There’s a topic in South Asian culture that I’m still very curious about and about which it’s very difficult for me to learn. Arranged marriage.
Oh, I’ve learned about how the marriage gets arranged, how the first meeting between families usually goes, and I can now manage to cluck my tongue with enough disapproval when someone tells me the recent scandal of fiancés who were actually allowed to meet before their wedding day. Shocking, I tell you. Shocking. It’s not like the good old days when kids weren’t even allowed to talk on the phone to their intended before the wedding day. At least we give ‘em that much nowadays. Lucky kids.
What I’m really interested in – and can’t find out about – is the first two weeks after the ceremony which united two complete strangers in matrimony. She moves into her husband’s house and away from her family. He’s suddenly no longer living the bachelor lifestyle. You’re adjusting to the eating, sleeping, dressing and life habits of someone you’ve never really talked to.
I’ve heard the wedding night can be awkward even when you knew the person for years… what’s it like for two strangers?
It’s difficult to learn about this because I’m not in the “club”. In South Asia – you are most definitely in the “girl club” section of society until you’re married. You may be 35 years old, but you’re not a woman yet since you haven’t nailed down a husband. And as a “girl” – it’s expected that I don’t know anything about married life. Most girls in South Asia literally find out as they go along.
I heard one story of a new bride, the morning after her wedding night, who went to her mother-in-law and asked where babies come from.
“You’ll find out when it happens,” the mother-in-law replied, protecting the knowledge of the women’s club.
So since I’m supposed to be completely innocent of all knowledge and outside the married person club, even good friends of mine won’t talk to me about married life. They won’t tell me what those first two weeks of adjustment were like. Was it awkward to look over in the car and think, “That’s my husband”? When you first saw him, instead of just his picture, did you think he was cute or were you horrified? Did you turn around and jump in fright at the sight of a strange man in your house?
I brought up these questions one night with my neighbor. Her husband was gone and she’d wandered the six feet over from her front door to mine looking for a conversation partner. She showed me a picture taken of the two of them on their honeymoon. They’re standing next to each other, shoulders barely touching, trying to force a comfortability that only makes them look more awkward.
So I asked, “Were your first couple of weeks a bit awkward?” She laughs and puts the picture away. My look tells her I won’t let the question drop so quickly. She sighs and shrugs.
“You know, I wasn’t afraid, really. Whatever I wanted to say – I said. Because in an arranged marriage, you go into it just knowing you have to accept each other. You just accept them and they accept you,” she said.
I would never have guessed that the most romantic thing about marriage I’ve ever heard would be a description of an arranged marriage.
In the West, for all of our e-harmony compatibility tests, dating around to find “the right one”, and worries about a soul mate – perhaps we’ve missed the whole main point of not just marriage, but any relationship.
At the end of the day – in a friendship, in a family, from coworkers and the person in the pew next to you… don’t you simply want to know that you’re accepted?