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#958: “How do I learn to be okay with an arranged marriage?”

Hi Captain!

Many years ago, I was in love with a woman friend of mine, let’s call her P, and when I used my words, she told me that she didn’t feel the same way and was already in love with someone else (a mutual friend of ours, A). I was heart-broken and after about a year of being sad I resolved to move on and rebuild my life. I moved to a different country, went back to school to get an advanced degree and started a new job a year ago in my field. Although I wish I could have found someone else, I was mostly busy with my career and having been hurt + some personal issues about being a short guy (I was never bothered too much about my height before, but having been heart-broken seemed to have brought out my insecurities), I did not really pursue any relationships.

Now, as arranged marriages are customary in my culture, my parents want me to get married soon. At my age this is already considered very late in my culture and my parents tell me my prospects are thin and I should quickly settle for someone. While I like to think I don’t *have* to get married soon, or at all, I also feel very strongly that that’s not really an option for me. There’s enormous pressure in my society to settle down, I feel obligated to my parents and sometimes feel an arranged marriage is my best chance since dating is scary. Surely, my parents got married this way, as do lots of people in my culture, even some of my best friends, and are, by all appearances, on average, pretty happy.

Given this, how do I make the best of my situation, how do I learn to love someone who I barely know and who I may not be attracted to? When I talk to my friends, they always seem to have been into their prospective partners and vice-versa from the get go, they appear to not have had any major misgivings or spent any time thinking in terms like mine and in fact appear to have been excited and thrilled about starting a new life which is again, apparently, how their prospective partners also felt. When I listen to them, I think I want to feel that way too, feel genuinely thrilled and excited to find someone and get on with life and they advise me that “things just work out”. But I always end up concluding that either my outlook on life is different from theirs or that their personal situation isn’t like mine and so what worked for them may not work for me.

I also recently discovered that A and P had broken up and that A is now married to someone else(an arranged marriage no less!). I fantasize about getting back in touch with P and trying my luck again despite zero contact and no signs that P is even interested. I know that is just a fantasy but with the difficult choice of an arranged marriage, I keep thinking why not give it a shot.

I would greatly appreciate any advice on whether it’s even advisable to think about talking to P and if not, if you have any advice on how to go about being okay with an arranged marriage and learning to appreciate and love this other person who also may or may not be into me, given that putting off / not getting married isn’t an option.

Thanks,
Feeling Desperate

Dear Feeling Desperate:

Have you seen Meet The Patels? It’s a documentary about a young man who is under pressure to get married by his family and about the year that he agrees to let them introduce him to eligible women. I recommend it as entertaining “You’re not alone!” viewing.

Depending heavily on your exact culture and social class, the process of arranging marriages has changed a lot in the past half-century. If your family follows very traditional rules, where, as soon as they begin talks with another family, y’all are as good as married, then you have to decide if you’ll undertake the matchmaking process at all. It’s okay to decide the risks are too high and that while it may be right for other people it’s not right for you!

I am assuming for purposes of this answer that this is not how things operate – that it’s more about combing the family & social network for eligible single folks and introducing you to each other – and if that is the case I think it’s absolutely okay to put the vast international network of matchmaking aunties to work on your behalf and still stay true to yourself.

Make some agreements with yourself right now, before you start:

  • It’s 100% okay to say, to everyone, “I’m not ready to look, I’m not ready to do this, I need to think more about this before I even start.” You do not have to marry anyone, ever, if you do not want to. Yes, it’s the cultural norm and you’ll receive a lot of pressure from your family and peers. No, you won’t die from not being married, and the people who love you will deal with it eventually.
  • You can decide to be introduced to people you family suggests and promise to meet anyone they suggest with an open mind, but you will not marry anyone without a genuine connection of friendship, affection, and attraction between you.
  • You’re open to trying out the process without any guarantees. Phrase it that way to your parents. “I am happy to have you introduce me. The right woman and I will have to take it from there.
  • Don’t ever believe anybody when they say that “your prospects are thin” and that you have to hurry to lock in this low interest rate/this hot sale price/this limited edition/hard-sell metaphor of your choice or it will never be available again. In your letter, you come across as intelligent, hard-working, thoughtful, kind, sensitive, and as someone who wants to be and do good things. You deserve someone wonderful, someone who values herself and who takes her time to make good decisions the way you do. People like that exist in the world and some of them are part of your cultural group and some of those are female and single and some of those will like you. Finding love and attraction is not about having the greatest possible access to every possible person, it’s about connecting truly and deeply with the ones who are your same glorious brand of weirdo.

If you can stay true to yourself about this, then you can also stay true and caring to the people you meet. You’ll never pretend to feel something you don’t, you’ll never let family pressures or guilt or the fear of missing out override your own ethics and your own heart. [/Polonius]

Some possibly comforting truths:

A. The women you’ll meet through your family’s efforts will be in the same boat with regards to family pressure and you’ll immediately have that in common to break the ice. “Wow, it’s great to meet you, but this is so very awkward!” “It is so awkward!” “Thanks for doing this awkward thing with me.”

B. The women you’ll meet through your family’s efforts will have their own Ones Who Got Away, their own doubts and misgivings, their own worries about settling for someone they don’t really desire (and/or being “settled for”), their own “Everyone I know says it’s wonderful, but what if it isn’t for me?” stories. They have their own romantic hopes, careers, dreams for what a happy life looks like. They have their own baggage of being told their “prospects are thin” and the laundry list of their supposed “flaws” and insecurities, too.

C. Rejection is a normal part of the process. If you meet someone who isn’t for you, think of “no but thank you” as freeing both of you to go find a more compatible fit. Rejection doesn’t feel good but it really is a gift of honesty and trust that the future holds something better. Make sure that the women you meet know they are free to say “no” to you and vice versa and that you’ll support them absolutely against any cultural or family pressures to the contrary.

D. If you meet someone, and you initially like each other, the only way you’ll know how you feel is to spend more time together. As you do, look for:

  • Is she easy to talk to? Is spending time with her as pleasant and fun in itself as spending time with your favorite friends?
  • Is she forthright and forthcoming? Do you feel like she shows you her real personality, and lets you show yours?
  • Do you feel relaxed and like you can be yourself around her?
  • Do you have reciprocity, for example, she puts equal effort into communicating and spending time with you, she responds to emails/texts with enthusiasm and doesn’t leave you hanging, if you open up to her or make a step to get closer does she move closer in return?
  • Does she treat you with respect and kindness? Does she treat everyone in her life with respect and kindness? (Someone who is nice to you but mean to the waiter is not a nice person).
  • Did you like how she looks and feel attracted when you first saw her? What about the second or third time? Does that intangible thing called attraction or chemistry exist between you, and is it growing?
  • How does she handle adversity? Can you talk about the pressures and doubts you feel honestly with her?
  • Do you value and want the same things in life? What does a “happy life” look like to her?

I strongly believe that the right person (or people) for you is going to make the process of getting to know them feel really good. Not that problems never exist, but in these early stages you’re going to feel hopeful and happy and excited to see them. Even if the first meeting or date is super awkward and stilted, as you get to know them more it won’t feel like “work” to make plans or conversation.

E. The people you know who have happy arranged marriages almost certainly had doubts and misgivings at first. Is there anyone in human history who has held “Hello, nice to meet you! Let’s maybe spend the rest of our lives together!” as a relaxing decision in their deepest heart of hearts? A good decision, a dutiful decision, the best possible decision given the alternatives, an ultimately happy decision, sure, but never a 100% relaxing or comfortable one. Here are some possibilities for why you are hearing this “No, it was great at first sight!” story from so many people:

  • Their folks chose well and (eventually) introduced them to someone they truly liked and got along well with. You’re not hearing about all of the not-quite-right people they met on the way.
  • They spent enough time together at the beginning to figure out whether they really had that connection.
  • The love, happiness, and connection have grown with time and intimacy and the misgivings are harder to remember in the rearview mirror.
  • It’s not polite or appropriate to talk about the misgivings, for whatever reason (not wanting to hurt the other person’s feelings, wanting to support the institution and the process).
  • The narrative of One True Soulmate Designated By God/The Universe and Meant To Be is a hell of a drug.
  • They feel the way all of us who are happily partnered feel about how we first met and came to know the person we love: Sheer beautiful luck.

Your friends who met cute and stayed that way are telling you the truth, but they aren’t telling you every possible truth. They are telling you that they trusted the process and that they got lucky. Does that make sense?

In the end I think you have as good a chance of meeting a great person through your family connections as you do any other way. Meeting new people is meeting new people. Whether an algorithm throws you up in each other’s search results or you happen go to the same pub trivia night or your family introduces you, the actual process of getting to know someone beyond that first introduction (and maybe falling in love with them) is always up to you. Love is a series of decisions.

I’ve left P. for the end.

If you still feel the same way about her…

If you can respect her answer and let her go if the answer is no…

If doing this will stop her from hanging over this next phase of your life like a ghost of what might have been…

…then, I think it’s okay to contact her one time, and say something like, “P., I still miss you and I still think about you. Is there a chance that your feelings about me could ever change? Could we talk about it?

Ask. See what she says. If she says yes, I congratulate you on your rekindled friendship and/or your beautiful love story. If she doesn’t answer, let that be an answer. If she closes the door, let it stay closed. No one else is P. but the things you admire about her are present in other people, and more than likely present in you. Learn to love those things about yourself. Grieve as necessary. Then tell a different story:

I loved my friend P., and I was brave and told her how I feel. She didn’t love me back, and to get over the hurt I felt, I threw myself into my education and my career and built the life I have now. I’ll never forget P., because she showed me something about the kind of person I want to fall in love with someday. It’s understandable that she’s on my mind a lot as I think about starting that search over again.

 

I wish you a good and awkward journey as you figure this stuff out, lovely Letter Writer. I think you are going to be more than okay and meet people who know how lucky they are to find you.

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124 comments
  1. LW, do you want to get married?

    The Captain has some really great advice for how to approach what you’re handling when you’re ready to approach it, but before you even get to that point, I gotta ask: do you WANT to get married? Because that is missing from your letter. You talk about your feelings for P, you talk about the pressure you’re under to get married, but you don’t talk about it as something you actively want for yourself.

    I know a couple of people in happy, successful arranged marriages (or engagements, but that four day blowout wedding is coming soon!) and the thing all of them have in common is that they finally reached a point in their lives where they decided they wanted to find a partner, settle down in a home of their own, and maybe have a couple of kids. They actively wanted that, wanted to start building that part of their lives, and were excited about every step of the process, from the wedding to bringing home their first kid from the hospital. So they flashed the Auntie signal in the sky and started wading through a flood of photos and awkward first meetings where their families hovered in the background.

