One of my friend’s younger brothers is looking for a wife, and over the last few weeks, I’ve been following his story as it unfolds.
First of all, I want to get it out there that I have no beef with arranged marriages that involve two informed and consenting adults. When I first heard the term, probably sometime in middle school, I was certainly shocked. It went against my American sensibilities that dictated that two people should fall in love before deciding to spend their lives together. It felt strange to me that someone would agree to marry another person without first getting to know them thoroughly. However, after reading more about it and broadening my understanding of the cultures that still rely on arranged marriages, I came to understand it was just another of way of doing things, and like other types of marriages, arranged ones sometimes work out and sometimes don’t. Although I had no problem with arranged marriages before moving to Nepal, I didn’t really understand the actual logistics of arranging a marriage. The logistics are obviously different in different places, but in Nepal, as I’m learning, it’s very much of a word-of-mouth kind of process.
My friend told me a few weeks ago that her brother wanted to get married. When she mentioned this to me, he had just arrived for a three-week visit to Nepal from the US, where he lives. The day after he arrived, she told us that he wanted to find a bride, get engaged, and then have a wedding within three weeks. Engagements and marriages often happen on short notice in Nepal. You might meet up with an acquaintance, after not seeing her for a month or two, and she’ll announce that she’s getting married in a week! Marriage dates are often chosen by a jyotice, astrologer. If you go to see him about finding an appropriate date, he might decide that you should marry in a few months time or, after reading your birth charts, he may also decide that you should do it immediately. The other thing is that getting engaged and getting married often happen within the span of about a week, so for my friend’s brother to be engaged and then married very soon after the engagement is not so unusual.
What surprised me was that he wanted to do everything within three weeks. Usually, at least in my experience, the bride and groom will have known each other for a while before getting engaged. Sometimes they will have been together for many years, as is more common among younger, urban Nepalis who have boyfriends and girlfriends. But even if an arranged marriage is taking place, families will meet their potential son or daughter-in-law at least a few months before the wedding takes place. Hearing that my friend’s brother was hoping to find a bride, get engaged, and be married all in the space of three weeks was quite a surprise. Imagine going from being single, without a boyfriend or girlfriend, to being married within three weeks! Although, because he lives in the US and only rarely gets to come to Nepal, I understand why he wants to rush things.
The process started with my friend and her family branching out, talking to all of their family, friends, acquaintances, close and distant to find out if they knew of a girl who was looking to get married. Because all of this was happening on short notice, my friend and her family really had to bust their butts to find a girl, and it hasn’t been easy. My friend was saying that finding a girl who has a similar educational background and who is not already in a relationship is very difficult. She said that she’s been hearing about a number of potential brides, but then she’ll find out that they already have boyfriends. As “love marriages” become more common, I imagine setting up an arranged marriage is becoming harder and harder.
There are professional matchmakers in Nepal that provide customers with a set of potential spouses for a fee. But from what I’ve seen, people more commonly find spouses for their children through personal connections. The person who identifies the spouse for a family’s son or daugther would be considered the matchmaker, and it can be risky business. If one of the young people back out or the marriage goes south, the matchmaker may end up taking the blame for the failed marriage. I’ve heard some Nepalis say they won’t get involved in matchmaking expressly for that reason.
Another part of having an arranged marriage in Nepal is finding someone of the right caste. Many Nepali families, especially ones in urban areas, are more open to intercaste marriages these days. I don’t think many would go as far to say that they’re okay with their son or daughter marrying a foreigner (luckily I found a Nepali family out there that is 🙂 ), but intercaste marriages are becoming not only more common but much more socially acceptable as well. My friend told me that if her brother had had a girlfriend from another caste, her family would have been fine with it. But because it’s an arranged marriage, they want to find someone within their own caste/ethnic group. Because my friend is Newar, she and her family have been looking for a Newar girl.
While arranging the marriage of someone, finding the right fit can take a few tries. In years past, I think parents would more often make the decision about their child’s spouse for them, but these days, grown children are often given the opportunity to meet their potential spouse, talk on the phone, and maybe go one a few chaperoned dates. While the decision is still very much a familial one, children now have a say.
This period of negotiation also happened with my friend’s brother. A few years back, he started the process of looking for a wife. Pictures and descriptions of girls who were also looking to get married were sent to their house. He then chose a few girls he wanted to meet. But after meeting the girls, something or the other just didn’t feel right, so no engagements moved forward at that time.
But when I saw my friend on Tuesday, she said that they had found a girl they really like. Everything seemed to be going well. They were planning to be engaged on Thursday, and if my friend’s family had its way, they would be married before her brother left this weekend. However, I saw my friend today, and something was wrong. Apparently the bride and groom called the engagement off. I don’t know what happened; even my friend isn’t sure. But I can say that no matter whether it’s an arranged marriage or not, finding a someone you can spend the rest of your life with takes time! And probably shouldn’t be rushed in three weeks.