Aug 7 2014 8:30am

What Would You Say to an Arranged Marriage?

How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia NetzerToday 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 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. 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.

Tina Fey in 30 Rock

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:

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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.

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1. Scarlettleigh
Interesting but I think the thought of arranged marriage is going to be a hard sell here! Although, I wonder at some of the political marriages?

I love how imaginative your book is . . . the two mothers arranging for their children to be soul mates. But in the end, they were in love!
Carmen Pinzon
2. bungluna
I totally agree! People mistake arranged marriages with forced marriages. It used to be that your family knew your intended's family and there were few surprises. With modern mobility comes a dose of uncertainty that, imo, leads to the high diverce rate. I don't buy the myth that hormonal tsunamies lead to happy long-term marriages.

My mother introduced me to my husband. He was my best friend before we married. We're still going strong. I hadn't thought of 'us' as an arranged marriage, but hey, it was surely fascilitated!
4. lauralee1912
This is a subject that fascinates me, so I just added to my TBR file. (sigh)

My husband and I were introduced by a mutual friend at college and we will be married 30 years this Fall. Lori knew us both pretty well and matchmaking was one of her hobbies. I remember checking out my one-day husband's legs and butt when he came into our Poetry 101 class the first day before I met him, but it was his sense of humor and his goodness that I fell in love with.

I spent a lot of time studying medieval literature in college. Discussions of courtly love and transcendent emotional connections can get pretty wild when fueled with cheap beer and french fries!
5. HazelB
Arranged marriage, as described here, makes a lot of sense to me. I get tired of the romance novel convention of the heroine insisting that she will only marry for love, even if the alternative means living in poverty. Give me a break! I can believe in the staying power of a carefully arranged marriage more than in the insta-lust kind!
6. nushie
For a second there, I thought my very Indian mom had written this (very well thought out article). Lol. The statistics, the dealbreakers, etc - all sound very familiar. The only point missed is that she frequently mentions that her and my dad had not even MET until their wedding day, and aren't we prefectly happy now...

I am in my early twenties, and was raised in America, but as my parents have begun the "proceedings" for my arranged marriage, I wanted to weigh in on some of the points in the article.

I agree that people get arranged and forced confused all the time. When I tell my friends and coworkers about my arranged marriage, they are all like, OMG we have to get you out of this. Arranged marriages might be voluntary, but there is a caveat - emotional blackmail. I've dated and fallen in love, and had to break up with a guy I loved that I could have married - because I love my parents more, and did not want to break their hearts.

I also don't agree with the comparison to online dating. They both might involve third parties, but are very different emotionally. Yes, I might get the biodata of a potential match, and we might go out on a couple of dates, but the pressure involved is very different. There is no (or very little) pressure in telling your date that you didn't like him. Before I even get home from an hour coffee date with a potential match, my mom calls me and asks, "So Yes? Or No?" And thats a yes or no to marriage. You are not just meeting a random person, you are meeting a guy whose parents your parents are aquainted or friendly with. Yes, you can go on a bunch of dates, but at the end of the day, anything past the first date, your parents are talking about where the wedding is going to take place.

Also, I think the statistics on Indian divorces are skewed - if that were a percentage for unhappy marriages, that would be way higher than 3%. Its like in Regency/Victorian England, the divorce rate was practically 0%, but that did not mean that everyone was happily married, it meant that the society was rigid. This is slowing changing in India, which is why the divorce rates are creeping up.

I'm sorry for the super long response - I just wanted to state my thoughts. I definitely don't want to be a debbie downer: I plan on falling in love with whoever I marry, and being just as happy as my parents, who are so very much attached at the hip.

Thanks for the thought-provoking article! Romance on!
Mary Lynne Nielsen
7. emmel
I have coworkers who went through arranged marriages, and the ones I know are working out. It does seem to work for those who are inclined to it.
8. Vickie Russell
This is a very interesting post. I think arranged marriages in modern times are a state of mind - you have to be in that state of mind and not want romance for it to work.
A lot of people go through life and settle anyway and the big romance just never happens. I think in modern society, two things; people rush into marriage with the thought they can get out of it if they want to so it's no biggie (! - at the very least it can be financially devastating and children can become involved so it is a biggie!), and because there is no stigma attached to living with someone now and being sexually free, I think a huge lot of society now don't want to settle down with one person and might never marry and have children and are free to have it all without sticking with one partner and without getting married at all.
I agree with Nushie above that arranged marriages and online dating are totally different. Yes, third parties are involved it's the only similar bit, but psychologically it's a very different state of mind going in. She is also right that the low divorce rate is more likely down to the stigma of divorce and the rigidity of a society rather than that the couples are happier and stay together for love alone.
I love arranged marriage plots in romance books because it usually brings together couples who might never normally have even looked at each other and I KNOW they're going to fall in love, whereas in real life I'm sure the couples probably almost never fell in love and probably lived completely separate lives or become friends at best.
In a book, I know it will work out and I love the processes, in a good writer's hands, of how it all happens. It's one of my most favourite tropes.
9. rajeev
I'am from india(state of kerala) where even now arranged marriages are more . I have to agree with Vickie Russell.
Even in arranged marriages only thing that happens is lust in most of the cases except a few rare ones. You see a girl for the first time and you are impressed by her looks,education,job and so on. The same happens with the girl too. Even if they get married there is a time period they are attracted to each other like what we call as honeymoon phase. Its when that period is over both of them have a revelation that this is the real person i'am married to.they start to see the problems,differences and starts fighting. Usually when this happens either their parents interfere and ask them to coexist for the sake of society or the worst scenario happens-divorce. Usually the later ones are trending now. If the partners in a marriage are not happy with each other they eventually seek extra marital relationships that make them happy.
There are other things that happen too. like huband or wife still maintainng relationships even if they get married.or after marriage husband/wife tells their partners that they are in love with another person and request for a divorce or even one of them commiting suicide.
the same thing can happen in love marriages too except if they marry only for love and i mean they do not see their partner's external beauty,salary etc. you have to understand the person his/her postives and negatives. you should be able to match up and view the world through same eyes. Be there for each other and support one another constantly. Don't care about what the society says. It's only your life and you should dedide what you should do with it. I know it sounds familiar but if you have to make a true loving relationship to work then that's the way it has to be.
So choose wisely for you choose your own destiny not your parents or anyone else. God Bless.Peace.
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