Love Marriages vs. Arranged Marriages
There are two main marriage systems – arranged and love marriages – with arranged marriages being the longest existing, especially those that were orchestrated for financial and social gains. These types of marriages are often equated with opposing societies, like the individualistic/Western and traditional/collectivist/Eastern. Individualistic/Western societies are mainly associated with European countries and the United States, although it also significantly exists and influences other parts of the world, and its understanding is represented in several core ideals and values, which include individualism, happiness, rights, capitalism, science and technology. Traditional/collectivist/Eastern culture, largely associated with human interdependence and focused on the goals of a community rather than the individual, is linked to Asian countries. In individualistic societies of the West, the mate selection process is a self-choice system based on the factor of love, where the decision is solely made by the man and woman involved. In this system, young men and women are expected to date, court, fall in love, and then decide whether to get married, with or without parental consent. It is an act of “self-expression and personal gratification in which the individuals in question are in control” and “both romantic love and companionship are perceived as critical components of marriage” (Zaidi & Shuraydi 495).
Many traditional societies, like those in India, are built on the joint or interdependent family system where mate selection is characterized by a marriage arranged through the families of the individuals. “Here, the principles of familial and interdependent social relationships are dominant, especially for females, as they are generally restricted to the boundaries of the home and are prohibited to move independently in the society” (Zaidi & Shuraydi 496). Although fundamentally different in procedures and emphasis on certain marital characteristics, such as love, spirituality, and cultural identity, arranged and love marriages do not differ in overall satisfaction, even when an arranged marriage is conducted in Western culture. Despite the positive outcome of the opposing marriage styles there is still a bias against arranged marriages towards love marriages from a majority of youth, especially women, who come from traditional societies.
The different methods in which mates are selected in these two cultures affects the emphasis put on different characteristics of a potential partner. Western culture in the United States emphasizes the importance of self-fulfillment and the pursuit of happiness, which includes the search for ones ideal partner in order to fulfill the dreams of building one’s own family. This idea largely emphasizes the value of love and that the best relationships are based on love. Thus the only way to achieve this goal is to get to know individuals until a potential marriage partner, that shares mutual interests, attraction, and love, is found. Jane Myers’ study in “Marriage Satisfaction And Wellness In India And The United States: A Preliminary Comparison Of Arranged Marriages And Marriages Of Choice” examines which marital characteristics are most important to individuals in the study and found that “individuals in the United States, where marriages of choice are most predominant, place a high priority on love as a precursor to marriage. In India, where marriage partners are chosen by families rather than the individual themselves, love is a less important precursor to marital happiness” (186). Traditional society in India dictates that the elders of the family should choose an individual’s potential spouse in accordance with family values.
When a parent or guardian starts the search for potential partners they look for someone that shares social and cultural commonalities because they believe that is what’s best for the family and ultimately for their son or daughter. People from India put more importance on nutrition, spirituality, and cultural identity, while those in the United States put more emphasis on factors of sense of control, sense of humor, and work satisfaction (Myers, Madathil, & Tingle 187). These factors can mostly be attributed to the cultures to which these individuals pertain. The importance of nutrition in India suggests the importance of economic well-being and the ability to support their future spouse and children, especially for men who tend to be the bread winners in traditional societies. The ability and acceptance of both spouses contributing to the household economically in the United States puts less stress on the factor of nutrition. Spirituality and cultural identity possibly reflect the greater influence of caste and cultural backgrounds in India than those found in the United States.
There is much more diversification in the United States when it comes to culture and spirituality, thus it is most likely and accepted that people of different backgrounds would marry. The weight put on a sense of humor and work satisfaction by Americans indicates an individualistic society that emphasizes self-gratification and fulfillment between partners. Myers study suggests that there is no significant difference in the overall satisfaction and wellness of the marriages in these opposing marriage systems (187) and this proposes that it is probably due to the fact that each system and individual within does emphasize different values. It could be argued that perhaps the reason arranged marriages in India and love marriages in the United States ultimately leave individuals with similar levels of satisfaction and wellness is because the marriage systems are a reflection of the two cultures and only work in their respective environments, but Pamela Regan’s study in “Relationship Outcomes in Indian-American Love-based and Arranged Marriages” shows the contrary – at least partially. The opposing marriage methods were contracted and occurred in the same Western culture of the United States and when surveyed individuals of arranged and love marriages indicated similar levels of satisfaction and commitment (Regan, Lakhanpal, & Anguiano 922). No matter where the arranged marriages occurred they matched levels of satisfaction to love marriages of the United States, which indicates that it is not the location where the marriages occur but rather the value and emphasis an individual puts on their culture and beliefs in the system that helps facilitate a successful marriage.
