"It was like they were living in two different worlds.”
The famous saying ‘Marriages are made in heaven’ is a popular one. However, many arranged marriages in India tell a different story.
Since time immemorial, marriages in India have been arranged by elders of the family and relatives, who view the event as a social necessity or a way to carry forward the lineage.
As soon as boys and girls come of age, which is typically after they graduate, parents start looking for a suitable match. And as soon as one is found, a date is picked and the wedding is executed.
Apart from being an obligatory event, the feelings of the individuals involved often take a backseat as they hardly have any say in the decision.
The bride and groom seeing each other for the first time on their wedding night is commonplace in the country.
While such arranged marriages in India still exist, they have undergone a major shift over the decades, especially in the urban context.
The advent of the internet combined with other factors like women empowerment has brought about drastic changes in the arranged marriage scenario in the country.
Modern Arranged Marriages – What Do They Look Like?
Take the ‘swipe right’ feature of Tinder, go for some dates, add in the astrological expert’s advice, some bits of empowered women to spice things up, a pinch of parents’ blessings, and mix them well.
Presenting to you the Modern Arranged Marriage *hoots and cheering.*
As educational levels rise, socio-cultural exposure increases and women’s status in the society experiences a shift to become equal to men. Marriage and dating shake hands to suit the emerging times.
According to a UN Women’s report of 2019-2020, it states:
“Semi-arranged marriages are replacing the conventional way of approaching the institution in India, at least in the urban settings.”
It all starts with a request on platforms like Shaadi or Jeevansathi or a call that shows the aspiring bride or groom’s interest.
If the same is reciprocated from the other end, the prospects exchange numbers and interact in ways that are similar to contemporary dating.
Not only do men and women have the power to choose who to wed but also initiate the process in most cases.
Thanks to the internet and the prevalence of matrimony websites that are allowing them to become self-reliant.
Yes, the family remains a core part of the process. But they are no longer the sole decision-makers, even though their say does matter.
It is clear that arranged marriages in India have altered in terms of rituals. Previously, they included one supervised meeting between the couple and a few among the families to adapt to the current times.
However, while the dynamics of arranged marriages are different, like every other thing it also comes with its own set of pros and cons.
The Good and Bad of Modern Arranged Marriages
Arranged marriages in India have journeyed from being a social obligation to a choice. Young Indians are not only choosing who to marry but also when to marry.
Although tying the knot in your 20s is the norm in the nation, the tribe of single, independent folks who have passed the ‘marriageable age’ has been growing in recent decades.
Various factors including financial stability, readiness to handle responsibilities and play a role in matrimonial decisions.
When asked about the right time to get married, one of the most common answers received is that age has nothing to do with settling down.
In an article by the Times of India, where men and women were asked the same question, an advertising professional named Soma Bhatacharjee said:
“There’s no best age to get married. Men or women alike. Unless the person is ready. It can be early 20s or late 30s.”
A home chef by profession, Ameena S. underwent financial stress within two months of her wedding. In her opinion:
“Not many people, especially women, consider the importance of financial stability before getting married. I learnt it the hard way.
“So, I would always advise young people to be financially stable before starting their conjugal life.”
Amongst the millennial generation is also those who echo the societal view that girls should be married before their 30s.
Naina Singh, a teacher, is of the opinion that girls should tie the knot before they enter their 30s to avoid complications when having a child.
From the various modifications that have occurred, one of the major ones is that women are now exercising their agency in decisions regarding their marriage.
The UN Women’s report mentioned above found that females are three times more likely to be involved in key areas of decision making in semi-arranged marriages.
This differs to those where parents and family pick a partner.
A part of an article by Your Story talks about women in their late 30s who are happy with the tag of ‘single’, unaffected by what people have to say.
Marriage is no longer a necessity for them, but a personal decision. Aspects like companionship, love, sharing of responsibilities, mental preparedness, etc. take the lead.
Elizabeth Flock, the writer of ‘Love and Marriage’ in Mumbai says she witnessed a lot of changes among women. As told in an interview with Quartz:
“I saw really strong women who had strong ideas of what they wanted. The men were a bit more lost and a bit more behind. It was like they were living in two different worlds.”
Undoubtedly, things for women are changing with the evolution of arranged marriages in India.
But, not much seems to have altered for men. They seem to be torn between the needs of their families, their opinions, and traditions.
While this is true, the progress is not an indication of women empowerment. Women who marry late or choose to stay single are not free of judgemental glances.
Shalini had an early marriage and got divorced within a year of it. Despite being in her early 20s, she is constantly reminded of ‘her place’ in society. She said:
“A divorcee will get only a divorcee. This is an unspoken rule. Plus, I am expected to compromise on various fronts, including the age of my partner.”
Although families call themselves open-minded, the real picture is far from what is told, which adds to the complications of the process.
Men and women wanting to settle down are in no rush as they wait for the right one. But finding the one is a challenge in itself.
The lines between love and arranged marriages in India are blurring.
On the one hand, options are increasing and individuals get time to understand potential partners by going on multiple dates.
On the other hand, problems of misplaced expectations, fear of missing out, etc. are equally prevalent.
Finding a match now is like shopping at Walmart. With lakhs (100,000) of profiles, one is easily spoilt for choice.
People do not stop at one or two, but like browsing options. ‘I think I should see more, what if I find someone better’ is the common attitude. This leads one to fall into a never-ending loop of choices.
Rahul, who is on the lookout for a better half to spend the rest of his life with, says:
“It seems everything is going in the right direction for a while and one fine day I am told that we cannot continue further. Because the girls I meet are seeing other boys as well.”
“It is emotionally devastating, as one tends to get attached in the process.”
Similar is the case with Radhika, whose search had started two years back:
“I was seeing a guy. We met a couple of times and we both were confident about each other. One fine day he started avoiding me.”
Most aspiring grooms and brides also have a misplaced sense of expectations in terms of their partner and the relationship.
Yes, many girls still wish for a Prince Charming, while men want a good looking (often fair) wife. Thanks to Bollywood for having fed us with endless fantasies.
One of the answers on Quora shares a story of a girl, in her 30s and ready to settle for any guy because she was too picky and rejected proposals on the basis of handsomeness, height and financial status.
The same answer also talks about a man, who turned down good proposals by seeing pictures alone or because the girl was too educated and may act superior to him.
There’s nothing wrong in seeking equal status from marriage, which women do. But, at the slightest mention of home chores, many women quit the relationship.
Plus, many men still look for a wife who is less educated, ready to sit at home and follow orders. The paternal instincts of power and prejudice are inherent in their system.
Looks, clichéd ideas of romance, traditions, and money still take precedence over compatibility and love.
As a result, it becomes too late and one has to do with whatever comes their way; missing out on the best that they were initially looking for.
People living a life for Instagram, communication happening through stories and texts, and relationship advice popping up everywhere has given birth to impatience, intolerance, and added to the confusion.
The lack of involvement from elders of the family also acts as a bane at times, as young men and women are highly prone to making emotional decisions.
Attractions lead them to enter into an engagement, only to see it end in a short span of time.
The specific order in which life events, from education to career to marriage, were stacked is being constantly re-arranged by the generation to suit their unique needs. This may or may not include conventional ways.
Today, arranged marriages in India are like that black box full of surprises. It is no longer about ‘being asked to sleep with a stranger’.
At the same time, the path from strangers to lifetime acquaintances is filled with complexities.
How it surprises you, depends on your distinctive situation. However, in any case, the ultimate goal is a happy ending.