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While talking to a friend in distress over dating dilemmas, I confessed that if life had not taken the drastic turn that it did for me, I would have perhaps resorted to the age old comfort of an arranged marriage. I could clearly see her disbelief as she jumped out of her chair, because my story was a wildly adventurous one of moving across the globe for an interracial love affair that evolved into marriage. But like everyone else, I have thought a lot about the what ifs of life. “How could you say that? How could you ever let someone else be liaison between you and your soul mate?” she gasped. “Well,” I said, “Isn’t that what dating websites do?”
I remember when dating websites like shaadi.com first showed up in India. They were a joke. I heard lots of aunties and uncles smirking at the prospect of a computer medium finding a right match. And yet I was interested to follow its development as a phenomenon in modern India.
A person enters their own information and what he or she would like in a partner. Issues like social status, money, looks, expectations and family values definitely play a role in the selection. A search engine acts much like an old, pan chewing, all knowing match making matriarch and produces options for consideration. Isn’t this what the idea of arranged marriage is?
Arranged marriages are most prevalent in India, China, Japan and predominantly eastern cultures. But unlike popular belief, arranged marriages date back to the 5th century in England. Their exposure in Victorian England is no more well known than being the subject of various romantic novels including Jane Austen‘s iconic classic Pride and Prejudice. Royal families across the world including the English monarchy have practiced arranged alliances and even practices like bride price aka dowry!
The West sometimes sees arranged marriage as a primitive and forceful proposition where the bride and the groom have no choice other than to submit their lives (without any say) to a partner who almost definitely will not be suitable. Parents are seen as controlling (yes, sometimes they are, but not always) and children as voiceless puppets. A drab life of no love and happily never after. Well, reality begs to differ. I think modern day arranged marriages are just means to find a partner. There is room to meet, date and weigh the prospect in a rational way.
Finding love is hard. Very few souls are blessed to find their soulmates very early on in life. Or how many of us can really walk into a bar and pick up the next super model and marry him or her? The pressure from society to be in love, to always be dating and the assumed pity when we are single is very hard on anyone, let alone young people. In a world of many options, where even finding the right breakfast cereal takes a lot of research, how are we expected to find life partners in a heartbeat?
Popular culture, even today, makes us think that there is something wrong if we have not been chased in the rain by a lovelorn secret admirer and if we are not happily married to him soon after. Love is not such a jackpot. If you ask any couple married long enough, you will find that a successful marriage is not an accident. It does not matter if you are head over heels in love with someone before you marry them or if your love grows and evolves after being married. Love is work. Period.
Relationships work or don’t work regardless of how they came to be. I wish there was a formula, but there isn’t. And that’s what makes it more alluring, more challenging and all the more human.
Why not then accept help? Why not allow channels to open for people to come into our lives, how they do so does not matter. It could be your long lost aunt or a friend calling with a proposal, a cheesy matrimonial ad, a new dating app, or even that supermodel at a local bar! You just don’t know.
Preeti Hay is a freelance writer. Her articles have appeared in publications including The Times of India, Yoga International, Khabar Magazine, India Currents and anthologies of poetry and fiction.