There was time, many decades ago, that most South Asian couples’ marriages were arranged by family members. However, over time, and as a result of North American influences as well as changing attitudes in South Asia, a couple is just as likely to have met, dated, and married without any involvement of family. Another equally likely scenario is that family members may have helped to “introduce” a couple, and then leave it the couple to see if they want to date and eventually marry. Often the last two are referred to as “love marriages” whereas in arranged marriages love may not be there initially but is expected to blossom over time (as the couple learns more about each other).
Interestingly, even those couples that take the more “modern” approach to marriage often want to maintain some of the traditions of their culture. This includes holding some of the same pre-wedding and wedding events and ceremonies that are found within traditional marriages. This approach seems to strike a balance between old and new and really shows that the younger generations value South Asian customs and traditions – while at the same time they create some of their own customs and traditions. And that is really what our culture, and any culture, is about – changing with the times while still valuing the customs and traditions that make us unique and make us proud of being who we are.
Unfortunately, as a family counsellor, I have come across many families who are not able to accept the marriage choices their family member made, and this can create great heartbreak for all involved. For example, I have seen parents cut off contact with children who went against their wishes and entered into a love marriage or parents who rushed their children into marriage (when they were not ready) once they became aware a couple was dating.
Whatever the method – arranged or love – that leads to marriage, no one particular approach is necessarily better than another. There are plenty of love and arranged marriages that are highly successful, and several in each category that do not last. What is necessary to ensure that a marriage is given the best chance to work is for family members to recognize the different ways South Asians in Canada may enter into relationships, and to accept the choices a couple makes.
Culture, after all, is not a concept frozen in time. It is forever changing, and our culture, while maintaining some of its core values, will likely look different years from now. And the strongest of our families will be able to change along with it.