People often think about marriage at a certain age. Perhaps women think of it earlier than men because their biology is different than men and they become physically mature earlier than men. But the maturity that is more important is the mental, emotional and psychological maturity that is needed to make a rational decision about choosing a mate who may be for life so it is not an easy decision to make for anyone. People who rush into marriage only learn to their regret the wrong choice they often make and live the consequence. I will not write about those who do not marry but live with their mates and say that they are called the liberated women who do not believe in matrimony. They say that marriage is an outdated concept that is no longer valid in the modern world. I agree to disagree with them so I will put forward my own thoughts on this subject in the most cogent way possible. This is not to change the mind of anyone but to present a different perspective on the subject.
From time immemorial, man has sought his mate and his society’s approval in the choice through the act of marriage. Believe it or not, man is a social animal and cannot do away with the society and its rules. Some societies are more orthodox in their approach to morality and immorality but by and large all societies are run by a set of rules that are enforced communally to ensure the continuation of certain values they hold dear. This is also true of primitive societies.
Marriage therefore becomes a communal affair and everyone wants to participate in the joyous celebration of a marriage that may last several days. More than the union between a man and a woman, it brings two families together. There are several types of marriage depending on the class of the people. In high society, a marriage is often used as a tool to consolidate power and business so less importance is given to the feelings of the couple in question. Jalaluddin Mohamed , the great Moghul ruler called Akbar married Jodha Bai who was a Hindu princess from Rajputana so that war could be avoided. There was no love between them at first but later she became his most favored wife. This type of marriage was and still is practiced by the European aristocracy resulting in the mixing of blood of various royal lines. Most of the royal houses there are interlinked through marriage but these marriages were the result of necessary political alignments and not due to the alignment of the hearts of the young princes and princesses.
So what I write about is not about the marriages of political alignment of the aristocracy that still exists but rather about the common man and woman in every society. This happens in two ways. One is the traditional arranged marriage that is still practiced in many countries like in India and the nontraditional marriage in many countries where men and women are free to choose their mates through courtship with or without chaperons. In India such marriages are called love marriages and are frowned upon. The traditional arranged marriage has nothing to do with love although many women claim that love blossoms later in their marriage.
In such traditions, the responsibility of getting the daughter or son married rests entirely with the parents or guardians. Once a suitable girl or a boy is found, a thorough background check is made about the boy’s character, habits etc but more importantly how much he earns and how good is his job. The family he comes from may be of secondary importance. The boy’s family then scrutinizes the girl thoroughly to determine if she is pretty and has good moral character. She of course needs to be a virgin although her possible mate may escape such scrutiny. A tentative consent from both parties is then sought and the two families then get down to the serious business of how much dowry the father of the daughter must pay, what are the other expenses, nature and the kind of gifts expected from both sides etc. Once these deliberations are complete, a priest is called to determine the most auspicious day and time for the marriage and all other preparations then get started. This is still the practice among the Hindus. A “love marriage “ is discouraged by the tradition so the girl may not have a boy friend or the boy a girlfriend although this system is under scrutiny and is slowly changing as more and more young people decide for themselves who they want as their lifelong partner.
Often someone makes a childhood promise to his best friend that if they have a son and a daughter, they will arrange such marriages between two families without asking the girl or the boy at all. I know a case where a fellow I knew found his love in a South Indian woman and decided to get married but his father strongly disapproved the marriage saying that he had given his word to his best friend that his daughter will be the bride. He then disowned his son and refused to attend his marriage because he felt that he had lost his face. The couple married anyway and moved to the United States and live there happily. This was a classic case of “love marriage”.
Now I will mention also a classic case of arranged marriage. I knew a boy who was one year junior to me in college, smart and good looking. He found a good job after graduation and married a woman through arranged marriage .This woman was so bad that he was very unhappy and started to drink that eventually killed him at an early age. In arranged marriages, the man and the woman has no chance to get to know each other before marriage so often there are surprises like this.