    You still have feelings for P, but can you see yourself married to P? Could you see yourself married to someone equally as awesome as P but who isn’t P? Can you see yourself, three Halloweens from now, changing the dirty diapers of your first child after you come home from work while your spouse gets dinner ready? That’s a really, really specific scenario, I know, but it’s not an impossible one with the immediate steps you’re considering.

    The Captain’s advice the steps to consider before reaching out to P are rock solid. And I’d also strongly encourage you to check out doctornerdlove(dot)com and the posts tagged “Oneitis”, because that may help you sort through your feelings for P as well. But it sounds like there are a couple of things you need to sort through right now: your feelings for P and what might have been, whether or not you want to get married, what kind of person you want to get married to, what kind of marriage you want to have… it’s a pretty hefty list.

    The good news is, three Halloweens from now you could absolutely be on the other side of this list of questions, just like your happily married friends are now. That’s a very, very real possibility. You sound like someone who is smart, driven, and knows how to go after what they want when they figure out what it is that they want, which all points toward success for you in this.

    Good luck!

    • JenniferP said:

      This comment is great and you should feel great.

    • LW said:

      Hi NomadiCat!

      You’re right I didn’t make it explicitly clear in my letter, but I think I could be into starting married life if it’s with the right person. I don’t know if it’s possible that I’ll find someone I’d want to spend the rest of my life with through my parents and that’s what scares me. If I could wait indefinitely until I find the right person, that’d be great! So I guess I want to get married, even in the next few months, if it’s, not necessarily P, which would be awesome, but someone I could have a connection with.

      But everywhere around me, the message I get is “It’s already late, don’t be too picky, you’ll end up alone if you are”, which adds to the stress of meeting someone new. (And this is being a man, I can only imagine what women in my position face). I still do absolutely have feelings for P, and I keep thinking about all the ways things could not work out and it feels like, if only P’s feelings for me have changed, I could avoid all of this.

      Thanks!

      • Lara said:

        LW, I feel envious that you have so many people invested in your future.

        But the pressure of Too Late is false; the warning to not be Too Picky is counterproductive and feels disrespectful to you and your accomplishments and character. I feel I agree with you that a person can find lasting love and happiness at any stage of life, because we know many stories of people who do just that.

        Gender is on your side, as you know. You have a wide span of time to start a family. The question of how old do you want to be, when chasing that fast-moving toddler through someone else’s living room of breakables, and sitting through school performances, is yours alone to answer.

        That said, I have a friend who decided to start a family with a younger woman when he was fifty. They ended up divorced and he is raising the children, who are now graduating from high school. He’s probably at the extreme edge of what’s possible, as he’s had age-related health problems. I mention him because he’s had a level of joy and connection with those kids that’s unlike what a younger set of parents has.

        As for P, I like the Captain’s advice. I finally fell in love late in life, after re-meeting a teenage flame. It didn’t work out and it took me three years to get over the shock of the heartbreak. But now, it’s four years out and I feel grateful to have been shown what it feels like to find someone truly compatible. I’m glad to be single and have that possibility still open to me.

        I congratulate you on your successes and your level-headedness.

      • Kelsi said:

        I want to add here–I think it will only help you if you can get to a place where you stop thinking of P as a potential “way out.”

        I don’t mean that in a judgmental way. It makes perfect sense, we all have had that fantasy where some big What If conveniently solves a host of other problems at the same time. But I feel like it’s not going to do you any good at a time that’s already stressful and confusing and here’s why:

        If you keep thinking of P as your secret back-pocket magical way out, you’ve set yourself up for failure no matter what happens.

        If you contact her and she still is not interested (and I’m going to be honest, I think this is the most likely outcome, especially if you’ve been mostly out of contact all this time), it is going to feel even more like the end of the world–because not only are your romantic hopes getting crushed, your hopes to escape all the pressure your family and acquaintances are putting on you are also crushed.

        Even if she IS interested, that puts a ton of pressure on any relationship you two have to be SERIOUS and DESTINED FOR MARRIAGE right away. It’s not really a good climate to build things comfortably and naturally.

        So, while it might be very hard, I strongly suggest you treat these things as two completely separate issues. Your feelings for P and how that may or may not develop are one thing. The pressure to hurry up and get married is another. It may seem like tying them together is going to reduce your stress, but in the longer term, it’s really just going to make everything messier and MORE stressful.

  2. Cor! said:

    “Finding love and attraction is not about having the greatest possible access to every possible person”
    PREACH!!

  3. Desi girl said:

    (I’m a long time reader but first time commenter.)

    Captain Awkward, this is an amazing post. You did a great job at giving advice that is useful in the OP’s cultural context, but still based on universally useful principles. I also love that you didn’t assume that you know exactly what arranged marriage means in the OP’s culture or family.

    • Big Pink Box said:

      I totally agree, Captain really knocked it out of the park on this one.

    • Erin McJ said:

      Co-signed. Everything in this response from the Captain was great.

  4. ninyabruja said:

    Spoiler for Meet the Patels:

    Ravi’s mother was far more upset that he hadn’t introduced his western European decent gf to her than the fact that the gf was this.

  5. LW, I live in the San Francisco area and have worked in banking and tech a lot. I have worked with and made friends with A LOT of Indian-American women and men and have talked with them about getting married. And this is what I’ve seen with them: they arrange their own marriages. They definitely decide “it’s time to make that change in my life” and they place ads and look at ads and have their families help, but ultimately they’ve all made their own decisions about who to marry. (Oh, and these were marriages that took place before they moved to the US.)

    You don’t say where you’re from or even if you’re Indian, and maybe your family is rural (my friends were all urban) so this might be less common? But it’s a thing people do! Maybe it’s an approach that would satisfy your family and take some of their pressure off you?

    (And by the way: there have always been people who did not marry, even when everyone around them did. They may have been considered odd, but they did exist. Don’t let people tell you otherwise.)

    • Ainomiaka said:

      Yeah, the person I’ve been close enough to have in depth conversations about it described her marriage matching as pretty similar to something like match.Com or eharmony. I don’t know if this is reassuring or not to the LW

  6. S said:

    I have a friend who is currently going through this process, and her biggest concern has been finding a match that will allow her to continue her career. Her other concerns are generally in the vein of being a fairly modern woman undertaking a traditional process.

    I love all of the Captain’s questions. I also think it is a good idea to spend some time thinking about what your personal values are around things like labor division in the household, and outside of it, how you handle finances, talking about sex and both of your sexual preferences, how you want to raise any kids you might have together.

    I think a lot of this is covered under “what your want your life to look like” but I wanted to call it out specifically. These are the things she is particularly concerned about finding in a partnership.

    I think with matchmaking just like with dating knowing what you from your partner, what areas you might be willing to compromise on, and what things are really important for you to find a successful partnership. Shared values and goals are critical to long term partnership.

    Attraction and crushes are all well and good, but they are fleeting, even things like not liking the same music or TV aren’t as critical as wanting the same time in life.

    • aebhel said:

      This is very true. My spouse and I share very few hobbies, but we have a similar outlook on life, a similar sense of humor, the same general approach to things like money and parenting and what we want our living situation to be like. We have a pretty good marriage, for the most part.

      So much depends on what you want to get out of a marriage, and how much you and your partner see eye to eye on that.

    • Nina said:

      “I also think it is a good idea to spend some time thinking about what your personal values are around things like labor division in the household, and outside of it, how you handle finances, talking about sex and both of your sexual preferences, how you want to raise any kids you might have together.”

      Also, think about *how* to bring up these questions. If you have enough privacy (whether by email, phone, whispering in person, etc.) then she’s more likely to tell you her *own* personal values. If you don’t have enough privacy, then she’s more likely to have to tell you her *chaperone’s* personal values or else get in trouble. 😦

      I’m reminded a little of http://moderntantra.blogspot.com/2014/06/aunt-shaktis-action-plan-for-proactive.html now. It’s for adult women, and about how to have a painless first time having sex 🙂 by preparing one’s vagina ahead of time. It also includes tips on how to safely improvise if you can’t buy an actual sex toy to practice penetration before sex, because you still live with your parents.

      This made me wonder, how does a bride in that situation manage to discuss this with her groom *before* the big night?

      If she doesn’t discuss it, he might still think the all-too-common “it’s going to hurt her no matter what, don’t bother trying to not hurt her!” and pin her down and be rough enough to rip and tear and cause blood loss anyway. 😦

      If she *does* discuss it with him ahead of time, he might be A-OK with the plan for a painless first time 🙂

      …but what if they’re chaperoned and his parents cancel the marriage, her parents punish her for having premarital penetration, or whichever once they find out what she said…?

  7. misspiggy said:

    I can’t add much to the Captain’s amazing answer, but from my own life I’d suggest: sit with anyone you’re introduced to, for a good ten minutes or do. Doesn’t matter if you’re alone or not, but sit right next to them if you possibly can. Talk about the weather, whatever, but while this is happening pay separate attention to how you feel physically (as distinct from what just your eyes might be telling you). Are you comfortable? Do you feel a contented smile starting inside? Do you want to stay sitting there? Try that out a few times. That should tell you a lot; seek it out and don’t ignore what you get from it.

    • brightlights said:

      I don’t comment very often, but I wanted to compliment you on this excellent post. I love that you’re talking about “how you feel physically” and also start to talk about how you feel emotionally- the “contented” smile- without touching on “chemistry.” Chemistry is an ineffable thing that happens to some of us, that’s important to some of us, that’s vital to some of us, but it’s not critical to everyone. On the other thing, I think that being comfortable and contented in a partner’s presence is pretty universal in happy relationships. I also like that you talked about the physicality of comfort because you’re describing a moment that is quite possibly emotionally awkward and uncomfortable, and the physical signs might be easier to come by.

  8. I just want to add: my dad’s mom came from a big family, and not all her brothers married. They were Norwegian, so they were actually pretty cool about the guys staying single–apparently it isn’t a cultural requirement to get married. Some of her sisters didn’t, either. When I was young, I had a group of great-aunts and great-uncles I would visit occasionally, all siblings or (by blood or marriage) of my grandma. They lived happily together. Some were widows/widowers. But two had never married. They had lived full and happy lives, as only Norwegians can; there’s a cultural imperative to seek out contentment in their lives, and all succeeded.

    So, I have seen people be content without marrying. (I’m not implying anything else about life, even sex life. Do as you will, as long as all parties consent.)

    OTOH, if you’re interested in marriage, the Captain’s advice is very good.

    • Erin McJ said:

      I agree — I’ve got unmarried aunts and uncles too and their lives are full of joy.

