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We received proposals by mail, by phone, and in person. Everything American in me protested: How can love be arranged? Arranged marriage, as I’ve come to experience it, is far more complicated than either its champions or its critics understand. My parents would say I've hit bedrock, a foundation far stronger than the shifting sands of American romance.
In the months leading up to my engagement, my parents talked a lot about compatibility. Though it took years to parse these differences, it didn’t take long at all to recoil from them. married a best friend." "I wish you'd found a spouse who excites you more." "I wish delight would replace acceptance." To arrange a life, after all, is to control it.
Some love my story because it appears to confirm their belief that America is doing it wrong: "Kids nowadays—having sex in middle school! Child brides and dowry burnings on the one hand, or henna and Bollywood on the other. But by the time I turned 20, I knew my arranged marriage was set in stone. Yes, he and I picked each other out of the proposals our families offered us. When Alex and I got married, all we had was our raw selves. All marriages, arranged or not, eventually hinge on compromise and change. Alex didn’t pursue me; in the economy of the arrangement, he didn’t have to. Since neither of us freely chose, neither of us tasted the deep pleasures of being freely chosen.
I grew up in the United States, a product of New England suburbia, evangelical Christianity, Wellesley College, But I always knew my marriage would be arranged. Still, I dated secretly in high school and college, hoping that my parents (conservative, first-generation immigrants from India) would change their minds and terrified at the prospect that they wouldn’t. Saying "no" (though I still longed to) was not an option—the stakes in our honor-and-shame-based family were too high. Based on those 20 minutes in my family room, I decided he was a likeable guy. But accommodating a spouse is an entirely different activity from enjoying her. On the other hand, I’m married to a good man who is my partner and my equal.
When I told my sister about David, her initial response wasn’t negative but one of skepticism.
When my father at last gave the two of us permission to be alone, I ushered Alex into our family room to chat for a quick 20 minutes and decide whether or not I'd marry him. If Alex happens to be around, they appraise us both, searching for signs of trauma or misery. But the life we live together is still difficult for me to reconcile.