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.
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.