An arranged marriage, anyone?

Richard and I have just returned from a wild and wonderful trip to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Pakistan where we met parents from Jordan, Lebanon, India and Pakistan.  We always relearn two things when we visit the exotic Arab world or the Indian/Pakistani world.  First, that no matter where good parents live on the face of the earth, they all want the same things for kids. Their greatest desire is to have happy, healthy, successful, well-adjusted, self-motivated kids.

Secondly, and always to our amazement, they have strong, productive marriages because most of them are arranged marriages. One couple told us that even though the numbers are growing, they thought that only about 1 percent of marriages in that part of the world end in divorce. When we were in Pakistan, we found that about 90 percent of the couples who attended our seminar had an arranged marriage. Although it is not quite as prevalent in the Arab world, there are still many, many arranged marriages today.

In years gone by, most arranged marriages literally meant that the couple from Pakistan never really saw each other except for a brief meeting until the day they were married . We had the privilege of meeting a delightful older couple in their beautiful home whose marriage was arranged many years ago. They literally took their vows at the time of their wedding having never seen each other previously.

Here is the wise old grandfather..

And the lovely grandmother with her arm around her grandson with her daughter-in-law to the right.

Today things are a little different. Families reach out to families that they love and respect, or family members see someone they think would be a good match for their child, niece or nephew, and they contact the family with a proposal. Usually, but not always, the families know each other and have similar social and economic backgrounds.  One couple told us that after their initial brief meeting (for about 10 minutes) they corresponded via email for about six months to see if they feel they have enough similar interests, values and goals that they can create a substantial marriage before making any commitments.  Another couple who were introduced at a very young age (she was 15) corresponded for five years before they committed to a marriage.

When things seem right, they validate the commitment and the weddings rolls forth. The celebrations often include many days of celebrations laden with tradition. A cute young mother from India sitting by me at dinner one night told me about the details of her 10-day wedding celebration, each day with it’s own rituals and traditions. She said the last night of the celebration included a reception with elaborate and traditional food for 500-1,000 people. When I asked how she even knew a thousand people, she said, “Well, our extended families include quite a big number, but then also friends ask their friends, and they ask their friends, and we really don’t know how many will show up. And we don’t necessarily even know everyone who comes.” Thus, it is rare when anyone who would like to come to the wedding is left out. This, she said, was very important.

Once the papers are officially signed, the bride goes home with her husband to his parents’ house, although they do enjoy a few days on a honeymoon before the bride commences to be part of her mother-in-law’s household.

When I asked another woman how she dealt with that, she simply said that she had never known any other way. The mother-in-law really runs the extended family with a firm hand and homes are large to accommodate children and other families, as siblings are married.

It seems almost unbelievable to us but it has been part of their life for so many generations that it doesn’t seem strange or even a sacrifice to them. It’s just the way it is. They did admit that the wife does hope for a good mother-in-law.

Although either partner can call off the engagement if the relationship doesn’t seem to be working, somehow most arrangements seem to work. Mind boggling!

Here is the delightful couple who live with the parents shown in the earlier picture. Their marriage was arranged by an aunt who knew this woman and arranged for a meeting  with this man and it worked. They have an adorable 13-year-old son and, after many years of hoping for another baby, a gorgeous 8-month-old daughter.

Actually, after seeing so many well-adjusted, productive marriages that have produced terrific children, we think it’s a great idea!  We’d love to arrange a marriage for a couple of our kids! The only glitch is the kids. They just won’t go for it.

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