Arranged marriages: What’s love got to do with it?

Published: June 11, 2013
The dichotomy of ‘love’ versus ‘arranged’ marriages has always seemed a bit too strong to me to be a serious reflection of reality. PHOTO: FILE

The dichotomy of ‘love’ versus ‘arranged’ marriages has always seemed a bit too strong to me to be a serious reflection of reality. PHOTO: FILE

At every wedding, sooner or later, you hear some random aunty inquire about how it all happened. And the current answer that wins the award for being the cheesiest ever is: “Arranged thee; phir love ho gaya … tee hee.

While I do not in any way judge people who pass that cheesy comment, it just seems like too much information — unnecessary, irrelevant information. The dichotomy of ‘love’ versus ‘arranged’ marriages has always seemed a bit too strong to me to be a serious reflection of reality. But the convenience of these labels in allowing people to form the perceptions they want to about a complicated relationship is undeniable. Tell the Aunty at the shaadi that it was a love marriage and she will get visions of clandestine meetings and romantic encounters. Tell your colleagues that yours was arranged and you can see the pitying look in their eyes.

And while love marriages may have been frowned upon and hidden half a century ago, at least in urban, upwardly mobile Pakistan today, it is arranged marriage which is considered a taboo. It is almost equivalent to oppression, lack of rights and even spinelessness. This, despite the fact that some people are quite comfortable with the idea of letting their parents make most big decisions. Besides, if you haven’t found The One by the time you’ve graduated from college, your chances of meeting someone slim down considerably and arranged marriage is the route you’ll have to turn to. Hiba, a second year A-levels student comments, “I would definitely opt for an arranged marriage. My parents, the two people who I love the most on the planet, would have chosen my match, so how can I not agree to it?”

But lest you think this is some patriarchal conspiracy designed to subjugate women, remember that most men also resort to arranged marriage, turning to their matriarchs to make the big decision. Usman, a 30-year-old working at an IT company says, “I don’t understand why people make such a fuss over arranged marriages. I’ve told my mother to propose to the right girl and I’m sure she’ll find me a good match.”

And the concept of arranged marriages itself has evolved quite a bit since the times of our parents. Twenty five years ago couples were lucky if they got to see each other before the wedding. Fifty four-year-old Zeenat, now married for many years, says, “I actually met my fiancé face to face the day of our engagement.”

“And your reaction when you got your first glimpse of him during his visit to your house?” I ask. She laughs, “I’d commented to my brother about how he’s darker than I’d expected, and a tad on the skinny side!”

Her husband, however, was quite gratified to see his better half: “She was exactly what I wanted: educated, beautiful and from a middle-class family,” he recalls, adding that he had been adamant about not marrying a wealthy girl because of the unnecessary pressure and interference that would result. And these were the factors that went into arranging a match back then: education, looks, financial and social status and religion. The opposite of arranged, of course, were love marriages and, because they so often flouted conventional parameters of religion, ethnicity and class, they were a source of scandal. Arranged matches, on the other hand, were stolidly prosaic. A degree of similarity is what was looked for in the prospective couples, though parents and matchmakers were not quite as blind to personal preferences as some may imagine: if the girl was pretty, efforts would be made to secure a personable husband for her; similarly the educational institution that the girl and boy have attended matters to a great extent in arranging what is considered a suitable match today. Shumaila, a graduate from LUMS, commented, “Despite the fact that I met my husband in an ‘arranged’ set-up, I felt we would be quite compatible since he was from IBA, which is also a good business school, and he belongs to a liberal and educated family. I would have been a lot more apprehensive if there had been a big difference in our lifestyles.”

In most families, people meet and get to know each other a little bit before taking the leap. Sana, a recently married 26-year-old, says, “In my first meeting with my husband, I felt like I had applied for a job. He kept questioning me about my year of graduation, grades in high school, and I was wondering why I hadn’t kept my academic certificates stacked in front of me!”

Though all experiences are bound to be awkward, some are a little more unpleasant. Sara, a graduate from one of the top business schools of the country, remembers a meeting with a prospective suitor from Canada and his family. After some small talk, he smugly commented, “I am a graduate from U of T.” Sara responded, “So what, everyone gets into U of T!” Obviously, there was no take 2.

