Arranged Marriages, Past and Present
First Comes Marriage, Then Love?
An arranged marriage is the union of a man and a woman which is brought about by someone other than the bride and groom. Historically, it was the primary way in which future spouses were introduced, and arranged marriages still are a fairly common practice in certain parts of the world today. Learn all about the history of arranged marriage, how they have evolved over time, and the advantages and disadvantages to marrying someone you hardly know.
In modern America, it is a given that “First comes love, then comes marriage”, but this has not always been the case throughout history. The idea that marriage is based entirely on love is a fairly new concept, and even in the contemporary United States, there are men and women who meet their spouses through either a matchmaker or an interested family member. An important fact to note is that an arranged marriage is not the same as a forced marriage, nor is it necessarily an involuntary union foisted upon unwilling participants by their families.
Royal Brides Were Used As Currency
The basic mechanics of arranged marriage have not changed too much over the years, however the practice has become less rigid over time. Arranged marriages were common as far back as Biblical times and beyond. The traditional purposes of these types of unions were political, military, and social. They were commonplace among the royalty and nobility around the world. In ancient Egypt, for example, one of the chief goals of arranged marriage was to keep royal bloodlines pure. Of course, breeding within a limited gene pool can result in some nasty hereditary illnesses; one only need look to the royal families of Europe as a cautionary example. So widespread was hemophilia (a blood clotting disorder) that it was called “the Royal Disease”. Queen Victoria's son Prince Leopold was only one of the young royals who died an untimely death due to hemophilia.
The Romans also practiced arranged marriages. Daughters were a useful form of currency which could be used to help form strategic alliances and strengthen the military position of the family. The royal princesses of Europe were used in much the same way well into the 19th Century. Young girls were often promised to the sons of neighboring countries as a way of forming international partnerships. In many cases, the marriages were arranged when the girls were babies, and in some instances, the marriage actually took place when the princesses were very young girls. They remained home with their families until they reached a suitable age and then were shipped off to their husbands. One of the most famous arranged royal marriages is that of Marie Antoinette, the daughter of Queen Maria Theresa of Austria-Hungary. She was promised to the crown prince of France, who eventually became King Louis XVI.
Arranged marriages were hard on young noblewomen in times when travel was difficult. They were frequently married off to older men who lived far from their home countries. At a time which was deemed appropriate, the young bride was sent away to live in a foreign land with a man whom she had never met. The important political advantages to royal arranged marriages made refusing to marry the appointed person an impossibility. And if the first husband died, the royal widow was often re-married to another useful man by her family. The involuntary nature of historical arranged marriages is what gave the practice a bad name.
Modern Arranged Marriage In India
Although arranged marriages are no longer common in Europe, they are still a frequently used method of matchmaking in other areas today. There are, however, some critical differences between historical arranged marriages and the contemporary variety. The most key change is that in many cases, the potential bride or groom has the option of rejecting the mate chosen by the family, at least in theory. In reality, though, there can be enormous familial pressure to agree to a spouse, once both families have determined the match to be a good one.
There is another difference between traditional and modern arranged marriages, which is that in contemporary arranged marriages, efforts are made to ensure that the bride and groom are compatible. A key similarity between the traditional and modern versions is that there is no expectation that the couple will be in love at the time of their marriage. This highlights a critical difference between love marriages and arranged marriages, which is that an arranged marriage is more of a practical partnership than a romantic fantasy. If love grows over time, that is wonderful; if it does not, the hope is that the couple will at least form a strong partnership and build a life together. It should perhaps come as no surprise that modern arranged marriages are most prevalent in countries where family and society are more important than individual wishes.
One of the countries where arranged marriages are most common today is India. In most families, the procedure is for the parents or a mediator to vet potential spouses for their marriage aged child. Once a promising candidate is found, the parents will talk, often before the prospective bride and groom are introduced. Traditionally, if the parents found the situation to be pleasing or advantageous, the match would be formalized at that stage, and presented to the bride and groom as a fait accompli. The young man and woman had little chance to object, and sometimes did not meet until their wedding day.
In its contemporary form, however, young Indian couples do have a say in their fate. After locating a suitable future spouse, the two sets of parents will introduce the young people. They generally have the freedom to get to know one another for a while before deciding on whether or not to be married. There is no set time by which a decision must be reached, and there is the possibility that one side or another might decide not to marry the person selected by his or her parents. One must remember that when the possible bride and groom meet, they are not trying to fall in love, but to decide if they could marry the other person and become a family. This is a very important distinction, as it is what separates a dating or matchmaking service from an arranged marriage. Although either party is supposed to be free to approve or disapprove of their future mate, family pressure undoubtedly plays a role.
In India, a very specific set of criteria is used to determine the compatibility of a man and woman. Some of the factors in making a suitable match include: the reputation of the families, equal wealth, a shared religion, being members of the same caste, and whether each person follows a vegetarian diet or not. The profession of the groom is also a very important thing which a family will consider. Certain professions are especially sought after when making a match, including doctor, lawyer, engineer, and scientist. The career path of the bride carries slightly less weight, although it is a bonus if she is a doctor, lawyer, or a teacher. When possible, efforts are made to pair brides and grooms who work in the same field. That actually makes a great deal of sense, as they are likely to have similar interests. Often the horoscope of the man and woman will also be examined to help determine the likelihood that the match will be successful, and certainly attractive candidates are also favored.
The Samurai Introduced Arranged Marriages To Japan
Japan is another society with a strong history of arranged marriages. Most young Japanese people today favor the love marriages which are common in the Western world, but it is estimated that somewhere between 10-30% of all marriages in Japan are arranged. Arranged marriage in Japan was initially practiced by the Samurai class in the 16th Century. Much like their counterparts in the European royal families, the Samurai used marriage as a means to secure military alliances. The practice eventually spread to the urban classes, and over time, a highly developed ritual formed around the process of arranging marriages.
