There are few things that are as eye-opening as exposing oneself to another culture. And no, I’m not talking about putting Nutella on your toast.
We all grew up with customs and traditions that identify us in a sea of diversity. It’s easy to forget that you experience the world in an entirely different way than the people around you. I didn’t know my house smelled like curry until a friend described the aroma as “spicy.” But there are times when what we know is brought into question and we have to address what our “normal” means to everyone else.
As I’ve grown older and people start talking about “serious” things like getting married, I’ve often been asked if I’m going to have an arranged marriage. Not only is the question unexpected, but I always get the feeling the other person is sure the answer is yes.
I’ve always known that it’s uncommon for children of Indian immigrants to have arranged marriages in the states, but I guess not everyone did. I can’t help but wonder if someone who has never been exposed to arranged marriage can believe in it.
I recently had the pleasure of watching the film Arranged, which documents the story of an unanticipated friendship. The world tells Rochel Meshenberg and Nasira Khaldi that they shouldn’t be friends – that they should hate each other. Rochel is an Orthodox Jew. Nasira is Muslim.
When we meet them, both women have reached the age where the big question mark of their future happiness is staring them in the face. It’s time for them to be “arranged.”
Rochel meets with a matchmaker and embarks on a series of uncomfortable dates. Simultaneously across the city, Nasira’s parents invite man after man to their home, hoping their daughter will find compatibility with one of them.
After months of sitting through dates and dinners, Rochel and Nasira grow tired of the system. They can’t help but wonder if they ever will get the feeling their parents did on first meeting.
However, one fateful day in the library, Rochel spots Gideon. Match. Not soon before, the ever so charming Jamil is introduced to Nasira. Match.
Contrary to what many people would like to think, arranged marriage is anything but an ancient concept.
We constantly use the expression “you can’t choose who you love” as a way of expressing the ideal strike-of-lightning image of marriage that romantic comedies fuel. But in truth, we choose for people all the time. We set our friends up with people we think are absolutely “perfect” for them. And for some reason, people find academic stimulation in television shows like “Millionaire Matchmaker.” Maybe it’s not parents bringing these people together, but the foundation is the same.
While Rochel’s parents were persistent in their matchmaking efforts, they knew when it was time to take a step back. Their daughter’s sanity was far more important than marrying her off. If Rochel’s parents fit the stereotype that is circulated in western society of ruthless, unforgiving parents, she would’ve never met Gideon. Talk about a tragedy.
In societies where arranged marriages are prevalent, parents don’t just arbitrarily pick a partner for their child and book the reception hall. While there are indeed exceptional cases, most 20-something adults can say yay or nay when faced with a potential spouse. Rather than deciding to marry someone because “it’s a beautiful night” and they happen to be “looking for something dumb to do,” people like Rochel and Nasira accept the process for what it is, and make their choice based on the set parameters.
While it may seem a little counterculture to do so, we can all believe in arranged marriage. You can be a supporter of what arranged marriages can and continue to create for people across the world, and still make the choice to look for your own partnership. Sure, not all arranged marriages work out, and in some cases people are forced into situations they didn’t ask for, but that’s not the whole picture.
I’ll be the first to say that I’m not particularly interested in an arranged marriage. But when I do get asked the question, I make a point of expressing how cool I think the concept is, and sharing why I believe in it. So the next time your friend surprises you with “my parents had an arranged marriage,” don’t stare and question his normalcy. Remind him that you want to believe in his culture. After all, there’s a chance we all could be arranged one day (preferably not on television).
I don’t know about you, but if my parents said that a nice Broadway star named Daniel Radcliffe was at my house for dinner, I’d apparate home immediately.
MAYA MAKKER doesn’t smell enough “spicy” on campus. Share your ideas for an expansion of the glorious halal truck via firstname.lastname@example.org.