I know another case where a sweet girl got married at the age of 19 but her husband turned out to be a very jealous person who abused her and drank a lot that also killed him. But her two children from her marriage to this bad person are jewels and take very good care of her so now she is happy and lives a religious life.
So not all the arranged marriages are successful but most just accept their fate and live together by compromising their own dreams and aspirations for the sake of their children. Divorce is rare because the society disapproves divorce although I knew a very intelligent and pretty girl who was married to a very bad and abusive person. One day she ran away from him and later got divorce. She has remarried and lives happily in England so she was lucky. Not many women trapped in abusive marriages are so lucky. Often they get no support from their parents and siblings because they wash their hands off once a woman gets married. I think the hated dowry system has something to do with it so the system of arranged marriage continues in India and in other countries.
Among the Moslems, the same system exists but the women are more prone to abuses because a fellow can just say “talaq” three times and divorce his wife leaving her with no money, property or even children and does not have to give reasons for his divorce. Such women often become destitute. There are women who are now pushing for laws to protect their rights but it is still a long way off because Mullahs protect the right of men more than women.
Another practice among the Moslems is to marry the first cousin which leads to inbreeding and may cause genetic abnormalities in children. Hindus prohibit marriages between the cousins due to this problem although most Brahmins marry only among the five families that may have originated only from one a long time ago that may suggest inbreeding as well. This practice of marrying first cousins is by no means limited to Moslems. Christians also marry their first cousins that biologically make little sense.
In the west, the men and women choose their mates through dating that starts early in high school .Many such high school sweet hearts get married the day after they graduate from college while others do not wait that long. I had a roommate in College who one day announced that he was getting married to a woman he just met a week ago .But it is more of an exception than rule because most people spend a great deal of time knowing each other before deciding on marriage. Parents are not involved except in the preparation of the marriage and paying for some expenses. In America women often make a list of what kind of gift they want from their relatives and friends but in other countries the women do not ask for gifts because their values are different.
If you happen to be a Caucasian woman and go to the Middle eastern countries, you may get many marriage proposals from Bedouins and others who may propose to buy you with 30 heads of camels and may throw in a few goats and sheep as well to seal the deal if you accept his proposal to live in his harem in a goat skin tent and cook, wash (seldom) and breed like others. In other countries like India it is the bride that brings in the dowry so literally buys her husband. There may have been social reasons for this system but now it is obscure yet still practiced.
In rural India, child marriage is still practiced although banned by the government. I had a 16 year old classmate who was hiding from his parents who were hell bent on getting this young fellow married to a still younger girl who was still a child. I do not know what finally happened but felt sorry for him. In some remote villages in the Sundarban swamp land south of Bengal there is still a system when a visiting young man as a part of a marriage party is forcefully married off to an ugly girl who otherwise would not get married. Among the Hindus, the marriage ritual is simple although lengthy that does not require marriage license, registration, witnesses etc. No papers are signed and no documents required registering the marriage somewhere in a Government office but this sort of forced marriage cannot be annulled. I know a case when this happened.
In the Philippines there is still a system in rural barrios where a boy who is interested in a girl is asked to work in her father’s farm for a year or more proving his worth as a sturdy hand who will later need his experience to work as a farmer. This also gives everyone concerned an opportunity to evaluate the fellow over a long period of time. But these systems tend to become obsolete as more and more young boys and girls are going to school and make up their own mind about marriage. This is happening in many countries but such changes come at a price. The dogmatic refusal to accept change in certain societies lead to tragic consequences .A recent case comes to mind where a young girl and her boy friend were lured into an empty bus late at night in Delhi. The boy was beaten senseless by the driver and his cohorts and left by the road side but the girl suffered gang rape and serious injuries in their hands and left to die also by the roadside. She was brought to hospital and the prime minister’s plane brought her to Singapore for hospital care but she did not survive so grave were her injuries.
