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February 22, 2003

Goin' to India and I'm gonna get maaaarried

The Sunday Post Magazine has an article about arranged marriages for American South Asians. For the non-South Asians at Gene Expression (there are must be at least 2 or 3 of us) it will be educational. My thoughts:

1. Says a meddling aunt "Character is something we can see a little better than youngsters do". I don't know if this justifies arranged marriages, but you must admit that most young people can be overly taken with superficial characteristics (beauty, charm) that mean little in the long run.

2. "Traditional Indians don't expect a partner to be that improbable combination of soul mate/confidante/red-hot lover/best friend." I'm starting to believe that the concept of a soul mate was a ploy designed to enrich divorce lawyers and self-help book authors. Seriously, finding your "soul mate" is like winning the lottery: It will be great if it happens, but don't plan your retirement expecting a check from Ed MacMahon.

3. Vibha discusses frustration with trying to meet quality men in bars and clubs. That there is no general social structure to ease people into serious courtship and marriage is a serious social problem. The Internet might mitigate this problem somewhat, but this issue must be addressed. It's appalling that an American woman would have to agree to an arranged marriage to get help from older, more experienced adults in meeting marriage-minded men.

4. This seems to be a happy ending for Vibha, but forgive me if I am a bit cynical about declarations of bliss from honeymooning newly weds. I wish them all the best, but I'll believe it when they are still happy together in ten years.

Nonetheless, I shall leave it to the brown folks to comment more.

Posted by duende at 01:33 PM

my comment: please make arranged marriages popular in the nordic countries-then i'm all aboard.

Posted by: razib at February 22, 2003 02:10 PM

For all their golden-fleeced glory, I hear that Scandinavian women have a reputation as bitter feminazis. And imagine the horror if you ended up with the one brunette in Sweden!

Posted by: duende at February 22, 2003 02:17 PM

i'm not a nazi about hair color :) as long as they have that swedish jawline (dated a german american girl that had it). and yeah, i've heard about the feminazi thing too-but the scandinavians i've met in the US might be PC, but of a more relaxed variety. since the US is relative un-PC compared to Scandinavia, the PC enforcers are an elite self-selected group. since everyone in Scandanavia is PC-it seems to spread out the priggishness.

btw, i might as well say it before any of my compats does, the girl portrayed seems nice & all, but she doesn't seem that attractive from the picture + she isn't in the doctor/engineer mode, and it says she's dark-skinned (if you admit you are "coppery" and not "wheatish" you must be dark). that explains why she had to go back to india-she was putting in a green-card for inducement....

Posted by: razib at February 22, 2003 02:34 PM

I had a laugh when they referred to a "cultural preference" for light skin. It seems to be transcultural. Maybe I don't know Indian beauty standards, or maybe I just like to defend my dusky sisters, but I would call her average looking, not unattractive. Are light skinned Indian men considered handsome? If I were Vibha, I'd hunt for the fairest-colored man I could find to lighten up my daughters ;). Seriously, even though women tend to prefer darker men, wouldn't it be worth their while to get a lighter-skinned one to produce fairer, more attractive daughters since it doesn't matter so much to have dark sons?

Posted by: duende at February 22, 2003 02:52 PM

Brown guy here.

The comparison I like to use is a free market vs heavy regulation. In America, the dating marketplace is fairly free of constraints. This benefits those men and women that have the qualities most sought after. Chris Rock had a great routine about it, which went something like, "Women say there aren't enough men. That's wrong. There are plenty of men out there, but you women all want to f*** the same guys. They all want the ambitious go-getter. But guess what? That ambitious go-getter is often going from one woman to the next. Here's a rule of thumb - if a man has two cars, and no wife, he's f****** four women. Meanwhile, most men are sitting around, asking themselves, 'When the hell am I going to get laid?'"

This soulmate business is nonsense. It raises expectations about romance, and face it, keeping up the level of romantic heat that often comes with early courtship is not feasible.

My brother, raised in the states, married a Bengali raised in India. My parents were so relieved at having "preserved" our culture, they forgot to look at her character. While she treats my brother very well, she will have almost nothing to do with the rest of us. She's lived in the states for almost six years, and has spent less than two months with us. As a result, my parents have specifically requested that I not get married to a girl from India.

