Arranged marriages have been a topic of interest for centuries. Authors across the ages have explored this theme at length, and it still surfaces in literary works today. What’s the appeal? Is it the fascination with the lack of lust and desire we cultivate in North American society? We strive on the element of danger, of the forbidden, while an arranged marriage is usually a safe way to ensure a family’s approval of a union.
And yet, many of today’s romance novels deal with marriages of convenience. We’ve all read them: the heroine marries the hero because she needs him, whether for financial reasons, or because her children need a father — there are as many reasons to marry as there are novels dealing with this subject. Yet although the marriage isn’t initially based on love, there’s always that sensual tension simmering beneath the surface, and as readers, we know it’s inevitable that the two are going to fall deeply and irrevocably in love.
But what about real life, where things don’t always work out so well? Arranged marriages are commonplace in a number of countries, such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Japan and India. They’re more common than you’d think even in North America, where cultural diversity is cherished and encouraged.
Young people in countries where arranged marriages are commonplace are told from an early age that their spouse will be chosen for them. To deny an arranged marriage is seen as a sign of disrespect toward the family. But how are suitable spouses chosen? In Japan, for instance, “when a woman reaches the marriageable age of 25, she and her parents compile a packet of information about her, including a photograph of her in a kimono and descriptions of her family background, education, hobbies, accomplishments and interests. Her parents then inquire among their friends and acquaintances to see if anyone knows a man who would be a suitable husband for her” (the Asia Society’s Video Letter from Japan: My Family, 1988). Usually, the most important aspect of choosing a suitable spouse is the bond between the two families, rather than the relationship between the couple being married. Property or land with the aim of securing social status sometimes seals marriage agreements.
Do arranged marriages work? Opinions tend to differ. Statistics place the divorce rate for arranged marriages much lower than those in the United States, where marriages out of love are the rule. However, research also shows that the pressure a married couple encounters from both society as a whole, and from the respective families, suggests that divorce is often not an option.
Can love grow out of an arranged marriage? Absolutely, and in the same way that love can grow in romance novels from a marriage of convenience. But there’s more to love than finding a suitable match. Love can grow for many reasons, from lust at first sight to friendship that develops over a long period of time. It’s impossible to predict whether a union will be successful. The only two people who can make it work are the bride and groom, the hero and heroine of their own story.