Marriage Traditions - Is There A Positive Side To Arranged Marriage?
Simply uttering the phrase "arranged marriage" conjures up a cornucopia of ills and evils, practiced in the name of greed and self-interest. We shudder at the thought of young women forced into loveless unions for the betterment of the family's wealth or social standing. We mourn for the lost childhood of girls pledged into lives of unending servitude and bondage.
What possible good could ever come of such a heinous institution?
Well, before you write paid to the prospect of doing away with all arranged marriages, consider that we in North American, as well as in some European countries, are definitely in the minority here, folks. Marrying to “follow your heart” is not a new concept, by any means, but it is certainly not the accepted practice in much of the modern world.
Yes, at its worst, an arranged marriage can consign the parties involved to a loveless union, but at its best, as it is practiced in many cultures, it can be the springboard fro a healthy and fruitful joining that nurtures and blesses both the partners and their entire family.
Arranged marriages have been with us since the first cave dwellers looked up from their fires and realized that the little bunch over there had an offspring in whom one of their own offspring seemed to be desperately interested. At this juncture, what with the female of the species being the more forward thinking of the lot, either Mamma or Auntie got into the mix at this point, suggesting perhaps they could arrange an introduction for their backward child.
…and the matchmaker was born. The rest, as they say, is history.
Dynastic unions are by no means unknown in western society,
and yes, so are the its attendant ills. On the positive side of the coin,
however, many such unions have resulted in stable economies, a balance of
power, and cessation of hostilities. We are all familiar with political marriages. We all follow with great interest the alliances of the scions of the rich and powerful.
Much fun has been poked at social climbing mamas who trot out their debutant daughters, seeking the most advantageous match their money and position can finagle.
Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” brilliantly parodies the social mores and betrothal practices of his time. When Lady Bracknell discovers that Jack Worthing, suitor to her young charge, has, in fact no parentage save a Gladstone bag in which he was discovered as a young child, abandoned amidst the “left luggage”, she is quite properly horrified.
It is not until all is resolved, and his true parentage, as well as his real name is uncovered, that he is at last deemed a suitable alliance for his beloved.
Lady Bracknell was most cognizant of her duty to “make a good match” for the young woman in her charge, and though Wilde cleverly contrived that all ended well, his witty words did not attack so much the practice of arranged marriage, as the manner in which it was all too often carried out.
The young lovers did not escape his magnifying glass, for their own actions and prejudices are shown to be as equally over-romantic and foolish as the adherence to propriety of the “older and wiser” heads was hide-bound and blinkered.
All too often in western society, we deride the culture and practices of those who still arrange marriages for their children. A closer examination, though, will reveal the care that is often taken to ensure the future happiness of the couple.
In many cultures, their stars will be cast and lengthy horoscopes charted to ensure a felicitous union. At times, a dowry is sought or offered, but that custom was instituted to ensure the welfare of the bride and her eventual offspring should anything happen to her husband.
In other cultures, a family member is charged with finding a suitable match, or a number of suitable matches. Then, the prospective suitors are allowed to meet their potential intended to see if any sparks are ignited. Long before this happens, though, the young men and women are carefully vetted for likes and dislikes, traits in common, complementary characteristics, and any other information tha can be discovered and deemed relevant.
Often, the process is much more informal, with the families in the community already knowing much about each other, and having already decided what could be potentially good pairings, and which may well be disastrous. Of course, like any system, this method, too, has its glitches and hiccups, and all pairings made in heaven do not last with all the best of intentions.
…but look at our track record for modern, North American marriages. Our system of following one’s heart is, perhaps, the most selfish viewpoint of all. We take little into account of our families’ feelings about the proposed joining – often, we take great pleasure in defying their hopes and expectations simply because our culture celebrates our doing so.
…and if we affirm that we are at the mercy of our feelings and our instincts, then I would suggest that some of us - I, for one - need to have our instincts about marriage partners taken away and put someplace safe where we can’t hurt ourselves with them until such time we have displayed sufficient maturity that we can safely be allowed to play with them again.
Arranged marriage may not have a great reputation in this neck of the woods, but our own track record show a path of wanton destruction and broken marriages that we positively celebrate. Look at the magazines next to the checkout next time you are at the supermarket, and tell me how many headlines trumpet the real or imagined marital problems of the rich and famous.
Maybe arranging marriages is not such a terrible way to go about things after all…