does not affect her status within her husband’s family or her own, or the community.
In fact, it may even enhance it. Her husband is so prosperous that he can afford a second wife.
Also remember that in all probability, she does not live alone with him and their child, but with her husband’s family in an extended living situation. It doesn’t matter much if the two of them have little to say to each other, her parents will have chosen for her a man with many relatives to whom she has plenty to say, and they will be her companions, and her support system. They may even be, like her husband, her distant cousins.
So let us return to wife number two, about to be installed there in the family compound as the second wife. Who arranged this? Why haven’t her parents chosen someone for her?
They probably did, and she probably said no, and between the choice of an arranged marriage and first wife status and being able to be with the man she loved, she chose love. Her position will be somewhat subordinate to that of the first wife, but quite respectable, and any children she has will have the same inheritance as the first wife’s children, if she and her kinsmen insist on this before the marriage.
Both wives will have the full support of their own families, as well as their husbands, should any problems arise, they will not have to work it out on their own. They will be provided for, and have the right to demand that they are provided for equally. They will have security.
Security is not unknown as a factor considered by young western women when choosing a spouse, which they tend to do themselves, without benefit of parents, aunties, astrologers or clerics.
Some of their sisters have mixed feelings about the security thing. Love, they say, is the most important. That he love and desire only you, and you only him.
Well, concede the security minded, but you have to also be pragmatic. And so they tend to spurn the sporadically employed poet who makes their head spin and do their best to fall in love and attain at least some slight head turns in the direction of the young lawyer who has just been made partner.
Or they may engage in some speculative spouse picking, and go for the young man voted Most Likely to Succeed, and put their own education in second place, working as a waitress to put him through some ticket stamping ordeal that they are counting on to ensure that he earns a high enough income that they will not have to work, even if they decide to have children.
Wait! says the eastern sister. Decide not to have children? DECIDE not to have children? How could anyone do that? You mean just marry the man and live with him, just the two of you, no family, no children? Why even bother getting married, then, especially to a man your family knows nothing about, this decision is for the rest of your life, and you think that you can just do this all by yourself, you will reject the help of the people who love you most in the world, the people who want your happiness, and who have known you all your life?
And if problems arise, instead of support, you will get scoldings and I told you so’s and well you brought it all on yourself, and next thing you know, he will run off with someone younger and prettier and leave you without a cent, and if you DO have any children you will have to jump through hoops and pull teeth to get even a pittance for their support, and his family may not have anything else to do with either you or them, and you will have wasted all those years on an emotion, and end up floundering with no security, no status, and nothing for your efforts, or your sons. It will be up to you to somehow start all over, select a new spouse and hope for a better result, and your dream of true love and personal happiness will be just that – a dream, while your sister in the east does not have to worry how her kids will go to college, and they will inherit property, too.
Since most of the arguments against arranged marriage have to do with that ideal of true love and personal happiness, and especially after reading some of the comments from ladies in The Politics of Money and Relationships, this thread, it has occurred to me that while the west, and increasingly, the east, have embraced the love match, there are many people who could use some help on choosing one’s life partner.
I personally believe in the old-fashioned notion that true love lasts forever, and if it does not, then that was not your true love.
Anyone who has “dated” prior to marriage will tell you that they had to go through a lot of wrong ones to get to the right one.
The problem seems to be that too many people are marrying the wrong ones!
What may seem to be true love at first sensation may be any number of other things. Knowing oneself is they key. Some people may know themselves at twenty-five, others may not know themselves at sixty, and sadly, the wisdom of being able to determine whether one does or not tends to come after self-knowledge, not before.
To know oneself well enough to consider marriage, one should not only know oneself today, but know who you will be in fifty years, and who you will want to see across the flowers at breakfast fifty years hence.
There is an old story of a young man who asked his grandfather, how do I know if my new sweetheart is the One? That is easy, the old man answered. If you have to ask, she isn’t.
True love, no matter how much passion, infatuation and excitement its first breeze may bring, will also contain something much quieter and more solid, a calm certainty that this is the bud that will bloom over the years into a flower whose fragrance will overwhelm even the most ardent emotions that dazzle the new lover.
The purpose of love, remember is happiness, not anguish, not insecurity or sturm und drang. This does not mean a lack of arguments. What it does mean is that if the relationship is causing you sadness and anxiety, if you are spending your time wondering whether he or she really returns your love, is dallying with another, will leave you, etc. as opposed to feeling joy that he or she is part of your life, you can be certain that what you are feeling is not true love. A professional will be able to tell you a list of things that it could be, but true love it is not, and if you marry the person, you will regret it.
He or she will not change, and begin to make you happy instead of sad merely because you have participated in a religious ceremony and/or signed legal documents, and/or produced a child.
You will not wish nor feel a need to change your true love when you find him or her, nor they you.
And for those who doubt my qualifications, I will make an exception to my rule of not discussing the personal and reveal that yes, I did marry for love, and we are blessed to have enjoyed more years of happiness than most peoples’ lives last, and in all that time, she has lied to me only once: She says that she has also grown old. But I am not deceived.