So which one is better?
How come it’s a ‘vs’ or an ‘or’ question, some might ask. Well it is, for the vast majority of mankind for whom even one marriage is more than a handful. What’s more, for this demographic the arranged-vs.-love-marriage debate, which goes back a long way, is a practical one, and not merely an academic one. The West has generally done away with arranged matches, but the issue is still an unsettled one in own neck of the woods, where the institution of arranged-marriage is still alive and kicking.
Ardent advocates of both types of marriage abound. Some cynics, however, argue that it doesn’t make much of a difference whether a marriage is arranged or ‘love’ (shaadi shaadi hoti hai – Raisani logic, if you like). Before one can subscribe to any position on any matter, one needs to consider the problem from all possible angles. In the following, I propose to do precisely that in order to see which one is a better bet, all things considered.
For want of better options, I have been forced to use the conventional prefixes (‘arranged’ and ‘love’), which leave a lot to be desired really: for love inevitably forces the couple to make a lot of arrangements, and because love lurks somewhere in arranged-marriages too – the proof being the large number of children such marriages produce. (Note that it is still an arranged-marriage even if you fall in love with the photograph of your betrothed.)
Intellectual integrity compels me to declare that my own experience comprises a rather limited number of data points – one to be exact. However, I am blessed with a seemingly infinite capacity to imbibe from the font of other people’s experiences, and that, I believe, more than makes up for the abovementioned limitation.
Supporters of arranged-marriages contend that a collective decision is bound to be better informed than a man doing it all alone. A little reflection tells a different story however. Probability dictates that a solitary man is more likely to find a decent wife, than his mother the ‘perfect’ daughter-in-law, and all his sisters the ‘perfect’ sister-in-law, all at the same time and in the same girl. In fact, it will be a minor miracle if so many people end up agreeing on any candidate – a major miracle if they all agree on a good one.
In praise of love-marriages it is often said that the couple already knows each other by the time they get married. I doubt if they do, really. In a country where there are no live-in relationships (thankfully), and limited contact overall, it’s easy to present the best version of oneself, raising false expectations that are bound to result in disappointment and disillusionment after marriage. In this respect, love-marriages are no different from arranged-marriages, where both families can behave impeccably until the union.
Arranged-marriages, by bypassing the process of courtship, are definitely more shariah-compliant. Their flip-side, however, is that there have been many reports chronicling some extremely unpleasant reactions of brides and grooms seeing each other for the first time, unedited, and at close quarters.
It is often said that the couple strives harder to make a love-marriage work because it realises that the onus of the blame, should anything go wrong, is on itself and on nobody else. While this sounds most wonderful in theory; in practice, there’s always the spouse to blame exclusively for all troubles. Not to mention that ultimately convenient scapegoat – the mother-in-law who ‘never really accepted me as her daughter-in-law’.
An arranged marriage is often advertised by its adherents as not merely a union of two individuals, but a coming together of two families. This too sounds capital, but experience tells us that coming together of so many people is seldom a great idea. Therefore, while theory suggests that any and all conflicts ought to be resolved amicably, equally likely is the possibility of problems arising where none ought to have existed in the first place.
Even the most romantic of my readers (and therefore most pro-love-marriage), would agree that romance has a way of fading with advancing years. So it is that in a love-marriage, one often finds oneself on the receiving end of, ‘You are not what you used to be when we met,’ or some such endearing remark. Matters are not much better in arranged marriages, where there is an equal likelihood of this sentiment being replaced by something like, ‘You were a pathetic dud from day one,’ hardly a more palatable offering.
It is often held against love-marriages that a young man’s judgment is often clouded by a woman’s appearance and beauty. While that catastrophe is happily prevented in arranged marriages, there’s another problem: the older, wiser decision-makers are as often guilty of being a little too mindful of the qualities that ultimately matter, and which only older, experienced folks can really appreciate.
It is observed that in arranged-marriages, couples don’t seem to understand each other very well, at least for the first forty-odd years. Exactly the same is observed of love-marriage-couples.
In summary, it seems we have a tie between arranged-marriage and love-marriage; and neither sounds like a particularly good option. Good-old Raisani logic may not be too far off the mark after all.