When my husband and I started dating we would have random Q & A session that would go like this: “Under which circumstances would you consider divorcing me?”, “What do you think is key for a marriage to work?”. While those conversation might seem very trivial and a sure way to keep romance out of a date it really helped us understand how our cultures have a very different concept of marriage and decide how we want our marriage to be.
- Love and romance
In western countries we see marriage as the union of two individuals based on the romantic love and compatibility. Material and social status aspects are important but not necessarily prevalent. Most of my Europeans friends married someone who they met randomly at college party, dating website, student association, church group, common friends or work. They were drown together by common interest and figured out later where there families stand on the social ladder, their level of education and earning potential.
In eastern culture marriage is the union of two families, parents shortlist potential spouses for you based on social status, financial situation, education level and astrological compatibility. I did not know about the love of Indian for astrology until my husband went to get our astrological compatibility profile done and asked me for my exact birth time and location.
While looking for an arranged marriage families look more for a stable base for love to grow and prosper. Marital love in India has nothing to do with romance but more with comfort, trust and accepting each other. Contrary to what most westerner beliefs arranged marriages in modern day India are not synonym of forces marriage. The vast majority of bride and grooms meet their future spouse a handful of time in chaperoned dates before making the decision to get married.
- Boundaries and private space
In a western family parents and immediate relative mostly live in a different home and will strive to respect boundaries and private space with the new couple. They will ponder carefully before bringing a topic for discussion (family planning, children education, money, etc.). They can offer guidance or advice but children have more liberty to refuse to follow it or directly ask them not to interfere. Of course there are major differences between the families but a western mother who tells her new daughter in law how to care for herself and her son will face the negative “overbearing mother” stigma from her family and friends.
In Eastern cultures individuals are part of a group and their happiness depends of the group’s, contrary to the western system where individuals happiness contribute to the happiness of the group. In Indian families, elders are responsible for the family harmony and to perform theses duties they do not have any set boundaries. Family mostly live together in a joint family household, new bride move in with their in laws and no topic is theoretically off the table for concerned parents. Parents and in laws can tell you how you should dress, style your hair, etc. To make it more challenging there is no concept of private space, even if the couple has an assigned bedrooms, everything belongs to the households and resources can be reallocated according to the current needs. The first years of marriage can be extremely stressful for new brides who have to find a way to fit into a new family away from the support of their birth relatives.
Indian society is changing rapidly, youngster move to new city or new country in search better job opportunity parents are de facto leaving their children more space and only visiting them on extended stay. Even though Indian parents have the moral right to ask you anything personal or tell you what you should do most will be careful of not abusing of this right for the sake of their children’s marriage. I personally loved to have my mother-in-law stay with us for four month; get a chance to build a good relationship with her and learn from her experience (she taught me sewing and a lot of her recipes). I am not Indian and not being aware of the strong family hierarchy and matching etiquette was a true advantage to have honest heart to heart discussion and build a strong bond with her.
It’s difficult to talk about marriage without talking about divorce. A lot of my European friends do not believe that a happy and lifelong marriages are possible. The German language now speak not only of lebenspartner, meaning lifelong partner, but also of lebensabschnittpartner, litterally partner for a lifephase. Most western countries experienced a divorce epidemics since the 1970 and as a consequence less people are getting married or they do so much later. Cohabitation has become the norm and the law has evolved to protect “illegitimate” children (in France in 2017 60 % of people were born out of wedlock). Even though divorce are more common today they are still a huge source of pain for people who go through it and their families. As a society I feel that we have only changed the legal system to make divorce feel less of legal nightmare but we are only beginning to grasp the complexity of its social consequences (remarriage, blended families, single parents, inheritance conflicts, etc.).
In India divorce is legal but still pretty much taboo, women do not have a social status without being married and couples would find a lot of creative ways to handle (or ignore) conflict and avoid a separation that would bring shame to their respective families and would leave the women to depend on their male relatives for financial support. There is no marriage or divorce statics in India but divorce is no longer unheard of in urban area where a few couples are ready to face the divorcé stereotypes. As the concept of romantic love is now being propagated in India by Bollywood movies I wonder if Indians will find the way to be happily ever after.
This article was edited on October 4th 2018 I needed to let the topic sink in to put things into perspective and add more nuances to this article.