The results of Myers’ and Regan’s studies show that in either case arranged marriages can and do culminate in similar levels of satisfaction as love marriages. Westerners may find it hard to understand or accept the concept of arranged marriages, and why they are based on cultural and societal commonalities rather than on love and attraction, which may be due to being brought up in an individualistic society that opposes the collectivist one. As Rochona Majumdar states in Marriage and Modernity, “the institution of arranged marriage thrives in India because it is responsive to the demands of family and social life in the country, with all their constructive hierarchies and struggles” (240). Eastern, specifically Indian, culture and society revolves around the family unit, and not the nuclear family like in Western culture but a joint family system, or extended family system as it is known. Krishan Chakrabortty’s Family in India states that this family system is essential in ensuring that “an interchange of aid, in the form of financial aid, information, advice, professional skill, physical help, co-operation, and emotional support, rotates within the circle of kin which cements the kinship ties” (285). Within this system of collaboration and support it is essential that all members of the family are considered when making decisions and all familial relationships are on good terms. Love marriages in Western culture occur once the lovers find enough commonalities to bond themselves for what they believe will be forever, but arranged marriages are based on realistic and conscious beliefs that their commonalities will build a mutual respect and then possibly grow into love, but most importantly that the potential partner will be able to fit into the dynamics of the family they will be joining.
The documentary Arranged Marriages, directed by Carol Equer-Hamy, demonstrates that those who arrange the marriage, parents or other heads of family, do much research into the potential mate’s background and put much emphasis on the conduct of the individual, reputation of the individual and family, as well as similarities in beliefs and even social class. It’s so important that their sons and daughters find suitable mates that parents go to marriage bureaus, essentially matchmakers, in order to register their children so they can be matched to potential partners. Amicable relationships between new and existing family members are an essential part of the joint family system and arranged marriage, which is why marriages in South Asia are a family affair, and thrive within that culture. Though both mate selection processes have similar outcomes of marriage satisfaction, there is still a preference away from arranged marriages towards love marriages, especially when individuals from Eastern culture emigrate and embrace Western culture. It seems inevitable that individuals, especially women, would be attracted to the concepts of freedom and being able to choose their own partner emphasized by Western culture. Women in traditional societies still tend to be restricted to the family home and have less individual freedoms compared to men, so Western culture would be a major change from what they’ve known. Language, culture and religion are factors that contribute to the challenge that comes from emigrating to the West from countries in South Asia.
Many families may be forced to alter their lifestyles to fit the model of the West and could end up compromising aspects of their old society. Raising children with traditional beliefs can be especially difficult when they are surrounded by North American culture and institutions, as the children might be more assimilated to the westernized way of life. The mate selection process has been gradually influenced by Western culture for South Asians living in both the East and West. Arshia Zaidi’s study in “Perceptions of Arranged Marriages by Young Pakistani Muslim Women living in a Western Society” showed that although some women maintained their beliefs in arranged marriages and had faith that their parents would choose wisely for them, “most women rebelled against the normative patterns of marriage of the ‘old’ country” (511). The external forces of socialization have influenced their perceptions and have provided them with a diversity of options and definitions with regards to their freedom and choice in marital decisions. They’ve adopted the belief that love is an essential component of a marriage and a love marriage is the ideal practice. As one of the women said “…I don’t see how you could marry someone you don’t love…true love and learning to love are two different things…” (Zaidi & Shuraydi 509). Although traditionally, love was not considered a major factor in Pakistani marriages, it is quite evident that it is being strongly valued and adopted by the majority of Pakistani females in Zaidi’s study.
This modification towards a self-choice mate selection process indicates that Pakistani females are moving towards greater individualism in the West, and rejecting the collectivism of the East. Even with these changing views it is hard for women to speak out against their parents’ traditionalist views as they feel the pressure of “respect, tolerance, obligation, duty, sacrifice, and compromise”, values stressed by their collectivist views (Zaidi & Shuraydi 509). Their ideology of marriage focuses on personal fulfillment and personal wishes which goes against the Pakistani family belief system that does not value the individualistic approach to male-female relationships, dating, and love in general. Even though the women’s views and ideas have been adopted from those of Western culture, their parents’ beliefs are still traditional which creates a cultural generation gap and makes it a challenge for the women to act on their beliefs in love marriages. The article “Arranged Marriage, American Lifestyle” on the CNN website conveys the balance between an Indian woman’s personal beliefs on marriage with her parents preference for arranged marriages. The anonymous author relays that she met with a potential partner her parents presumed would be a good match for an arranged marriage, but found that they were in fact not a good match. She explained to her parents why the match wouldn’t work out and explains that when she does marry she does not know if it will be arranged or not. What she does know is that “until I get married, my mom will be dropping not-so-subtle hints that the best…gift for her would be me getting married” (“Arranged Marriage, American Style”). Here, there is a situation in which despite the daughters understanding of her parents’ belief in arranged marriage, she is not for or against any one particular marriage system. She is open to either an arranged or love marriage, which demonstrates that both beliefs and cultures can coexist and one does not need to reject one in favor for another. Western culture has influenced much of life in South Asia, including beliefs of family structure and marriage, particularly for the younger generations.
