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.