By Boshika Gupta
Picture this: A family visits another family’s home, dressed in their finest clothes and sporting bright smiles on their faces. Formal greetings take place, tea and refreshments are served and a young boy is introduced to a girl. Does he have any questions for her? Does she want to ask him about his educational background? Maybe the kids should be allowed to talk and get to know each other, let’s give them a little space?
These are scenes from a typical arranged marriage setup that involves prospective matches and their families who participate in an elaborate ritual to help a couple find marital bliss. They may have met through a matrimonial site that allows them to scan basic details and agree to meet to figure out whether they work well together or they may have been introduced to each other through common acquaintances or relatives. They may even have asked a professional matchmaker to intervene. Family members are key – it’s important in arranged unions for parents to get involved and help streamline the process for their children. Essentially, both sets of parents need to get along as much as their children for the arrangement to work.
Arranged marriages were the norm for most of our history, as it turns out. Marriage was perceived to be a rather grim affair that couldn’t be based on something delicate like love. “If love could grow out of it, that was wonderful,” said Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History. “But that was gravy.”
It’s only in the 17th and 18th centuries that things started to change. People were encouraged to chase happiness and marry for love, not for status or money. Women’s rights started gaining traction as well, and the 20th century proved to be a major game changer. Women wanted to be their husbands’ equals in the West, and not be considered their property. Marriage evolved slowly to become a very personal affair between a couple – who could choose to have or not have children, stay together or divorce if they were unhappy together.
Arranged marriages were common in Singapore in the 1960s. The practice fizzled out as more women started working and getting access to education, insisting on making their own choices. In pre-independent Singapore though, things were different and everyone was expected to settle down and adhere to their family’s wishes. “There was also a greater expectation to follow parental wishes and one of the parents’ roles was to help ensure a good marriage match for their children,” said sociologist Mathew Mathews.
While the institution of marriage has witnessed major changes over the years, arranged marriages aren’t unheard of even today. In certain cultures such as the Hindus in India, the Amish community in the U.S. and the ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel still prefer traditional unions. It’s important to note that even immigrants from these communities who’ve moved away from their home countries may choose to opt for an arranged marriage in a bid to stay true to their family traditions or to make their parents happy.
The annual divorce rate for arranged marriages globally was 6% in 2016 according to a study conducted by Statistic Brain which states that there were a whopping 26,250,000 arranged marriages across the world in 2016. It is difficult to say that arranged marriages are generally more successful than other marriages simply because a lot of factors such as a taboo around divorce in certain societies need to be considered.
Perhaps it makes more sense to live and let live, love and let love – allowing people to walk down the aisle the way they want to, opting for the route that works best for them and their lives. This should be the norm for everyone, no matter where they’re from, where they’re going and where they want to be.
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