Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Arranged Marriages (Arrangerte Ekteskap)

Photo: Olav Urdahl

This is a quick translation of an article I wrote for the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.  It was published on January 24th, both in the paper and the web version. I wrote it to challenge the public opinion about arranged marriages, to make people think and maybe see that other cultures, other traditions also have a point.
Sorry about the language.  Translating isn't easy, and this article was thought, and written, in Norwegian.

The phenomenon of arranged marriages has caught my interest. I think it contains a lot of  wisdom that we have lost on our way to absolute individualism.
Let us re-introduce this in Norway. Let parents and extended family be part of the picture, let it be ok for others to have an opinion when it comes to long-term relationships.
Before Christine Koht and Frode Thuen wrote about arranged marriages in  A-Magasinet a few weeks ago, I had never read a Norwegian statement that supported this, and when I tried to discuss it, I got reactions such as laughter or disbelief.
We must not believe that we have the entire truth! Maybe it's time that we change the way we look upon the world, and see that we have much to learn from other cultures.
A proverb goes something like this: "It's better with a pot that slowly heats up and boils, then a boiling pot that slowly cools down." Divorce figures in this country speaks for themselves. It starts with crazy love, but often turns to hate and ends in sorrow and bitterness. Psycologist Thuen writes about "relationships that never should have existed in the first place", because they often were doomed from the start, something everybody else could see, but not the two concerned.  A lot of pain would have been avoided if it was allowed to give advice, but this area is considered so private that no-one is allowed to speak.
We should be open to marriages where, to quote Koht, "more than two madly-in-love, young and horny world champions  have the right to speak up."
If everything is based on strong emotions, the relationship can be in great danger of failing to withstand the various conflicts that may arise, particularly where the two have different backgrounds, beliefs and interests.

Arranged marriage, as practiced for example in India today, is about connecting two people, based on things such as religion, language, social status, age or education, and it's not just parents who are heavily involved: When the community learns that one has started the search, the entire network is mobilized. Friends, colleagues, extended family, everyone is looking, and all have the same goal: to find a compatible partner for him or her. A matrimonial service is often being used, a place where profiles are compared. If both sides agree, the two can meet, and the final choice is theirs.

India has one of the lowest divorce statistics, around one percent. Many possible reasons for conflict are already out of the picture, and there is a reasonable chance of stability and harmony.
This is not really foreign to us! We know well that birds of the same feather flock together, and relationships formed through work, school or a hobby have the best odds for survival.
Nor is it unknown in Norway to have a third person help out.  A "matchmaker" is usually an intense, but well-intentioned person who wants to help single friends and colleagues.  Who haven't heard of blind dates?

And what about online dating?  Matchmaking sites on the Internet are more and more common, and it seems that more and more see the benefits of meeting their partner via the keyboard and monitor. A profile is made, and you select potential partners based on criteria such as age, interests, education - wait a minute, this sounds like something that I wrote above? Yes, it's exactly the same as arranged marriages in India!

Maybe we should change the language from arranged to assisted marriage, because this is what it is all about!  Not having to be alone in the jungle looking for Mr or Ms right, but could get help and guidance of someone who knows you well and want the best for you.
So why is it so unthinkable to let parents have an opinion?  Parents, who know their child well and just want their best? Why are we clinging to this  individualism that often does not work? It's like a perpetual teenage rebellion going on among us. "Stay away!  I can manage by myself!"
But, what about love? In India, love and physical attraction are not regarded as absolutely necessary at the beginning of a relationship, because the belief is that it will come, grow over time. When the base is good, and the two are working towards a common goal, love will often have very good conditions.


  1. Both of my sisters lived together with their boyfriends for years before they got married. There was plenty of time for the families to get to know their new in laws. It seems to have worked well.

    I married my wife after 4 months, but at least my sister who lives in the US knew and liked her - and her family knew and liked me.

  2. fantastic article... Kristine! It's so good to fall in love and to be loved by the 1. ...but this idea of arranged marriage is the best.

  3. Why not combine them? Fall in love, but don't get married until you've had some time to show the prospective spouse to people who love you.

  4. Thanks for your comments. I don't actually think there is one single solution, but I think the idea of letting parents, family and friends be part of the search is a good one, and allow for their opinion to be heard. It's important to me that western people understand that arranged marriages may work very well and be a good thing.

  5. Fentastic article..


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