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'Arranged marriages can teach us a great deal'

June 26, 2008
Reva Seth, attorney and journalist whose work has appeared in major Canadian newspapers including The Globe and Mail, has been intrigued by arranged marriages since her childhood in a New Jersey town. "I was the only Indian girl in a school in Madison," she says. "Whenever people heard that my parents had an arranged marriage they would wince or think all kinds of things," Seth, the author of the recently published book First Comes Marriage, says. "Some people thought my mother, who in fact is a very well read and modern woman, is someone very primitive."

Seth's book offers what she calls modern relationship advice from the wisdom of arranged marriages.

Secret # 1, she notes, is that your husband doesn't have to be your best friend. "That is why you've had a best girl friend, all along," she says. Another secret for a successful relationship: It doesn't matter if he doesn't dance. "Common interests are less important than shared values,' she asserts. And remember, she says, sexual chemistry is not always organic. "Attraction can be created," she adds, "if you know how to unlock your passion."

Arranged marriage is not an alien concept in America or Canada, she says. At least the Jewish communities have known arranged marriages till the other day.

With the Internet, Seth says, a new kind of arranged marriage is emerging in America and many other countries. "There is so much of third party intervention, with friends and relatives, if not parents, interfering and helping a young woman or a man make up their mind," she says.

Reva Seth has been married for about five years and lives with her husband and two year old son in Toronto. She spoke to rediff India Abroad's Arthur J Pais.

Why did you write this book?

Certainly not to show that love marriages do not work. I do know that many love marriages work very well. But there is also this wonderful institution of arranged marriage -- I certainly do not mean the kind of very old-fashioned arranged marriage in which the bride and bridegroom meet for the first time on their wedding day. I am talking about arranged marriages that call for intervention by parents and relatives. A marriage in which a man and a woman meet and get to know each other before they marry, at the instigation of their parents, relatives or friends. I am offering a practical and progressive guide to love and romance. The book also talks about various factors including adultery and adultery of the mind (which seems harmless) that can mar any relationship.

What can arranged marriages teach a modern woman or a man about love, dating and romance?

Lots! Aside from the seven big lessons that I discuss in my book, as an approach arranged marriages have a great deal to teach us. For instance as a society when it comes to love, we rarely think ahead. As a general rule, we are not trained to think about how feelings will change or evolve three or 30 years into the future. We are not taught to consider what we might expect and want from our partners and relationships, after the initial flush of infatuation wears away or as we age or have children. This is one of the reasons that arranged marriages are such a valuable model: they have evolved specifically with these questions and concerns in mind.

What are some of the advantages an arranged marriage has over a love marriage?

Reasonable expectations! Women in arranged marriages have a real understanding of the idea that husbands are life partners and not lifesavers.

On the other hand...

In contrast I think most of us don't even realise how much we expect from our partners and our relationships. And while having high expectations are good -- unrealistic ones are not! All that happens is that if we're single we become frustrated by the men we meet and if we're in a relationship, we become resentful when our real life partners can't live up to the fantasy man in our head!

Also read: 'I am a novelist, not a historian'

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