If you sum up all lists out there on the Internet titled ‘Questions Americans ask that annoy Indians!’ and rank the ques- tions, the question ‘Is yours an arranged marriage?’ trails only the legendary ‘Are there really elephants on the road?’ question. From my first year in the
United States to my 18th, I have been asked
that question numerous times. It is usually
accompanied by perturbed eyes expecting an
I still remember receiving that question for the
After arriving in America for my Masters
during my first year I had visited a beauty
salon for eyebrow shaping service in my
small university town situated in heartland
America. Although, I truly couldn’t afford a
visit to a salon as a fresh off the boater with
a meager Resident Assistant salary, I had
scraped together a few pennies from here
and there to look more presentable during a close relative’s wedding and my
own engagement. After learning about
my upcoming trip to the East Coast
and my engagement, the beautician stopped what she was
doing, looked at me, and
with eyes filled with apprehension asked me, ‘Is your
engagement an arranged
one? By your parents?’
Blushing with smile and beaming with pride, I had then answered
with an emphatic ‘No way! I would NEVER do an arranged
marriage. Ours is a love marriage!’ I still also remember the
sigh of relief on her face before she moved on to ‘So exciting!
How did you guys meet?’
More than a decade-and-a-half of marriage and nearly two
decades of American societal experience have now taught me
that the beautician’s concern over ‘arranged marriage’ was
unwarranted. Now I understand that the success of a mar-
riage doesn’t solely rely on the moment and circumstances of
how one meets one’s spouse.
While I am thankful to my parents and my guts that
allowed me to pursue my choice, I have also come to respect
any strong, and especially a symbiotic marriage or long-term
relationship regardless of how it started.
To be fair to others, I find that while we Indians complain
about native-born Americans and other non-Indians’ ignorance, the question, ‘Love Ya Arranged?’ is quite prevalent
within Indian social circles too. Despite the fact that the
question is bit humorous and grammatically inaccurate. It
implies you can have only one or the other!
Looking back, I realize that while I had rejected a suitable
boy here and there on grounds of ‘chemistry’ and ‘connection’
or lack thereof, my strong desire for love marriage was not
romanticism inspired by cheesy Mills and Boon fictions or
Disney-styled princess fairy tales. I think I had a strong
opposition to arranged marriage, which at the time seemed
like an impersonal and elaborate system of other people
choosing the most important person in your life. It also
seemed like a cookie cutter approach to match making — a
very personal and the most influential decision making in
I remember one wise uncle advising, ‘There should be 10
points on the checklist for the boy, and if you can check off six
or seven off them, he is good enough!’ Forecasting that
‘Connection and chemistry are baseless ideas that would
leave you a spinster for rest of your life.’ I am sure my two
lovely children will get a good laugh when they hear that
There are checklists to quantify marriageability, uncles and
aunties to always lookout for you, and of course, the umbrella of family status that make this centuries-old ‘arranged
marriage’ system strong and relevant even today. Just by the
fact that it is still around one may have to acknowledge the
validity of the functions and outcomes of the system.
Yet while one may take much pride in this everlasting system, one also needs to acknowledge that it has huge holes
too. The checklists don’t account for individual characteristics, personalities and sensitivities. A well-educated smart
girl may not score high on those checklists if she were dusky.
A wealthy boy with bad habits or substance dependency
could easily score higher than a hardworking middle class
boy. We all possibly know marriages where one of the parties
had not made full and honest disclosures about their suitable
boy or girl, which led to disastrous outcomes.
And let’s not even get started on the caste factor, let alone
religion or astrology.
The biggest issue with it though is that this system doesn’t
always guarantee the main subject’s interest. While it seems
like everyone is concerned about the wellbeing of the girl or
the boy, on regular basis many other factors trump the suit-ability factor during the matchmaking process.
A case in point is ‘access to America.’ If there is a Green
Card or H1 or F1 or even illegal chance of emigration to America, the whole system goes upside down and even the checklists are abandoned. While the practitioners of arranged
marriage profess ‘marriage is between two families,’ parents
happily marry their offspring into a family they did not know
just a week prior. Suddenly the dusky girl with a Green Card
can score high.
And the traditional folks, who take pride in not buying
even a new dress on ‘inauspicious’ days of the religious calendar, will fix their children’s weddings during the most
inauspicious periods of that same calendar as NRIs only
show up during that period. It only takes a whiff of the green
(card or buck) to shake up this centuries-old system.
There are other circumstances too where the decision making doesn’t strive for what is best for the girl or the boy. While
the homeland has made lot of progress in last two decades,
there is still room for bending rules.
That makes you wonder about other systems out there too.
The most prevalent matchmaking system in US is, of course, dating which followers rightfully call Dating
Game. Unlike the emotions of excitement and romance
that it invokes, Dating Game also is an arena with its own
rules. There are many Dos and Don’ts, How Tos, and even
Q&As offered by ‘experts’ who guide the naïve through the
jungle. Your chances are maximized if you adhere to the
expert advices ranging from ‘What to wear on first date’ to
‘How to converse to make a lasting impact’ to ‘Right
amount of eye contact during the Date’ to ‘Who should pay’
and much more.
Just the way the well-meaning aunty advises the young girl
to roast the papad without a single blemish, the dating
expert advises on colors, necklines, and styles to wear on the
dates. If a woman wears certain clothes, it makes her look
‘easily available.’ In other clothes, she may come across as
‘elementary school teacher.’
The barrage of protocol follows into the afterlife of ‘The
Date’ — when to call and when not to call after dates. If you
call too early, you are desperate and if you take your time, the
other person has moved on.
And the current trend in the new social media-driven digital world is that the most indifferent person has the upper
hand in the relationship!
In essence even in the Dating Game, individuals conform
to many preexisting norms in order to be successful. The
Dating Gamers go through evaluation of their prospects similar to uncles/aunties going through checklists, except they
do the homework themselves.
At least in the case of uncle/aunty, they would provide a
clear verdict on the success of the matchmaking; Dating
Gamers have to simply stop looking at their phones obsessively for that ‘Gr8 fun. Wanna hang out L8R?’ text to arrive.
When Dating and Matchmaking in the real world are not possible or effective, there is the virtual world of
the Web offering matchmaking through the likes of Mat-
ch.com, Zoosk.com, OkCupid.com and many more depending upon what one’s interests are. One’s bored life of constantly checking smartphone for excitement could actually
be made exciting by the likes of Tinder, and Grindr with just
few finger taps.
Among these myriad of services available at the fingertips,
if one wants to rely on only one source to find THE one, its
eHarmony.com. Within just 15 years of its existence, it is
responsible for whopping 1 million marriages and additional
1 million long-term relationships. It even claims that the
divorce rates amongst its users (customers) is very low compared to the average.
ÂLove ya Arranged?Ê
‘Is yours an arranged marriage?’
trails only the legendary ‘Are
there really elephants on the
road?’ among the questions the
Indian Diaspora frequently face.
And Shachi Patel has faced
her fair share of them.