Arranged marriage, while declining, is still a common practice in many Eastern and Asian countries. And it is largely misunderstood by Westerners. One reason may be that couples in successful arranged marriages see no need to trumpet how they met. Instead, the media focus on tragic, yet rare, tales of bride kidnappings and child marriages, the latter driven largely by dowries in poor countries and generally acknowledged to be a contributing factor to female infanticide. Fortunately, worldwide condemnation of those practices grows.
Here, then, are facts about arranged marriages as most couples experience them.
Decreasing, but still strong. Arranged marriage remains the dominant form of matrimony in much of the world, rich and poor, cities and provinces, in India, Africa, the Middle East and east Asia, said Amit Batabyal, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology and author of a 2006 book on arranged marriages.
Many people can be arrangers. Parents play a big role, but so do aunts and uncles, grandparents, close friends and intermediaries, all weeding through portfolios of eligible candidates before presenting suitable suitors.
A perfect match? Arrangers consider many factors in bringing two people together. Family reputation is huge. His vocation (doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers and scientists are considered excellent husband material) is big, too. While her work is considered to be less important, it is no longer uncommon for two people in the same field to be matched. Wealth, appearance, religion, dietary preferences and, in India, numerology may also factor in.
Young people are becoming their own marriage arrangers. Websites such as naseeb.com, suitablematch.com and Indian Matrimonials.com are springing up, allowing singles to shop online for their own spouses. Others meet their mates the Western way, through work or friends. "The tradition [of arranging] is vanishing," said Dia Cha, a professor of ethnic studies and Hmong culture at St. Cloud State University. "Young people are very much determined to find their own partners in life. It's very hard for parents to influence them."
Singles can -- and do -- say no. A widely held myth is that young people cannot turn down a potential suitor. Everyone interviewed had tales of meeting, and rejecting, this one or that one. Shelly Haque, from Bangladesh and now Lino Lakes, turned down dozens of suitors before meeting and marrying Kaiser Haque 10 years ago.
Divorce happens. Divorce statistics are hard to come by, but divorce is legal throughout even the traditional Islamic world, with rates in some countries approaching or even exceeding those in the West, according to a 2002 Gallup Poll. In Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, for example, those who view divorce as "entirely justifiable morally" outnumber those who strongly condemn it.
Success happens, too. Much can be learned from those in arranged marriages about love over the long haul.
"For Westerners, you love first before you marry," Cha said. "For most Easterners, the philosophy is that you marry first and develop an intimate relationship. You begin to understand each other and you grow."