Seriously, what part of “no” do some people not understand?
After another attempt by certain relatives who shall remain unnamed to initiate a proposed marriage, I seriously have to wonder what part of “no” some people simply do not understand.
For those of you whom arranged marriage appears a foreign and confusing concept, the philosophy behind it is actually rather simple and straightforward. Most Americans and Europeans (or at least the ones who have given me an opinion) generally see such arrangements as either 1) a preservation of status in wealthy South Asian families, or 2) a rather crude way to preserve culture by having us marry within our own race, but within our communities, this goes deeper than that.
The very premise behind the arranged marriage – in addition to popular belief – is that in participating in an arranged marriage, it is a sign of respect and honour to your parents. In South Asian culture, the parents know what path in life and what decisions are best for their children; in American culture, it’s everyone deciding their life for themselves. So early in life, parents take to networking and finding appropriate partners for their children; some find partners for them earlier and some later in life. And consequently, any of us, if we were living there still, any of us looking for a partner for ourselves is subject to anything from criticism to getting disowned because we’re dishonouring the family and our parents.
As far as my own family is concerned, thankfully they are quite liberal with who I am involved with romantically (although not with other aspects of life, but that’s for another day). My father attended university here in the States and is very laid back culturally speaking and my mother, as conservative as she is, understands that if she tries to force an arranged marriage here in the States upon us, she will most certainly lose. Unfortunately as we are from a very large family, particularly on my father’s side, several of the more conservative, traditionally-oriented relatives have brought up marriage proposals over and over again like a broken record. And some of my cousins stateside have not been so fortunate: at one point I remember my cousin venting to me about her parents, telling them, “Why are you sending around pictures of me to random people?” (Today, she is happily married.)
Thankfully, my father’s response to all of them have been all the same: No, she’s not interested. No, she’s got other things going on. Even better was when I was in a relationship with my then-boyfriend from university, it seemed as if being in a relationship only made them more persistent to have me married off – I will never figure that one out. Lately, the one tried to pair me off with a South Asian guy in his 30s…during my last visit to Lancaster County, my mother quipped, “oh by the way, Uncle so-and-so has given up on you…this man (the man they were trying to pair me off with) wants to be married and have children right away!”
I just rolled my eyes and walked away.
A big issue from what I understand as to the persistence of such proposals is that there are “qualified” (defined by socioeconomic status, occupation and/or education) bachelor(ettes) living in either Sri Lanka or stateside looking for love and particularly with the older singletons, the pressure to have families becomes even more persistent. Even once married, couples will never stop hearing from just about anyone and everyone else: “See you in nine months…when are you having kids…when are you expanding your family?” Children are very heavily valued in our culture regardless of socioeconomic status. The thought of not having children because it is not economically viable simply doesn’t exist, not like the way many Americans are being forced to consider today. So when Americans who marry into our culture encounter the persistence of such discourse from the older generations, a number of them find themselves either intimidated or completely turned off by it. The same goes with those of us in the family by blood – myself included – that are more used to Western social customs and norms.
That said, I’ve made it clear to most of my relatives that whilst I do not object to simple introductions, “Hi, this is so-and-so, meet so-and-so…” what I will not put up with is any pressure to enter a relationship with someone I’ve never met. Even in talking of terms of my own culture, my parents don’t pressure me into anything so even by making my own choice with my relationships, I am not dishonouring them.
Of course this leads to more scrutiny from relatives and more gossip, that at which point I wonder if my parents feel embarrassed – even though they shouldn’t – in their own culture, if the children aren’t married by a certain age, it’s because they haven’t tried enough or something is “wrong” with them. I’ve already had a number of them tear down my lifestyle (minus the education part of course) because I’m not following the so-called “path” and that my lifestyle doesn’t fit “the path” and to “make it fit the path”. That said, I will proceed to my obligatory rant:
Well folks, newsflash, I decided long ago that the “path” isn’t for me. Your path isn’t for me. Get over yourselves. I couldn’t give a fat rat’s behind what you all think. I will associate with like-minded people, and there are loads more than you think. I’m not alone, so stop trying to make me feel I’m the only one that feels this way. Stop telling me I will be lonely for the rest of my life because I’m not interested in your idea of a traditional life. There’s only one thing that matters to me: happiness. If I’m happy with what I’m doing, professionally, or personally, the rest will come on its own. I have only just started turning the corner this year after almost nine years of misery, most of which I’ve kept bottled inside me for so long. Stop being so obsessed with appearances, the gossip and the need to show that we are keeping up with everybody else. Just stop it people.
In the end I have to feel very fortunate. If I ever have children – and at this point in time I am fairly sure it will be late in life – it will be my decision. I’ve read a number of sad articles lately on honour killings committed by parents stateside because the children did not do as the parents wished, in most cases, relating to marriage and/or relationships.
As much arguments I’ve had namely with my mother on following the traditional path in life (most of my peers from childhood are nearly all married and/or running a household) and even with the amount of stress I’ve bore from this alone, it just makes me shudder to think that I could very easily be in a much uglier situation than I am.
I’ll end with a quote from my cousin, who is forgoing the so-called traditional life as he spends every waking minute running his own business and making it grow.
“Unusual people do unusual things.”
Damn straight, I will blaze my own trail.