Arranged Marriage Anyone?
Having had a partner who had an arranged marriage at very early age and listened to his tale of woe about how it had ruined his life, dashed his dreams of a career in medicine, had a huge impact on his psychology and his view of the world, this is something that I have mixed thoughts about.
It has surprised me that a number of my Turkish friends who seem very Western in their outlook, having dated foreigners, having studied abroad and having established themselves in successful careers, have bowed to tradition and accepted their family’s choice of spouse for them. Arranged marriage in Turkey is nowhere near as popular as it was in our parents’ generation or even twenty years ago and many young Turks are marrying the person of their own choosing. However, there is still the expectation, particularly in rural areas, that young people will only marry a person who has been approved of by the respective families.
Burcu (not her real name), a secondary school Head of Department in Ankara was a party girl. She flaunted her taut, skinny body in figure hugging clothes, revealing eye-popping amounts of cleavage. Her outrageously short skirts, skyscraper heels attracted much male attention and she was never without a handsome man on her arm. She drank like a fish, bitched like a fishwife and stropped around using her feminine charms to land herself some rather dishy men. She had several long term relationships with Turkish men but to her surprise, a ring never materialised.
I was shocked to be invited to her wedding to someone I’d never heard of, knowing that only a few months earlier she had been dumped by her latest beau. How had she met someone so quickly? Who was he? What I discovered left me open-mouthed. Her husband-to-be was someone she had been at primary school with and his family were neighbours of her parents. He was an accountant and his family were wealthy. This was an arranged marriage.
When the happy couple appeared at their wedding ceremony, there were audible gasps from her female colleagues who were seeing him for the first time. Burcu’s previous partners had all been tall, handsome, some sporting beards and tattoos, some suave in designer suits and Gucci shoes and she had always been so eager to show them off at staff dos. This man was short, bald, weighed about twenty stone and, although I hesitate to use the word, nothing else will suffice…..he was ugly! Ugly almost to the extent of being repulsive.
Now I know I shouldn’t judge people by their looks but it wouldn’t have mattered if it was anyone else other than Burcu. She had once asked me why I didn’t lose weight and that I’d be so much prettier if I wasn’t fat! So for her to marry someone who was less than perfect was gobsmacking. I spent much of the reception, wondering why she was marrying this man. It definitely wasn’t for love.
That’s the issue I can’t get my head around. I used to believe that people got married for love. However, after I had my lightning bolt from the blue when I met my ex, I was amazed to discover that many of my friends and colleagues married for a variety of reasons and hardly any of them had ‘fallen head over heels’ for their husbands. They envied me having experienced the butterflies in the tummy when kissing, the heart pounding excitement of being together, the walking on cloud nine feeling of finding ‘The One’, the hours spent dreaming of future happiness and the obsessive desire to be together every minute of every day. They had married ‘because it seemed the right thing to do after going out together for a few years’, or ‘I didn’t want to do the dating thing again’ or ‘I’m never going to find anyone else’ or ‘He’s a nice man and he’ll look after me’.
I had an interesting conversation a few months ago with a local man, who having been married twice, was searching for his third wife. He was adamant that he wanted a foreign wife as Turkish women were too demanding (his words not mine!). I pointed out that having two previous foreign wives had not worked for him so maybe he was looking in the wrong place. I pointed out that you can’t choose who you fall in love with. He laughed and replied that love was not important. It would grow over time. His priorities were different.
He openly said that he wanted a young woman who he could mould to his ways; be able to give him children, keep the home clean and tidy, cook his meals, wash his feet after a hard day at work (!), respect him, adore him and support him emotionally. Hiding my bewilderment, I told him that no foreign woman would fit that model. What he needed to do was find a village girl who was grateful to be married off and who found the idea of moving to a beautiful place like Dalyan and being the wife of a successful restaurant owner exciting. He poo pooed the idea but I heard this week that that is exactly what he has done! There was no courtship, no romance, no dating, just an agreement between their fathers. A date was set and the wedding took place a week later. They had met once prior to the marriage. He liked the look of her. Did she have a choice? Probably not.
I hope he’ll be happy but what if somewhere down the line he realises he doesn’t like her? Or she can’t have children? Will he send her back to the village in shame and then begin the search for wife Number Four? Or will he put up with her foibles and find solace in the arms of another woman? If she bears him children, but she doesn’t fulfill his physical needs, he certainly will not divorce her, for the sake of the children, but will have his jollies with the plethora of foreign female holiday makers who will fall for his flattery and silky charm.
What if she’s not happy? Will she just accept her fate and feel content that she is a wife, maybe a mother and will almost certainly be enjoying a better lifestyle than she would if she had stayed in the village. But what about her family support? It is unlikely that she would be able to visit them more than once a year and they are too poor to come here. Isn’t one of the important factors in arranged marriages that it is a union of the two families and that they are there for financial support, child minding duties and in times of hardship and stress?
Don’t men who settle for an arranged marriage miss the thrill of the chase? Don’t women yearn for the wooing, the flirting and the anticipation of requited love? It all seems so clinical. Like going to a shop and buying the first thing that fits the bill. Where’s the fun in that? Half the fun is looking forward to a shopping spree with something in mind and then, after hours of looking, finding just what you’re looking for. Impulse buys tend to be major disappointments when you get the items home and try them on. What were you thinking? You can’t return a wife and get your money back!
So, if you don’t have that ‘I can’t live without him’ feeling, how do you sustain the everyday humdrum of life? What motivates you to wash his socks, mop his fevered brow when he’s ill or be bothered to carry on when you can’t bear the sight of him? I ask these questions from the genuine curiosity of someone who’s never been married and with fear that I might never find someone who I can share my space with. I know marriage is hard work but could I settle with someone who I wasn’t totally in love with? Having experienced the perfect romantic meeting and obsessive feelings of love, can I settle for anything less now?
I suppose if you haven’t been brought up to expect all the romantic trimmings: the red roses, the champagne, the being swept off to beautiful places, the meaningful gifts, etc. you don’t miss them. Personally, I would want the whole kit and caboodle, the happy ever after fairy tale ending as well as someone to share the responsibilities of life, a lover, an emotional support, a constant companion. However, knowing what an emotional rollercoaster falling in love can be, maybe I’d be better off with a carer!