Saturday, November 15, 2008

Love's Many Facets

Yesterday I got a "save the date" card in the mail. An old friend from college is remarrying and planning a wedding in the spring, right around my birthday. I'm thrilled, because she is having a traditional Hindu wedding and I love participating in cultural events unfamiliar to me... though this will actually be my second Hindu wedding. Padma, the friend, was a Women's Studies student with me long ago in our undergraduate days. I very clearly remember the big, fat, hairy debate we had with some fellow students. It sparked the beginning of our deep friendship, one that had begun with casual friendliness in class. Then one day Padma mentioned that her marriage was arranged.

KA freakin BOOM.

The horror, the shock, the moans of distress! Only Padma was happily married. She was born and raised here in America by parents who had emigrated during the 70s. Padma was asked, when she turned 15, if she would like an arranged marriage. Since her sisters and brother had been successful in this undertaking she agreed, knowing that she could "cry off" and change her mind later if the courtship proved disastrous. This is a big decision to make at 15.

But as it turned out she began writing and speaking on the phone with the prospective bridegroom, who was 18 at the time. They became pen-and-phone-pals and he visited the US from India a few times. When she turned 21 he came to stay with an uncle for six months and they were married after that. And lived happily until, very sadly, he passed away a few years ago after battling cancer. They had two beautiful children together.

And Padma's family, loving her very much, wanted to see if they could find her another match. They did, a widow who had a story much like her own. This time around the two families met, arranged, and a quicker path to direct courtship took place. After a few months they discovered that both their families were compatible and that they were quite fond of one another. Padma told me on the phone this morning that she fell in love with him and both of their children are very happy with the match.

We recalled, giggling as old friends do, that day in our Women's Studies group meeting, the shock and dismay that met her pronouncement. And certainly there are arranged marriages that go terribly wrong. And certainly both she and all her classmates were aware of the plight of many women in Pakistan, India, throughout Asia who are victims of horrible civil rights policies. Honor killings, non-existent protections against rape, and worse.

But there are good families everywhere, too. And the true intent behind arranged marriages can be beautiful. Padma often expressed relief that she was not burdened with the "dating scene." She felt a tremendous lifting of pressure, allowing the people who knew and loved her best to make a choice for her. Of course Padma's wonderful family had only the best intentions and left the choice with her.

Still, so many of our feminist friends expressed disgust. But how many of us read and adore historical romances? Tales of true love found in arranged marriages, weddings of convenience, weddings of a shotgun variety. We read, gleefully and voraciously, these stories of society ladies who fall for men they marry in circumstances involving everything but love. And young adult literature certainly celebrates fairy-tale style love, more traditional love, unrequited love, even vampire love these days.

Love, I suppose, is not such a simple thing to define. And tolerance, openness, a willingness to explore can't hurt. So this May I'm off to celebrate a love affair different from my own, a wedding with sights and sounds, colors and ceremonies unlike those I have celebrated. But love is precious, and no matter how we get there, worth celebrating. So congrats Padma and Hithri! I can't wait to share your special day.


  1. As a mother of a sixteen-year-old, I can assure you that would not work in this house. Pretty much, if I make the mistake of mentioning that I actually like a certain boy for her--he gets voted off the island. If I make the mistake of mentioning that I don't think a certain boy is good for her--guess what happens?

    And, yes. I have thought of using reverse psychology on her. But she's smarter than your average bear. Plus she sometimes reads this blog.

  2. My father used to threaten me with an arranged marriage. Now, I don't think he could have done worse than I did the first time. The second, we all agree, is a keeper.

  3. I have a friend who also had a positive arranged marriage. They have been together for nearly 20 yrs now and are the cutest couple. ARRANGED doesn't always mean WRONG.

  4. I think it's fabulous that it has worked for her. It would've been disastrous for me. (though I often joke i'd like to arrange my boys' marriages) I understand the desire to avoid the dating scene, but for me, that was part of the fun. The discovery of what it was I liked and what I didn't.

    I'm glad arranged marriages are few a far between here. But I'm always happy to see when they are successful.

  5. Wow, that's amazing--I'm so glad to hear it worked out for her and wish her the best with this new marriage.

    I love learning about other cultures--thanks for sharing, Chrissy!!

  6. Yeah, wouldn't have worked for me either. :)

    Can you IMAGINE the nightmare my parents would pick? *shudder*

    But I think love is rare enough we should honor any way to find it, you know?

  7. Her situation was sort of perfect, in that she had time to get to know her intended (wow, that sounds so Regency) long distance, before truly committing to him. Still, to get married so young! It's wonderful that it worked out, and the fact that she's found love again is a true testament to how happy she must have been in her first marriage. People who've loved once are statistically far more likely to love again!

  8. Amanda Brice9:53 AM

    Congrats Padma!