Since I’m Indian, people occasionally ask me about arranged marriages (Indian-style) versus “love” marriages (western style). Invariably, and to my surprise, these people express their admiration at how well arranged marriages seem to work out.
Of course, no one really knows how well arranged marriages work. Sure, the divorce rate in India is much lower than it is here, but that’s partially (and I’d say mostly) because social pressures there strongly disfavor divorce. To get a more accurate test of marriage strategy success, you’d have to poll the happiness of people who remained married as well.
There’s still the question of why arranged marriage works as well as it does. (Especially since, despite the common misconception, families don’t really seem select partners with any measure of personality compatibility in mind.) … and also why love marriage doesn’t do so hot, despite its seemingly perfect ideal.
Naturally, having experienced no form of marriage at all, I have some theories.
Arranged marriages, when they work, succeed because of well-placed expectations.
You’re more comfortable with the fact that you’re getting married than you are with the person to whom you’re getting married. But maybe that understanding helps you survive the institution regardless of who that other person is.
Hrmm, I guess that’s all I can figure out about arranged marriages. But what about marriages in the US? How does that famous 50% divorce rate come about? Of course, there are the common reasons (infidelity, etc.) but here are some less obvious ones that might still be significant.
There is a tendency to believe that being in love is the prerequisite for marriage.
You’re in love. You get married. Makes sense… in the idealistic abstraction of American values that you absorb from TV and the movies during your formative years. Obviously a successful marriage requires some significant personality- and belief-based similarities as well. (And perhaps they’re more important, in the long run?) But when you’re love it’s harder to see that, so out come the wedding bells — and the subsequent disillusionment and failure.
Some people are not built for marriage.
Well, that sounds controversial. But consider the following points: (1) Humans evolved for polygyny, not monogamy. (As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, monogamy puts most females at a disadvantage.) So it’s not a given that the requirements for a successful marriage are inherent or expressible in all humans. (2) It seems (to me) that for a marriage to last half a century or longer, the couple involved needs to be under significant social pressure — or share a large measure of patience, forgiveness, and who knows what other qualities. It seems conceivable that some people just do not possess these traits. (And it takes only one person to ruin a marriage.) And yet, as in the previous point, it’s easy to overlook missing traits and get married. And then reality sets in.