As teenagers, my friends and I were adamant advocates of love marriage. Almost every teacher, counselor, and parent warned us that marrying someone without the blessing of one’s family was a bad idea. We quickly realized the system was rigged; our elders wouldn’t approve of anyone they hadn’t chosen in the first place! So while they continued bringing up stories of terrible love stories they’d heard, we began chatting with each other on MSN Messenger, Orkut, and Facebook. Love was real. Love marriage was the ultimate dream.
Thirteen years later, as I celebrate my 28th year in existence, all I can think of is: Thank God we Malayalis have an excellent system of arranged marriage!
Tell me if you know someone like me. A Malayali born and raised in a small city, who attended a small school and had several friends. When puberty hit, suddenly former classmates became potential crushes. But unlike our American counterparts on T.V., none of us had the luxury of just worrying about the perfect opening line. Instead, we enrolled ourselves in a course of spycraft. By the time we graduated high school each of us became masters of discretion.
We knew how to hide our romantic endeavors from our increasingly suspicious parents. Since mankind loves to live as tribes, and Indian aunties and uncles love to snitch, we also had to look out for snooping neighbors and relatives. Guys in my class quickly taught me the importance of saving phone numbers under pseudonyms. Lakshmi became Aravind and Sarah was Vivek. Like vulnerable animals in the wild, we would freeze in the middle of the road, eyes twitching as we wondered whether the car turning around the corner was familiar or not. Our romantic relationships had the excitement and urgency of Resistance fighters evading arrest from the authorities.
Oh, how we feared getting caught! Depending on variables like class, religion, and ethics, our parents were either angry, ashamed, outraged, shocked, sickened, or hysterical about the idea of us romancing individuals of the opposite sex. Every once in a while we heard about how one of our comrades had been busted. We felt sorry for the fallen ones and vowed to strengthen our privacy measures.
Most importantly, none of us could wait to be free. Free from the gaze of our parents, from the gossip of our neighbors, from the sly comments of our teachers. We dreamed of a world where we could walk around town with our arms around our lovers.
There’s a reason why they say be careful what you wish for.
Now, this might not strictly apply to you. Perhaps you’re currently sitting across from your childhood sweetheart, shaking your head at how unrelatable this article is as you savor your morning coffee that your wife has prepared as part of a long-running breakfast routine. But surely there are other guys and girls like me, who spent their teenage years thinking they would easily fall in love based solely on the evidence around them, right? We were the big fish in the small pond. That’s what gave us the courage to champion love marriage. We were in love, so why wouldn’t we want to get married?
But college was the river that flowed into the ocean called adult life, and we quickly realized just how helpless we were. Over the course of a few months, the people we grew up with and loved were scattered across the map, and we had to start from scratch.
Relationships in school were easy. Love was essentially a captive entity, fuelled by naive wonder and boredom plus defiance of the external world. But once we left our teenage years behind, it became obvious that freedom from restrictions also meant freedom from love for many. From having to simply craft the right message on MSN Messenger to ask out our crushes who knew our personalities, we ended up installing dating apps and hoping we’d be given a chance to impress the person who judged us for a couple of seconds based on a few pictures.
Sure, some still secured stable partnerships. We all know who they are. After all, they remind us regularly on social media, don’t they? Many Malayalis managed to marry the ones they love, with or without significant backlash from their parents. And yes, it’s becoming more frequent, less taboo. But at this point, I’m just glad the arranged marriage system hasn’t been abolished. Thank God my prayers as a teenager weren’t answered.
Why am I so grateful for a social practice that I used to loathe? Because it’s the ultimate safety net, right? You’ve seen movies where the female protagonist is resigned to being married off to a man she doesn’t love or even know. You’ve seen movie stars fight against their family to marry the one they love. Where’s the movie for the guy who thought he’d find someone on his own but is now relieved that his parents will make sure he doesn’t die a virgin?
Two days ago, I was watching a movie where an American in his mid-50s is depressed with life because he doesn’t have anyone to love. No wife, no kids.
The first thought in my head was: Why would you live such a lonely life?
And then it hit me. He didn’t choose it. It just happened. But how? I couldn’t comprehend how a man could be 50 years and still not find someone to start a family with. Which was when the voice in my head said, You’ve been doing that for about a decade now. Just keep living and you’ll be there yourself.
It terrified me. We’ve always heard of the countless people who get married every day and settle down to start a family. But there’s a considerable number who just don’t find the right person.
But arranged marriage is not just a last resort. This is the ugly part of it, so bear with me. Over the past few years, I realized how the system was rigged….in my favor.
Like me, you might be a well educated, talented, liberal male who believes in equality across class, religion and gender lines. We write, post, and reshare words that champion noble causes. We want a world where men and women aren’t judged by the color of their skin, their wealth or their lifestyle.
And then we can ignore all of those ideals when it comes to arranged marriage. A friend once mentioned that she found Tinder repulsive. “There is so much objectification in that app,” she said, “guys and girls make a decision based on just looks.”
At least Tinder only classifies people according to their pictures. Arranged marriage is far more specific. You can find a partner with the right looks, right financial background, and most importantly, right goals for the future. And if it’s not a perfect match, that’s when you can understand your own prejudices. You can be a guy who says education is essential, and then quietly get married to a beautiful girl who never attended college after dismissing the less attractive Masters graduate. You can get married to an unattractive woman solely for her wealth and claim you admire her work ethic or personality or whatever else seems believable.
The first time I seriously analyzed arranged marriage was the birth of my optimism. It was a time when I began fervently believing in a world where you could meet your soulmate and be supremely happy.
The second time I seriously contemplated arranged marriage was when my cynicism became entrenched, a potential partner for life. It’s when I realized that not everyone meets their soulmate. Many simply settle for a partnership that was calculated with stone-cold pragmatism. They become inhabitants of a world where every variable, from the reputation of your parents to the worth of your personal assets, is taken into account.
Over the course of a decade, I went from eagerly awaiting the love of my life, to desperately seeking escape from a lifetime of loneliness. For many who like me thought arranged marriage was a curse, is actually a blessing. It’s the last resort for the lonely. It’s our safety net.
While Marwan Razzaq waits to get married, check out his debut novel, a fast-paced crime thriller called “The Man Who Found His Shadow”, now available on Amazon.