Today’s essay is written by guest contributor, Gauri, an engineering graduate student in Los Angeles.
I decided I had nothing to lose. My family had known his for over two decades. He’d graduated from prestigious schools and was doing well career-wise. We both hailed from the same community, and had had a similar upbringing in the same hometown. And from the pictures I’d seen of him, he was tall and extremely attractive. The only apparent catch was that he lived over six hours away from the city I had just moved to for graduate school. He was given my email, and wrote to me after our parents had discussed setting us up with the intention of marriage.
I had always been open to the idea of an arranged marriage. People meet their partners in so many different ways – online, mutual friends etc. How could being set up on a blind date by one’s family be any different? I thought. And yet, as my mother brought it up, I felt misgivings creep into my mind. But when my serious relationship ended in heartbreak, I remained as open-minded as I could when my mother became determined to help me find a new one.
After my parents passed along my email to his family, we wrote to each other, had several phone conversations, and eventually visited each other. On our first meeting, I remember thinking to myself that he was even more attractive in person than in the pictures I’d seen of him. We connected almost right away, and spent nearly five hours in conversation over brunch and walking around the city. It was a first date not unlike other first dates; we told each other about ourselves, hobbies and interests. We did not touch upon the topic of marriage like our families were discussing.
I’d always wished to meet someone like him and I was certain that I wanted to see him again. Meanwhile, both our families began pressuring us to make a decision. We had barely known each other a couple of months and, although we liked each other, we were both uncomfortable broaching the topic of marriage. As much as we were aware of our parents’ intentions when they set us up, we both wanted our relationship to progress organically and to get to know each other to see if we really had anything between us.
At the end of our second meeting, at which point we’d been in touch for two months, we talked about moving to the next level by making our relationship official. We still didn’t talk about getting engaged or married in this conversation, and yet, when we told our families about this conversation we’d had, there was celebration and rejoicing all around. Members of my extended family called to congratulate me on getting engaged. His family visited mine in our home country to set a date for our wedding and discuss wedding arrangements.
I was overwhelmed and anxious about marrying a person I liked very much but didn’t know well as well as I’d like to before making a commitment of such magnitude. I was curious as to whether he was feeling as conflicted as I was, but was hesitant to talk about it lest I offend him or his family. My parents waved my concerns away saying, “This is how arranged marriages work.” With our families so closely involved in our relationship right from the start, it was important to tread carefully so as not to hurt, disappoint or disrespect either of them. I felt uncomfortable announcing to friends that I was to be married within the year. I wanted nothing more than to take some time to think it over and get to know each other better.
In the year leading up to our wedding, our relationship developed and our bond grew stronger, almost as if none of that frantic wedding planning our parents were so busy with was happening at all. It was as though he and I, and our families at home, were living in parallel universes. We were like any other couple in a new relationship — and as we grew closer, we visited each other more often, took off together for weekend trips, and introduced each other to our friends. Meanwhile, our parents were planning a wedding with hundreds of their family and friends invited. He and I had played nearly no part in the planning — living so far away from our country made it difficult — and I had to make peace with the fact that I had had very little control in such a significant milestone in my life.
Another difference between us and couples who get engaged in more conventional ways is that that there were several important discussions that he and I did not have before we committed to marrying each other, like when to buy a house, how to raise children, what are our values and beliefs are, finances, etc. Making a decision to marry, like any other important decision in life, must be made only when one has all the facts and is convinced that he or she is taking the right course of action. I couldn’t say this was true at the time our families began planning our wedding, and so I was anxious through most of the initial phase of our engagement. It took a while for us to be able to talk to each other freely, and we eventually did discuss these issues, though some were discussed after we married. The fact that we hadn’t had a lot of important conversations early on in our relationship sometimes resulted in misunderstanding, hurt, disagreement, and arguments.
A few times, initially, if our families were to hear of our disagreements, they would attempt to help us resolve them. We worked at reminding them that while we were grateful to them for bringing us together, we were responsible for our own happiness. Now that we are married, we face no pressure from our families regarding decisions about our life together; these are now solely our own. And even though our families were entirely responsible for arranging and planning our wedding, the role they play in our married life is no more than one of support and love.
We’re now almost a year into our marriage and we continue to live in our respective cities, six hours apart. I still have another three years to go before I finish graduate school, and he wants to wait to change jobs until his immigration papers for permanent residency have been processed. It will be another three, maybe four, years before we’ll be able to move in with each other and finally make a life together. In the meantime, we try to see each other almost every weekend, although traveling back and forth so often can get difficult.
Despite these challenges, I am so glad I met my husband early in my life, even if it was in a manner so many of my generation find unconventional. Our life together and the promise of our future together make every little adjustment in this process worth it. My initial anxieties and doubts have melted away, and now I wouldn’t trade the love and understanding we share for anything in the world. If I could do it all over again, I would, a thousand times over.
Gauri is an engineering graduate student in Los Angeles. When not working in her lab, she enjoys reading fiction, hanging out with her girlfriends, going hiking and exploring the beautiful outdoors in Southern California, watching TV shows on Hulu and playing table tennis.