Today we're joined by author Lydia Netzer, whose How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky has just been released. How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky features two astronomers whose mothers raised them to be one another's soul mate—talk about a matchmaking mama! However, could there be benefits to an arranged marriage...even a modern-day one? Lydia is here today to talk about arranged marriages around the world, and makes a case that maybe they aren't so bad! Thanks, Lydia!
“I’ll never marry him! You can’t make me!”
How many plucky heroines have launched their glorious coming-of-age with this proclamation? Spitting the words at mean mommy and dense daddy, young girls from fairytales and modern fiction alike stake their claim on romantic freedom. They want the right to change their destinies by choosing their own boyfriends! Oh no, this princess will NOT marry the prince from the neighboring lands, even if it means peace in the valley for the next thousand years! And no, even if every servant girl or pig keeper’s daughter or half-android mechanic yearns to marry just such a prince, you can’t force love, and you can’t force marriage.
Well, settle down, there, Merida. Arranged marriages are not necessarily forced marriages. In countries where arranged marriages are a tradition, you don’t have to marry the first person your parents pick out for you, or the first person with whom a matchmaker sets you up. It’s not like mom and dad are buying your prom dress for you. It’s more like mom and dad are bringing dresses home from the store for you to try on. Maybe you like the third one?
“No, an arranged marriage could never last!”
Arranged marriages must be doomed to fail, because of true love, and the heart wants what the heart wants, and rainbows are really magic bridges to the land of the unicorns, and stuff, right? Aren’t you supposed to meet your true love when fate decides? Like when you’re walking down the street and you step in a pothole and drop your bag, and you are bent over picking up all your stuff when a dark, strong hand closes over yours, and you look up, right into his eyes, and fire courses through your veins because you know, you feel, you’ll be together forever?
Or when you’re just sitting around at a party, innocently looking at a fish tank, and suddenly through the pretty fishes you see the face your soul has been waiting to see, for as long as there have been faces, and you realize that even though he comes from the worst possible family and is the exact wrong person to fall in love with, you love him still?
Actually, if you marry for love, your chance of getting a divorce is around 50%. But if you marry by arrangement, your chance for a long-lasting marriage is much better. India, where 90% of marriages are arranged, enjoys a divorce rate under 3%. Did I just blow your mind? Romeo and Juliet, that iconic example of romantic love? Didn’t end so well. Remember the whole double suicide thing? Not ideal.
“But what about romantic love? It’s an integral part of the human experience!”
Actually, no. Sexual love is an integral part of the human experience, back to Song of Solomon in the Bible and the poetry of the Romans and Greeks. But romantic love was invented, yes, invented in the middle ages, to go along with chivalry and knights and stuff. Yes, the idea that there is a spiritual side to love, beyond the social solidity of a monogamous household and the wanton connection of sexual pleasure, is only as old as the Crusades. Practiced by French nobles, immortalized by French poets, “courtly love” was a pure emotional state, beautiful and ethereal. And fictional.
Thanks, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Now we’re all wandering around searching for a soulmate to satisfy this innate human desire for a transcendent emotional connection, and it’s really just a construct as based in reality as the many myths of King Arthur. That is to say: not based in reality.
“I met my husband on Match.com. It was destiny!”
Now you’re talking. But not about destiny. What you’re talking about is actually arranged marriage. Perhaps not arranged by mom and dad, and not for the purpose of uniting two kingdoms, but arranged nevertheless. Online dating sites filter your potential mates using all kinds of metrics — from religion to distance to attitude toward poodles. This is exactly what happens in cultures where marriages are arranged. Mom weeds out the dealbreakers for you, and matchmakers seek out mates that fit your criteria. Match.com is nothing but a robot matchmaking mom, one you can program to find you a boyfriend most likely to be compatible for all the right (rational) reasons.
When you meet a man because your books fell in a puddle or because he happened to come to a nightclub at the same time you did or sat down next to you in Organic Chemistry, you can’t possibly know what dealbreakers he might be hiding. Different religion? Doesn’t want kids? Can’t tolerate your obsessive collection of empty Chock Full O’ Nuts cans? By the time you find these things out, you may have already let yourself “fall in love” with those blue eyes, or those strong hands, or that cleft chin.
Conclusive numbers are not yet available on the success of marriages that originate online, but divorce rates are dropping every year, as online dating is on the rise. If we keep checking preference boxes and listening to dating algorithms, we might catch up to India in terms of long-lived unions.
Of course, reading books and watching movies will tell you that the ideal of courtly love still has us in its noble, lofty grasp. And people still talk about online dating as if it is romance, instead of just mate-shopping. “After I completed a 57 point questionnaire and chose him out of a list of 42 candidates, it was fate!” Well fine. If this is what arranged marriage looks like in 2014, then good for the internet. And if we can still convince ourselves that it’s just like Romeo and Juliet, well, even Merida’s not going to argue with that.
Learn more about or order a copy of How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer, available now:
LYDIA NETZER was born in Detroit and educated in the Midwest. She lives in Virginia with her two home-schooled children and math-making husband. When she isn’t teaching, reading, or writing her next novel, she plays the guitar in a rock band. Her first novel, Shine Shine Shine, was a New York Times Notable, and a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist.