Who arranges arranged marriages

Do arranged marriages work better than love-based marriages?

"Can I wake up next to this man every day?" This is the first thing that Rekha asked himself at every arranged meeting. She sips her water and looks Alec in the eye. She looks in love. We meet on a Sunday morning to discuss their arranged marriage. Alec has worked a lot and deep circles under the eyes are visible on his brown skin. The two are in their mid-forties and have been married for 20 years. Happily married even though their families arranged the marriage. How does it work?

The arranged marriage is not a forced marriage

When it comes to this topic, it is first important to distinguish: An arranged marriage is not a forced marriage, as is the case with couples who have no choice or who are married off as children. Because with arranged marriages you don't have to marry the proposed partner. Most studies on the subject distinguish between forced marriage and arranged marriage in which both partners have consented. In India, almost 90 percent of marriages are still concluded with the help of the parents.

Rekha had three meetings, which were arranged through the families, Alec even five. But the right partner was never there. At the latest when you are not married in your mid-twenties, the family will offer their help, the two explain. There is great social pressure to get married, which can also be seen if you only want to rent an AirBnB room. The parents call families they are friends with, organize first meetings and talk about their children. If they are interested in each other after the first contact, they spend time together.

Two weeks vacation for dating

When the two met, Alec was 29 and Rekha was 26 years old. Since Alec's parents died early, his aunt looked after possible spouses. Their families have been in contact for generations. "I got Rekha's email address and later we wrote about ICQ," says Alec, imitating the characteristic ICQ sound. Alec lived in Mumbai at the time, Rekha in Abu-Dhabi. Both have taken two weeks vacation to meet with Rekha's family. “Usually parents ask after three days if you want to get married,” says Alec. They would have taken at least two weeks. “I picked Rekha up at eight in the morning and brought him home at eight in the evening,” says Alec. They went for a walk and mostly talked - all without the family.

[Also at ze.tt: How would you feel if you weren't allowed to choose your partner yourself?]

After two weeks, they knew they wanted to marry each other. It all happened so quickly because the family had already clarified all important questions in advance. "How much do you earn, did you have relationships before and why did they fail, do you want children and have you ever had an affair?" Alec cites as examples. Because the parents would take on all of these questions, all important questions are clarified right at the beginning, which would take much longer with normal dating. “Our parents then told us some things, but not some things either,” says Rekha. There is also downright stalking: family members talk to former college friends and ask about character traits.

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It's about more than love, sometimes not even about love at all

“We wanted our families to stay out of our decision for the most part,” the two of them explain. Usually families would get involved more. They pay attention to their social background, have a strong influence on the decision and sometimes put their children under pressure. This is also due to the fact that families are closely interwoven in arranged marriages. The decision affects the respective families economically as well as socially: fathers find a successor for the family business in their son-in-law, mothers find a domestic help. It's about more than love. Sometimes not even about love.

When an arranged marriage doesn't work, there is sometimes even more pressure. "Some couples stay together unhappy so as not to upset the family," says Rekha. She would have no problem separating from Alec, says Rekha firmly.

Alec and Rekha refused to bow to their parents' pressure. They changed the concept so that it works for them, explains Rekha. They see the arranged marriage as a “tool kit” from which one takes the good and locks the rest away. "Alec was my last try," says Rekha. If it hadn't worked out with him, she would have kept looking without the family, the architect said.

You get to know people you would never meet otherwise

Another advantage of her parents' attempts at coupling was that they met a lot of new people. “You finished your studies at 29, you've been working for a few years and rarely meet new people,” explains Alec. By getting to know each other in an arranged manner, you meet a lot of people you would not otherwise meet. "I don't want to be with someone who is like me." He also had no success with online dating. The classic way to a single bar did not occur to him. "You don't make good decisions under the influence of alcohol."

After both of them had relationships before, they knew what they wanted. Getting married was an integral part of their life's plan. “Arranged marriages are where you meet people with a purpose: marriage,” says Alec. That is a great advantage and clarifies many questions from the outset and reduces the number of interested parties.

[Also at ze.tt: The recipe for a long marriage? Never speak of love!]

The dowry is also important in an arranged marriage. "Converted to German standards, it is a house and a car," says Alec. At that time he did not ask for a dowry, for him it was a decision of conscience. A wedding is not a barter, says the engineer. Otherwise Rekha's family would have had to give them to him. "If he had wanted one, we would not have married," says Rekha uncompromisingly.

When her father asked after the two weeks if Alec wanted to marry his daughter, Alec simply said: I didn't think I'd fall in love within a week, but it was. After Rekha also signaled her approval, things got down to business. Rekha and Alec got married and moved to London together for professional reasons. They now live in Germany and have a 12-year-old son. Would you arrange his future marriage too?

"No," replies Rekha without thinking. Alec hesitates and finally says, "Yes, I think so." He said he wouldn’t put any pressure on him. Because it is precisely this pressure that allows arranged marriages to arise in the first place. If you use the construct of arranged marriage and make clear statements to the family, it can actually help to find a partner, they both assure you.

But the reality is different: Most marriages in India are concluded with pressure and influence from parents. Alec and Rekha are unfortunately only positive exceptions.