August, 2020

Arranged Marriage in the 21st Century

Manjit Bains
By Manjit Bains

My sisters and I are first generation Canadians.  Born in India, we came to Canada before my 4th birthday.  We grew up in a conservative Sikh family where dating is strictly forbidden. According to my mom, an Indian girl’s life belongs to her parents.  After marriage it belongs to her husband.  While I don’t subscribe to that belief, when I turned 18, I asked my parents to start arranging my marriage.  A lifetime of not dating and not talking to boys had certainly not prepared me for what was to come.

I provided a naïve wish list, and my aunt felt she had a suitable match, and took on the role of vachola (middleman/woman). The young man was well-educated as I’d requested.  When it came to being clean-shaven, I felt his beard and mustache disqualified him, but according to my aunt, he trimmed them, and as such was in fact clean-shaven.  It was not a match, and fortunately my parents decided to wait until I was older before trying again.

Arranged marriages don’t really exist here in Canada.  What we have is more of an arranged introduction, followed by a period of getting to know each other.  We share, with our parents, the responsibility of choosing whether we want to spend the rest of our lives with this person or not.  My older sister on the other hand had what I consider to be a true arranged marriage. My parents asked for her input, but she’d put her faith in their hands.  The first time she saw her husband was at the gurdwara on their wedding day.  They’ve been married over 20 years, and their relationship works for them in large part because they share strong religious and family beliefs.

As for me, I ventured into the dating worldand met anice East Indian man.  My mother said she understood that times were changing, and that this is how girls were finding their mates.  Her only request was that he be of the same caste as our family.

He was not.

With dating, I felt I was on the right track.  I ventured further and had a gora/white boyfriend. We understood each other.  He treated me well.  But this was not an easy relationship for my family to accept.  Further complicating matters was my younger sister’s announcement that she’d also been dating a white man, he’d proposed, and now they were getting married.They held a traditional Punjabi wedding ceremony at the gurdwara followed by a Canadian wedding ceremony conducted by a Minister.  The gurdwara wedding was attended by only my sister’s side of the family.  Their white wedding was attended by only my brother-in-law’s side of the family…this was not a good start for a new life together, and after 7 years, their marriage ended.  She has since re-married, this time to a Punjabi man.

Now my parents have turned their attention back to me.  My mother tells me she’s heard of this thing called the ‘internet’, and that there are single men there that I can marry.  She says she doesn’t know what the internet actually is, but it is where the single Sikh men are.
I love my parents.  I know they have my best interests at heart.  And while I’d like very much to have a family of my own, my priority is to be with the right person, and for it to be a healthy relationship.  I don’t know what that looks like yet.  But, I do know that I want a different relationship than what my parents have…than my sisters have…than most of my married friends have.

Can a vachola help bring the right man into my life?  I believe so.  The vachola gets a special place in the wedding festivities, and with that comes responsibility, financial and personal in helping the marriage along.  It is important to me that the vachola be happily married and reliable.

Does arranged marriage work?  Or is a love marriage the way to go in today’s society?It depends.  The answer differs for each of us.  For some, an arranged marriage/introduction can work.  We’d have a hand in shaping our future, and honoring the lessons our parents have taught us.  I’d be surprised if parents in our culture also didn’t feel some sense of relief at getting to share the responsibility for one of life’s major decisions.For others a love marriage is the way to go, especially if our families no longer understand who we’ve become living in this Western country, with its emphasis on individualism over the family unit.  I see a shift taking place.  Less focus on how we meet our life partners, and more emphasis on how to stay on the same page as the person we’ve chosen to spend our life with.  As Antoine de Saint-Exupery put it:

“Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

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  1. Mine was a love, passed 25 years, raised two kids of 23 and 20, yet have tonnes of disagreements than agreements. We are religious but not blindly, through understanding the true nature of how things work. However, I do not find any difference in arranged ones of this kind !

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