Sunday, July 12, 2009

Incompatible alliances

I have so many thoughts crowding my mind that I cannot decide which one to take up first. I think I'll talk of marriages that seem to break even before the couple care enough for each other to even give it a try. Why,why does it appear to happen more and more these days?

I think it was in early 2008 that I had tried to 'Defend Arranged Marriages' and ended up failing miserably since as usual I started seeing the other point of view and actually ended up endorsing (not quite, perhaps?) the right of younsters of Gen X to decide on who they want to spend their lives with. Before I am labeled a hypocrite let me clarify. I could not actually claim that marriages arranged by parents were always successful or that those arranged by the children concerned were disastrous. So I made a safe exit by mumbling something that was acceptable to all. That was just a light beginning to a rather serious issue. So let me get going.

I often think about why Indian parents want to have a say in their children's marriage. They seem liberal enough but when their children marry they prefer to stick to their own community/religion/social standing etc. etc. This is because they feel that their children would be able to adjust better. But is it really so? Take for instance the example of a couple I know or rather heard about.

S and P were neighbors and were happy when their children, both IT professionals decided to marry. 'Thank God they did not choose someone from a different state speaking a strange language' they thought. Their wives felt puffed up. 'Upbringing matters' they beamed at each other. 'It is the culture we've inculcated in them'.

Their joy was shortlived. The highly qualified professionals had not learnt the simple truth that marriage means much more than looking good on the wedding day. The first two years of marriage were okay. Trouble started when the husband wanted the wife to slow down and think of starting a family while the wife, who was on the verge of receiving a promotion and expected to be sent abroad to train a new batch of systems trainees, flatly refused. She felt children could wait. She accused her husband of being jealous of her success. Their relationship soured and even without consulting their parents, they filed for a divorce. Parents pitched in, they were asked to go for counseling. 'Upbringing' and 'culture' seemed to be words without any real meaning. All they could be happy about was that no children were involved in the mess that was called marriage.

B had been a good student and it was no surprise that he was accepted in an American University with full scholarship. His parents were elated and at the age of 18 he left India to study in America. He gradually took to the American way of living. His friends were Americans and he relished their company as well as their food. Weekends for him meant car racing and mountain hiking. Drinking beer after a hard days work was no sin. He got a job in a multinational company in California and his parents started hunting for a suitable girl for him. They were perhaps not too happy with his preference for beef and pork and felt that getting him married to a traditional Indian girl may help him to appreciate everything that was Indian and help him change his ways that were rather objectionable to them.

K was a girl from a traditional south Indian background. True she had done her Engineering and had a good GRE score and hoped to pursue her studies in USA. Her parents would not hear of sending her on her own to America. She could get married and do what she pleased. They found B a suitable choice and after a sound background check on B's family, the kulam - gothram stuff and horoscopes duly matched, the couple were married and K was happy to have a chance to study in America. She was 22 and B was 30, but Tambrahm parents do not bother too much about the age difference. So our Tambrhm bride with no exposure to life outside her immediate community let alone a foreign country was sent to America after the necessary formalities of passport/visa etc were completed. trouble started from day 1. She cooked a simple south Indian meal but B would not touch it. He took out some precooked stuff from the fridge and after heating it up in the microwave and settled down with a glass of beer and started watching some adventure sports on TV. K was shocked to say the least. He seemed to be eating some weird smelling non vegetarian stuff and she had never seen people consume alcohol except villains in movies. He spent his weekends with his friends and she refused to join him. Her idea of spending week ends was a visit to the Indian store, watching some Tamil movie at home enjoying some special south Indian delicacies. A visit to the temple was welcome and she longed for the company of Indians who she was told would also visit the Indian store and temples during weekends. He encouraged her to go out on her own but she was so much in awe of the malls and shopping centers in America that she dared not venture out on her own. He was not used to people dictating terms and here he was, stuck to a wife who was a not only a nag but also a highly opinionated woman who made no effort to understand him. In no time the couple realized that they could not continue to live together and a divorce was the best solution. They could have separated amicably but unfortunately it was not so. I'd rather not go into details because whatever I know is only through third and fourth persons and I may not be fair to them if I went into further details.

There are many more such cases where the blame cannot be accorded to one or the other partner. Parents think that they are doing the right thing by sticking to certain basic rules while choosing a partner for their wards. This may have made sense some 40 to 50 years ago when it was common for children to study and later take up a job in or around their home town. The children more or less followed family traditions and allowed parents to decide on a suitable partner and accepted their choice without a murmur. There are several children who willingly let their parents choose partners for them but there several others who make their own choice and are happily married. I cannot say which is the better arrangement but I do know that if your ambition permits you to let your son/daughter leave home at an impressionable age and have a high flying career, you should be prepared to deal with an adult son/daughter who has a mind of his own. Should you take it upon yourself to arrange their marriage it is imperative that you accomodate their interest in your choice. One cannot have it both ways. As in the case of B and K weren't parents at least partly responsible for the situation? Or in the earlier example were not parents hasty in declaring that it was their upbringing that made their children decide to marry each other? Marriage is a highly personal arrangement and for some reason compromises have become a thing of the past in many cases. Affiliation to the same community or religion is no more a priority and is certainly not a pre-requisite to compatbility.

