Being a survivor of an arranged marriage along with a “conventional” one, I feel that I can comment on both versions. Since I am of South Asian descent, and more specifically from an orthodox North Indian family, having an arranged marriage was an inevitability I grew up with, along with my two older sisters and brother, all of whom are currently in arranged marriages.
I am now happily married in my third marriage, a conventional one. However, as I look back to my former marriages, I can not clearly say that the conventional was better than arranged. For me, the non-arranged one was more disastrous, except for the gift of my son. This was partly due to being from another culture and not having gained any valuable dating experience, or “alone” time after the arranged marriage, which occurred when I was only 18 and certainly not thinking about or planning on marriage. From all aspects, the arranged husband was a much better “catch.” He was educated, professional, and stable. The “unarranged” husband, well, I picked him up at Radio Shack, where he was a clerk. More than 15 years later, he works at Checkers. Speak of progress.
After divorcing the retail clerk, I finally dated, extensively. I once had eight dates over one weekend. I needed to use my time wisely when I didn’t have my son! I could barely remember their names. The “arranger” of a potential relationship was Match.com. I spent a lot of time with people who were not as well pre-qualified as what my parents could have managed. It left me wondering how this was better than the arranged marriage concept? I finally found success with the “arranger” of my church, through which I met my fiance, when I was about to give up on the idea of finding someone.
At the same time, I understand the issues that can exist with arranged marriages, the primary of which seems to be expectations. I am currently trying to support a South Asian friend who would like to explore leaving his arranged choice. I reminded him how he could be trading one set of issues for another and to try to appreciate what he has (and perhaps that area would expand). He was having a hard time coming up with things to be grateful for, so I sent a list of ten items that began with “she has a pulse.”
The South Asian concept of arranged marriage is based on the idea that love can come later, after commitment, and that love is a verb, just as Stephen Covey suggests. During moments of disillusionment with my mate, I like to think of this verb and remind myself of all that I am grateful for, regardless of “how” or through “whom” I met him.