When it comes to love, Indians have always played it safe…Welcome to the world of arranged love.

It is an undeniable reality that urban India has not quite made up its mind about which form of mate-seeking behaviour should be favoured in the 21st century. The protagonists of ‘traditional Indian values' naturally plump for the ‘arranged marriage'. On the other hand, younger urbanites, and not necessarily those residing only in the metros, seem to favour the do-it-yourself approach. Given that each region in the country has its own love legend, variations on the Laila-Majnu theme, it does seem remarkable that modern India took such a long time to get on the ‘love bandwagon'. However, a closer look at our lore tells us that, more often than not, these love stories end in tragedy. It appears that there is more romance surrounding unrequited, unfulfilled and unconsummated love than its happily-ever-after counterpart. This may well explain why for centuries, Indians decided to hedge their bets, play safe and opt for the ‘arranged love' that supposedly engenders a happily-ever-after scenario, even if it lacked the verve and dash of romantic legend.

A little more daring

The new Indian though, seems to be more entrepreneurial when it comes to choosing a mate. Young people are falling in love in far larger numbers than ever before and ‘the love marriage' is no longer a few-and-far-between sort of phenomenon. More interesting than the fact that the incidence of love marriages is on the rise, is the fact that such events provoke less hysteria, panic and rage than they used to. Elopement is no longer de rigueurfor the protagonists; today there is a higher probability of parental permission and elders' blessings being obtained. In order to facilitate this, many youngsters are resorting to what one of my clients described as a ‘love-cum-arranged' marriage. What is meant by this is that young people fall in love with someone who, in their assessment, has a high likelihood of being accepted by their parents. Having done this, they persuade their respective parents to go through all the ‘traditional procedures' involved in firming up the alliance and organising the wedding. And all is well.

Or is it? More often than the liberal thinker would be comfortable with, some parents, even when presented with an excellent choice of partner by their child, react huffily and refuse to bless the alliance, proffering some patently irrational reasons for doing so. The principal underlying dynamic in operation here is control (the famed parental ego). ‘It is my job to choose a partner for you and I will not have you find one for yourself' seems to be the unstated feeling. I have seen many potentially workable marriages scuttled on the basis of the we-know-better-what-is-good-for-you contention. And they use basically one of two arguments to substantiate their hypothesis.

The first of these is that couples in love marriages fight more, as a result of which more love marriages end up in divorce than do arranged marriages. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although it is true that today increasing numbers of couples are seeking legal redress for an emotional issue, this has nothing to do with how they chose their partners. Couples in arranged marriages also fight as hard and the incidence of divorce in arranged marriages is as high. The reasons for people seeking divorce more easily today than ever before are quite complex and linked to changing social dynamics, but love marriages do not suffer more on this score. The second argument is the old it-goes-against-Indian-culture theory. These parents insist that they got married in accordance with Indian cultural norms using the tried-and-tested arranged marriage paradigm, and didn't it work for them (even if it clearly did not)? However, given how much Indian culture has changed over the last decade or so, this argument has fortunately begun to wash much less now than it used to.

Whatever works

It all boils down to the question, which is better — arranged or love marriage? There is no answer to this one, simply because neither is better. The only essential difference is that when two people fall in love and get married, they ‘own' the marriage. They can't blame it on the parents. In arranged marriages this sense of ‘ownership' comes in much later, if at all. However, a recent phenomenon in arranged marriage partner choice is a very heart-warming development. Ever since Internet marriage portals took over our collective consciousness, young people participate more actively in the screening process. Also, they insist on speaking or chatting or skyping with and getting to know the partner a bit, before making a commitment. Once they have worked out a short-list, they leave it to the parents to do the final weeding out. As a result, they too feel a greater ownership of their arranged marriage.

Ownership of the marriage is the single most important factor in predicting a good outcome. So, whether you fall in love and get married or whether love comes to you after the wedding, it is owning and working on your marriage that determines how successful it will be. The right choice is the one that works for you!

The writer is the author of the forthcoming Fifty-50 Marriage: Return to Intimacy and can be contacted at vijay.nagaswami@gmail.com

Keywords: lovemarriageintimacy