It had been ingrained in me from a young age that it would be my fate to have an arranged marriage.
Offers started rolling in as soon as I hit my early teens. My family has an excellent reputation when it comes to marriage, and numerous female relatives had married into equally reputable families, never once airing their grievances in public and putting a good face on it.
In contrast, I wasn’t happy about the idea at all. I grew up seeing what actually happened to my relatives; their marriages turned out not to be the wedded bliss they had been promised – instead they more or less became their in laws’ unpaid slaves, put to work in the family business while also expected to run the house, entertain guests and produce the next generation of kids.
And as I reached my late teens, my aunts and uncles began to seriously pressure me, telling me that I was getting beyond marriageable age.
In our Indian culture, the norm is to go from your father’s house to your husband’s house, but I had a burning desire to be financially independent, and in order to do that I had to get ambitious, get educated and make money. I was determined to break the mould.
In an attempt to avoid marriage for as long as I could, I pursued my education for years and also worked non-stop, trying to enjoy my single life for as long as possible.
When it came to men, however, I made terrible choices. I must have had ‘loser detector’ on my forehead – I was a magnet for time wasters and guys who wanted more than I was willing to give.
Some relationships fizzled out because I wouldn’t go public, others because I wouldn’t go further sexually.
Slowly, I began to change my mind about the idea of arranged marriage. I came to the realisation that, maybe, it wouldn’t be so bad if I did it on my terms. I refused to be pressured, and I demanded to see any guy picked for me as often as I needed to make a decision.
I also wanted to have children and, culturally, getting married was the only way that could happen if I didn’t want to risk being alienated by my family.
When I told my parents I was ready, my mother was overjoyed – she could finally get the elders off her back. My dad was pleased, too (he was desperate for me to give him grandchildren) although he did question whether I was certain about taking this big step – one I had resisted for so long.
He was chosen because he was open-minded, laid back, easy on the eye, well educated
I appreciated that. He had always been considerate of my feelings, and I knew I was getting a level of support some of my relatives hadn’t.
My parents started vetting men quickly after that. Someone, a friend or perhaps a man’s parents, would get in touch having heard that there was an eligible girl in our family.
My parents began by checking which village each guy was from, to ensure that there was no chance of us being related. They delved into their lives, looking into their finances, confirming they didn’t have secret girlfriends – and that they were, in fact, ready to get married.
My parents must have looked at – and discounted – dozens of guys, clearly thinking they were not good enough, or that we wouldn’t make a good match (or maybe they discovered something untoward in their investigations).
I wasn’t involved at all – and it was great. I didn’t have to go through all that dating hell. It dawned on me that my family would only ever select someone who was suitable. Where I had failed they could well succeed, and I appreciated that they did all the hard work.
My family are very thorough, and they are great judges of character, something that has always been a weakness of mine. I trusted them implicitly – but I was nervous as hell the first time I was to meet up with ‘the one’.
My male relatives had really put him through the wringer before I met him, and he came up trumps every time. If he could survive their months of interrogation, he was a keeper, surely.
He was chosen because he was open-minded, laid back, easy on the eye, well educated (so we could support ourselves), came from a good family and importantly, he had a great sense of humour.
On the day we were due to meet, I must have changed my outfit more than a dozen times, I was so anxious. Up until that point, all I had seen was a photograph of him (yes, back then people still printed photos).
My relatives held a big family gathering, his family came and everyone chatted until he and I were eventually introduced. Just walking into the room I thought I would trip up, or throw up.
My first impression was: he’s hot. His photo didn’t do him justice. Still, it was nerve-wracking to know I was looking at the man I was expected to marry – especially when we were encouraged to leave the room to have a private chat.
From the outset, he was a ‘yes man’, agreeing with me on every question I asked, and he accepted that I had a past. I was the only Indian girl he knew who had left home out of wedlock (quite an eyebrow-raiser at the time). Part of me felt like it was an interview process but he was good looking and saying yes – I was enamoured!
He was a great guy and the more we got to know one another, I felt that we were two peas in a pod with the same values and goals for life
After that initial meeting, we were permitted to meet alone on a number of occasions. We had our ups and downs before we even got married, which was good in one sense because it was a reflection of real life, and not a Bollywood romance.
For instance, the first time he said that he loved me, my reaction was to tell him how ridiculous that was – how could he love me when he didn’t even know me? It didn’t go down too well.
I actually found our ‘dating’ process slow and agonising, I had so many doubts about whether I had made the right decision, and why him? But the next minute I would be feeling positive again. He was a great guy and the more we got to know one another, I felt that we were two peas in a pod with the same values and goals for life.
The wedding, when it finally came, went on for days. During the actual ceremony, I only found the courage to move down the ‘aisle’ when I looked out and saw a sea of friendly faces. I had a moment or two of hesitation as we were about to sign the register, but a nod from my dad encouraged me into action.
My husband was perfect throughout. He didn’t put a foot wrong and I couldn’t fault him. But I didn’t fall in love with him for a long time.
I suppose I fancied him but I didn’t feel that deep connection (the way I had with the losers).
I married him because he was suitable, it was practical and he ticked a lot of boxes. As we racked up the years together, I resigned myself to hoping that I would grow to love him – one day.
Over a decade into the marriage and I still didn’t feel it, until one summer when I fell seriously ill. I was constantly tired, too exhausted to even look after my kids, and in a lot of pain. My poor husband more or less became my carer as well as the primary parent for our children.
It was hellish, but the way he cared for me cemented our relationship. After the disaster of him saying ‘I love you’ the first time round, I had always thought maybe he was holding back.
The way he looked after me nothing was too much hassle – he showed me so much love, and was endlessly understanding and caring. I realised that this was real love, not the nonsense I had been chasing before. In turn, I have become more considerate of him.
Finally, I found that connection I had yearned for and our relationship today is stronger than ever.
I am so glad I went through with having an arranged marriage. It’s lasted so much longer than any other relationship I’ve ever had and, more than that, it’s working.
True love is not all romance, flowers and being whisked away by your emotions. If someone can stick with you during the hard times, you can stick with them forever.
Last week in Love, Or Something Like It: My secret lockdown wedding made me understand what marriage means
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