S and T decided to marry though they belonged to different cutural and religious backgrounds.They were both atheists. P's parents understood and supported the marriage. S could not convince his parents who insisted on conversion. Three years have gone by but they do not understand that for a couple who don't believe in God conversion has no meaning at all. They keep insisting that with age their children would change their view on the existence of God they certainly could not have children who did not belong to any religion. Touch wood the couple are happily married and they have a daughter who adds joy to their lives. Let us hope that his parents see reason for as far as I can see if they miss watching their grand daughter grow the loss is theirs.

I hope I have dealt with the topic with the fairness that it deserves. I would really welcome my readers to come up with their opinion on why marriages fail and who exactly is responsible for the situation. I don't want to be harsh on parents since as one such parent myself I can understand their anxiety and firmly believe that they have their child's welfare in mind. I met a friend's daughter who had been brought up in USA. She was one who had an arranged marriage and her husband was working in the Middle East. The couple met once a year. My daughter was surprised and asked her how she felt about it. "What does one do if one's mother sheds tears and forces you to marry a person of her choice? I have no real feeling for my husband and this long distant arrangement suits me fine." Her honesty surprised me but it also set me thinking. I wondered if the couple would ever bond. I suppose they will. After all most in my generation had an arranged marriage and we did bond with the husband and his family but then ours was not a long distant marriage! Let me stop right here or else I may confuse you.


Anonymous said...

marriages I believe are made in heaven and one's destiny has a lot of role to play. And I also believe that marriages are mostly dependent on how the husband and wife make adjustments with each other and understand each other. Like at our parents time, they also must have had differences, but it never reached a point of divorce.

Prats said...

Marriages are to be worked upon. It doesn't matter whether it is arranged or love. My opinion is if couple want to be happy they need to work on it. There is a give and take in a relationship. I wouldn't say, its always positive. But the negatives add to refreshing their lives too. And there is no point if one were to give up as soon as problems arise. Would one give up if he/she were working on a technical problem? Wouldnt they work on it and try to solve it to the best of their ability?

I could be a biased, but having been marrie dfor nearly 15 years, I seem to be of the understanding that everything about a marriage needs working on. Treat everyday with your spouse as a new day....leave negativity behind and just let go...things will work out. If divorce were to be on the mind as soon as a problem started, no one will work their differences out...they'll just resort to the easy solution...

apu said...

HHG, as usual you've looked at all perspectives! Although I've had a "love marriage" myself, I don't believe arranged ones are less succesful; but, we do need to remember that expectations are significantly different today. In the earlier days, all that was expected from a "husband" was that he would be kind to the wife and children and be a good provider; a "wife" just had to look after the household well and be a good mother. Today we would not be willing to settle for this, which makes adjustment much harder. In the examples you mentioned, the couples in question do not seem to have had much discussion on their life goals or lifestyles. This IMHO is a recipe for disaster. Not everything can be "adjusted to."

Sumana said...

Very Complex indeed HHG. I mean the topic of dicussion. Ours is an arranged marriage too. Like prats said, i too don't believe in taking hasty decisions. I think both the spouses need to step closer in thinking to each other or put themselves in the other's shoes to find out how he or she feels. Sometimes plain talking helps but sometimes time can be a great healer. But once the divorce pops in any silly thing will be a reason for the same.

Sri said...


I am a new reader of ur blog..liked this post a lot..

I feel the success of marriages-whether love or arranged depends solely on the 2 marriages carry the slightly added advantage of knowing much more about each other but life after marriage is a different ball game altogether..

Mine was an arranged marriage but we said yes only after talking frankly to each other..i feel the main factors that bind a marriage are-respect and love for each other,the ability to forgive and move on and a genuine faith that the relationship will work..both partners need to be mature..its not even a year since i got married but i am learning day by day...


Ugich Konitari said...



I would think that marriages , whether arranged or otherwise, would be of type (a) above where there is a dynamic sharing of the marriage-space by the couple, everyone taking turns with taking the larger % responsibility. There is respectful understanding and an ability to chip in and co-operate when the percentages fall short.

Todays couples are like (b) above. Individually so brilliant and theoretically capable of so much. But these folks move on such parallel independent paths, it is difficult to meet.