    • I’m in that “you’re now middle-aged” range and never married. Have had beaus and lived with a partner for a while, but never seriously considered it. I’m not unhappy. I might (MIGHT!) be happier with a partner, but I might not. I do know that when I daydream about my Ideal House, it’s sometimes a duplex with a friend or partner living in the other half, which seems to me like my subconscious is trying to tell me something about what would make me happiest. Maybe living 24/7 with a spouse or partner isn’t for me? Maybe I haven’t met the person it would be comfortable to do that with? Don’t know! Not worried about it! Not dying of loneliness! It is a thing that is possible!

      (Maybe I need to move to Norway!)

      This isn’t to say that the LW’s ponderings about marriage (pro OR con) are wrong or right. Just saying that it is OK to not go with the flow (or societal or cultural conventions) about partnering up *IF* not going with the flow (or what your parents or grandparents or siblings did, or what people seem to expect you to also do) is what you decide is right for you.

      Only you can now what is right for you. That’s going to take some pondering and “what if?” thinking, I suspect.

    • Me three–one aunt has never married and she’s very happy, as far as I can tell.

  9. BasicMoh said:

    My sister-in-law met about 30 potential partners before finally meeting her now-husband (which is extreme! but she knew exactly what she was looking for in a partner). On the other hand, I’ve met people whose families chose partners for them based on astrology. So there’s a wide range of how much autonomy you could have in the process, and only you know where you’d fall on the spectrum. Whether you start the process will depend, I think, on how free you feel to say no. (You also don’t mention if you are the first son and are expected to have children, or if in your culture ‘desirable partners’ are expected to have a certain level of education, share your faith, not be divorced, etc., and whether you agree or disagree with that, or even feel trapped by it.) Before committing, would it be possible to research some professional matchmakers to find out how well they and their methods seem to meet your needs? (And P.S.: my sister-in-law’s husband is plump and bald and lives with his widowed mother; he also is fine with not having children, and encouraged her to get her professional degree. I don’t think you need to be insecure about your height, someone who loves and respects you will see beyond that.)

    • I think this is the big question. “How much autonomy do you have in the process?” If you work this out with your family first, you have a much better chance of contracting a happy marriage.

  10. Elektra said:

    Oh, Feeling Desperate, I hear this note of sadness in your letter that tells me that this isn’t the path you want to walk, at least not yet.

    I think you want to want to do what you feel is expected of you, but I don’t think that’s really what you want to do. I think you want to be ok with what you think is normal for your culture, but I don’t think you are ok with it.

    Who knows, maybe you will want it and be ok with it one day. But I’d counsel you not to pursue an arranged marriage unless it’s really what you want for your life. Because frankly, arranged or not, you won’t be able to make your marriage a happy one unless you want to be in it. And that’s just unfair, all-round: to you who deserves the life he wants, to the woman who marries you in good faith, to any children you may have together.

    A friend of mine entered into an arranged marriage after he too fell in love with someone he couldn’t be with. He now describes himself as ‘blissfully happy’, married to a clever and kind woman and the father of two adorable children. On the surface, the facts seem very similar to yours – he loved his first love hopelessly and it took him several years to get over her. When he was finally ready to move on, he was older than the usual age of marriage for his culture, and there weren’t many available women in the city where we live. So he contacted his parents back in India, who found a a suitable woman who was willing to move to our country and be with him. They didn’t meet until a few days before the marriage.

    But it feels like there’s a big difference between the two of you: the arranged marriage was what he wanted for his life at that point. He wanted to settle down, to have a wife to go through life with, to become a father. He was willing to do the work of getting to know a woman after he married her, he knew he’d have to give it time for attraction and love to grow, he knew he’d have to be open to a personality that wasn’t what he might have chosen for himself, that might be quite the opposite in many ways. And so was his bride. And that’s why they’ve been able to make it work.

    Look, I’m just some random stranger on the internet, I don’t know the truth of your heart from what you’ve written in your letter. You might be like ‘nope, I do want an arranged marriage, I just have jitters’ in which case more power to you and tell your parents asap (and follow all the sage advice in the Captain’s response, which is great). But if you don’t really want an arranged marriage, then please don’t enter into one, however much pressure you might feel from culture and family.

    And as for P… maybe I’m a hopeless romantic, but I think you should ask yourself: ‘would I always regret it if I didn’t contact her one last time?’ If the answer is ‘yes, I would always regret it’, then I think you should contact her in the most respectful and non-creepy way you can… the Captain’s scripts are perfect for this. Be honest about what you want, but don’t tip your feelings all over her head, take no for an answer and silence as no and therefore your answer. But I think it’s ok to ask the question.

    Best of luck to you in your journey 🙂

  11. Regarding P – you can try your luck if you like, but I’d brace yourself for the probability that she’ll turn you down. The thing is, her relationship with A ended, and she evidently wanted to find someone else, but rather than getting back in touch with a guy she knew might be interested (you), it sounds like she decided to go the arranged route and meet new people. This doesn’t mean you’re universally undesirable, but it does mean that it’s likely that when this particular woman said she wasn’t into you that way, the message was, ‘Sorry, I don’t feel that way about you AND I love someone else’ rather than ‘Sorry, I don’t feel that way about you BECAUSE I love someone else.’ And given that she’s now married and presumably trying to make it work, she may not be keen on having you turn up and ask her again.

    Now, this isn’t proof that nobody would want you. No doubt there are plenty of delightful women out there who’d be happy with you. But if you do go the arranged route, it needs to be because you want to, not because you’re caving in to family pressure or because you think it’s a second-best that a second-rate person like you will have to settle for. Otherwise – well, among other things, P turning you down gave your confidence a knock, and being turned down by a run of potential arrangees could worsen that, especially if you’re thinking of it as a last resort … but women looking for a husband probably will turn down a guy who seems unenthusiastic about the idea and/or regards them as a second-best option, even if they might have been into you if you seemed more up for it.

    So yeah, if you think you’d like to be married and are happy to use the auntie network, go for it! But go for it because you want to, not because you’re trying to get over P or because you’re scared to ask women out. Those aren’t reasons you can build a good marriage on, because they’re about trying to avoid painful feelings that have nothing to do with your potential wife. They’re negative reasons when you should be doing it for positive reasons, and ‘me’ reasons when a marriage is going to need at least an interest in finding ‘us’ reasons.

    Think about what you really want in the long term, and take the direct route to that. If it’s settling down and getting married, then yes, why not take advantage of the arranging network and treat it like any other dating service? You could meet someone lovely! But if what you want is to get over P or fix your insecurities, a therapist or some self-help is the more direct route to that. And you could always try arranging a marriage after you’re feeling better.

    Best of luck either way. 🙂

    • I think it is A, P’s ex, who is now in an arranged marriage, rather than P herself.

      • Oops. Consider advice accordingly withdrawn!

        • No, the advice is still good. P didn’t want LW in the past. She probably still doesn’t. She hasn’t contacted LW asking for a date.

          I know that if I were P, my response to someone I’d already refused popping back into my life to ask me out would not be “Yes!”

  12. L. said:

    I have very strong feelings about arranged marriages – if my post is inappropriate, since LW specifically said that not getting married is not an option, I’m terribly sorry and please delete it.

    In my culture, women had very poor education and rights two generations ago. Marriages were not arranged by the parents, but women basically had a very limited pool of options and were expected to accept one of the offers made to them after reaching an appropriate age. Divorce was inacceptable.

    My grandparents always seemed like very harmonic couples to me (let’s call them couples A and B). In a sad, quiet moment many decades ago, my grandma A once told my mom that “[their marriage] got better with time”, in a voice that to my mother implied that it had been hell on earth at first. And grandma B spent the last halfway lucid years of her life complaining about how horrible her marriage had always been and what a horrible husband grandpa B had been, and how she just wasn’t able/allowed to get away – uneducated and without some basic human rights, society would have made it nearly impossible.

    What I want to say is that it doesn’t take much for a marriage to appear great from the outside, even to close relatives, but that’s often not the reality, and those arrangements are more often full of bees as we think they might. Divorce rates didn’t go up the last decades because people as a whole suddenly became unbearable or picky, but because they finally had options. I know things are different for you and that y’all can make educated choices, which beats the scenario I described by miles, but think about the possibility that it doesn’t work out and you might need a divorce – could you do this? How would your family and your social circle react? Or would you just ignore the problems and carry on with an unhappy marriage?

    As a side note, after I turned 18, my grandmother B would regularly tell me how awful it was that I wasn’t married yet, and how she had already born her first child at age 20. And I always had to bite back a remark about how unhappy it apparently had made her, according to her own complaints. Luckily, my parents, who got married at age 40, often intercepted this and reassured me that it’s completely fine to take my time to find and go my own way, to marry very late or not at all and to do what brings me joy and not what my grandparents and the very religious village society I grew up in think I should do. So there was definitely cultural pressure, but luckily, my parents supported my decisions.

    • onyx said:

      There is social pressure to insist you have a happy, successful relationship and that’s what you project to people around you. And it amplifies one marriage is in play. It doesn’t matter what culture you’re from. For many people, especially older people who hold marriage as an important institution (regrardless of their culture–westerners do it too!), admitting your are in an unhappy marriage is the same as proclaiming your failure at one of the most “important” adult stepping-stones. Because you’ve made a mistake, you weren’t good enough, you had bad judgement, your life is a sham, etc. — we’re trained to victim-blame ourselves for our unhappiness. It’s BS, but so much of the world still functions on these societal implications. Add in a culture where marriages are arranged, and that’s just more incentive for people to insist they are happy, that the institution works, that it’s the right and only thing to do to have a good life.

      I’m not saying all marriages are doomed, or arranged marriages are bad. Just… don’t take people’s reports of their wonderful relationships at face value, LW. Relationships and marriages are like social media presence: curated for the public. I mention this only to lessen the weight/importance of your friends and family insisting how wonderful and necessary marriage (or even a relationship!) is to have a “full life”. It’s just not true. You do what feels right in your gut, LW. Don’t settle, and don’t rush. Because that’s how you DO end up in an unfulfilling relationship.

      Best of luck.

  13. Sarah said:

    I want to add a +1 to the discussion about happy couples who didn’t have arranged marriages. When my partner and I tell stories about how we met–how lucky we were, how we clicked right away, how we feel really lucky because we both have some quirks we thought no one else would be able to deal with–we edit. I don’t tend to tell people who don’t know me so well about that other man I was in love with, the one who broke my heart and I thought I’d never recover, about whom I still have “what if” thoughts on occasion. I don’t tend to tell people other than closest friends about our arguments, about things I’m not so sure about, about how I almost broke things off once after weeks of frustration. And I’m sure my partner edits similarly. It’s not to be disingenuous, just that *on the whole* we feel really lucky. The Captain is right–a LOT gets left out from stories of happy, blissful unions–mostly because in the long run, the bad parts start to seem like blips. But you don’t know this until you’re in something for a while.

