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     Volume 9 Issue 41| October 22, 2010 |


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Race to Marital

Anika Hossain

Photo: Zahedul i khan, Models: Shetu and Ronnie

At 40, Shehreen Kabir (not her real name) has had an eventful if not perfectly happy life. As the youngest in a family of four sisters and a brother, Shehreen's childhood memories are of second hand books and hand-me-down clothes and toys.

As she grew older, her concerns extended to more than just obtaining a proper education and finding a suitable job to help support her family. She now had to worry about finding a suitable life partner. Shehreen has been introduced to “eligible” men since she was 22 years old. She has met all kinds, the rich and the extremely poor, the intellectuals and the dim-witted, the drop dead gorgeous and the not so gorgeous. She met men who wanted her to be a housewife and men who wanted her to bear half (sometimes the entire) cost of running their household, men who wanted a new car, furniture for the house and a flat screen TV to even consider marrying her and men who wanted an “open marriage” whatever that means. She met them all.

As her luck would have it though, they just never “clicked,” and as she crossed 30, proposals stopped coming by as often, and before she knew it, she was branded as the “spinster” of the family, destined to live alone.

Shehreen is just one of the millions of women in this country who have been raised to think that their aim in life should be to find their perfect match and “settle down”. The tradition of arranged marriages originated in royal and aristocratic families centuries ago. Back in the day, when no one even heard of dating, this was a very practical way to go about finding a partner.

A popular tradition all over the world and it is still widely practiced in South Asia, the Middle East and East Asian countries to some degree. In these countries, the match is selected either by parents, relatives, a professional matchmaker or a match-making agency or the modern day, matrimonial websites. Of course arranged marriages today follow a completely different format.

Gone are the times when a young couple would agree to get married just by looking at a photograph or by meeting once in a chaperoned setting. In a country like Bangladesh, where dating is still fairly new, young adults still consider arranged marriage as an option to fall back on if they cannot meet someone on their own (much to the relief of their parents). Parents still consider it their duty to see their children settled in marital bliss, but will grudgingly agree to simply suggest a suitable match and go as far as to set up a first meeting to introduce the couple. The rest is left to the pair.

Most modern parents will be perfectly content if their son/daughter can find someone eligible on their own. “My parents had left it up to me to choose a husband, but I think they're beginning to doubt their decision now that I've been in several relationships but haven't met Mr Right yet. Just watching them worry is stressful for me as well,” says a young woman working in a well-known advertising agency in Dhaka.

The process of finding the perfect match is not dissimilar to selecting the perfect candidate after short-listing CVs for a job interview. When arranging a marriage, certain factors are taken into consideration, the reputation of both families being the most important one. Background checks will be done and enquiries made about the educational background, financial status and any other skeletons in the closet. It is not uncommon for people with similar professions to be considered a suitable match. The wealth of the family, religion, age of the prospective bride/groom and physical attributes are all taken into consideration. Parents of the bride are not usually concerned about the groom's appearance as long as he meets the rest of the above-mentioned criteria.

Although the modern format of arranged marriages seems reasonable, in many societies, women have it much harder than men when it comes to choosing a life partner. In our country, while it is acceptable for men to marry at any age, women are expected to find a match by the time they are thirty. While most women today are educated, ambitious and career oriented and may not have marriage on the top of their priority list, their families and the society they live in will not permit them to remain in peace for long.

The topic of marriage becomes a mealtime favourite as soon as a girl is in her early twenties. " I have been introduced to potential husbands since I was 22-years-old. Every time I rejected a proposal, I was told I'm picky and arrogant and every time anyone rejected me, my shortcomings were discussed openly by family, while trying to decide which one of my flaws was the deal breaker," says Shumi Pervin (not her real name), an NGO worker.

For a woman in this country, marriage is a huge step and is guaranteed to change her entire life. The process of acclimation into a new family is always tricky and requires compromises on her part, especially when she is only getting to know her husband. Before worrying about how her life will be after marriage, she has to worry about finding the right man, her family's reputation, disappointing her parents if she is unable to marry, being able to live in the society after a certain age as a single woman and also her confusion regarding the whole institution of marriage and what it can do for her. This complicated process, combined with the stress can be psychologically challenging for women in this country, often leading to low self esteem, hopelessness and a sense of failure. This can cause anxiety and depression in some cases.

Arranged marriages do have a positive side to them. Arranging for two people who friends and family consider ideal for each other is not uncommon in Western cultures. After all, who can know a person better than people who are closest to them? If other factors such as age, timelines and societal pressures were left out of the equation, the process would become much easier and more welcome to the current generation. Knowing someone's background and family history is also useful before getting into a committed relationship. Often compatible careers, educational backgrounds and lifestyles lead to successful marriages. However, pressures do exist and people end up making decisions in a hurry, later regretting them. The most thorough research about a person is not always enough to get to know them. This can only be accomplished by spending enough time with a person before deciding on a lifelong commitment, a luxury we do not have here, atleast not without causing a scandal.

After a long drawn out courtship with the idea of a perfect arranged marriage, Shehreen Kabir finally accepts defeat. "I used to want my own home, a husband and children, but after years of trying my best and being repeatedly disappointed, I became indifferent to the idea of marriage. No use regretting all that now, all I want to do is look forward and do all the things I've always wanted to. I am perfectly happy being single, surrounded by friends and family who care about me. I think my life would have been much easier if I had done this years ago."



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