We Talked to Students Whose Families Want Them in Arranged Marriages

Sometimes a vacation back home ends up being a blind date with a stranger.

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Oct 13 2017, 1:22pm

The Big Sick | Image via YouTube. Art by Noel Ransome.

Your parents and Tinder are two things that should never be combined. But that's what arranged marriages are like. Instead of an app, it's your parents suggesting who you should hook up with (till death do you part, though).

Let's clear up that arranged marriages aren't necessarily forced marriages. Arranged marriages feel like your parents are holding your hand when you decide whether or not you want to swipe right. Some parents grip a little firmer than others. A forced marriage is when they grab the phone out of your hands and swipe for you. But that's illegal in Canada, the United States, and a bunch of countries in Europe.

Canada doesn't keep statistics on arranged marriages, so it's hard to scope how many of them happen. But if you walk around enough college campuses you'll find a couple students whose parents—some more forcefully than others—are trying to set them up. So we talked to them to find out how they're dealing with it.

Sokalan*, 20

VICE: How have your parents tried to set you up?
Sokalan: Ever since I was a kid, my parents would do this thing where as a kid I would say "I want to be an astronaut," and 10 years later they would turn that into, "You said you wanted to study rocket science." They did that with marriage too. They would ask me if I like girls, and obviously I was really young so I would be like "Gross, no." So they would say "OK, so we'll pick your wife is that OK?" and being really young, I was like "Yeah, sure." Ten years down the line that turned into, "You agreed to this, you have to go through with it." So where I'm at right now is this summer my parents want me to go back to Sri Lanka to meet some people. "People" being the keyword, they have a whole roster of girls laid out for me.

Have you ever fought against it?
I've gone through phases. When I was younger I didn't care. When I went through my rebellious teen years it became a hard "no"—like this is not happening, I refuse. But it's come to the point where I hear it from them so often. My mom will randomly stick her head out and go, "You're going to marry a Sri Lankan girl, right?" I just say, "We'll see," because that ends the conversation.

What do you really want to say?
Fuck no.

Why is it setting you up so important to them?
I think for my dad, what he mostly cares about is that when I have a kid, he'll be able to talk to the kid in our mother tongue. English isn't my parents' first language. Yeah, he'd just like to be able to talk to his grandkids, and my wife as well. That's my dad's main priority. My mom on the other hand is very specific, she wants a girl that is Tamil, Sri Lankan and Hindu. She also mentioned caste. I don't even know what caste I am though.

Do you ever think about the girls on the other side, who have been told they're going to meet and potentially marry you?
Yeah, my dad will sometimes lay out the situation and say, "They're poor, they suffered through a lot, they had a civil war to go through—the least you can do is marry them and bring them over [to Canada]." It sucks though, I've talked to my female friends who are Sri Lankan and there's this culture that raises them to be subservient. They're essentially raised to be wives. My parents keep pointing out that the girls in Sri Lanka went through English schools specifically so they could marry me and things would be more compatible.

So what's your plan for when the day comes, when you have to go to Sri Lanka and get a wife?
I've talked to my friends about breaking my legs so I can't get on the flight. I've also considered summer school. That's something I keep on pushing back with. I tell them I don't want to think about marriage until I'm done school.

But really, how are you going to get out of the whole thing?
I think if I bring home a girl who's close to their specifications, I'm going to be like, "Mom, Dad, this is the best you're ever going to get."

Would they ever disown you?
I don't know, but I feel like if it's anyone who isn't at least the same ethnicity, they might. My mom for sure would get really emotional.

How do your friends feel about it?
They're mortified. Five years ago it was a joke, like, "Aw you're getting an arranged marriage that's so funny." Now they're like, "Holy fuck, this summer you might meet your wife." So it's become really real, really fast.

How do you manage to date?
I keep it very under the radar. But my last girlfriend actually ended things because she was facing a similar situation, where her parents already had an idea of who her husband should be. She didn't want to put her parents through the stress of her dating. In some ways I understand that, I understand that my parents put a lot of their hopes in me and there's another person across the ocean, who's raised in a culture where they want this to happen.

Is it a little fucked up that you feel guilty about that?
Yeah it is. It's a lose-lose situation. Somebody's going to get hurt either way.

Sarah Khan, 21

VICE: So you're married through an arranged marriage—how did that go down?
Sarah: A few weeks after turning 18, my parents received a marriage proposal from a family friend about me and their son. My parents carefully considered the proposal—they sought advice from close relatives. When they began to view it in a positive light, they brought it to my attention. Honestly, after seeing my family's joyous reaction to the proposal as well as taking into account my own personal history with the family, I made the decision to say yes.

Did you always expect to get an arranged marriage?
Arranged marriages are really common in my extended family, so I'd always been familiar with the concept. My own parents had an arranged marriage. But when I was younger, I thought it was weird. Especially because I grew in this larger culture where "love" marriages are the norm. But seeing my parents own marriage and how happy they were got me accustomed to the idea of having an arranged marriage. To be honest, the main reason I was OK with this relationship and what really quelled a lot of my worries was seeing how happy it made my family. I knew my parents would never ever even present this proposal to me if they didn't think that he would treat me right.