    • Elektra said:

      Totally. I also see this as a side-product of people being sensitive to the emotional boundaries of others. Unless you’re very close to me, you don’t hear about my relationship issues, because I don’t go around venting about intimate issues to people I think would be uncomfortable by it (i.e. everyone who isn’t an emotionally close friend or family member).

      So if you didn’t know us all that well, you’d just see us smiling and laughing together – because we do love each other and make each other happy, even if our relationship isn’t always smooth sailing – and maybe assume our issues were non-existent.

    • Tyche said:

      Yes! My father recently died, and my mother and I talk very often about him and his life and their marriage (about good old times too…) It was a good marriage, my parents loved each other a lot and they completed each other well in terms of personality, interests and other things.
      However, it was not an uninterrupted honeymoon. I think that certain expectation of unending bliss are a by-product of romantic movies and “happily ever after” fairy tales.
      By the way my, now my mother is “happy” that cooking is less of a hurdle, because my father was a finicky eater and she was going crazy every time she had to cook a meal to appease his hang-ups.

    • Vicki said:

      Another aspect of this is that people who are mostly happy with a situation (not just a marriage—this also applies to things like jobs, where you live, anything long-term) and want to stay satisfied with the situation are likely to tell themselves, and therefore other people, the stories that are mostly about the good parts, rather than thinking a lot about “the one who got away” or their missed chance to be a rock star, or cancer researcher, or to move to Paris.

      That doesn’t mean the positive stories aren’t true: it means that, for example, I tend to emphasize “and now I live here, and get to see you a lot more often” rather than “I’m glad to be near you, but Boston winters are a pain.” Those are both true, but “fortunately, modern materials science is a wonderful thing, and I have plenty of clothing suited to the conditions” is more useful for keeping me contented (mostly) than grumbling about needing to wear all those layers would be.

      Once you’re telling yourselves the good parts of the story, that’s also what you mostly tell other people: that someone was worth moving to another city for, and the things you like about the new place, rather than the upheaval of the move. The people you met and things you learned because you went to Miskatonic University, rather than that it was your second choice, and you still sometimes regret that you didn’t go to Whatsamatta U. and studying theoretical and applied moose-wrangling.

  14. techiebabe said:

    This is all fantastic advice.

    One thing I’d change – when contacting P I wouldn’t do the whole “I still feel for you” thing, I’d merely say “it’s been ages and I was wondering how you are doing nowadays”. Facebook has an uncanny knack for recommending people i knew years ago, through very tangiential connections, for better or worse. If p is on Facebook it wouldn’t be odd to have noticed her on there and wondered how her life was going (but don’t Internet stalk until you know her mundane daily details, that’s not cool at all. Besides then you won’t get to enjoy any stories she tells, if youve already read them.)

    Give p a chance to tell you how she is married with kids, or how she is single and never forgot you, etc. If her reply sounds genuinely pleased to hear from her, invite her for a coffee or lunch *without expecting anything *. You might find the spark is dead when you meet – this is why I wouldn’t do the captain’s “I never forgot you, might your feelings change?” when you need to meet each other as you are now, not as you were then.

    I speak from experience ; my first love went off to uni when I was 14 *ahem* and I was with another guy for 4 years. When that ended and I myself went to uni, I caught up with First Love. We connected again and had the odd date and kiss ;it was fun. But I happened to run into another Past Love via my work and it was a case of “ugh, what did I see in them, was I mad?” OP, you’re connecting to the P you remember ; if they’re amenable then meet and see how they are now, before enquiring about Feelings.

    And I will say that you tend not to find love when you are looking for it, it can sneak up on you, but I like Captain’s suggestion to meet women via your parents, with the provisos she gave about it being just to explore possibilities rather than committing to someone youve never met.

    Good luck! Have fun!

    • Elenna said:

      I see your point about how his feeling might have changed – that’s definitely true. However, IMO there’s a certain creepy vibe to a man inviting a woman out with the implication that it’s as friends while trying to get into a relationship with her.

      I like the captain’s wording – “I still miss you and think about you” is a true statement of his current feelings, it’s not the same as “I promise I will still be in love with you when we meet”.

      • Daffodil said:

        Agreed – if you’re getting in touch with someone because you’re hoping to rekindle a romance, please do them the favor of being open about that up front. That doesn’t mean you have to immediately rush into “do you want to date me again y/n”, it just gives them the option to save time (and your feelings) if they know they’re not interested in dating you.

      • Elektra said:

        Thirded. And, as someone who’s been there, it’s really unpleasant when you think you’re just going out for a friendly catch up with someone… and then it escalates. I don’t think telling someone you’d like to go on a date with them is a representation you’ll 100% still be interested after the date occurs.

        • JenniferP said:

          Yes, this is why I encouraged the LW to be specific in his communication with P. If you’re going to contact her, cut to the heart of it and see what she says. Don’t prolong it by pretending it’s casual interest and that you’d be ok with being friends. That’s signing up for, like, another year or 2 of pining for P.

        • whingedrinking said:

          Yeah. “Let’s catch up as friends” might be okay if you weren’t sure how you felt about the person, but the LW knows how he feels about her and what he’d get in an ideal world. Let it be done and clear rather than a murky teasing possibility.

  15. land_planarian said:

    LW, it sounds as though you’ve had conversations with married friends where they try to encourage you by telling you how things have worked out just great for them in their marriages, but that’s not the kind of reassurance you need. Do you have any friends or family members who would tell you about the hard parts if you asked? ‘Did you meet anyone who sounded great on paper, but was just a terrible bore to be around?’ ‘Was there ever anyone else you thought you’d marry, before you met your partner? How did you move on from that?’ ‘How did you turn down that person who liked you but you didn’t feel a connection? How did you *know* you didn’t feel a connection?’

    It sounds like your friends are trying to reassure you by telling you not to worry, when what you need to hear is of *course* you’re going to worry, but here’s some ways to examine and process that worry into a good decision. It sounds in your letter like these conversations with your friends have been more casual and in-passing; I wonder if you were to pick someone(s) you’re close to and say ‘I’m trying to decide if and how I want to get married, can we talk seriously?’, maybe you could get past their instinct to say ‘Oh you’ll be fine! It’ll work out in the end!’ and give you the perspective you’re looking for?

  16. Expat Egg said:

    Possibly irrelevant side note:
    Please don’t assume this is a letter about India.
    For the last two decades, I have only taught teens from the Middle East and in schools in China, but I have seen strong cultures of arranged marriages.
    Many girls walked from their HS graduation right into wedding prep. Some left high school– yes, in America– once their betrothed finished college/ grad/ or med school.

    It’s a big world out there. Much of it still operates successfully like it did for Isaac and Rebekah.

    • Parenthetically said:

      This is good feedback. I went to the wedding of a 17-year-old girl whose parents had arranged a marriage for her to a boy from their village in Mexico. It happens among white fundamentalist christians here too.

      • Bettina said:

        Yes! “Seeing and seeing again” (families meeting towards an arranged marriage) is a big part of Iranian courtship culture, and my Armenian friend’s mother was getting requests from parents of daughters to come meet with them.

    • Furbaby's Mama said:

      My great grandmother was 25 and white and American and pushed into an arranged marriage.

  17. Rhoda said:

    “At my age this is already considered very late in my culture and my parents tell me my prospects are thin and I should quickly settle for someone.”
    No! You have an advanced degree and what sounds like a good job! You’re a catch! Don’t settle in a hurry for just anyone.

    • Anonyish said:

      Definitely!

    • goddessoftransitory said:

      And not only is this advice unfair/unkind to you, it’s unfair to the partner you’d be “settling” for. Arranged or no, most good relationships don’t start out on a bedrock of “I was panicky and at loose ends and you happened to be there–what was your name, again?” Nobody wants to feel like they’re the last pie on the shelf.

  18. Tip: If you do meet someone nice and you aren’t sure if you feel a spark with them, there is a useful trick you can use to try to fan the flames. It’s called the ‘misattribution of arousal’.

    Basically, the physical sensations we feel when we’re scared and the physical sensations we feel when we’re excited are pretty similar. Because of this, our emotions are partly a question of how we interpret our body’s responses: ‘There’s an exam coming up, these butterflies in my stomach mean I’m nervous’ versus ‘There’s a pretty woman, these butterflies in my stomach mean I have a crush on her.’ And you can manipulate those. There have been various studies that found that if you put a heterosexual man in a situation where he feels scared, such as having to cross a shaky bridge with a young woman assistant on the other side, then odds are he’ll consider that woman more attractive than the control group did, and be more likely to call her later.

    There’s a reason why horror movies are a traditional staple of dates: when you’re scared, you’re likely to find your partner sexier. The same is likely to be true if you go on an extreme rollercoaster, go abseiling, bungee jump, or do anything else that’ll get your system firing off. Doing something a bit scary together does, empirically, seem to boost people’s attraction to each other.

    Obviously this doesn’t mean you should marry someone when you don’t want to and try to force yourself to feel the right things. But if you do find yourself considering being with someone whose company you enjoy and want to boost your attraction to them, it’s something you can try, anyway. (And if you still don’t fancy them after a big adrenaline rush together, then that’s pretty much a sign that that particular fire is never going to light.)

    • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

      Your theory about horror movies explains the date on which we saw Seven; only I was completely disgusted by the film and found my date far less attractive than when he had asked me out in the first place.

  19. “+ some personal issues about being a short guy (I was never bothered too much about my height before, but having been heart-broken seemed to have brought out my insecurities)”

    I read this with some sadness, because I see an unnecessary lack of confidence here – short guys go on dates, get laid, and get married all the time. Unless you’re ridiculously outside the normal range, your size doesn’t matter. In the very, very worst case scenario as long as you’re taller than her it should be a complete non-issue. Height. Doesn’t. Matter. If you are confident in yourself it will show and make you attractive. Assuming that your career and other aspects of your life are going well and you’re having a good time with life (outside of your concerns about marriage) you should be attractive to multiple people, and your lack of confidence is probably causing you to not notice people who are attracted to you, so get out and socialize and everything after that should fall into place.

    As to getting married… A family is for three things: loving each other, training kids to be decent human beings, and getting ahead (whatever that means to you.) So when you look for a bride, think in terms of three important things, applying equally to you and her.

    First: Do you find each other hot, and do you/her have some general personal warmth to give each other and the kids? (This is the loving each other part.)