I wonder how long it takes people to realize that education is not degrees, but an enlightened , responsible way of living, whether in a society, or with an individual, for life.

shilpa said...

This was so well written. I had written about marriages and arrangements a while back, but I left it all open ended because I lack a lot of the understanding about arranged marriages, but you explained it all so well. Like you said, checking out the religion, caste, subcaste etc doesn't suffice in today's world because everything is so much more cosmopolitan. I also think that now couples are more open to options like separation etc hence they do not go out of their way to 'adjust' all their lives.

hillgrandmom said...

HHG, I agree with you on this post. Today's world is very different to the one we grew up in. But in the final analysis, whether a marriage succeeds or fails, is dependent entirely on the 2 people in the marriage and the emotional baggage they carry. Then for a marriage to succeed, both partners have to be open to the idea of self-change and compromise.
Thoughtful post as always.

Jaya said...

As responsibilities merge, it is expectations from each other that needs to be matched to keep a marriage alive. I agree to all saying more patience, thought are needed. I know many marriages in past lived up just because "couple" had no where else to go. But I think "divorce" itself is not bad. If one is living just out of obligation, shouldn't the person go and search for what (s)he is looking for?

Anonymous said...

Oh I can talk on this topic all day long :)
I think arranged marriages during my parent's time were one extreme and what we are facing now might be the other.
During those times, if all the background search came out okay, the boy had a good job, same caste.. blah blah.. then there was no reason for the bride or groom to say No. And frankly, there were no divorces. You HAD to make it work unless your spouse was cheating on you or a complete drunk. Infact even complete drunks were pardoned.
And these days, getting married has gotten so difficult. I have friends who are 31-32 years old and still unmarried, because for them it just didn't 'Click'. After seeing hundreds of guy/girls, there were no bells ringing. What do we say to that?
And ofcourse, I am totally against parents forcing their wishes on their kids. Its no more 'marriage is a uniting of 2 families', the uniting of the groom and bride has to work out first.
Oops, a very long comment :)

Hip Grandma said...

Hi all,
Those were interesting responses. True divorce is better than putting up with an incompatible alliance as joy pointed out. But that should be the last resort when all else fails unless the relationship is outright abusive. Like for instance it is the wife who is biologically equipped to bear a child so while a husband can do his bit and be supportive during pregnancy and after the birth of the child she alone can give birth to the baby. The issue of when to have a child or whether to have one at all needs to be sorted out before marriage. In very much the same manner how important is a career to a woman and whether she can take a break to raise her children are sensitive issues and need to be discissed with a good deal of honesty and maturity. In our times and during that of my mother's generation divorce was perhaps not the solution to an abusive marriage but there were other ways in the issue was addressed. Not all women put up with a bad marriage nor did all parents advise their daughters to adjust. Men were at the receiving end too but they preferred to keep it to themselves because society did not think well of a man who could not deal with a 'shrew'. More about such cases in my next post.

Sri, memyhubbynbaby:welcome here

Usha said...

Any two people coming together in their adulthood will have adjustment issues. In arranged marriages they tried to make it smoother by looking for a similar background and family values.
Ours was also a generation when we were brought up to put others first and make a lot of adjustments even to the point of personal sacrifices.
Family's cohesiveness was considered more important than the individual's happiness.
So we managed to put up with people who were different from us and over a period of time the adjustment and acceptance happened.
But today individual happiness is supreme and marriages are viewed as a private matter of the two individuals only. So naturally break-ups are easy too because one need not consider any other dimensions. Between the couple too there is less of give and take. When each one puts his/her happiness as most important, the marriage runs the risk of breaking for the slightest of reasons.

I am not saying that one system is better than the other. I just think that these attitudinal changes are the reason for the increasing break up of the institution of marriage

Harmanjit Singh said...

Laura Kipnis has written a very interesting book on why marriages are no longer a good solution to the problem of relationships. But as elsewhere, change comes slowly and painfully.

Hip Grandma said...

Usha:True love marriages are more of a 'one on one' arrangement and the couple are not accountable to anyone for its success or failure.But aren't they accountable to themselves?Should they not be more responsible and work towards making it working relationship?Again when parents take the responsibility of arranging a marriage should they not take into consideration, their children's expectations in a marriage? and when it shows signs of falling apart should they not pitch in before it is too late?

Harmanjit:Welcome here.I still believe that marriage results in some kind of accountability by those who arrange it be it children or parents and therefore causes some stability in society. If it were not required in a relationship there would be no real effrt to accomodate one's partner's interests. I may sound outdated but I feel that separation or divorce should be opted for only after all other solutions fail except in an abusive relatioship be it physical or mental.
May be I'll change my stand if Laura Kipnis impresses me. Will try to get hold of her book.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi Grandmom, readers of this blog:

You can read the first chapter of Kipnis' book at:

The rest of the book can be browsed / partly read through's preview feature.

