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.