    Second: Can she and you deal with kids successfully without either abusing or spoiling them? Do you both transmit a strong ethical ideal by your words and actions? (This is the part where a family trains kids to be decent human beings.)

    Third: Could you two run a small business together? (Families are small businesses. They have debits and credits, expenses and income just like any other business, and suffer if there isn’t long-term planning. Even if your ambitions are non-standard, like you want to be a musician or live off-grid, things will work better if someone is paying attention to the financial details. Mind this, she/you don’t need to be brilliant business-people, just folks who are able to budget and plan and live within your family’s means.)

    Lastly, it sounds like you come from a fairly patriarchal culture, and many women from those cultures want to marry into something better than patriarchy, so don’t go there!

    • Allya said:

      It sounds like you are trying to be kind but you may want to rethink some of your assumptions regarding men’s (and women’s) heights. I’d posit that height doesn’t matter, full stop. Not “Unless you’re ridiculously outside the normal range”, as though there is a “normal” that’s worth worrying about. Not “as long as you’re taller than her” which is kinda silly and so very hetero- and gender-normative. There’s no need to think in terms of “worst case scenarios” because height is value neutral.

      Perhaps you’re speaking from a potential partner’s perspective (as in, even the most judgemental lady won’t worry about your height if you’re taller than her) and this may be a fair assessment. For the LW, it’s worth keeping in mind that while I can’t promise height will be a non-issue to every lady you’re interested in, I can promise that there will be at least some cool ladies out there who see it that way. Some ladies will likely even find your height pretty attractive, either because they like short guys or because it’s part of the wonderful package that makes up you (or both!).

      I wanted to say this, Troutwaxer, because it felt like maybe you were assuming the LW will inevitably be taller than any woman he’s interested in and/or dates, but this might not necessarily be true. That shouldn’t matter either. I’ve heard some women say they’d never date a guy who was shorter than them, but if someone’s dismissing you on such a superficial basis, you can probably safely dismiss them right back.

      I like your thoughts on what to think about when getting married, though. I think family is probably for whatever you (and your family) want it to be for, but these are some solid considerations to think about when choosing a partner. I especially like the idea of families as a small business, I think that is very true and often overlooked.

      • MuddieMae said:

        Many Little People (very much outside the normative height range) marry people within the normative range. Peter Dinklage being one example, and it was before he was rich (I assume he is currently rich from GOT) and well known.

      • ashbet said:

        Agreed — I’m 5’8″, and I’ve dated men (and women) across a wide range of heights, including men who were my height or shorter.

        The things I find attractive in a partner are unrelated to height, and I’m not alone in feeling that way. It’s important not to set limits on your own aspirations, especially about something as irrelevant as whether a partner is taller than you.

        Do some people care about height? Sure — but it’s one small thing in a whole list of features that can be found attractive. Don’t let it affect your confidence, LW!

      • Ginger said:

        +1 to “finding someone who wants to marry you regardless of your height is totally possible”. Sure, there are plenty of women who are very into Men Being Taller, but there are also plenty who don’t care. My mom adored my dad, he wasn’t SuperHot and definitely not wealthy, and she was taller by 2-3 inches. Their marriage btw, while not an arranged marriage, was also a very fast courtship – they married three months after meeting – but they both knew what they wanted in a marriage and had a marriage that worked quite well. LW, [if you go for the marriage route], I trust the auntie network will find you someone who wants all the things you have to offer – an advanced degree is nothing to scoff at, and I *may* be biased 😉 but I’d put any Captain Awkward reader at the top of my list of Probably Amazing People :p – and doesn’t care about your height.

      • Jane said:

        +1 for this comment.

        This is going to sound like I’m disagreeing, but I’m not disagreeing. Height *matters,* but only in the sense that it can change the physicality of how you interact with another person. The construct “taller = better” is boring and false. “Taller = different” is less informative but more true. I OFTEN tie myself into knots about not embodying an abstract ideal of attractiveness (oh god do I ever), but the truth of how I actually interact with people in the world is way more complicated and interesting than any off/on litmus test of attractiveness can tell you. I suspect this to be true for other people too, who torture themselves with different litmus tests, and I suspect it is more useful (and easy on your heart) to go out into the world recognizing this about yourself.

        I can totally empathize with not being able to step away from the thing you are convinced makes you unattractive to the world at large. I am pretty much emotionally stuck on [xyz] factors about myself that I feel are gross. But even so, sometimes I am able to say to myself: heeeey, actually, the things that have made people personally attractive to me are many and varied and quite often hard to photograph for an ad to sell jeans or fizzy lifting drinks, so they are not necessarily represented in the standard social picture of what makes someone super great. But that doesn’t mean those things aren’t real and powerful.

        I have crushed on human male beans of many heights, and I typically have a mixture of Allya’s noted responses — both that I find that I like their height because I like THEM, and also that I have discovered aspects of various heights that I like independent of people I like (e.g. As a short woman-ish person, I am usually physically more comfortable around shorter men.) I don’t feel like I quite have the words to convey this eloquently, but: it’s possible to enjoy a whole variety of human possibilities.

        (An aside: To be clear, I’m coming at this from a demisexual-type perspective, which means I probably prioritize appearances/height/whatever different than some folks. But. You know. It’s a perspective.

        Quite often, though, the ways that the person is NOT my imagined ideal are kind of wonderful? Because those are reminders that this person is a REAL PERSON WHO IS SEPARATE FROM ME AND I TOTALLY DIDN’T MAKE HIM UP — particularly in the context of that person wanting to spend time with me. 🙂 I think there’s a bit of a social narrative that if someone gets into a relationship with another peson who isn’t their physical ideal, they’ll always resent all the ways that person isn’t perfect. But I see a lot of relationshis where that is . . . not even close to what is happening. And it’s not even “oh I forgive you your imperfect body because I like your personality so much” — it’s more like “in my real life, removed from abstractions and ideals, I delight in the real body of this real person who really exists.”)

    • Seconded. Leave the height out of this, please. After all, Tom Cruise isn’t that tall, and he’s never had problems finding women. His first wife, Nicole Kidman, was noticeably taller than him.

      • goddessoftransitory said:

        Nichole was actually his second wife–but his first wife, Mimi Rogers, was taller than him as well!

        • Oops! Thanks for the correction.

      • Elektra said:

        Yeech. The fact that Tom Cruise, a successful movie star widely who is (or was) considered a heart-throb, has had no problems dating is completely irrelevant to ordinary, non-famous dudes who are trying to date while short.

        I’m uncomfortable with the original post, as well as the tenor of some of the other comments posted in this thread. Yeah, there are many shorter guys with happening love lives. But still, shortness in men isn’t a quality generally regarded as conventionally attractive or masculine. It’s ok, and I think normal, for people to have some insecurity about ways their appearance differs from the norm.

        My partner, who is a short guy, definitely had some bad experiences being rejected by women because he wasn’t tall enough. Sure, he went on to find me, but those experiences were real and shitty for him. We can say height doesn’t matter, but the sad truth is that to a lot of people it does, and some women might reject men not because of a ‘lack of confidence’ but because they don’t want to date a short guy.

        What I would say to LW: I’m sorry you’re feeling vulnerable about your height. I’m sorry that you’ve encountered social norms that tell you that you’re less attractive because you’re short. You are attractive, even if it’s not always easy for you to feel it. Keep going. Eventually the universe will bring you into the orbit of a woman who sees you for who you are, and likes what you see.

        • JenniferP said:

          Thank you. I don’t appreciate it when women talk about having body discomfort and men chime in to say “But some people are turned on by that!” and I don’t appreciate the reverse. Cultural standards and internalized shame are not magically dispersed by the fact that someone somewhere once got turned on by someone like you! For someone who is uncomfortable with their own body shape, I do think there is value in retraining your eye about what is beautiful by looking at images of people who share the same body type as you and sort of normalizing yourself, but chiming in to remind people that it’s not really a problem because “celebrity!!!” isn’t helpful at all.

          • I apologize for being offensive.

          • JenniferP said:

            Thanks Jenny. It’s not just you and it happened in the baldness thread, too, so, the reminder is for everyone. It’s possible to have a great life when your body falls outside the cultural norms, but that doesn’t mean the norms don’t affect your confidence and we shouldn’t erase the work people have to do to become ok with themselves.

          • Jane said:

            I think it can sometimes be tricky to navigate the line between affirming the preferences of some, and affirming that undermining social messages are not built on a bedrock of truth (and occasionally, trying to avoid straying into “standard social narratives are DESTINY” can backfire. I certainly internalized a lot of writing on fat discrimination as, “Welp, other people *really do* think all of the horrible things I’ve always believed about myself because of my fat body, TIME TO GIVE UP FOREVER.”)

            I have struggled with body image problems so bad that they have made me almost delusional; I am sometimes surprised when I look in the mirror and see a recognizably human being. “I’d fuck you” (told to me by a classmate freshman year of college) was not terribly helpful, but words to the effect of, “Do you realize that your violently negative value judgments about your body are not necessarily based in an objective reality?” *has* helped (sometimes.) I think it can be tempting to try to offer sort of a reality check on social messaging, to say, hey, people actually live all kinds of lives with all kinds of other people, even if there isn’t good representation of that.

        • You said it better than I ever could. Thank you. The right woman will not dismiss the LW for being short.

    • TootsNYC said:

      “A family is for three things: loving each other, training kids to be decent human beings, and getting ahead (whatever that means to you.) ”

      I woud add to this that a family is for TAKING CARE OF one another. Being emotional support, logistical support, health support, etc.

      Can you put aside your own concerns to learn about someone and what she needs in terms of emotional support? health, etc.,?

  20. hhhhhh said:

    I don’t know how applicable this is to your situation but sometimes the nice thing about being an adult is people can be disappointed in you, make things difficult and generally act like a pain but ultimately can’t force you to do what they want. I hope strong-arming force in response to a no isn’t a possibility in your circumstance, the unrelenting pressure and “you should do this” is awful enough but if you said no, if you didn’t do along with what they wanted would it be ultimately survivable even if unpleasant? The entire letter reads to me like if you weren’t being pressured to ‘hurry up’ you could just take things at your own pace like you wanted. There is absolutely nothing wrong about taking something like marriage or relationships at your own pace. You’re not ‘too slow’, you’re just you.

  21. Buni said:

    LW, meetings – arranged or otherwise – are just meetings. Like the good captain said, “Thanks but no thanks.” is a perfectly acceptable response and you can say it as often as you like.

    On a side note, up until she recently retired my mother worked in a business where she was constantly meeting new, well-educated personable young men. I in contrast worked in a very female-stacked industry and worked erratic hours so I rarely had time to go out in the evenings. Despite it being not remotely A Thing in our culture I used to half-seriously BEG her to arrange a few meetings for me. I could say no to 999 of them, but you never knew about no. 1000….

