During my freshman year of college I immediately became close with my roommate, Malika*. Although she grew up in Pakistan in a culture different than my own, there was hardly any diversity between us.To me, she was just as American as myself and all my other friends. We binge watched Glee together, went shopping on weekends, and talked about the celebrities we had crushes on. That’s why I was astonished when Malika mentioned one night at dinner that when she decided she was ready to get married her parents would arrange a husband for her.
My first thought was to feel bad for her. It made me upset that even though she had lived in America for most of her life, she was still forced to take part in traditions from her country.
However, Malika does not see it that way. She laughed as she explained that she was completely fine with the arrangement and confident that her family would pick out someone who she would love. Plus, in her life, it was a normality. Every married couple in her family is the result of an arranged marriage, including her parents. She even expressed how relieved she was to not have to go through the dating process.
Although arranged marriages are uncommon in the United States, they are customary in countries such as Pakistan, India and Israel.
“I don’t think love marriage and arranged marriage are as different as we make them out to be,” Michael J. Rosenfeld, an associate sociology professor at Stanford University, said in a January 2013 New York Times article. “The people we end up married to or partnered up with end up being similar to us in race, religion and class background and age, which means that they might not be all that different from the person that your mother would have picked for you.”
Parental involvement in marriage has proven to be mostly positive with only an estimated 5% of all arranged marriages ending in divorce, according to UNICEF.
Modern arranged marriages typically work out well because of how much work parents put into finding the perfect partner for their child. Parents search for valuable qualities in a mate for their son or daughter to assure they are educated, have a solid profession (many prefer doctors and engineers), and come from a good family.
“When you realize what it is that the families are doing, it makes excellent sense,” Dr. Robert Epstein, a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavior and Technology, told the New York Times.
The search also focuses on finding “deal breakers” or potential flaws that could cause the marriage to collapse.
“They’re trying to figure our whether something could go wrong that could drive people apart,” said Dr. Epstein.
However, although each partner’s parents are very involved in the choosing of one another, whether they marry or not is ultimately up to the couple.
“There is a lot of homework, a lot of energy spent, before a young man and woman fall in love with each other,” Rabbi Steven Weil, the executive vice president at the Orthodox Union in New York, told the New York Times. “The parents are involved… obviously it’s the decision of the young man and woman, but a parent knows a child.”
In fact, many times young men and women will reject the partner their parents choose for them.
Anita Jain, an Indian woman living in America, wrote about the many suitors she was arranged with and soon turned down in an article for New York Magazine. Although she doesn’t write off arranged marriage, she does recognize the problems it could create for her potential marriage.
“The conundrum is exacerbated by the fact that our parents had no choice for a partner; the only choice was how hard they’d work to be happy,” wrote Jain.
A.J. Khubani had a similar reaction to meeting women his parents wished to arrange him with.
“I refused,” Khubani told the New York Times. “I didn’t see why it was so important.”
Eventually, Khubani gave in and met Poonam Israni, who was not pleased with the idea of being arranged either.
“It was not love at first sight,” said the now Mrs. Khubani. However, after a few days, the couple fell in love and decided to follow through with marriage. Twenty-eight years later, the couple is still married.
Though arranged marriage tends to be more successful and is encouraged among the young adults of several cultures, many still know it may not be the right fit for them.
“I don’t know for sure that an arranged marriage will work for me,” said Malika. “But I will do my best to make it. I trust my parents and the traditions my culture holds true.”
*Name has been changed.