When I was 10 I heard about a girl in our community arranged to be married. On her wedding day she was asked by the officiator if she would take him as her husband and before a hall filled with red and gold colored shalwar kamized aunties leaning in with concentration to take in the scene of inevitable gossip: she said no. I knew this girl. Tall and gangly with thick rimmed glasses in her periwinkle blue shalwar kamiz and long thick dark hair all the way down her back, tied, always. The story of our very own runaway bride circulated for months amongst my friends. We admired her for fleeing a life she did not want. In retrospect I'm not sure how much the retold story deviated from the perhaps less dramatic truth but she did not marry that man.
Many people equate arranged marriage to "an eastern thing". In some ways its true- but not completely. Arranged marriages happened the world over even in England and other western countries. Often they were between royalty to secure alliances and expand empires but they happened among ordinary people as well. I thought I'd share what I know/think on it. If you you can add or correct please share.
Forced arranged marriage: This is what many think arranged marriage is. Girl (or guy) absolutely unequivocably doesn't want to get married but are forced. This is not the norm. I know of a girl brought to her grandmother, gravely ill, as she requested her to marry a man she didn't want as her final wish. ("miraculously" grandma made a complete recovery after the wedding) I know of men forced into a marriage and after informing his bride of his apathy went back to his girlfriend. Its wrong and I'm glad that girls like the one I heard of at age ten resisted such a life.
Traditional arranged marriage: This is how most of my parent's generation married. The girl's parents get a proposal from a guy's family. The parents discuss and consider and then agree and inform the child of the wedding. The couple is fine with this and no one is forced. There is a great deal of trust the child places in their parent. Many do not even meet their spouse until the wedding day though perhaps a picture might be shared. I think this is a dwindling phenomenen at least in the US though I know a few who went back to the motherland and married sight unseen. From those I know the majority were fine with it though some felt pressured to please their parents.
Arranged Introduction. These can take different forms. Parents or friends introduce the couple and let them talk a via phone or email and maybe meet once or twice and then ask for a decision. Some such introductions are much more relaxed simply introducing and then leaving the couple to talk and hang out as much until they make a decision. There is not much pressure to marry. If the couple says no its a no. However when parents are involved in the process there will inevitably be some pressure as parents can't help but give their opinion and advice on the situation. I personally think arranged introductions are great. Its like a blind date but your parents might have set you up. Fine that might be a little weird but at least there is an understanding of why you are talking. You can also ask questions to each other such as perspectives on children, or finances without it seeming like you're eager for a comittment, because you both are clearly interested in a possibe committment. To me its not even an arranged marriage which is why I call it an arranged introduction since the choice is solely between the couple involved. I see this as the natural evolution of where "arranged marriage" is headed.
The Rationale. Many argue that parents know better. They have wisdom and want the best for their children whom they love incredibly. Who better to pick a spouse than someone who wants the best for them. They will be objective. They will look at things that those eager in love will overlook. Some also say that marriage is more than just about the couple. It involves the families uniting. It's about raising good children. Particullary if the couple will be in a joint family where the girl will live with his entire family perhaps the parents really are better at judging the situation and if the parents are a good match for their daughter to live with.
The Cons. Parents want what is best for you but does that mean they know what's best for you? I know parents who unwittingly paired their children with cheaters, abusers or otherwise incompatible people. I mean, most don't really talk in depth to the guy, they talk to the parents. Plus, who says parents can't be subjective in picking the spouse? They can get swayed by proposals from wealthy or prominent families. Plus what if despite the right credentials the "click factor" isn't there between the couple? This may not matter in societies where its understood marriage is not about flowers and chocolate and romance but a more practical arrangement. But if you live in today's increasingly global community its going to be hard to not want what you see around you. Furthermore if parents really know best then why do some allow bad marriages? Parents paralyzed by what others will think. I know one girl engaged to a man who turned out to have another wife secretly back in Pakistan. But the parents refused to break the engagement because the wedding cards had been sent out and the hall was booked. I know another girl who found out three months before her wedding that the guy had lied about serious things such as being ten years older than he had claimed, but her parents said that they did not have the heart to call his parents and end it! The objectivity factor to me is arguable.
Phew, long enough for you? I get asked this question a lot so I thought I'd break it down in one post to reference others to my view on the matter. *** Update: Take my views and keep in mind that I am born and raised here and thus my perspectives reflect this***