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Saying No to an Arranged Marriage

I’m a 27-year-old Indian woman and have been madly in love with a wonderful man who isn’t Indian for three years. My parents are very traditional, don’t like this guy, and want me to marry another Indian. My boyfriend and I are thinking of eloping, but not only would our marriage bring some shame to my family, I have an older sister who is also somewhat traditional and it would make it harder for her to marry into a good family if I got married first. Any suggestions?

She Said: I don’t mean to step on your family’s traditions, but I just can’t see how you could leave a man you have been madly in love with for three years in order to marry someone you don’t know. You are caught between two cultures, but you already started down the road of Western culture when you began dating eligible men whom your parents didn’t approve of. I’m not against arranged marriages: Research has shown that the satisfaction level in them is about on par with self-chosen marriages. If you were now living in India where many of your friends would be in the same situation, or you were single and looking to get married with an open mind to your potential suitors, then I think an arranged marriage could work for you as it does for others.

But the fact that you’re in love with someone else, and living in a city where most everyone around you bases marriage on love (or at least claims to), makes for two strikes against the idea of marrying a man of your parents' choosing. I advise you to go with your heart, but make concessions to your family that may help them eventually accept your choice. For one, you can tell them that out of love for your sister, you will hold off on getting married until she does—say for a year or so, during which time they can prioritize her marriage into a strong family. That kind of good-faith effort may go a long way to softening them up and convincing them to meet you halfway. Hang in there, be firm in both your commitment to your own happiness and in the love you feel for your family, and see if you can ease past their fears to a place of acceptance. By the time you do get married, you may not need to elope. (And if you still do, then go for it, knowing you tried your best.)

He Said: I've talked with a few Indian friends who have been seen in situations like this, and their advice was to find a relative who is your parents age, whom you can trust, who knows them well, and who is likely to be sympathetic to your case, and ask this relative's advice on how to work with your parents. An uncle could be ideal. Showing your parents this respect could help turn them into allies. If you really love your boyfriend, you need to let your confidant and eventually your parents know that while their support is important, this marriage is going to happen regardless. Giving them time to adjust to the situation and giving your sister time to find a suitable partner, will make it a little easier for them. Try to avoid eloping; it will make it harder for your parents to support you since they may be unprepared for questions other family members and people in their community.

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