Much like in India, potential future mates are first vetted for suitability and compatibility. The set of guidelines used is called iegara. Some of the key areas of investigation include: education, income, status, religion, career, hobbies or interests, and appearance. Preference is given to candidates with Samurai heritage, as family lineage is one of the most important considerations. In a society like Japan's which values ancestry and family tremendously, it is not only the social status of the bride or groom which is relevant, but that of their entire family. There are cynics who claim that all the modern bride cares about are the three Hs: high salary, high education, and height in a groom. The word investigation is appropriate, by the way; in some cities, private investigators are hired to ensure that the potential spouse has answered all questions honestly.
In Japan, it is usually not the parents of the bride and groom who search for good marriage material, but rather a third party called the nakōdo. The nakōdo might be a family friend or family elder with strong connections in the community, or it could be a professional hired expressly for the purpose of finding a spouse for one's child. Remaining unmarried past the mid-20s for women or 30 for men carries with it a social stigma for both the individual and their family, so it is not unusual for concerned parents to turn to a nakōdo if their child is nearing that age range with no strong marital prospects. They may or may not inform their marriageable aged son or daughter of their plans before contacting the nakōdo.
The role of the nakōdo is clearly defined in the process of arranging a marriage. They will first work up a list of potential candidates and investigate them to make sure they would be compatible with both the future bride or groom and their family. The parents will be given comprehensive reviews of multiple candidates from which to select. Once a good match has been found, the nakōdo will bring together the young man and woman and both sets of parents for an introduction. If all goes well, a series of dates is set up so that the prospective bride and groom can decide if they would like to be married. The third date is the critical one; it is customary that on the third date, the decision will be made about whether or not to wed. Dignity being very important in Japan, there is a standard format which is used to avoid embarrassing someone with rejection if the courtship is discontinued at that time.
If the couples and their families decide to move forward with the marriage, the nakōdo will assist in working out the details of the marriage (not unlike a lawyer negotiating a prenuptial agreement). Should trouble arise down the road, it is also expected that the nakōdo will step in to counsel the newlyweds and keep the marriage on track. After all the work they put into making the match, the nakōdo certainly has a strong interest in ensuring that it is a success.
Two Tales of Modern Arranged Marriages
Arranged marriages have moved beyond their traditional base and are becoming a small but growing trend in the US. Meet David Weinlick whose friends helped him find a mate through a press release.
Read more about Rajiv Kumar, the young man from India who asked his parents to find him a suitable Indian bride to move to the United States and marry him.
Is Matchmaking The Key To A Successful Marriage?
Perhaps the most interesting thing about arranged marriage is that there is still a place for it in our modern world. There has been an increased interest in arranged marriage in the United States, and not only among people who come from a cultural tradition in which it is common. These days, there are some young men and women who are the ones requesting that someone help them arrange a marriage; they are not having one thrust upon them by traditional parents. One reason behind this can be the desire to meet a spouse who shares the same culture or religion. Matchmaking is still alive and well in some Jewish communities, and it is also seen among immigrants from countries with a strong tradition in arranged marriage like India.
An example of this is the case of a young man from India who had moved to the United States. When he had completed his education and become established in his career, he decided that he was ready to settle down and start a family. The only problem was that there was a shortage of young Indian women in his community and he wanted to marry someone who shared his heritage. The solution was to turn to his parents back home in India and ask them to locate a suitable wife for him. They did, and she moved to the United States and the young couple was married. It may not sound romantic to those of us raised on fairy tales of princes, princesses, and undying love, but for this couple, it was a reasonable solution to a problem. As the groom said, "Once you are married, it doesn't matter how you got together. You have to work to make it work."
This leads us to another reason that some modern couples are turning to arranged marriages to find a mate. There is the belief among some that the high divorce rate in countries such as the United States is due to overly high expectations that a marriage based on love will always be happy and fulfilling. People entering into arranged marriages tend to look first at the practical aspects of forming a solid partnership, with the hope that affection and possibly love will grow over time. It is theorized that a more realistic foundation of what a marriage means results in a commitment to the marriage, through good times and challenging ones. In addition, with the emotionally charged nature of love removed from the equation, a more levelheaded evaluation can be made of the factors which the couple may share in common.
Commitment To Commitment: Arranged Marriage In The United States Today
A fascinating case of modern arranged marriage in America is that of a man who decided to set a wedding date...but who had no bride. Almost in jest, some of his friends sent out a press release seeking a wife for their friend, and to their surprise, they received hundreds of serious responses. He ended up finding a suitable candidate, and in short order the couple was married. The happy couple believes that their arranged marriage has succeeded because they are both “committed to commitment”. While most Americans are too deeply invested in the concept of free will and personal choice to opt for an arranged marriage, there are certainly for whom the idea of being matched with a spouse certainly beats playing the field and hoping for the best.
Where will the practice of arranged marriages go and how will it evolve in the future? The chances are that formal arranged marriages will continue to dwindle in numbers as women in patriarchal societies gain increasing economic and social freedom. Their growing independence will inevitably result in reduced pressure to be married by a certain age, just as it has in the United States, where the average age for marriage marches steadily higher for every generation. That said, the modern version of arranged marriages, which can look more akin to matchmaking than anything else, will always have a role to play. As people become deluged by an abundance of information and choice, and the social and familial structures that used to help bring singles together continue to break down, there will always be those who are “committed to commitment” who will be glad to have some help finding a spouse with whom they can build a life. Maybe marriage can indeed come before love.