My dad did try to meet with a family in England in finding me a wife, but found it went nowhere. The girl's family asked him to tell them a bit about me, and he was at a loss. Since he never got to know me beyond report cards, he realized he could not give the girl's family any idea of what I was like as a man.

Andrew Sullivan had a good piece on America's elevation of romantic love. Although written two years ago, many of the observations still bear relevance.


Posted by: KXB at February 22, 2003 03:42 PM

Most Indian guys aren't into dark skinned chicks. That's just the way it is. The lighter skinned a chick is, the more caucasoid featured her face is, the less fat (although most Indian girls don't have a weight problem) she has, the more attractive she is to Indian guys.

When I was growing up, my parents didn't let me date but I assumed that the Western way of getting women was preferable to the arranged way (although I also assumed I would get into an arranged marriage). When I got older, I started thinking that the arranged way was better than the Western way. At this point in my life, I think they both have positives and negatives.

In the Western way, individuals are responsible for their own actions. They could be having sex even when they are not mature enough to drink beer/ drive a car. And even if they are mature in other areas of their lives, they could be really immature about their 'love' lives. Living in LA, I've seen way too many drop dead, stunning young women- who it turned out were single mommies.

The premise of the Indian system is that (IMHO) individuals are too stupid/ inexperienced/ immature to figure out what is best for them so they'll let others who are 'wiser' do it for them. 'Arranged' is not completely fair- as individuals usually have the right to veto any proposal (there may be some 'backwater' places where this is not true, however). The people in these relationships usually aren't in love (as Americans know it as lust) at the time of the relationship. They usually feel like this is the best they can do or what is expected of them so try to make the situation work.

One awful thing about the Western system is that a lot of less than attractive chicks can get screwed in the dating game. Of course, this can happen in the Indian system too, but with lust less of an issue in the system there's usually some guy who'll wind up with that chick. That may suck for the Indian guy, but for those who participate in the Indian system somebody usually always at least gets with somebody else in the long term.

See also, Andrew Sullivan on the perils of the Romantic notion:

Posted by: -R at February 22, 2003 03:52 PM

Yikes, KXB and I linked to that same article b/c we wrote our comments at about the same time!!!!!!

Andrew Sullivan's such a baddass BTW.

Posted by: -R at February 22, 2003 03:55 PM

IMO, anyone who thinks it's ok to marry a complete stranger needs to have their head examined.

"Arranged marriage" is an all-encompassing term encompassing almost-forced marriages on the one end to parents-fix-up-their-kids on the other.

Regarding elders seeing character better than someone who's getting married, that's just BS. What they see is not character, it is racial, ethnic and religious background. Financial and educational status and physical beauty are also something they want in the bride & family.

I don't think physical attractiveness is valued less among parents than people getting married. IMO, it is valued more when looking for a bride for their son.

Posted by: Zack Ajmal at February 22, 2003 07:46 PM

"IMO, anyone who thinks it's ok to marry a complete stranger needs to have their head examined."

I don't have a problem with people criticizing an 'arranged' marriage system as long as they are fair about it and are able to see the negatives of the Western way as well.

"Arranged marriage" is an all-encompassing term encompassing almost-forced marriages on the one end to parents-fix-up-their-kids on the other."

True enough. People in the West have too many negative connotations when they hear 'arranged'.

"Regarding elders seeing character better than someone who's getting married, that's just BS. What they see is not character, it is racial, ethnic and religious background. Financial and educational status and physical beauty are also something they want in the bride & family."

It depends on what you value. Is an elder valuing a potential groom's financial status 'better' than a girl in the West going just for the guy who's got the baddest ass car? Again, there are possible problems with both models.

"I don't think physical attractiveness is valued less among parents than people getting married. IMO, it is valued more when looking for a bride for their son."

I don't know. I know physical attractiveness is always valued. Is it any more or less valued in 'arranged' cultures than the West?

Posted by: -R at February 22, 2003 08:05 PM


No system of finding a spouse is perfect. However, the biggest advantage of the western system is that you make the decision yourself. In arranged marriages, even though the final veto might be yours, parents have a lot of control over the process. And in many cases, even though there is no force, there is emotional blackmail from the parents. The Post article points to that in the case of Vibha's parents trying to get her to go to India.

