Better Odds, Love or Arranged Marriage?

My grandparents were basically doing the same thing as dating site algorithms, just with higher stakes. 

My parents met in Cairo for the first time in 1971, and three days later they got married. Not because they were swept off their feet, but because they were ready to get married. Introduced to each other through their parents as two people with similar religious backgrounds and goals, they talked, neither one hated the other, so they got married. They were an arranged marriage, and they’re still together. Through thick and thin, good times and bad, good kids and insufferable rebellious teenager turned stand up comedian, they made it work. They used to offer to fix me up with someone, which was always met with an immediate “What, are you fucking insane?” I eventually found someone on my own, so now that it’s not a reality, I feel comfortable in entertaining the whole idea. It did take me years to find someone good, and it was never because of a lack of meeting people. New dating apps come out every week, and I’d sign up, completing each profile on autofill. I met guys all the time, but there was always something wrong. There was always a reason I didn’t want to commit, or vice versa. Most of my friends are in similar boats, a large percentage of us are sailing into our late thirties and early forties, single, and sick of mingling. Maybe this whole dating thing wasted a lot of my time, searching for that almost laughable concept of “soulmate.” If love grows in arranged marriages, and fades in love marriages, would it have been so awful to just let them choose, and use that extra time to focus on myself?

I asked my dad if, when he was introduced to my mom, he had to say yes, that was it, no questions asked. He said, “No of course not. It was our choice. I met a few other women before I met your mom.” I mentally flipped through all the different people I would have been if he’d married any of those other women. Then I thought about all the epic fights my mom and dad had over the years (I didn’t say their marriage was perfect), and I asked “Why’d you pick mom?” “She was cute.”

Cool, well, can’t judge you there, dad. It’s basically a swipe right, isn’t it? My grandparents were basically doing the same thing as dating site algorithms, just with higher stakes. Both methods find people with similar interests, values, and backgrounds, and you can decide if you’re attracted to them or not. But the major difference between dating apps and ethnic parents is, dating apps offer an endless amount of options. We have a world of people literally at our fingertips that we toss away like sifting through DVDs in a discount bin at Best Buy. If we could somehow eliminate all the options down to, say, five, and you HAVE to pick one to marry, you’d be happier with your choice. On the Bachelor, all those girls fell in love with their only option. Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, said in his Ted talk, “The freedom to choose, to change and make up your mind, is the enemy of synthetic happiness…The psychological immune system works best when we are totally stuck… You’re married to a guy who picks his nose….eh, he has a heart of gold, don’t touch the fruit cake. You find a way to be happy.”

But limited options aren’t the only reason less arranged marriages end in divorce. They are also practiced in cultures with societal and religious pressure to stay together. In America, we’ve all heard it, one in two marriages end in divorce. We’ve all accepted this, and we seem to enter into a contract of marriage the way we get a tattoo. If we really hate it later, we can get rid of it. We may be bound by law, but only until we would pay anything to get out of it. So for an arranged marriage to work in this society, we would have to make it illegal to divorce.

While that will never be a reality, there are a couple things we can borrow from the concept. Don’t throw someone away because you don’t immediately feel a spark. If they have a heart of gold, a healthy drive, and take showers, that spark could happen eventually. And when you inevitably get into arguments, stick it out. There were plenty of times over the years, my parent’s fought so much even us kids were presenting them with divorce papers. But now that they are older, I see them getting along more. Maybe it’s empty nest, maybe because they are getting old and need each other, but they are softer towards each other. Their’s is still a partnership, no matter how much they fought over the years. Their marriage isn’t ideal, and of course if you can marry your best friend, do it. But in love or arranged marriages, if we ignored the unlimited amount of options, and had more resolve to stick with it, maybe we won’t spend half our lives tossing away an endless sea of faces with good hearts.

Arranged Marriage – Time to Bring It Back?

News Flash: Life is not the movies. Marriage is extremely difficult and unnatural. You have to constantly work on yourself.

My father was working as a math professor in Sydney, Australia in 1976. He was one of the very few Indian immigrants there at the time. Like many of us, he turned 30 and all of his friends started getting married. Out of options, one of his friends suggested he take a trip back to India to try and meet someone, because that’s what was done – in fact, it still often is. He decided to go back home to New Delhi and summoned his mother for help. She alerted the troops and was able to find him 21 girls to go on dates with. Impressive numbers, 20 years before mainstream dial-up. The 21st girl was my mother. He was 31, she was 24. He proposed to her on their first date. (My mother will say the 20 girls before her rejected his proposal, he will say she is the only one he asked – the jury’s still out.) She was looking for three things: someone intelligent, someone that lived outside of India, and someone that wouldn’t beat her. He checked all the boxes, (fingers crossed on the last one). Two weeks later they were married.

Two strangers starting a life together in a foreign country. It sounds like a bad reality show. He had told her he was all set up in Sydney, had a great job, awesome place, friends, etc. She arrives to find out that he was more eccentric than she had thought. Dad was living in an apartment that was completely unfurnished and sleeping on a green yoga mat. He had equations written on the walls and had one pot in which he made franks and beans every night for dinner. He was giving all his money to literally anyone that asked and had $100 in savings, which contrary to your suspicion still wasn’t a lot in the late ‘70s. His best friend was a man named Ernie, who lived off the Sydney Harbor on a tiny patch of land the size of a bathroom where he and my father would boat out to and get trashed. This was NOT what she had hoped for.

Somehow, they managed to put in 15 solid years of work into the marriage. She helped him balance his life. She gave him two daughters that adore him. She taught him countless things like dental hygiene, how to save and invest their money, how to eat properly, and even how to swim! She saved him from himself.

He was nothing but an unpublished assistant professor when they met, paper after paper rejected. He worked tirelessly and with the support of my mother has now been published in every major mathematical publication worldwide, has won countless awards, and serves on the Nobel Prize Committee. He has given her a life she had never imagined. European vacations, property ownership, and the best lesson of all, that a glass of wine every night won’t kill you. (they’re drunks!)

It appears that when you start at rock bottom, things can only get better. As if this wasn’t enough, after 15 years, they fell in love. They now have been married for 37 years.

News Flash: Life is not the movies. Marriage is extremely difficult and unnatural. You have to constantly work on yourself. It’s almost impossible to be head over heels in love with someone, every day, forever. You fight, you make up, you change, you grow, you fight, you make up, you change, you adjust and then eventually you are too old to give a shit and then you die.

If your first marriage fails, statistically your second marriage has a higher percentage of failing, and third even more so. Why? Because it is impossible to obtain 100% of your happiness from another person. We set the bar so high, and then are disappointed.

What my parents have managed to do is to try and focus on the good the other person brings you, versus the things you can’t stand. If you only focus on the good, you are setting yourself up for success. Example: He doesn’t take out the trash, but HE DOES work hard all day, earn a good living, and hates sports!

There is no such thing as the perfect man or woman, it’s a myth. Even if you were to find the perfect someone, you would be over him or her and bored in a matter of time – these are the facts.

Once you accept that he’s not going to fill your wine glass when it’s low (the #1 quality I look for in a man), you will have an easier time. Whether it’s easy or not, I will say this: there IS something special about sharing a lifetime with only one person. Maybe it’s time for our generation to start from scratch with someone, rather than go into a relationship expecting compatibility and perfection. Grow together; it’s a gamble on both sides. What makes you think you’re so great?