Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Arranged Marriages

Published November 24, 2009 - Muscat Daily
I remember the night five years ago when I received a frantic call from my best friend telling me that her father and uncles had summoned her into the family room that afternoon to inform her that she would be marrying her cousin, nine years her senior. She had three months to get ready. I remember listening to her saying 'I can't believe this is happening to me. I can't believe it'. We were both devastated. She was looking forward to starting college and making a life for herself. Meanwhile, her family informed her bluntly that high school was enough, and that having an unmarried 19-year-old daughter in the house was a burden. In the end after a lot of pressure from her father she was forced to agree. She never saw or spoke to the man who was to become her husband until the night of their wedding. Now, five years later, she shares a house with her in-laws, has two very young children, and a husband who does not love her, and who will not allow her to study or work or even leave the house without his permission.
Are you surprised? This happens in Oman all the time. Arranged marriages are in full force, especially here in Dhofar. I'm against such marriages, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they don’t work out. I've seen some positive examples of beautiful relationships that started off as an arranged marriage. However, I believe that it's a matter of luck and that those couples simply hit the jackpot. I know for a fact that most of the time it doesn't work out. With all due respect to conservative thinkers around the country, arranged marriages cause a lot of pain, trauma, and sadness.
In Oman, arranged marriages usually occur between cousins, preferably paternal ones. As far as I know, the reasoning behind marrying cousins comes from families wanting to keep the family blood 'pure' and their wealth within the family. Distribution of inheritance is of extreme importance in our culture. Arranged marriages become more like a contract between families and not individuals where both parties feel responsible if it doesn't work out. I remember almost blowing up at a colleague who casually mentioned that he was proud of his tribe because all the girls married their first cousins, and that he would do the same for his daughters to maintain this beautiful tradition. I wanted to shout at him, "Who gives you the right to determine the fate of your unborn daughters?!" You cannot force two mature adults onto each other and expect them to build a happy life together. You cannot 'arrange' love and successful relationships. Life doesn't work that way. Not nowadays. Oman is a modern country! Marriage expectations among young people are very different than they were some years ago. As far as I'm concerned, young men and women have the right to choose whom they are to marry. They also have the right to get to know one another, and then decide whether it's right to take that big step. Marriage is not a game. It's not something fathers can decide on the spur of the moment in the family majlis over a cup of tea. Not any more.
I've discussed this topic with many male colleagues who argue that arranged marriages do not end in divorce and are therefore more successful. The reason they do not end in divorce is due to family pressure. Most of the time, the couple are miserable but are too nervous about telling their families that they want to end the marriage.
On a more positive note, over the past three or four years I've seen many families in Dhofar who are allowing their daughters to talk to their fiancés over the phone before the wedding in order to get to know each other a bit more. Often the couples are allowed to end the engagement if they feel it's not going to work out. Furthermore, many young people are defying tradition by choosing their own partners. I salute the open-minded parents who support their kids in making their own decisions when it concerns marriage, and I encourage other parents to give advice, love, support, and to simply let it be.

1 comment:

  1. Salam 3laicom Susan
    I like your topics
    you are ammazing