I believe that an adult is responsible for his own life. Therefore, he/she should be able to choose, without any restraint from parents or others, who to spend that life with.

A direct comparison of arranged marriage and what is known as love marriage in South Asia is not possible because the culture of marriage and divorce is very different. Also the standards of successful marriage are different.

Another factor in arranged marriages is race/ethnicity. A friend of mine who is Pashtun by ancestry, though his ancestors migrated in northern India 500 years ago, had to marry a Pashtun because of his parents.

Posted by: Zack Ajmal at February 22, 2003 08:27 PM

I just noticed that the Post article calls me an "urban sophisticate". Is that a compliment? Seems like a backhanded one.

Posted by: Zack Ajmal at February 22, 2003 08:29 PM


That is pretty weird that we both cited Sullivan at the same time. But it really is a solid piece of writing.

As for skin tone, maybe it's cause I'm already fairly light skinned, but I generally am attracted to Indian girls that have a darker complexion than me. If an Indian girls is too light, she looks sickly. Back in college, I knew a Goanese girl who was simply stunning, with the complexion of chocolate, and the body of an aerobics instructor. Needless to say, she was way out of my league, and it seemed she exclusively dated white guys anyway. In India, many Indian families would have found her too dark, but in the states, she satisfied the market demand for in-shaped, bronze colored women.

As for arranged marriage, it is true that parents can be even more superficial than young people. My mother rejected a potential bride for my brother because her mom was a nurse. If you can guess that your parents have bad judgment, then you probably have a stronger objection to arranged marriage.

Posted by: KXB at February 22, 2003 08:47 PM

I don't believe we're even having a debate about whether arranged marriages are a good or bad thing. Bottom line from axiom of choice- they are a good thing only if the person being arranged asks to be arranged.

Anyway the whole idea of someone coming all the way from country X to Y to particularly marry someone who traces descent to X strikes me as a little creepy

Posted by: Jason Soon at February 22, 2003 09:13 PM

The cult of romantic love and companionate marriage springs directly from the culture of individualism of the West. I believe that psychologically (in terms of self-actualisation) and eugenically it is on the whole a very good thing.

Posted by: Jason Soon at February 22, 2003 09:15 PM

Razib -- I can compare a few of my stories from my many trips to Scandinavia. It's an, uh, interesting place to visit if you're a young indian dude....

In any case, w.r.t. Arranged marriages, the 2 underlying axiomatic beliefs I've always used to describe it are:

1) do you believe marriages succeed because of exogenous or internal reasons? The Arranged Marriage (AM) proponets see mostly exogenous factors -- extended family support structures, income, eliminating lifestyle questions around religion, etc. Parents, of course, very clearly see the exogenous factors. Opponents tend to see marriage as more of a private affair between the couple.

2) expectations from marriage. In the Olde country, the Bohemian Bourgeois isn't quite a part of the scene, and self-actualization ("but what about *my* needs") isn't part of the deal. Expectations are much more classically bourgeois and are about building long term stable platforms for raising kids.... The various Andrew Sullivan quoters re-inforce this one.... And, if actualization isn't part of the deal, it makes factor #1 even more important.

Personally, I'm a split-the-middle on this one... Brownness is bonus points (the value of which varies from day to day) but not a veto. And I can pretty much gaurantee that a gal from the parent's village ain't gonna work out for a Ludicris-loving, fine-dining guy like me.

On the flip side, I think a lot of non-brown folk don't fully recognize the degree to which they implicitly integrate exogenous factors into mate selection (for ex., meeting mates in Grad school implicitly selects education and some cultural traits; a few of my friends back in TX meet mates from church).

For a lot of brown folks in the US, a bit of the AM can be justified on grounds of exercising those factors explicitly because they're a minority rather than relying on chance....

Posted by: vinod at February 22, 2003 09:15 PM

The cult of Romantic Love??!? Yes, Andrew Sullivan would say that (look at his personal experiences), but if you know romantic love (if you don't, quit playing so much D&D), you know romantic love is pretty cool.

Also cool is good sex. I pity those brown women and men doomed to crappy sex becuase their parents picked them a sexually incompatible partner.

And yes, sex matters. It's one of the top sources of pleasure in life. Getting it right is important. Parent's picking your partner? -- grow up man.