AD said...

This is the first time I've read your blog and only the latest post at that cause it caught my interest. I applaud your thinking on the subject. I've been married two yrs to someone whom I've dated for 4. And I'm happy to say that our inter-religious marriage is happy . Its not without its troubles but we work them out.
My sister has been married for about a yr and a half, to a man she dated for about 3 yrs and has a 3 month old baby. Her marriage is now ending. They are both hindu albeit from different parts of India - she from kerala and he from haryana. Turns out he expected my sister to turn into a "traditional obedient bahu" after marriage, which is a complete antithesis to our liberated upbringing. Whats interesting here is that, it was for the same reason that my husband married me , because I was "liberated".
And to all those who think that divorce is an easy option out these days, I have to ask - Have you been through one? Its one of the hardest decisions that anyone ever makes and it is not made lightly. It breaks the soul. Bottom line is marriage is a gamble which may or may not work out - there is no real way of knowing for sure, arranged or otherwise. I also think its inetersting to note that the term "arranged marriage" is almost entirely an Indian term!

Anamika said...

Like so many are saying, its always up to the individual. If a person is unwilling to make it work, there is no progress to be made. In any marriage, neither should assume they are God's gift to their spouse. Tolerance levels today are not very high and options as well as societal acceptance to walk out are easier. As a result more effort is needed to make any relationship work, whether 'love' or arranged.

Hip Grandma said...

Harmanjit:Thanks for the link.Will check it out.

AD:I am sorry that your sister's marriage is ending. When will one's in laws learn that if one conducts one's self properly affection and respect will automatically follow. And when one bond's not out of coercion but out of free will the bond is stronger and more permanent. I know how traumatic a divorce can be and it is unfortunate that even after 3 years of dating your BIL could not stand up for his wife. But then Indian males do treat their wives as if they are property. Remember Yudhishtra in Mahabharat who had no problem pledging his own wife in a gambling spree?

anamika: sustained and honest effort from both concerned is required. The time when one partner alone gave in has gone with the wind.

Smitha said...

Such a complex subject.. There is no one 'perfect way',is there? Love or arranged - a successful marriage depends on so many factors, doesn't it? I think finally, it is the individuals themselves that make a difference - their levels of maturity and their willingness to work at the marriage..and their compatibility with each other...

Hip Grandma said...

smitha:you are so correct. Ultimately the individuals alone matter and they alone can decide.

amna said...

having married a guy of my own choice who belongs to a different caste (though same religion, not that any of it matters), i can safely say that its not easy. for us, parents were not an issue, they welcomed our relationship and supported it - both his and mine. but there are differences that i find hard to adjust to as must he. we are happy and in love still and that's the only thing that helps to overcome the small things that come in between. something as simple as him being a vegetarian and me liking my seafood can come in the way and irritate me when we try to pick a restaurant to eat.

but above all this, our generation is confused in many ways. we want to overcome the stereotypes our parents lived under. we all want to be happier than our mothers, be independed and strike that perfect balance between men and women. its not easy, ours being the first tranisitional generation, to carve out what is his responsibility and what is mine. we both work, we both cook, we both clean, we both save. however, when it comes to smaller things, its hard to pick and decide. disagreements in this, according to me, is that breaks marriages.

its noone's fault, really.

Hip Grandma said...

Nags:i understand. Yet such minor and not so minor irritants are part of any marriage not necessarily one arranged by children. It is also the case in those marriages where the heart rules over the head and words of caution from well wishers are disregarded. It can also be seen when two people share a flat/room even if they are one's own sister/brother.In fact they are part of life.Problem arises when one's ego takes over and there is no give and take in a relationship. Should one exercise prudence and sincerely try a lot can be achieved.

Sue said...

You know HHG, the more marriages I see, the more convinced I am that it's eventually a contract. Whether you marry for love or for convenience, eventually you find yourself negotiating the same compromises. What I'm also learning is that this is not a negative thing to say about marriages!

I'm on a small blog break now, but a post on this has been fermenting in my mind for a week now. Came to your post via Ultraviolet.

Hip Grandma said...

Sue:You know I thought of you only yesterday. It was like - Mumbai has a bloggers meet and so do Chennai and Bangalore. Kolkata is the closest to Jamshedpur. So we must meet. I then wondered if there are others apart from sunaina, Dipali and Mallika. As if by telepathy you comment on my post after such a long time. Busy?? I suppose so.

Regarding marriage being a compromise, well it is so. but as you say it is not a negative thing to say unless it is too one sided.

Sue said...

Really? That would be great fun, I think. I know M and D would love it. Do you come ot Cal much? Perhaps we can plan a weekend some time?