Whenever I mention to anyone that most of my relatives have had arranged marriages, it’s almost always met with shock or with pity. I get the impression that people see it as a massive shame – the result of a sad lack of liberty in my culture compared to theirs. I’m not here to deny that this could be true. But the stigma seems to come from a place of little understanding about other cultures, particularly from outsiders in the ‘West’ looking in.
Arranged marriage is not forced marriage. While a forced marriage is where someone has been pressured into getting married without giving their free consent, an arranged marriage is often set up by a relative or friend, and has been willingly agreed to by the couple. How different is it to meeting someone through a dating site, or being set up by one of your friends? The relevant difference is that the aim of the relationship for both parties – in this case, to get married – is made explicit.
I wouldn’t deny that within my culture there is often pressure from parents or wider family to have an arranged marriage or to marry a particular person…
Like any tradition, arranged marriage evolves with each new generation, and the practice varies greatly between communities even in Tamil Nadu (where my family is from) let alone across cultures that practice it. The face of arranged marriages has changed a great deal even since my parents’ day: one of my close relatives was introduced to his wife through family friends, whereas other family members found their partners on sites designed for looking for a partner.
I wouldn’t deny that within my culture there is often pressure from parents or wider family to have an arranged marriage or to marry a particular person. The pressure this places on you means your consent in these situations maybe cannot be considered freely and authentically given. The issue is that people often criticise arranged marriages on the basis that they contradict the ideal of freedom to choose, ignoring that arranged marriages come in a number of different forms, some of which can fit perfectly into a liberal ideal and others which do not.
…it’s not helpful to have a strong opinion about another culture’s practices without a clear understanding about what they actually mean…
Another angle people come at it is from the position of how you can love someone that you don’t know very well. To this, I’d just say that it’s not even that proponents of arranged marriage think of passion and love as unimportant in a relationship, but many believe that these things can develop if other factors of a successful relationship are in place, such as commitment and family compatibility.
This is not a defence of arranged marriage, or a denial of its issues. The point is only that these issues are not endemic to the idea of an arranged marriage, and it is possible to find them problematic without assuming that all arranged marriages are the same. In essence, it’s not helpful to have a strong opinion about another culture’s practices without a clear understanding about what they actually mean.