Posted by: Ikram Saeed at February 22, 2003 11:37 PM

About 15 years ago, a friend of mine -- born and raised in the US, but spending a month or three every year back in India with his parents -- reached the point in life where his parents decided it was marrying time. He seemed to me to be a typical young American man, although obviously of Indian parentage, and his lifestyle was thoroughly American in every way, including girlfriends. Nonetheless, despite the tears in his eyes as he told me, he went back to India to meet and marry a woman chosen by his family, with virtually no input from him.

They're still married, apparently happy, and living here in the US; she's learned English and adapted to the US, their kids are beautiful, and my friend still insists that the tradition of arranged marriage ended with his own.

Who knows? When I compare him to myself -- I'd just gotten married for the third time, back when I met this friend, and I'm now recently divorced -- it's hard to argue. He's definitely still married, and seems happy and content with it. I've decided that I suck at choosing marriage partners, and won't try again. Fortunately, I'm old enough it probably won't make much of a difference... but I have good reason to doubt that romance is enough to base a marriage on.

Posted by: Alone again, naturally at February 22, 2003 11:56 PM

Ikram: I agree completely.

Alone Again: I think there is a simple explanation for the apparent success of arranged marriages. People who value tradition for marriage apparently have a traditional view of the role of the spouses (not necessarily in terms of work division, but intimacy, friendship, sex, romance etc.) Also, if someone was chicken enough to marry a stranger because of parental pressure, he/she is definitely frightened by the stigma attached to divorce.

Think about arranged marriage this way: Would you like your parents to pick out your clothes? Probably not. Then how can they pick out who you are going to spend your life with? Crazy or not, you decide.

Posted by: Zack Ajmal at February 23, 2003 01:44 AM

i always get creeped out by guys that grow up the US-and come back with a woman they can't really talk to. i mean-these are people going to watch movies with their buds in NJ, and they are ok with bringing back an oven to bake their kids in???

one example that happened recently: my slutty friend's brother (the one who had sex with the tamil guy but thought he was black before seeing his hair and other tiny parts) is a chubby dude that went back to bangladesh and got himself a hottie. now the thing with this dude is-HE CAN'T SPEAK BENGALI!. our families are really close (obviously, her fam doesn't know my friend is a slut who digs large-penised black men and has a tendency to cheat on her b/fs with said men)-and so i met his new bride. i can speak bengali and talked to her a fair amount, and i realized that this pregnant woman didn't really know many of the details of her husband's life because his bengali was so crappy.

anyway, i think it's messed up that a family stops speaking bengali amongst themselves, and then goes and gets a FOB bride that doesn't know too much english.

nothing is perfect, but that to me is a bizarro nightmare scenario.

Posted by: razib at February 23, 2003 02:19 AM

This was what I wrote a while ago about arranged marriages, Razib - Arranged Marriages, or not?

Posted by: Shanti at February 23, 2003 08:24 AM

My guess is that romantic love is necessary, but not sufficient for a happy succesful marriage. I've known men and women who are morally worthless and/or emotionally infantile, unfit for work or anything that required deep concentration, but who were quite talented at making people fall in love with them. Anyone who thinks that romance alone can sustain a marriage is sadly mistaken, as alone again says. I'm not anti-romance, I just think that people give romance more credit than it's worth.

Posted by: duende at February 23, 2003 09:26 AM

I really do not think that Indian women really prefer dark men. In many of the marriage adds I have come across, many women tend to specify "clean shaven convent educated fair men only". However it is not as cronic as the guys here. In my college the fairest tallest Punjabi, Kashmiri guys always got the best chicks and were more popular among the lasses. I mean check out the actors in Indian movies, they tend to be lighter than most average Indians.

Posted by: Subrato at February 23, 2003 10:48 AM

Besides as far as I know, Indian guys though find European women quite attractive (and African women normally unattractive unfortunately), they do not tend to have a low opinion about Indian women or consider them uglier than European women. Indeed many a times I hear many Indian guys say that Indian women are the most beautifull in the world (And Indian women have the noumber of Miss World-Universe tittles to back that up). Many of my friends (trust me thats a huge number) tend to comment (normally in the theaters while watching Hollywood movies) that they find dark haired White lasses more attractive than the blonde chicks.(I am sure this would sound strange to many guys in America). As Captain Edward Sellon, had written "[Indian courtesans] understand in perfection all the arts and wiles of love, are capable of gratifying any tastes, and in face and figure they are unsurpassed by any women in the world.It is impossible to describe the enjoyment I have experienced in the arms of these syrens. I have had English, French, German and Polish women of all grades of society since, but never, never did they bear comparison with those salacious succulent houris."
But I do agree that there is a strong desire for fairer women here, real strong. Indeed the only reason why many guys watch the boring PTV (Pakistan Television) aired here is to watch some of those extremely fair Punjabi-Sindhi Pakistani babes.