The question to ask here is why was she raped and beaten up? This has something to do with the belief that a young woman should not be out late at night with her boy friend so she must be immoral and must be punished. This sort of tribal belief leads to honor killings among Moslems in some countries. The traditional society in many countries frowns upon women who have boyfriends and are seen in public so they take it upon themselves to “preserve the virginity of women” so that the tradition of virgin bride is maintained at all cost. In such societies, the mother of the newlywed woman must show the blood spattered bed sheet by hanging it in the window for anyone to see that her daughter was a virgin. If the woman was not virgin before marriage then the poor mother has to sprinkle goat blood on the sheet although I wonder if that fools anyone. You may think that this is an extreme case of prejudice against women but such are the tribal practices in many parts of the world.
Now let us return to the subject at hand that is the bliss and curse of marriage. The marriage is a time honored tradition worldwide that celebrates the union between the man and the woman by giving it the social approval. What happens after the marriage is left to the couple in most cases although the in laws interfere in some instances. If the woman finds happiness and comes to love and respect her husband who does the same, all is well. A happy marriage then seals the bond between two people that may last a lifetime. This is the bliss .Out of such bliss come happy children who are loved and cared for. I know some couple who have been happily married for a long time and take care of each other in their old age. In America it is good to meet such people because many marriages end up in divorce and broken families. Apart from the couple, the children suffer the most. The Hollywood movies and TV shows point this out graphically everyday as if it is quite normal for the families to split up due to their personal differences or for other reasons.
I tend to think that there is nothing normal about divorce which is the result of deep intolerance and inability of a person to adjust and make some compromises in life. This is the curse of marriage. A bad marriage as I mentioned earlier that ends up in divorce is good and it gives the woman the chance to regain control of her life. If the woman is bad then it gives the man a chance to regain control of his life and move on although a friend of mine died of alcoholism because he could not get away from his bad wife. If both are bad like Bonnie and Clyde then there is no help for them. The notion that two people must get along in a marriage automatically or without any fuss requires some introspection. People have different personalities and are brought up differently by their parents. Some spoil their children who later grow up to be more spoiled and develop an intolerant personality. They must have everything their way with little room for compromise and understanding. Others give good example to their children by their own happy marriage and hope that the kids develop into well rounded persons with compassion and willingness to adjust to any situation. Such people make wonderful marriage partners. They easily forgive and adjust to the shortcomings of their partners not necessarily condoning their faults but gently pushing their spouses in the right direction.
The marriages are not made in Heaven but often bad attracts bad and good attracts good in people. The trouble starts when good and bad try to make a successful marriage because they are like oil and water. They do not mix so the Indians look to astrology and advice from astrologers to see if the two people are well matched. A woman dating a man may find out sooner or later certain things about a man and vice versa but I am writing about the traditional society like in India. I do not have any statistics to prove if it works or not but I do know that the divorce rate among Hindus is very low. How much is due to societal pressure or astrology is hard to tell.
What I do know is that two people who are happy together have a few things in common. One is a willingness to compromise and meet the other partner halfway. This willingness to give up a few things and compromise in order to have a peaceful co existence is of paramount importance more so if the couple comes from two very different background or even religion. The second is to remember what your spouse likes and dislikes and adjust accordingly. It may be little things like your wife likes to drink chilled water so always remember that or the husband likes to read late at night or watch something in the TV. This habit of remembering each other’s likes and dislikes goes a long way to make a wonderful marriage .It is like WD40 or even better.
Third is to be always available to your spouse in all her needs at all the time. If she needs a ride, be ready. If she wants you to wait for her at a certain place then be there. This of course works both ways. A person who subserviates his own likes and dislikes to his wife is an ideal partner in a marriage because he is willing to compromise the most. I think my last point will sum it up nicely when I say that between two people who are married and are living under one roof, it is very important that there is some space between them so that each person feels free to pursue his or her interest. Both should respect each other’s freedom and space.
I will quote here a few words from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran that are worth reading:
“ You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of
Heaven dance between you “
“Give your hearts but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together: For the
Pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and
the cypress grow not in each other’s shadows.”