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An arranged marriage to my rescue?


‘Like Christmas cake that is fresh up until the 25th but with each succeeding day becomes less appetizing and edible, women too lose their marital appeal as they pass the mid twenties mark’.

You can’t argue with this old Japanese saying. At least not in Sri Lanka.

You are raised as a little girl, warned from day one that ‘boys are after only one thing’ and to stay as far away as possible from them. Good girls don’t ‘have affairs’ or ‘carry on with this one and that one’ (that’s Sri Lankan lingo for dating). Then you hit your twenties and suddenly it’s ‘why haven’t you found a nice boy?’ or ‘hasn’t anything worked out for you yet darling?’ (‘anything’ means marriage, while all other accomplishments equate to nothing). Showing no interest in getting hitched soon can mean only one of three things:

A) You have some secret illicit relationship
B) You are ‘batting for the other side’
C) You are crying yourself to sleep each night as nobody wants to marry you.

And so to save you from this humiliation, we have arranged marriages, where people ranging from your closest relatives to that random aunty you just met in the street ends up bringing you marriage proposals. At least that’s what I first thought!

Being inquisitive and mesmerized by the topic that first brought images of ‘shot gun marriages’ and ‘dowry related bride killings’ to mind, I decided to study arranged marriages. By study, I mean that I actually went about doing a content analysis of 200 matrimonial advertisements and interviewed 45 people to produce a book titled “The Geography of Marriage: Contemporary Arranged Marriages in Sri Lanka’. I won’t bore you with all the academic research. But here’s a breakdown of a few of the must-knows when it comes to modern Sri Lankan arranged marriages:

1. TO BE UNMARRIED IS NOT AN OPTION. No matter how old you are, you will always remain a ‘small child’ until you are married. For parents, a child’s marriage means security and peace of mind that someone out there will take care of your little son or daughter (plus you absolutely cannot allow them to miss an opportunity to show off with an extravagant wedding ceremony). Besides, how can parents become grandparents if their children don’t marry? The concept of pre-marital sex or children out of wedlock is a whole other issue for later discussion, but just to give you an idea, there is a Sri Lankan village wedding custom where the bride is given a white sheet on her wedding night that the older women inspect the morning after as a virginity test. So when your child does not find a partner ‘when the time is right’, it’s ‘high time’ for arranged marriage services to sweep in and save the day!

2. YOU MARRY NOT JUST FOR YOU BUT FOR SOCIETY’S SAKE. Marriage is not just between two people, but between two extended families. If you don’t stick to the same race, religion, ethnicity, caste, class, et cetera et cetera, there are bound to be some hushed whispers passing around during the wedding ceremony no matter how cordial the two parties may seem at surface level. Arranged marriages hence facilitate the meeting of two people once all those basic criteria are first sorted out by the matchmakers.

3. GET THAT ADVERTISEMENT RIGHT!  So how do you go about having an arranged marriage? In the past a man known as a kapuwa (matchmaker) was hired to do the job. Today, marriage agencies, matrimonial websites, newspaper ads plus word of mouth around social groups do the job. If you opt for an ad, don’t forget to mention how fair complexioned you are, as that trumps everything else! Foreign citizenship, doctors, engineers and ‘substantial assets’ score bonus points!

4. THE HOROSCOPES MATCH. Once the initial filtering is done, the next step for Buddhists and Hindus are the horoscopes. Apparently ten factors are checked for compatibility and you need the green light from your family astrologer to proceed. In my case, horoscope compatibility has been the perfect excuse to reject people that I am just not into (please ignore the last sentence if my parents told you that ‘unfortunately our horoscopes don’t match’!)

5. DOWRY. It’s more and more a thing of the past and arguably non-existent among the Muslim community. Then again, in very subtle ways, you see ads that highlight the millions of rupees one inherits. Modern day dowry is not just about assets; it’s about obtaining what one lacks by exchanging it for something you possess. You can marry into money, fame, prestige or an educated family by playing your cards right. It’s one big poker game where you can get lucky, bluffed or royally flushed.

6. IT’S JUST ANOTHER MODE TO FIND THAT SPECIAL ONE. Despite all the criticisms, praises and comparisons that we draw between the perceived polar opposites of ‘love marriages’ and ‘arranged marriages’, at the end of the day, it’s just another way of finding that special someone. No one really arranges for you to marry someone you’ve never met. It’s an initial introduction that in my case allowed me to meet some very nice (and yes some rather weird) strangers. I’ve made a few new friends this way (you know who you are!) and never felt forced into marrying them just because I considered the ‘arranged marriage option’. It’s a safety net and a support system that is sometimes overrated, sometimes undervalued and at most times exaggerated.

Then again, what do I know? I’m 25, about to become inedible in Christmas cake terms, ‘still a little child’, and apparently I’ve got ‘nothing’ worked out in my life yet!





Image. Photo by Love Marriage Specialist


7 Responses to An arranged marriage to my rescue?

  1. Dil T says:

    Very well written, as always Virandi. This may be your best article yet!

  2. Homepage says:

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Virandi Wettewa

Nestled in Sri Lanka’s pristine east coast, Trincomalee is a coastal town located on a peninsular of the same name that divides into the ...

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