So what happens after you sign the dotted line? Awkward silence? A fight over what to eat and where to go? Adeel and Mariam, both in their mid-twenties, act like the typical loved up couple, taking late night drives and making grand romantic gestures at every occasion. They’re not college sweethearts, but actually met fairly recently in an arranged set-up. “I thought it would be really awkward to be living with someone I barely knew,” says Mariam, “but we hit it off almost instantly.”

Most married couples, whether they had an arranged marriage or a love marriage, would agree with Neha, who dated her husband before they got married, “I thought we would be in love forever, but it turns out that forever was actually till his mother happened.”

Asna who’s been happily married with her high school sweetheart for seven years, puts things in perspective, “The romance wears off; the love stays, but life’s practicality hits you.”

So what should you look for in an arranged set-up? Family background? Status? Looks? Not really. Look for what you look for when you’re in love: how right it feels. You can’t go wrong with that.

Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, June 9th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (22)

  • Mohammad
    Jun 11, 2013 - 2:46PM

    I bet arranged marriage is perfect if you or your parents knows the family well. Love turns ugly after sometimes.. only few made it to the End.


  • Faraz
    Jun 11, 2013 - 2:51PM

    Matter of fact article. I don’t understand why and how arranged marriages have become a taboo in our society? I feel men are more understanding while girls feel its suppression of their rights if they are to find their spouse through an arranged marriage. I do understand in many cases you will find mothers of rather ineligible bachelors vowing for their sons and perhaps demanding too much but what’s the problem when a decent, perfectly eligible bachelor comes along?

    Most girls will just not be willing just because it’s a match made by parents. Whether its the media or the concept of women independence taking a whole different (and perhaps wrong) meaning among urban female population in Pakistan, I don’t know. Please note, I am all for gender independence (and women liberation) but not at the cost of losing our sensibilities.


  • Reality check
    Jun 11, 2013 - 3:00PM

    The crux of the whole article lies in the closing line I feel, however, I admit I dont quite understand what it means.. Can someone smart please explain?

    ‘So what should you look for in an arranged set-up? Family background? Status? Looks? Not really. Look for what you look for when you’re in love: how right it feels. You can’t go wrong with that.’


  • Baji Jee
    Jun 11, 2013 - 3:11PM

    To have a prosperous life, love is not the only thing. When it is arranged marriage, then parents look for things which are really important in our lives. In summary, arranged marriages generally focused on long term happiness and love while the love marriages, in general, are for the short term love and happiness. It depends what you prefer :)


  • Ahmed
    Jun 11, 2013 - 3:32PM

    @Reality check:
    I will try to explain from my perspective.
    the last line is disappointing in an otherwise meaningful article. I have never been in love, have never dated, have been waiting for my wife to happen, how would I know what to look for since I have never been in love?

    Romantic banter doesn’t hold much weight, is impractical and does not last very long.


  • Stranger
    Jun 11, 2013 - 4:10PM

    I feel love is a stage of contentment. I am all for arranged marriages any day. I have seen many ‘love’ marriages to kaput within the first few years. I have been happily arranged married for 2 decades. Need I say more .


  • @Ahmed
    Jun 11, 2013 - 4:37PM

    Its simple man, just make sure your wife is pleasant to look at, you enjoy your little formal conversation. Thats it


  • UfT Alumni
    Jun 11, 2013 - 4:47PM

    “I am a graduate from U of T.” Sara responded, “So what, everyone gets into U of T!” — True! But very few actually graduate.


  • Zubair
    Jun 11, 2013 - 4:53PM

    Arrange merriages are most seccessful in the whole world …
    young generation is getting brain washed from Western Secular concepts through movies and internet .. such concepts seems to facsinated in movies only .. Have no link with real practicle life


  • Charlie Chapatti
    Jun 11, 2013 - 5:00PM

    The whole concept of someone ‘out there’ being the perfect match for you is an illusion. All types of marriages can fail or be successful because all marriages are actually arranged marriages. Traditional Asian marriages are arranged by contacts via family, western ‘Love’ marriages are arranged by circumstance. Couples in the West usually fall for colleagues or through contacts in their day to day life or on holiday or bars or clubs etc. In fact even in the west more and more people are arranging who they meet via online match making services. Instead of their parents, they are instead using a computer to select potential partners. What should be criticised however is ‘forced marriages’ where one or both partners are coerced into marrying against their will.


