the lawyer writer

sometimes legal                     sometimes literary                     sometimes not

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Deranged Marriage?

Am watching The Golden Girls' episode where Dorothy finds out that Sophia had an arranged marriage but got it annulled and sailed off to America. She asks Dorothy not to tell anyone (Bear with me, this is going somewhere). So Dorothy, who's recording some family history thing, says that Sophia was a pioneer in the women's rights movement by refusing to be thought of as chattel.

Now, arranged marriage is a thorn in my side. For those of you who are curious, when most people ask me where I come from, I still say "San Jose, California." But mostly they're curious about my heritage, so I always follow up with "Madras, India," which is where the folks are from, and what makes me Indian. I myself am more technically from "Poughkeepsie, New York," but people always seem a bit dissatisfied if I give them that as my second answer.

There are lots of follow up questions as to exactly where me and my family are from, and they usually go like this: "South India. Tamil. Brahmin. Kodumbaakum." And after all that, there's the question that everyone wants to know "what's your family's story with an arranged marriage?" I've gotten a little touchy about the subject. I went to a conservative college where people tripped over themselves to ask the question. It made me feel like all the other questions were just warm up pitches

Anyway, I was also thinking about this because, recently no fewer than two of my friends sent me an article entitled "Is Arranged Marriage Really Worse Than Craigslist?" by Anita Jain. The article was a pretty well-written piece about the trials and tribulations of a single 30 year old woman trying to find a nice guy in New York, and willing to go through Craigslist and through her parents (dubious) choices on matrimonial websites. (Oh yes. There was one called I kid you not.) My responses, which were big essays on Why Arranged Marriage Is Not For Me, were probably just defensive measures to ward off being seen in the stereotypical (and pretty untrue) "subservient Indian wifey" role. But I do get a little, er, animated on the topic, mostly because it seems there don't seem to be any Indian-Americans who are writing about Why Arranged Marriage Is Not For Them.

I mean, Jain smokes, drinks, carouses and generally sounds okay, (except that it does sound like she has lousy taste in men, Indian or otherwise). The whole essay is about the losers she's been out with, both through Craigslist, and through her parents' setups. She ends up saying that one is no worse than the other, and she'll continue doing both. My response is: if something gives you nothing but negative experiences, why keep doing it? There are other websites, other methods. I mean, if you pick from a pool of certain ill-fitting statistical expectations, why should you be surprised when you keep getting lemons? Guys who advertise for a "Brahmin caste" or specify that Ms. Right must have a M.S. are as tiring as those ultra-demanding chicks from That Show I Hate. All those days you spend going out with them could be spent with friends, at parties, and generally figuring out what works.

I think Indian-Americans are afraid to say "it's not for me" for three reasons. First, we might be wrong and actually meet a great person through this method. Second, if we get nervous and feel like we're running out of options, we might decide to give it a try, and then we'd look stupid having denounced it. Three, it's a recognized part of Indian culture, and we don't want to sound like we're disrespecting the culture.

Hey, I can take the risk. In the event of the first two reasons, I'll either be wrong and married to Mr. Right (um, gee, the agony), or I'll have bigger things on my mind than what I wrote on my blog some late night. And as for that Indian culture excuse: gimme a break. All cultures have customs and nobody in the culture follows all of them. I think you pick and choose. This custom used to be about child-marriage, exchanging property and dowry, and yes, (thanks, Dorothy) treating women like helpless chattel. If you want your parents' help finding a match, that's great, but don't hide behind religion and society and say it's customary and that you can't go against it. Besides, there are so many more beautiful, powerful customs in India that I don't feel sorry to let this one go by.

And frankly, I just don't think that the places my parents look for eligible men is a place where my Prince Charming is going to go. In other words, unless it's a hilarious Touchstone comedy staring J.Lo, my guy is not going to be advertising for a wife. I just don't see it, and will go so far as to say that if it happens, then it's a goddamn, straight-up, fluke. And it goes both ways--few guys who are that ready to be married--not in love, not with a girlfriend, but married--are going to be very happy with me. Right now, anyway.

Faced with six nights a week of going out with Craigslist or lemons (or shoes that don't fit, if you prefer), I'd rather make a martini, put my feet up and watch David Brent dance around and sing "Simply the Best" at the motivational seminar.

And if that cuts down the percentage of Indian men in my dating pool, then so be it. Mr. Right can be any damn color he wants; it's not going to make me any less Indian.


Blogger SteveBP said...

Just wanted you to know I like your writing style. You seem like a very pleasant person and probably have a very good legal mind. I hope you find Mr. Right through whatever method works.

2:22 AM  

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