  22. LaciePound said:

    So! I’m a 21 year old Indian lady who feels the same way about arranged marriage. I’m apprehensive about the whole thing, and watching the process for my elder cousin is terrifying and awesome in equal measure. All I can say is that it’s awkward for all parties involved except the aunties who really really reaaaaaaaaaally want it to work out! I think you’ll be fine no matter what you do. 🙂

  23. alisonjwhiting said:

    Oh honey. 😦 Love and marriage are not (whatever our families might tell us) a game of Musical Chairs, and the ‘thin prospects’ description is misleading. You don’t have to grab someone vaguely suitable in case there is no-one else out there. There’s always someone else out there, and I’m sure the International Guild of Aunties will be happy to help if you are looking, but in the end, it’s your choice. And as a Jamaican friend of mine say, re: love and romance ‘If it yours, it wait’. Good luck. xx

  24. Dear LW,

    I disagree with the Captain about contacting P.

    If you and she are still in contact, and she is interested in you, she’d have told you. If you’re not – well most women I know aren’t flattered to be approached by men they didn’t want to date in the past.

    The only reason to approach P, in my opinion, is to get rid of the (false) idea that she was your true love and to stop pining. That’s only because if you’re still pining for your lost love (who didn’t love you) you won’t treat a new woman with the love and kindness she deserves.

    The rest of the Captain’s advice is golden.

    You sound like a lovely person, and I believe you will find someone to love who loves you.

    • Amy said:

      I agree with this. P already told you how she felt, and you’ve got no reason to think she’s changed her kind. On top of that, it sounds like you’re not even in touch with her anymore–which means you don’t know how she might have grown and changed recently. You’re pining after the idea of her as your One True Love, not the current reality.

      It’s time to move on from that idea. You can get in touch with her if you want to become better friends again, but I wouldn’t recommend that unless you can sincerely say that you’re doing it for friendship, not the chance to get romantically involved. And definitely don’t get in touch to be all “Hey, I heard you broke up with X! You already told me you aren’t interested, but I was thinking maybe now that you’re single again you might have changed your mind?” That’s really never going to go well.

    • Parenthetically said:

      I broadly agree with this except to say that I think it’s worth dismantling the idea of P. as the One True Lost Love even if LW never marries or finds a long-term romantic partner. I think it’s easy to get stuck in pining after the one who got away when we’re dissatisfied with ourselves or our lives — but the solution to that satisfaction is, I’ve found, almost never in another person, but in ourselves. It’s been hard work learning to be content and at peace with myself, but I think it was a far better way to come into meeting my now-husband than from a place of agitation and discontentment.

      • Oh golly yes! P is not LW’s One True Love. She refused the position.

        And working on his own dissatisfaction and unhappiness requires that LW accept this.

    • Tea Rocket said:

      Chiming in to agree with this as well. If P. wanted to get in touch after her break up with A, she could have. Instead, she has maintained radio silence and the LW found out about the break up (and A’s subsequent marriage) through other means. P has already hurt the LW once*; I don’t think it’s a good idea to give her the opportunity to do it again and risk undoing the gains the LW has made since her last rejection of him. The ball has been in her court ever since the LW told her how he felt. If she’s changed her mind about being with him, she can be the one to make herself vulnerable and risk rejection by putting her feelings out there.

      I do agree with Parenthetically that dismantling the image of her that the LW has built up in his mind is worth doing, but it’s not necessary to see P for that process to begin.

      *I don’t say this to demonize P, who is entitled to say no to romantic relationships with whomever she wants for any reason she wants.

  25. ShouldBeStudying said:

    What’s up with all the references to matchmaking aunts, as opposed to uncles or other siblings of parents? Am I missing something?

    • JenniferP said:

      Uncles do play a role in matchmaking, surely, but from what I know it’s the moms & aunts who really dig into it and take it on as their mission.

    • General Ginger said:

      I don’t know what it’s like in OP’s culture/background, but historically, Matchmaking Aunts have always been a thing in my family’s cultural background. Professional Aunties, and the actual Aunts and Godmothers of the prospective bride and groom would meet, hash out the details, and then potentially decide to introduce them.

  26. Looc64 said:

    “No one else is P.”

    P might not even be P. People change over time. It’s entirely possible that the P you fell in love with no longer exists. Don’t let your memories of who she was overshadow who she is now (if you do end up meeting her.) She could still be awesome, but there will definitely be changes.

    • MrsLokiofAsgard said:

      Or…you could meet up with P and realize that you’ve changed so much that she no longer fits in to your life the way she may have back when you first knew her. I had a long held crush that went on for years after he and I drifted apart. I’d hold up every man I was dating to this yardstick that was set by my crush and each of them never measured up. Just before my husband and I met I ran into the crush and realized that I’d grown so much in the years that I’d been away from him: hobbies, interests, career, where I lived, etc – they all had grown and flourished. He was still the same guy, with the same job, the same interests, the same home, etc that I knew 10 years earlier. He didn’t know how to interact with me aside from saying things like “You used to like this…” or “Wow, you’re so different now” and I couldn’t go back to being who I was all those years ago for him. The yardstick broke that day and soon after I met my husband. Lucky me and lucky him! We were able to move forward without the specter of this past crush lingering there.

      • Bettina said:

        I could have written this! I re-met my youthful crush, only to find he’d never lived up to his potential. He was a brilliant artist and never pursued it.

        His stories about his ex-wife and marriage blamed her for everything, and he acted like his children were a rash he couldn’t get rid of. Then I found he’d been involved in unlawful behavior in those years, a detail he hadn’t mentioned but arrest records in two states did. What a letdown. He absolutely repulsed me now. But so glad he wasn’t my problem, or my children’s father.

      • Yeah, I learned in high school that the boy I had a crush on in elementary/middle school was not who I’d hoped. We hooked up very briefly in college, but by then I was able to realize with sufficient detachment that while he was still somewhat attractive and engaging, he had dealbreakers that I wasn’t willing to negotiate. We’re kind of friendly acquaintances now (something 7-year-old me would be unable to comprehend, since I thought he was the BEST), but aside from conversations about AsAm issues or writing, I have no romantic interest.

        Same with the guy I had a crush on in college, to a *really* unhealthy degree. After I’d put years between him and my emotionally manipulative behavior, I realized that he still had the original qualities I admired him for. However, by my late twenties, I also realized that he’d been pretty infantilized and also had very antiquated, patriarchal views for an ideal girlfriend, and wow was I glad he rejected me then. Would I love to put our heads together and brainstorm a story? Sure, although we’d clash when it came to feminism. As a couple, things would have imploded.

    • Parenthetically said:

      This… this is important. Based on my experience with unrequited love, P. might never have been P.

      • Bettina said:

    • MoxieSF said:

      “P might not even be P.” This so much! I have an ex from 10 years ago who periodically gets in touch with me to try to be friends and he is always coming at me declarations about how I am kind, or interesting, or “the only person who understood him”, or other qualities he attributes to me and I just want to yell “how do you know? You don’t know me just because we spent a year together when I was 19!” (I don’t yell this at him because after trying a few times and it changing nothing I refuse to respond to anything.)

      LW, it sounds like you have had way better boundaries than my ex, but I can say that if you contact her once and she doesn’t reciprocate it feels really crummy and scary to have someone continue to contact you when you told them you aren’t interested. By all means, get in touch that one time, but please only do so if you are ready to accept her wishes 100%.

    • ReginaG said:

      Am I the only one thinking of the “P vs. NP” problem?

      • snocks said:

        Well I am NOW.

  27. apricity said:

    My parents weren’t an arranged marriage, but my Mum still talks about marriage as something you commit to and decide to make it work. Love did not automatically make their marriage a success, you know? It was built on years of decisions and support and shared history, too. So I think that, in some ways, an arranged marriage and an “unarranged” marriage are quite similar in terms of building your future, if you follow my drift.

    • goddessoftransitory said:

      Yes! If the emotion of “love” was all it took to succeed at marriage I could have been wed to a baker’s dozen at least of actors, musicians, junior high crushes, and so on. Love is wonderful and scary and strange but it by itself, with no other context, doesn’t automatically make a couple compatible or a marriage a success.

    • Parenthetically said:

      Hell, I decided to fall in love with my husband. I know a few people in arranged marriages, but a lot more people whose attitude toward marriage is, “Love isn’t enough. Love plus work plus commitment plus realism is usually enough.”

    • MrsLokiofAsgard said:

      Yes. A good marriage takes a fair amount of work. My husband and I were talking about this just last night. I have a friend, heading into her 2nd marriage, who holds my marriage up as an example of a good marriage simply because we are happy. She doesn’t see all of the hard work that goes on in the background. She gets annoyed when I point that out, “but you love each other so much!!!” Um yeah…except there are days when love isn’t enough. Life is messy and there has to be something more than an emotion holding your marriage together. For us, it’s communication, kindness, forgiveness, humor, and resolve…with love interspersed. It’s not a love that has a lot of heat (not anymore!) but it’s more like a low simmering love that burns throughout our lives.

      • TootsNYC said:

        And some days it’s just commitment. “I’ll hold on until things come back around.”

        • Serin said:

          I like this. Sometimes people talk about the ‘work’ involved in keeping a good marriage going as if you were going to build a house! with your bare hands! But really it’s more like weathering occasional annoyances, putting some effort into feeling close when life is pulling you apart, making a point to spend time together NOT doing things that irritate you, adding positive interactions to your life on purpose, and holding on, as you say, trusting that these difficulties are temporary.

          The spouse and I have a commuter marriage at the moment and only see each other on weekends, and every time he sends me a text to tell me an amazing fact about the reptile kingdom, I know that he’s doing the ‘work’ of continuing to build our marriage.

  28. LW said:

    Hello Captain!

    LW here. First off, thank you so much for responding to my question! I can’t tell you how grateful I feel to you for taking the time to give me all that thoroughly awesome advice and kind words.

    – I have not watched Meet the Patels, I’ll definitely Netflix it!
    – You’re right that there’s some degree of choice in who we marry even if our parents set up someone for us to meet.

    About my friends’ experiences, I think you broke it down for me. After reading your response, their stories made more sense to me than my default of thinking everyone else was better or luckier or just different in some way than I was or could be in this regard.

    Thank you again Captain!

    Hi Awkward Army!

    Thank you all for the words of support and advice, I was travelling all weekend and did not get a chance to read through and respond to you all. I should be able to catch up more tomorrow.

