A friend that I work with, who has been in the United States ten years, and is probably more of a standard American than I am is getting an arranged marriage. I heard about it a few days ago, but this afternoon at work we had a chance to talk about it. One of the best conversations I had all week, no all month, no... all year.
For those that didn't guess, he is from India, yes an engineer, and one with a master's degree. He has seriously been here ten years counting graduate school and working since then. He is 31 now. Other relevant information: his parents are retired Indian professors, his father an economics professor, he has more Apple products than I do (I know, hard to believe right?), and his English is so good that when I first knew him I thought that he was born in the United States.
How does an arranged marriage work? Well, it ranges from classified adds in the paper to family friends. The human network of people in India is more developed than in this country. In other words, families are often more connected to other families. That is not strictly true, and obviously varies a lot over there as it does over here. Point being, he was getting some pressure from his parents (who isn't after college?) so they basically went about setting him up with women. Think of it like a blind date, with much higher stakes. You get married on the third or fourth date. So he was in talks with a few women over the last few years, not only in India, but in the US as well.
Now arranged marriages are on the decline in India and "love" marriages are on the rise. Before you think that arranged marriages are a terrible thing that puts two people together who are not compatible, how come the divorce rate in the US is close to 50 times higher than in India? This may be the last generation for arranged marriages to be common place. Plus, I would not be surprised if dating software would hit India and wreak havoc on the market eventually. That being said, my friend did have a long term girlfriend for six years when he was younger, it just didn't work out.
Getting back to how it all works, the families meet and discuss whatever families discuss. That makes a lot of sense to me. No one probably knows me better than my parents. I would guess the same for most people. Why not use your parents (and perhaps other family members) directly in the search for a lifetime mate? There is wisdom in that communication.
Another factor, is that most people, once they grow up a little and spend a little time thinking about himself or herself and what she or he desires in a husband or wife will come up with criteria. I have three things I look for myself. Maybe one day I will even share them here. The point being, between the three things I am looking for, and my parents experience with me, and their experience of being married nearly 30 years, if there was a market of available women (or families I suppose) looking for a marriage, my parents would probably do a pretty good job. Plus, given that I would obviously talk to any prospective mates as a sort of finals round, quite likely a mutually beneficial marriage partner would be found.
On his recent trip back to India over Christmas and New Year's him and his fiancé met in person for the first time and in his words, "It was time." He knew that this woman was the one for him. As everyone always does, how does one describe just knowing it's the one person to spend the rest of one's life with? He was nervous before, as most people are in the dating pool, but now, he is ready. "It is time."
About the time we finished discussing this a Muslim friend walked up and we proceeded to joke about my love life. Where do I meet women? The bars? (On a side note "the bars" in relation to joking about my social life came up about two hours later with a totally different part of my social life.) So a Hindu from India, a Muslim from Sudan and a Christian from wherever I am from are all there talking about women and marriage, sharing the same laughs about how single male engineers at a construction company are supposed to meet women. Getting serious, we did come to the conclusion that volunteering is supposedly a place quality women go and church is another place. Both of which have been successful for me in the past, just not quite the success I desire.
Focusing on my friend, in India, all of his friends thought of him as a huge catch! Here is the (nearly) American who must make a ton of money and he is really cool! Which is funny, because "the catch" in India arranged marriages of the caste system is not nearly the same as a single male engineer in Iowa. Slight tangent here, an example, when is a nerd cool? When others are borrowing the Porsche or drinking the wine or when the nerd is working hard to make you happy. Nerds are rarely cool at the gym or on a Saturday night or at the swimming pool or even talking to your friends or even trying to have a conversation with you.
The point is, in the United States we write off arranged marriages as archaic unhappy unions, yet in many respects the system succeeds in putting like families together, and there is something to be said for families that share values. (Their kids probably share values.) Perhaps the arrangement makes the deeper values that 20somethings and 30somethings don't even know about yet or can't yet articulate more similar than 20somethings and 30somethings might be able to pick on their own?