One time Jonathan and I were at a wedding here in Cambodia, celebrating the marriage of a Brit and a Filipino. Sitting at the table with us was a young lady from India. When the table conversation strayed into the topic of marriage, this young lady asked us if we had a “love marriage” (as opposed to the Indian custom of arranged marriage).
Our first answer was yes – yes, we had a love marriage. A second later we added, “Our parents were really involved in our relationship.” And they were. They were intimately involved.
Another time we were sharing a meal with our Pakistani friends, when the conversation turned to marriage. They told us their story, and we told them ours. When we explained the way our parents had helped to guide us, we laughed and told them that at the time some people thought we were crazy.
There was another time when I was chatting with a lady from India about the cultural differences between India, Cambodia, and America. I asked if her daughter, who is studying in America, will have an arranged marriage, or not. She said she probably won’t have an arranged marriage, and that she herself did not have an arranged marriage, so how could she expect her daughter to?
I told her I got married at 18, and to her that seemed very young. (She was right. It was.) She said that in India, parents prefer their children’s marriages to take place a little later, so husband and wife and older, wiser, and more stable when they’re just starting out.
Then I explained how our relationship had unfolded – how Jonathan had talked to his dad, how his dad had talked to my parents, how Jonathan had then talked to my parents, how my parents had eventually talked to me — and she said that is exactly how marriages happen in India.
That was the moment I realized I had an arranged marriage. That was the moment I realized that “courtship” as I knew it was really “arranged marriage, American style.”
It makes sense: an arranged marriage is not a forced marriage. My friend went on to explain that even when it is a so-called “love marriage,” Indian families prefer marriage to be formalized in this way — that children will talk to their parents, who will talk to the other parents, and so on.
In fact that is how she expects it to happen with her daughter, that she will tell her parents the man in whom she’s interested, and they will get to know the other family, etc. Parents know their kids, she explained, and they know how their kids react to certain situations and people, and they want their children’s marriages to be successful.
I like this idea of families knowing each other. It’s all too easy at university to find someone and fall in love them without any family context, and not to know what you’re getting into. But a marriage is not just a union between two people. A marriage always involves the families of origin, for we are formed by our families and bring our original family culture into our marriages, whether healthy or not.
Now that I’ve been married for nearly 17 years, I can honestly say I’ve loved nearly every moment of marriage. Yes, we’ve had conflict. Yes, we’ve had disagreements. Yes, we’ve sometimes been so busy we barely spoke to each other.
But most of the time we’ve enjoyed being married to each other.
And while I can’t attribute the success of my marriage solely to its arrangement, that arrangement does deserve some credit. Looking back, I can clearly see the way God moved to bring us together under the blessing and authority of our parents. That knowledge and belief is a sure foundation to lean upon when committing to a lifetime of love and togetherness.
Marriage doesn’t have to be as formally arranged as it was for Jonathan and myself or for my Indian or Pakistani friends. Still, it can be good for family to be involved. Or if, for whatever reason, it’s not possible for family to be involved, it can be good for someone to be involved, intentionally guiding a young couple toward marriage.
In the end, marriage is a community matter. The strength and stability of our marriages affect our churches and our culture at large. Proverbs 15:22 tells us that “plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” We can all use a little outside input to make wise decisions — decisions that will hopefully last a lifetime.
Other articles I’ve written about marriage:
What I Want to Teach My Daughters About Married Sex
Our Journey to Finding Joy in Marriage (and the things we lost along the way)
When Marriage and Ministry Collide
Open letter to trailing spouses (and the people they’re married to)
Articles Jonathan has written about marriage:
The Purpose of Marriage is Not to Make You Holy
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Wife
A Marriage Blessing