Posted by: Subrato at February 23, 2003 11:11 AM

"that they find dark haired White lasses more attractive than the blonde chicks" i have seen this too.

Posted by: razib at February 23, 2003 01:21 PM

I'm an Indian and I dated two Swedes and was in a steady relationship with one of them for over a year. That was the only time I was attracted to a blonde..I would agree with the person who wrote that Indians prefer dark-haired white women..I find American blondes an attractive package on the whole but their skin leaves a lot to be desired when you look at them up close..I dont know if there is a relation between dark hair and good complexion ..but then dark haired asians have wonderful skin..
As for arranged marriages,while its common to have friends set you up on dates in the west, in asia that task is left to parents ...of course traditional Asian cultures do not allow men to develop social skills to approach women and that helps to keep the tradition of arranged marriages going.

Posted by: Pawan at February 23, 2003 02:44 PM

I agree with Pawan. Blondes (men and women) are oft unattractive. And quite hairy. And age very poorly. And what's with pink(!) nipples. Physically very unappealing.

More seriously, I also agree that south asian males, especially those from more traditional backgrounds, have no idea how to relate to women. (The stereotype of the socially guache, dorky Indian tech worker is probably based partly in that.)

Posted by: Ikram Saeed at February 23, 2003 02:51 PM

wutz wrong with pink nipples man! only kind of nipples i've seen aside from mine :) (i was fed formula, mom got sick during the last stage of pregnancy)

Posted by: razib at February 23, 2003 08:29 PM

You guys are right

I dont like the nordic (blonde) women too, on the other hand, I think the white mediterranean women (with black hair) are the most beatiful in the earth.

Posted by: J. Ascaņo at February 24, 2003 03:09 AM

Personally i think Imam is really Hot. I mean extremely attractive

Posted by: Subrato at February 24, 2003 10:05 AM

Why is everyone so enamoured by Nordic Swedes? Nothing beats dark-haired Slavic women.

Posted by: Sen at February 24, 2003 01:17 PM

To Sen:
As far as White women go, the best looking are Slavic women of any hair color- they'll usually kick the sh#t out of any other class of White women hands down. Most people who have seen a lot of Slavic women (in real life or the net) know I speak the truth. That is why they are so heavily, disproportionately represented in Porn (i.e. Sylvia Saint is Slavic to name the most famous example).

Italian/Latina women, some Middle Eastern and some North Indian women could probably all field candidates in the 'Slavic range' to represent the best of the rest in the Caucasoid class. I would probably put Norse chicks up there if for no other reason than there tall 'Valkyrie' body types can be truly badass.

Anglo Saxon women can be fairly impressive (esp in occ matching body type with the Norse) but I wouldn't put them on avg in the same league as the Slavs. Celtic women are so pale you have to have taste like Razib to truly appreciate them. The French chicks I've seen generally were unimpressive and hairy.

Posted by: -R at February 24, 2003 02:46 PM

Modesty and indecision prevent me from listing my idea of appealing male attributes, but his nipple color would come a distant 10th. Neverthelss, in these Beavis and Buthead do the Bell Curves discussions, I do see merit. After all, it is the young and restless whose opinion on such things matters, as this is when people do most of their attracting. Similar opinions emanating from middle aged and elderly ethnoanthropoligists are infinitely creepier. I once knew someone whose ideal girl would have been one (or maybe both) of the Olsen twins (a California blond type) if they'd been around and nubile at the time. It was my first contact with someone who was rather repelled by his own ethnic group and preferred what seemed to him a more feminine phenotype. Phenotypes -- great word -- are like language. You can sometimes express yourself better with another than you native one.

Posted by: MaryClaire at February 25, 2003 08:20 PM