This has to some extent forced parents to accept the idea that their children are more and more likely to desire a love marriage or at least have greater input when it comes to selecting future spouses. Families are not so much against their children marrying for love, but rather against the possibility that they would not choose a suitable mate with the beliefs that the family values. A marriage that causes troubles within the families, as sometimes occurs in Western love marriages, are not welcome. Collectivist societies revolve around the family unit rather than the individual so any decisions, especially the union to another family, affecting the function and synergy of the family are carefully scrutinized. Rochona Majumdar’s book Marriage and Modernity: Family Values in Colonial Bengal states that “popular Indian cinema is saturated with stories about the tussle between the couple’s romantic love and the interests of the joint family. Most films still rule in the family’s favor” (241). One such film is Monsoon Wedding, directed by Mira Nair, in which western lifestyle mixes with old traditions when young Aditi accepts an arranged marriage after ending her affair with her former boss.
Though the two are in love, their relationship is condemned to end badly because it is not accepted by her family due to the troubles it brings. The main predicament arises from the fact that her boss is married, which in a sense makes the film biased toward arranged marriages from the beginning. It all seems to be a set up for the praise of arranged marriages and critique of love because, although relatives who are living within western culture travel to New Delhi for the wedding, all troubles depicted stem from the clash of the Western and Eastern cultures. The downfalls that can occur in love marriages are, essentially, what arranged marriages try to avoid. Their society is based on family structure, and love marriages can sometimes contest that, especially when the new spouse and family-in-law don’t see eye to eye. So why is the younger generation dismissing the security and stability of an arranged marriage for that of one founded on love? Perhaps it’s the longing to feel passion and desire that love marriages promise and are willing to risk jealousy and heartbreak. Especially for women, who may feel suppressed, it can be tempting to throw all inhibitions to the wind and not have to conform to the rules and restrictions put upon them. Arranged marriages and love marriages are opposing systems within opposing cultures and societies that emphasize different values over others. One system is not necessarily better than the other as both have their advantages and disadvantages.
It all really boils down to the values that individuals hold: if they value individualism and self-gratification then perhaps a love marriage is more suited for them, but an arranged marriage might be more beneficial if they deem cultural and social commonalities as a basis for marriage in higher regards. It is harder for Westerners to accept the system of arranged marriages because they put much value on freedom of choice, which can be hindered by the concept of an arranged marriage. Eastern countries, that include India and Pakistan, have begun accepting Western culture and incorporating it with their own culture and traditions. When it comes to accepting love marriages the older generations are more reluctant than the youth. Westerners may not be inclined to participate in the arranged marriage system but more individuals from collectivist societies are willing to seek a love marriage. It is hard for parents to accept this realization but as individuals in traditional societies begin to have a bigger voice in the choice of spouses, there may be a bigger transition from an arranged marriage to a love marriage system in Eastern countries.
“Arranged Marriage, American-style.” CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Sept. 2012. Web. 5 Nov. 2012. Arranged Marriages. Dir. Carol Equer-Hamy. Filmakers Library, 2002. Filmakers Library Online. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. Chakrabortty, Krishna. Family in India. Jaipur: Rawat Publications, 2002. Print. Majumdar, Rochona. Marriage and Modernity: Family Values in Colonial Bengal. Durham: Duke UP, 2009. Print. Monsoon Wedding. Dir. Mira Nair. IFC Productions, 2001. Netflix Myers, Jane B. Madathil, Jayamala Tingle, Lynne R. “Marriage Satisfaction and Wellness in India and The United States: A Preliminary Comparison Of Arranged Marriages And Marriages Of Choice.” Journal Of Counseling & Development 83.2 (2005): 183. Web. 5 Nov. 2012 Regan, Pamela C., Saloni Lakhanpal, and Carlos Anguiano. “Relationship Outcomes in Indian-American Love-Based and Arranged Marriages.” Psychological Reports 110.3 (2012): 915-24. Web. 22 Oct. 2012. Zaidi, Arshia U., and Muhammad Shuraydi. “Perceptions Of Arranged Marriages By Young Pakistani Muslim Women Living In A Western Society.” Journal Of Comparative Family Studies 33.4 (2002): 495. Web. 5 Nov. 2012