  • bash gul
    Jun 11, 2013 - 5:12PM

    First of all, all marriages are arranged. Just what precedes and then follows. I come from a conservative family. When i got married, it was only after my nikah that i saw my wife. Now happily married ofr 40 yrs. Now time has changed, I got 4 of my daughters married, one engaged. One married a close relative, the others from different regions of Pak. It was not the love marriage they went thru, no dating, no outing. But they married boys of their own choice. Giving them ample time to talk and understand each other. And also to gettogether at family picnics and occasions. Totally arranged marriage is blind marriage. Dating is a taboo in our society, but with good education for the girls, they find their right choice. If the love affair is going on with the consent of both their parents, then its ok. Then arrange the marriage. Moral: dont impose your decisions on ur daughters.


  • I am a Khan
    Jun 11, 2013 - 5:15PM

    boring article, on the same topic which I have read for the zillionith time on ET…why make marriage such a big fuss? arranged or love, it the chemistry between two people that makes a successful marriage…both spouses should give each other space in the first year of marriage. being together all the time can be unnerving for both newly wedded spouses and can easily cause fights between a newly wed couple…dont spend more than two hours a day together in the first year of your marriage, and things will be fine :))


  • Nobody
    Jun 11, 2013 - 5:38PM

    I’ve seen horrible, abusive arranged marriages ending in long drawn out divorces and i’ve seen beautiful love marriages that lasted til death (my own grandparents in Pakistan). Doesn’t mean either one is better than the other. It’s not a science. Ultimately it comes down to the couples willingness to make it last an what they’ll do to make that happen. Seems it’s not always easy but some people manage somehow.


  • Raza
    Jun 11, 2013 - 6:44PM

    @I am a Khan:
    Yes such a boring article, the kind you have read a ‘zillionith time’! You still commented and actually took a few minutes to write a rather long comment too. That’s being a hypocrite my friend :).

    Also what would you do if you only spend a couple hours together being a newly married couple ? ;).


  • boco
    Jun 11, 2013 - 6:44PM

    Love is not overrated, its not an illusion and it is crucial for a successful, happy marriage – its just that when people misunderstand attraction, infatuation, the need to be with someone, the idea of love for love is when it all goes wrong. I understand how its perfectly plausible and beautiful for a couple whose fate was arranged by their families to end up falling in love but personally it seems like a big risk to me – what if your fate gets sealed by love doesn’t happen? Its the only gripe I have with traditionally arranged marriages – it seems like a big gamble.


  • Student
    Jun 11, 2013 - 7:11PM

    My friend says:

    Marriage arrange ho ya Love. After one year both couple ki story same hoti hainRecommend

  • Nabidad - Sharjah
    Jun 11, 2013 - 7:24PM

    Respect and care is the key of LOVE. If we follow this line by heart and mind then LOVE will be there for whole life no matter whether it is ARRANGED or LOVE marriage.


  • Insaan
    Jun 11, 2013 - 8:28PM

    What is love? Times have changed, divorce rates are certainly going to get higher with desis. Most important thing in a marriage is the ability of couple to accept each other as they are. Support each other and help each other grow.

    Some couples just fight all the time, many times over very little things

    Cousin marriages tend to have less problems because people are related. If a girl is treated bad, her relatives may hit back at other relatives.

    In Western culture people marry after, extended dating, living together, sleeping together and still majority of marriages fail.


  • Insaan
    Jun 11, 2013 - 8:53PM

    @boco: Tell me, What is love?


  • Fida Ahmed Advocate
    Jun 13, 2013 - 11:44AM

    If the boy and the girl are given enough chance to know each other as Islam ordains that their ‘willingness’ should be obtained, then there is almost a hundred percent success rate guarantee of arranged marriages because it includes the prayers of parents of both the sides which carries a lot meaning and weight. This I know from personal experience.


  • bhola
    Jun 16, 2013 - 7:51PM

    wo to sab theek hai, pr meri shadi kb hogi [email protected]!#%$


  • Olya
    Jul 2, 2013 - 12:25PM

    I’ve been married for nine years to a man who I had not seen before the rukhsati, so yes my marriage was an ‘arranged’ one, in the strictest sense of the word. nevertheless, I have never viewed it as oppression, in fact I probably might not have been able to select somebody so understanding or cooperative. He was the one who supported me when I was doing my MPhil, so nobody can be the judge of ‘oppression’ and love is a fleeting word. It can never encompass the sacrifices and cooperation that you give your spouse or vice versa.


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