  29. R B said:

    For what it’s worth, I’m from India and know several people in their 40s and older that aren’t married. It isn’t particularly novel or that unusual to be unmarried, at least in the metropolitan cities. Also, my parents were divorced and remarried around a decade ago, and for my stepmother this was her first marriage, when she was 50.

    I understand and accept that, for whatever reason, delaying or avoiding a marriage are not possible for you. However, if the arranged marriage thing doesn’t work out, remember and remind your parents that the world is very different now, and the alternatives (remaining single or marrying later) aren’t inferior to living in an unhappy marriage.

  30. zaracat said:

    If you ever want a lighthearted (but at the same time totally serious) perspective on whether or not there is ‘one true love’, listen to Tim Minchin’s song “If I didn’t have you” (or watch it on YouTube)

    • Not a romantic said:

      I wanted to have this song at our wedding. I was overruled…

      • Alice_Fraggle said:

        My husband & I would have played this at our wedding had we heard it before we got married. I doubt our families would have found it funny, but you can’t please everyone, right? 🙂

    • JenniferP said:

      Often linked here, as it is so useful and great.

  31. That Indian woman said:

    Dear OP,

    As an Indian woman who got married at 35 (and a love marriage to a non-indian, no less) I have some questions for you. There are no right answers here.

    Do you want to get married, or are you lonely or bored? If lonely or bored, can you join groups or activities where you meet new people/develop new skills, or travel?
    In an ideal world, how do you want your partner to be – someone who look upto you, someone you look up to, or a meeting of equals?Or the most beautiful woman you can find? – there are no wrong answers but it’s important to be honest with yourself here.
    If you go the arranged route, how much time/interaction would you need to get to know the other person? few weeks vs/ few months?
    What would you like to know from the other person before committing? What would you like to tell them?
    What will you bring into the marriage? What do you want the other person to bring in?

    For me, I decided that living alone was better than marrying someone I am not in love with. I traveled a lot, moved countries/cities, and ended up finding my husband when i crossed 30.

    • Another desi lady said:

      Interesting! It’s almost exactly my story, except I married my non-Indian dude in my forties.

  32. That Indian woman said:

    Aaargh – “no right or wrong answers” not “no right answers” !!!!

  33. Amy said:

    Assuming you do decide to go with an arranged marriage, it sounds like part of what you’re asking is basically “How do I build intimacy, trust, and love with a near-stranger?” That can be a hard thing to consider, but it’s absolutely doable. That’s what we all do every time we start a new relationship, after all (whether that’s a romantic relationship, a close friendship, whatever). It’s just that the impetus for ‘Why this person?’ is different–the reason is “Because my family arranged it,” rather than “Because I think they’re pretty” or “Because we both like Star Trek.”

    I think it makes the most sense to look for some common ground. This probably starts with things like hobbies, favorite books/movies, etc., since they’re an easy way to start getting to know someone, but hopefully you also find some common ground in your core values and visions for how you want your lives to go. The goal is to be able to envision yourself building life with this person over time. If you can see yourself living happily with this person, then I’m betting you’ll start feeling excited about that future. (To be clear, big events like a wedding or buying a house or going on vacation are nice to imagine, but I’m mostly the daily life things–eating meals with them, or walking the dog every evening, or watching movies together, raising your kids, chatting about what you did that day, whatever is important to you to have as part of your everyday life. Life is mostly made of the little moments, really.)

    I also don’t think physical attraction matters nearly as much as the US dating scene tries to make it out to. Even if you marry someone who you find super attractive right now, that’s not a great foundation for a decades-long relationship. People’s bodies change over time. People’s tastes change over time. Personally, I think you’ll be on a more solid foundation if you look for someone you think will be a good life partner for you (someone who values similar things to your values, and wants a similar path for their future to the one you want for yours) than to look for someone you think is really hot.

    • whingedrinking said:

      I’d say don’t marry someone *just because* you think they’re really hot. However, don’t downplay the importance of sexual chemistry either. If you’re planning to be monogamous, this is going to be the only person you have sex with for a long, long time. It’s easy to write it off as unimportant next to other things but you really shouldn’t.

      • For me, sexual and physical attraction are important factors, but not outright dealmakers, for the reasons you stated. While it’s not the deciding factor (the ability to connect is, along with shared values and character), if I’m not feeling it, I’m not feeling it, and that’s really not fair to the person in question.

        I’ve had people chastise me way too often about some men who asked me out, going “but he’s such a great guy!” and “but he’s really attracted to you!” and while I agree that they’re great dudes and that they’re a lot of fun, I can’t force that, you know?

        • Nina said:

          Exactly!

          https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/carolyn-hax-kids-who-push-buttons-accent-in-the-way-traveling-to-grandparents/2011/06/08/AGvvDhjH_comment.html?commentID=washingtonpost.com/ECHO/item/1309003287-702-464 said it better:

          “hbc1 wrote:
          You know what’s more annoying than all the letters asking “Is X too shallow a reason to break up?” (It’s annoying because the answer is always “if you can’t live with it, it doesn’t matter if it’s shallow.”) The responses that think it’s so insightful to point out that these things could change.

          Great! So, I’ll just go marry someone whose every physical feature repels me because every last one of them can change, whose voice is like nails on a chalkboard to me, whose personality bugs me because he could become depressed or otherwise have his mood affected, who doesn’t want the bio kids I want because one of us could be infertile or he could change his mind, and with whom sex is chore since we’ll probably not be doing it within a couple of decades anyway.

          Or…maybe you start out with someone who’s compatible in just about every way, deep and shallow, so when some of those things change, you maximize your chances that you still like the whole package. Give yourself time to see if you can get used to an accent or other quirk you hate, but then do both of you a favor by letting yourselves find relationships where one person isn’t cringing at every word, laugh, meal, or sex act.
          6/25/2011 8:01:27 AM GMT-0400 “

  34. LW, My now Fiance had an arranged marriage before he met me. It went horribly for lots of different reasons, part of which is that they weren’t a good match. If you decide that this is something you want, please be very careful and take your time. Take the Captain’s advice and really look at what you want your partnership to look like. My fiance had just gone through a terrible time in his life when his mom pushed the arranged marriage idea and he went into with the feeling of ‘why not? can’t be worse’. If that’s where you are, please don’t do this now. Even though they sat down and talked out what they wanted, the two of them had only known each other for three months, and pretty clearly didn’t have the same goals they just decided to have a go of it. I’m sure there are people who this works for, but don’t accept the not-quite-right fit because you think you should. Good luck, LW. 🙂

  35. jmm said:

    LW, here are some experiences your letter reminds me of:

    1. My high school boyfriend. We met at age 10 and started dating when we were 16. We thought we’d get married. (We’re white, in the US, so this was young by our culture’s standards.) Looking back, I see how many important things we disagreed on. But there were things I loved about him and I still treasure him to this day. After high school we broke up and I moved away. Our paths didn’t cross until years later. He had married at age 19 and had 3 children, but his marriage was starting to break up. I soon found out that during this breakup, he had daydreamed about me as “the one who got away.” His soulmate and one true love. I’d had lots of romances and never felt remorse after a breakup, so I hadn’t spent all those years daydreaming about him. But I enjoyed talking with him and part of me wondered if he were right. Maybe we were meant for each other? As we talked more and more, reality set in. Our political beliefs were astonishingly different, and even our sense of humors weren’t quite in sync. I vaguely remembered that this was part of why we’d broken up in the first place. During our renewed friendship, he divorced, fell in love with someone else, and remarried. A few years later he got in touch with me again, clearly unhappy in this new marriage and clearly falling back on his old fantasy about how I was his one true love, despite all the things he had to erase about me to believe in that fantasy. I felt so sorry for him. He didn’t love me. He just loved the idea of me. We broke off contact then but sometimes I still feel sad about how he’s undermined his own life with this daydream that no real woman could ever live up to.

    2. Me. I had never fallen into that trap before, but then I finally met a man much younger than me (and whom I felt uncomfortable dating for that reason) who seemed to be everything I wasn’t. He was an incredible achiever and I wanted that in my own life, too. I was intimidated by him, insecure around him, and eventually our relationship didn’t work out. After that, I did exactly what you did: threw myself into my studies and work. By doing that, though, I closed myself off from new romances. I ran into this guy a while back and we started working on a huge project together. Over time, I realized that he was a little spoiled. He made and broke promises to people; he couldn’t follow through on a decision to save his life, and he held petty grudges. It struck me that he had become my daydream during the time that I was lonely but too busy to meet new people. If I had let myself have romances after we broke up, I wouldn’t have been stuck with this idea of him as the unattainable dream. I would’ve remembered what I loved about him and sought out those qualities in someone else. I think closing yourself off from people can lead to unhealthy fixations like that. The more I opened myself up to the future, the happier and more excited I became about the possibilities.

    3. I’ve seen some arranged marriages that I truly believe to be some of the happiest on earth. I’ve also seen an arranged marriage that became a nightmare due to circumstances outside either partner’s control (details unnecessary here). Luck plays an important part in marriage. But so do the shared values of respect, kindness, honesty, humor, and commitment. I feel like growing up thinking you’ll be in an arranged marriage might have the advantage of preparing you for a good marriage, since it’s all about cultivating love instead of having love served up to you on a silver platter. Just know that you have that advantage so you already have a head start toward a happy relationship.

    4. I was married and we split up. Afterward, I read a book about dating. It said to make a list of things you want in a partner as well as a list of things you don’t want. I’d never done that before — never thought about what I was looking for. It clarified a lot for me and made me feel more sure of myself as I met people. I felt like I knew who I was and what I wanted the future to look like. Rather than thinking to yourself, “I want this one particular woman,” try thinking about the qualities you loved in this woman. You might find someone with those qualities as well as unexpected magical qualities you’ve never dreamed of.

    5. Being tall is not important. I’m short myself and I never really register how tall someone is since pretty much everyone over age 12 is taller than me. There are 7 billion people on the planet and I’m sure there at least a few million who feel the same as me. Do you remember when being bald was considered a turn off? Then suddenly men stopped doing comb overs and started owning their baldness and it became sexy as hell, partly because confidence is sexy? Then lots of women confessed that they’d found bald sexy all along? Same with being short. It’s sexy for a lot of reasons I won’t go into here. Suffice to say that you will be found attractive by lots of attractive women, both shorter and taller than you.

    6. Your parents kind of suck. Idk how old you are but it sounds like you have tons of time by any stretch of the imagination. Many people in the US who want to get married and have children get married for the first time in their 30s, some in their early 40s. In fact, there’s a cultural bias against getting married before your late 20s. You are someone who has lived internationally, has an advanced degree, works at a good job, and sounds sensitive and vulnerable and nice. You have far, far more prospects than you can ever take advantage of. Before my first job hunt, my sister told me not to be scared about finding work because “Remember, you only need one job.” The same is true for you. Even if you only had 50 prospects (when in fact you have millions) that’s 49 more women than you can possibly marry. Don’t even stress.

