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Love is in the air or what you're heir to

 

Arranged marriages give a different view on love

 
Written by
Arlene Hisiger
herRochester.com, February 6, 2013 
Mrunalini Rajguru, left, and Geeta Naseem


Red heart-shaped balloons, boxes of candy, cookies, cupcakes, and greeting cards of all shapes and sizes beckon from store shelves, while online, on-air, and in-print commercials compete to capture consumers’ attention. The message is clear; Valentine’s Day is fast approaching.

Once a holiday rooted in a pagan fertility festival, and later celebrated as a Catholic feast day, today’s Valentine’s Day has primarily evolved as paean to romantic love – the prelude to “living happily ever after.”

But what of the many Americans whose road to “happily ever after” is rooted in family or religious traditions that supplant Cupid in bringing a couple together? Valentine’s Day seemed an appropriate time to explore love through a different lens.

“I was around eighteen when my mom started to get anxious about me. She thought it was about time for me to get married,” said Mrunalini Rajguru, a dignified, 60-something, Hindu from Ahmadabad, India who co-owns the India Market grocery store.

“Dating and all those things were a no-no at that time; those who did it did it behind their parents’ back,” she explained.

In keeping with the thinking that “the apple does not fall far from the tree,” Rajguru’s mom inquired about the son of a woman with whom she was socially acquainted as marriage prospect for her daughter. The couple was permitted to go out on four unsupervised dates because it was clear from the time of initial exploration that the two were headed for marriage. Their wedding, however, was delayed by a year to allow Rajguru to finish her final year of college.

Now married for forty-eight years, the couple has three grown children. Although this form of courtship and marriage has worked for her, Rajguru points to her own marriage as being on the continuum of a relaxation of and even a turning away from this form of courtship and marriage.

“Things are not as strict as it once had been in generations past when the couple did not even meet before marriage,” Rajguru said. “Today, young people can pick and choose on their own or accept informal suggestions from family and friends.” In fact, neither of her two married children had arranged marriages. “If your children are happy,” Rajguru said, “that’s the main goal in life.”

Geeta Naseem, a 20-something, Kabul, Afghanistan-born Muslim with an engaging smile, is not yet married. Living in America for more than eleven years, Naseem, with the full consent of her parents, is currently concentrating on her radiology technologist studies.

“Typically, the boy and girl will meet to converse and get acquainted no more than two times,” Naseem said in describing her knowledge of traditional Afghan Muslim courtship practice, “and these meetings are held at home and usually under the supervision of female relatives.” If both parties express interest, the couple will meet once again to exchange rings as a sign of engagement and the marriage usually takes place within six months.

Naseem has opted for a combo approach to her nuptials. She intends to find her future husband on her own yet her family’s opinion will weigh heavily upon her decision. “I think that arranged marriage and romantic love are really the same,” she said. “What really matters is how closely your personalities match which is why I feel strongly that those who follow the courtship practices of an arranged marriage should be able to have as meaningful and open pre-marital conversation as possible.”

A family friend played the role of matchmaker for Yael Wise, a vivacious Orthodox Jewish special education teacher, in her early twenties. But before the two could meet, her parents first “did some research.” They inquired about the young man’s family, his life goals and character traits. The couple went out twice a week for six weeks to various public venues before getting engaged.

“Waiting for a ‘good name’ to come up is stressful” Wise said, referring to names of eligible young men suggested by professional matchmakers or other well-intentioned individuals. “And waiting to see if the other side is interested in going out is stressful as well.”

Still, Wise finds this form of courtship effective. “It’s great because the dating process is very goal oriented. You date to find your life’s partner. Both sides know up front that they are dating for marriage – there are no games, it is straight forward.

“I have been married for almost five years,” Wise adds. “We have three children and I couldn’t be happier.”

“My momma always said: Life was like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get,” Forrest Gump famously declared in the movie of the same name. But according to Michael J. Rosenfeld, an associate professor in the department of sociology at Stanford University, when it comes to love relationships, you pretty much should know what you will get.

“I don’t think love marriage and arranged marriage are as different as we make them out to be,” Rosenfeld said in a New York Times article published last month. “The people we end up married to or partnered with end up being similar to us in race, religion, class background and age, which means that they might not be all that different from the person that your mother would have picked for you.”

 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
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