My parents, who were born in India and live in Wyoming, had an arranged marriage, one that has lasted almost 30 years. When I’m ready to settle down, I might just follow in their footsteps — and I think more Americans should take a page out of the Indian matchmaking book.
In the past six months, I’ve attended six traditional Indian weddings in the United States and overseas, exciting and colorful events infused with the sense that these would be long and happy couplings. And every one of them was arranged. Indian millennials who aren’t willing to abandon the tradition believe there’s value in having their elders find someone of a compatible financial, religious, and social background. Arranged marriages in India have a lower divorce rate than American marriages, though that could be partly because divorce is generally frowned on in more traditional cultures. Nashra Balagamwala, a Pakistan native who attended the Rhode Island School of Design, made international headlines in late 2017 when she created a board game to spark conversations about arranged marriages and help educate the Western world about them.
I’m not suggesting that everyone should have arranged marriages, but maybe we should at least let our parents set us up on dates. Why trust the wisdom of a dating app’s algorithm or hope for the perfect chance encounter when you can turn to people who truly know and love you? I know I’ve spent my fair share of time on dating apps, swiping away only to find myself uninterested in the matches I ultimately make.
The concept of arranged marriage is not as foreign as you might think. In 1940, about 25 percent of heterosexual couples in America met through family, yet with the rise in online dating that number had dipped below 10 percent by 2010, according to researchers at Stanford University and the City College of New York. Americans often believe certain stereotypes about these arrangements: The bride and groom don’t support the union, the partners don’t meet before the wedding, and there’s no way of backing out. While some marriages do happen this way around the world — and are certainly problematic — there are more modern versions, too. In many instances, parents give their children the option of choosing from multiple suitors. You’re welcome to date or get to know that person before you make your final decision. And it is truly your decision in the end. The practice also extends beyond heterosexual romance: At least one matchmaking company in India helps pair off same-sex couples.
Arranged marriages do breed homogeneity, but I think it is important to note one of the key reasons why Indian-Americans continue to choose them: cultural connection. Living in America can feel culturally isolating, and finding a partner who grew up with the same background, language, and ideals can help keep that culture alive and teach it to the next generation. Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, a psychologist based in New York and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, who studies arranged marriages, says parents and family members generally have an objectivity that is valuable. “They can see blind spots and understand and perceive you in a way that is not accessible to yourself,” she says.
At 24, I am not ready for a marriage of any kind. My cousins and I joke that my older brother is next in line to wed in our family, and he seems more likely to ask our mom for help in the near future. Who knows, maybe in a year or two, his wedding will be arranged as well.
Ketal Patel, who lives in Massachusetts, told me she didn’t expect to find a husband when she was visiting her family in India after she graduated from Johnson & Wales University in Providence. (We share the same last name but are not related.) She was more interested in spending time with her cousins. Still, during that visit, her father put out advertisements in local newspapers looking for potential suitors. She wasn’t drawn to any of the prospective matches — until her cousin showed her the profile of an educated, good-looking man. She was immediately attracted and decided to meet him. Two weeks later, they got married.
“Our families knew each other,” explains Ketal’s husband, Tushar. “They already approved of the match. In a lot of ways, the parents know before the kids.”
They’ve now been married for 11 years.Palak Patel is a graduate student at Emerson College. Sends comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the best of the magazine’s award-winning stories and features right in your e-mail inbox every Sunday. Sign up here.