    7. A friend of mine who immigrated to the US from India as a child told her father, “I will try an arranged marriage. But if it doesn’t work out, I’ll get a divorce.” I found that incredibly bold. I mean, I’m from the US and I wouldn’t tell my parents that if my marriage didn’t work out I’d simply get a divorce. But she was true to herself and honest with her parents. Both are signs that she had the maturity that marriage requires. I married a man whose father was a minister. He lied to his parents a lot because he didn’t want their disapproval. And guess what? Naturally, when things got tough in our marriage, he lied to me. It takes a lot of courage to set boundaries and be yourself, but doing so will make everyone happier in the end.

    8. Last: I once went on a date with a guy who told me that he keeps blowing first dates by talking about how he’s not quite over his ex. And yes, he did talk about that a little. But the real reason I didn’t want to date him is that he had terrible breath and was super negative about a lot of stuff. On this date, I didn’t tell him I didn’t want to see him again. We just had our date and said goodnight. But when I said goodnight, he looked like a kid who dropped his ice cream cone. I could see he was telling himself, “Yet another one is ending our date because I talked about my ex.” He never called me for a second date, so he had no idea whether or not I would’ve said no. I got the feeling he just liked telling himself this story because it made him feel more romantic about his ex. Like he could go to her and say, “I tried to forget you. I tried dating other women. None of them would date me because all I talked about was you.” Don’t set yourself up for some sad self-fulfilling prophecy. Your life will be filled with love and abundance. Embrace it.

  36. Sunshine&IcedCoffee said:

    Hey LW! Coming out of lurk mode to offer some advice 🙂

    As someone currently going through the arranged marriage process, I thought I might offer some tips/lessons I’ve learned along the way:

    1. Make a list of 3-5 things you can’t live with and 3-5 things you can’t live without in a spouse. These are your deal breakers. Use this list as you talk to your parents and rishta aunties. Be explicit with folks because they will try to bulldoze you or get you to compromise when you don’t want to. Your list can evolve but having a list gives you a place to start the conversation.

    2. That being said, for things that aren’t deal breakers, give the person a chance. You never really know where life might take you 🙂 I’m still single but I’ve met some great people along the way.

    3. Prepare yourself mentally for the rejections. Families will reject you for the dumbest shit imaginable and it’s incredibly important not to take it personally. Sometimes you are literally just a photo and a sheet of paper, not a living breathing human being. Have people you can vent to about the crazy batshit you will deal with along the way. Learn how to laugh it off, it will make you so much happier in the long run.

    4.Google people. Google the shit out of them. Google the shit out of their friends. Ask whoever you can about the rishtas that come your way. Become your own personal PI because you might not have the normal time/avenues to learn about someone so use the tools at your disposal.

    I could go on but for someone who’s just getting started in the process, this should address the early stages. I hope this is helpful, lots of jedi hugs!

    • JenniferP said:

      Thank you – I am fascinated by this process, and appreciate the tips from inside it.

    • Parenthetically said:

      (Captain, feel free to delete if this is too derailing. Maybe, hopefully, it’ll be helpful to the LW?)

      This comment is so good — how great to have an inside perspective here. Re: #1, how do you screen for intangibles like, “actually feminist” or “doesn’t just SAY he’ll help out around the house” or “understands the concept and value of emotional labor”? Particularly when families that don’t necessarily share those values are the ones doing the vetting?

      • Sunshine&IcedCoffee said:

        Hmm, trying to see if my answer got eaten by the Internet gremlins

      • Sunshine&IcedCoffee said:

        Looks like it did so retyping it now 🙂

        • Sunshine&IcedCoffee said:

          Edit: Cap, I may have posted this multiple times by accident, so would you please get rid of the extras?

          So once you get the general all-clear from the families (I.e. we find this person generally acceptable), your job now is to ask them ALL THE QUESTIONS. Make a list and work your way through it. Ask the tough, weird, awkward questions. No question is too dumb or too obvious. Finance, children, housework, career, food preferences, city or suburbs, everything you can think of and then some.

          And as a journalist, my advice is to ask open ended questions. Don’t ask a yes/no question without a follow up. And then the key part is to listen to what they say. Really listen. Are they answering genuinely or being dodgy? Do they even have an answer? Sometimes a lack of an answer is just as illuminating as a bad answer. This is a fact finding mission. You are trying to decided if this person gets voted off your island or gets to stay forever. Keep that at front of your mind. Let every answer they give you shape how you vote. A lot of this is stuff the Captain routinely preaches but it’s easy to forget in a high pressure situation like this.

          Now, how to dig into intangible factors:

          1. Figure out how the intangible translates into real life stuff in practice. So for example, an actual feminist? How do you feel about women working? How about having friends of the opposite gender? You know your culture and what actually defines being a feminist in the real world in your culture so use that as your guidelines. It’s just not possible to believe in these types of things and not have it impact your behavior and world views one way or the other.

          2. Talk to his friends and people in the community or have a friend ask around for you. This can be a surprisingly deep well of information. Make it clear that this person is being considered for marriage and you are looking to learn more about them. Does what the person tells you jive with what other people tell you about them?

          3. Hang out in a non official arranged marriage setting. This veers very close to dating and it may wig out your parents. If it will help, offer to bring a sibling or friend as a chaperone along to make this more palatable. The good old fashioned “are they a jerk to the waiter” is an excellent test.

          • JenniferP said:

            Sometimes the filter eats good comments. You should be all set!

  37. Sunshine&IcedCoffee said:

    I was born in the US to immigrant parents but many of my more American friends are also endless fascinated by this process haha and I like to explain it as more of a courtship than an arranged marriage.

    Usually how it goes down – a family friend or a relative or someone will approach my parents (or me but that’s much rarer) and tell them “We know this family and this the son and this some info about him. Would you be willing to consider him?”

    My parents know what my deal breakers are and even if they know I will reject it, they will still bring it back to me and we’ll talk it over.

    If we decide to proceed, depending on the person, we will start getting more info about them and start with texting, phone calls, and video calls until I get a better feel for who they are and how they fit into what I want from a spouse. I haven’t really made it past this stage to meeting them in person simply because I’ve realized that the other person was fundamentally lacking in some regard that I couldn’t compromise on.

    My mom also has a bunch of profiles on various matrimonial sites that she supervises for me and if we get a hit there, I’ll usually jump on and start chatting with them. We will also approach families but nothing so far.

    Full disclaimer – I have an incredible relationship with my parents and they fully understand that while they may get to reject someone, only I will ever be able to say yes. We also discuss all proposals as a family before making a decision. Not everyone’s family functions like this.

    I think the biggest thing (and something you also preach Cap) is to aggressively be your own advocate. Everyone has their own agendas in this (even my incredible parents) and you have to be willing to put your foot down if need be.

    Awkward Army, feel free to ask any questions, I’ll try my best to answer them 🙂

    • Thanks for this opportunity, Sunshine&IcedCoffee!

      My question is: if you decide you don’t want to get married, is that an option for you in your family and culture? Would your parents support that even if your broader culture wouldn’t?

      • Sunshine&IcedCoffee said:

        I had to think about this for a while because very technically, I could achieve the end result by delaying and being super picky until I have essentially aged myself out of the prime marriage market. And I could achieve this without really tipping my hand to my parents.

        But this is a completely roundabout way to handle the problem because the honest to god truth is that I don’t think my parents would be okay with it if I straight up told them I don’t want to get married. Would my parents respect my wishes? Most likely. Would I get a heaping side order of guilt trips, lecturing, and grief for it? You best believe it. Do people eventually break down under this mountain of bullshit? Absolutely.

        And the larger community and culture? Ooof. Single older women are pitied (and I mean late twenties/early thirties and older). People assume there is something wrong with them if they don’t get married.

        It sucks. And as a Muslim and daughter of Indian immigrants, I can tell you it’s a tangled mess of culture and religion and people will use any stick they can to get the results they want from their children and I have seen that happen to my friends and other girls in the community. I’m extremely lucky that my parents are forward-thinking enough that I know they will eventually leave me be but the trial by fire you have to go through to get that point makes you seriously question whether that fight is worth it.

    • Adrian said:

      I know several people who have had good results from arranged marriages. Like Sunshine&IcedCoffee, they’ve all said things like, “I have an incredible relationship with my parents,” or “I love my parents and really want their advice about such a big decision,” or “I trust my family to make good choices, because we have the same values.”

      When you don’t trust your parents to understand your values, or share them, or make good choices based on what you value…it’s a problem to let them arrange your marriage. Even if they set you up with possible matches and you can say no thanks if they turn out to be not quite right. The initial letter talks about an area where the LW’s values are in conflict with his parents’. He should think about their shared values and how much he can trust them to act in his best interest.

      • Sunshine&IcedCoffee said:

        Adrian, I’ve also seen the flipside where folks who wildly disagree with their parents still manage to find a great arranged marriage.

        This actually perfectly my best friend, a South Asian woman who is getting married to an African man. I cannot even begin to tell you the shit show circus this caused. I don’t think her parents are still fully accepting of it but they have begrudgingly consented.

        I guess my overarching point is that this can be a passive process (which is what a lot of people assume) or an active process. Make it an active process. Get involved. Stand up for yourself and what you want because no one else will.

  38. If you DO feel like you want to get married (or that you need to get married), I highly recommend reading, “A Civil Contract” by Georgette Heyer. It’s about an arranged marriage that really works out despite the husband still pining for a girl he couldn’t marry.

  39. Carolina said:

    Not relevant to arranged marriages specifically but on the topic of pressure to “settle”, this video is both funny and possibly useful: https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_webb_how_i_hacked_online_dating#t-11434 Basically she found that being super-picky about who she wanted to date made it easier to find someone, contrary to her family’s advice. 😛

  40. Also, LW, remember that when we like someone, we will find them more attractive. Once we find out how funny they are, we will notice the twinkle in their eye. Did we think their eyes were brown? Not so: their eyes are like root beer with streaks of caramel. Did we think they are “not our type”? Maybe it turns out we never realized we liked this type!

    At least for me, attraction is in the eye of the beholder. There were times I dated a “good looking” guy only to find out he was dull or over-critical or other dealbreakers and then I would see only their physical flaws: and everyone has some.

    It’s only natural to to apprehensive about putting ourselves “out there” and worry about things going wrong. But a romantic quest is like that: we risk a lot. To get a lot.

    Ask yourself if you really want to get married. Then, listen.

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