Will you find a nice, Indian husband so you can stay in India? I’m pretty sure I get asked about marriage about every other day, whether by friends or by my colleagues at work. Everyone has a friend, brother, cousin, someone to match me up with. In India, you get married – it’s just what you do. Since I speak about marriage so much below and give my opinions, I figure it is only fair to tell you where I stand. Personally, I have no plans of marriage and it doesn’t really interest me, but I could be persuaded if it is important to the other person. I guess you could say I’m indifferent. I should also mention that while I am not alone in my stance, I am definitely in the minority in the US – though it is becoming more acceptable.
**Disclaimer: These are simply my opinions and what I’ve observed from my friends – feel free to respond if you have a different perspective! Also, I am primarily speaking about the marriage of a man and a woman here because India has such a long way to go for LGBTQ rights that I would need an entire article devoted to just that community**
Indians are definitely not indifferent to marriage. The general rule of thumb is that once you hit 27, you either should be married or have something in the works. This means that at my advanced age of 29, I’m starting to push my luck and possibly won’t be suitable for marriage if I don’t hurry up. *insert dramatic music here* There are a few ways to accomplish finding a mate by the proper age.
- Love marriage – it is what we Westerners think of as marriage – you meet someone and fall in love.
- You pick someone you can live with – within your pool of acquaintances, you look for someone who may make a good mate. Or, as my roommate has done, you go online to a marriage website (imagine OK Cupid for marriage)
- Your parents pick someone – if you haven’t yet fallen in love and don’t know anyone who meets your criteria, the next step is to go to your parents. They will ask around and/or place an ad in the paper to search for a suitable mate.
General characteristics which are taken into consideration are: color (how dark or light your skin is), education, good job, language (not only must they be able to communicate with you fluently, but they must also be able to speak with your parents/family), caste, and finally they must be the same religion as you.
After you have someone in mind, then the parents meet and discuss the marriage. They must agree that it is suitable to both families (no one is embarrassing to the other). If the parents decide it is a suitable arrangement, and you are from method 1 or 2 (you know each other) then you start plans for the big day. If you don’t yet know the person, you meet for coffee or dinner somewhere to talk. Parents may or may not join. If you both agree it is a suitable match, then you’ll marry. It’s a pretty quick decision.
For me, this was very hard to wrap my head around for a number of reasons. First, I hate asking for permission. I prefer to do what I want, when I want and then apologize later if necessary. Second, there is no way I would ever dream of asking for parental approval – my life, my decision. Third, marrying someone you have met once or twice (not because you love them, but because you should) sounds terrifying to me. Finally, in my mind, marriage is something you do because you want to. You think your life is better together than apart. Your end game is happiness, and marriage is a step to get you there.
In India, the end game seems to be different. Instead of happiness, the end game is more about becoming a ‘good person’ according to society by meeting a certain set of criteria. I realize this is a pretty oversimplified statement, so again, feel free to share your opinion and tell me if I’m wrong. To an outsider, it seems that love is less important – what matters more is getting married to someone your family can be proud of.
I was talking with some girlfriends this past week who are 27 and have just asked their parents to take out an ad to help them find husbands. These are girls whom I consider to be fairly progressive – they live on their own in a city away from their families, they eat meat, they occasionally drink, they went to college and they have good jobs. One of them (though she won’t admit it) is in love with a Christian boy, but since she is Hindu they could never marry. I am friends with both her and the boy, and the first thing I thought of was how accepting they both are of this – it is just ingrained in them. The guy is less religious and would marry her if she and her family approved, but they do not. In the US, there would be jealousy, unrequited love, and the general sense of tension. If it were me personally, I would be upset. Here, no. She has asked her parents take out ads, he peruses marriage websites and sometimes even meets girls – though no keepers yet. To them, this is fine.
On one hand, I really respect a culture so steeped in tradition. I try and think of how I would react in these different scenarios and how hard it would be for me. Maybe I’d just pick up and move away – so actually my life as an Indian wouldn’t be that different my life as an American! 🙂 I joke. It’s admirable to believe in something so passionately that you’ll achieve it no matter the cost. On the other hand, the Westerner in me feels a little sad – to me, it seems like many (not all) are going through the motions of life doing what they are supposed to do instead of what they love. But, who am I to judge if they’re happy? It is their decision, their life. I’m sure (actually I know) my decision to move to a foreign country by myself as a single woman is looked upon with pity by many locals. But, I couldn’t be happier. To each their own.