Does it feel weird to still be a university student and be married?
Yeah, I'll admit it was something that made me uneasy—but not with myself. It was always something I worried other people would judge me for, and they'd use me as a platform to project their own opinions about my family and our culture. But I have a strong group of friends and family that made me feel a lot more comfortable about it.

How did your own friends respond?
People outside my family responded with joy and well wishes which honestly was a shock to me! I always worried that people would judge me or think I'm either stupid or a victim for agreeing to something like this, which wasn't my experience at all. I think people have this misconception that arranged marriages are still the product of dictatorial parents or oppressive towards women but in reality most arranged marriages are the result of both families taking the time to get to know each other and allowing the couple to take their time in making decisions.

Doruk*, 19

VICE: What's your arranged marriage situation?
Doruk: I'm not set up for anything right now but my parents tried. They know I'm not down for an arranged marriage but when I went back home to Turkey the last time they were like, "Come over to this friend's house." I thought we were going there as guests but I realized halfway through the visit that I was being set up.

How did you realize it was a set up?
The way the questions were going. Lots of, "What do you see yourself doing in the future?" and questions like that. The girl there already knew what was happening before me. But I was only in that sort of situation once, after the fight that happened afterwards it never happened again.

Fight?
I'm usually very calm but I got really mad because they went completely behind my back. I ended up going to the girl's dad and screaming in his face, saying "I'm gay" and all this stuff to get out of it.

Seriously?
Yeah, that didn't work out for me. Really wish I thought that through. My dad slapped me by the end of it. But after that my parents have never tried it again.

Do they want you to get married by a certain age?
They expect me to get married like right now. I'm turning 20 in week.

Would you ever go through with an arranged marriage?
Probably not. When I was younger, all throughout middle school and high school I always thought I wanted an arranged marriage, but it's because I went to religious schools. I used to be completely dedicated to religion. Once I left high school that's when I started going towards the norm.

Have you tried dating despite your parents?
Well the issue with that is I have to find a girl first. But I've been hiding things from my parents for years so I have no issue hiding it. The problem is when it gets serious, and I'm going to have to tell them. That's when the trouble will start up, but right now I'm not too concerned.

Do you think your parents will ever try to set you up again?
Based on my previous reaction, I doubt it.

So you've pretty much figured out how to get out of it. What's the key?
Completely embarrass your parents and you're good to go.

Aditya Thakur, 20

VICE: What's your arranged marriage situation?
Aditya: 99 percent of my family members are married through arranged marriages. So if the situation is suitable or I'm having like a mid-life crisis or something in my late 20s, like my love life is shit, and I feel like this [arranged marriage] is something I have to do to move on, I would definitely do it.

So, you're not being forced into an arranged marriage?
No. My parents don't really expect me to, they're fairly liberal in that sense. They offered arranged marriage as an option if I really need it, like as a backup.

Are you worried about what your friends would think if you did go through with one?
Yeah, they would be a little shocked. They'd be like, "Whoa, it's 2017!" but they won't trip too hard over it or anything. They're like, "Hey, as long as you're happy." But that stigma of seeing it as really backwards, that would exist among some friends. Some of my friends are against it completely. But most of them, if I'm happy, they'd support it.

Ideally, how would your arranged marriage go down?
Well I've seen it happen before with my cousins. So it would start with my parents bringing home a selection of girls, matrimonials. And I kind of would just take a pick at which girls I want to meet, you know based on a picture and some information my parents give me. Then afterwards I'd go meet the girl in her home, meet her family. During the first meeting, our families would just give us some alone time to just talk, that's usually when you'd decide if you want to go through with it. Whether or not we'd agree to an engagement. And if there were any problems we'd talk to our families and break off the engagement if we had to.

So it wouldn't be forced?
Sometimes they are forced. I haven't seen it in my family but I've seen it in my neighbourhood and between family friends. You hear about it through typical brown gossip and everything. But you know those Bollywood movies where you see the girl forcefully married off—I've seen that happen, that's actual reality sometimes. But that's in a very backwards, conservative version of the culture.

So in your view an arranged marriage is more for convenience?
Yeah basically. It falls into how Indian kids are raised. I've spent half my life in India and half my life in North America so I've seen how both sides work. Kids in India are more sheltered, growing up they don't have to worry about anything but school. It flows into this idea that your family will look out for you, even with marriage. A lot of my friends thought it was a forced thing that you had to do, like love marriages are really taboo in India. That's like a really common misconception about it in North America.

When would your parents start pushing you to get married?
My late 20s. They'd start leaning more into the arranged marriage situation. But they wouldn't hold a knife to my throat. It would be more like, "Hello, we're here!" So much of western culture has seeped into Indian culture, people are changing their mentalities now. My younger cousins have all found their own wives and husbands.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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