Watching Married At First Sight has been educational. Initially, it seems like a crazy concept, right? Strangers meet, matched by people other than themselves, and (try to) commit to a relationship with that person. Surely that’s not going to work? What an interesting and new way to see love!
Every time I watch an episode all I can think about is my own arranged marriage and that of my parents, my siblings and friends; all who basically married at first sight. The difference is, we grew up with the system embedded in us.
As Muslims we grew up with the idea that love and sex and intimacy is something that is confined to marriage. Marriage for us is a spiritual act, that is witnessed by humans, a contract that both parties enter into facilitated by themselves or their family or friends. The word facilitated is more appropriate I think than ‘arranged’. Families facilitate a marriage happening.
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Being children of Disney and Bollywood and Hollywood cinema, we would have fantasies of meeting, dating and being proposed to but ultimately, we knew that was not the way it would work. We had our arranged marriage excitement too: the nervousness and thrill of having prospective partners visit your home with their parents, the awkward conversation when meeting a potential hubby, the crazy, shy, small talk with a person who could be your life partner, the excitement of the brief encounters once you have chosen each other and prepare for the wedding, the anticipation of the wedding… and the wedding night!
Growing up in Melbourne, the idea of a facilitated marriage to my non-Muslim friends seemed barbaric and old school. I’d often gently challenge that, saying, it’s just choosing to date after the wedding.
It didn’t always make sense to me to be honest and being surrounded by romantic love stories made it often feel like a burden. However, once I realised marriage for a Muslim is simply part of a broader way of life, where spirituality comes first, and once I started to see the real heartache friends went through in their dating lives, I started to get it.
Partnering in life is just another step towards an end goal. Your life partner is there to support you to be your better self, and live your life while sharing economic, household and parental duties. It’s a pragmatic system to get you through your days on earth. That’s not romantic but it’s honest and that’s why I like it.
An Islamic marriage is setting you up to be part of a team, two wheels on a cart that carries the load until the end of your days (or where there are truly irreconcilable differences).
Yes, arranged marriages fail. My first one did... but to me it feels like you do your bit, I’ll do mine, we won’t sweat about the small stuff and we’ll get through this life together.
Though heartbreaking, I didn’t begrudge the system, but rather the cultural (and particularly Indian in my experience) approach to it, which can be rife with sexism and racism.
My parents and I initially settled on a guy from India, who at first was prepared to move and live in Australia. Once he got here and realised two years later it really wasn’t for him, we ended it.
After separating with my ex, once I gave the all clear, I was arranged to meet with a man who was from Melbourne, who totally respected women and was willing to support a career-driven woman, who was incredibly spiritual. He also happened to make me laugh, was still working out his career, had a similar sense of politics and an interest in art and film.
Though he likes camping and hiking and I would rather lounge on a beach, we both enjoy cafes and coffee. Seven and a half years, a teaching degree, a career change and a toddler later we’re pretty happy. Contented. Still discovering things about ourselves and each other and living our days together working on being the best we can be.
Opting out seems like a foreign concept in this culture of arranged marriages, though it is becoming more prevalent everywhere in all cultures. I can’t help but feel that’s because the concept of romantic love and fairy tale endings has seeped into the pragmatic and measured cultures that facilitate marriages.
Going into an arranged marriage is really a matter of saying, I want to be married, here are my basic requirements and here’s what I’m willing to compromise on. Once that’s out in the open, the rest can be somewhat easy, although both parties understand that they will not mesh on everything and in every way.
Once a match is made those first few months can be difficult, but it’s also very exciting. It’s all new. It’s all discovery. You know there are going to be clashes, you know there will be mistakes. But you see it as part of the process. What can come of this then is a deep bond because you’ve committed to climb the crazy married life mountain together with all its rough terrain from the very beginning.
My parents’ love is no less valid than anyone else's. They were classmates at medical school. He was dorky and sat up the front, she was way cooler and sat behind. They never spoke. Their parents who knew each other through the neighbourhood both thought they would make a good match. They met once. They agreed. They got married. They now know each other deeply. They migrated to Australia together. They navigated careers and parenthood together and 45 years later still make each other laugh. Neither of them want to exist without the other. I think that’s success.
When I look at my parents, sisters and brothers’ marriages, the ones I have a court-side view of, I can see that in each case there are areas of their relationships they would want changed and I can for each couple, see how it could be slightly better. The thing is the challenges they face are surmountable because they’ve committed to making it work. What’s obvious is that commitment to the process. That they’ve each worked at how to fit together. They expect to have to put in effort, compromise and listen. They’ve agreed to be together, the rest is worked out over time.
Expecting it to be work and being prepared for that is the best gift growing up in an arranged marriage system gave me. Sure, there were doubts about whether my parents would ever be able to find someone for me but I trusted the system.
Watching the Married At First Sight crowd struggle with the concept of putting their future in an expert's hands and trusting that you can commit to someone you barely know is expected. This kind of love and approach to partnering is something that has to be understood and accepted.
Married At First Sight is a system that you can’t slap on two people and expect to work, particularly for a group of people who expect love and romance and fantasy to be arranged and organised for them. It’s a philosophy on love and partnership that is part of a whole.
It's not crazy, it's just different.
Was your marriage arranged? Tell us your experience in the comments below.