I've Spent 17 Years in an Arranged Marriage

'To arrange a life is to control it ... but also to protect it,' writes Debie Thomas

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 17, 2013 2:28 PM CDT

(Newser) – Debie Thomas acknowledges that most Americans won't be able to grasp her compliance with her family's wishes, but saying no to her Indian parents was just "not an option." And though she prayed for a miracle, 17 years ago, Thomas—"a product of New England suburbia, evangelical Christianity, Wellesley College, and When Harry Met Sally"—entered into an arranged marriage, wedding a man chosen from a stack of photos and resumes and brief meetings: Alex. After just 3 months, their differences—"the kinds of differences we couldn’t have discovered in each other's CVs—started to baffle us," she writes for Slate. She was serious and loved routine; he struck her as shallow.

"Though it took years to parse these differences, it didn't take long at all to recoil from them." Thomas goes on to thoughtfully dissect those years: "Conventional Indian wisdom" instructed her to compromise and accommodate, telling her that affinity fades but "practical everyday love" endures. So did it, and does it, for Thomas? What she does have: a committed partner and provider, a "good man." "But the losses are significant," and Thomas and her husband "still grieve them"—together, and for each other. (The kinds of things they utter: "I wish you had married a best friend.") She sums up the complexity of their situation thusly: "To arrange a life, after all, is to control it. To write its script so exhaustively that there’s little room left for improvisation. And a lot of good stuff happens when you are improvising. But something always pulls us back. To arrange a life is also to love and protect it, to put every bit of scaffolding in place to prevent collapse and chaos." Click to read her moving piece, which describes her first meeting with Alex.

"Arranged marriage, as I’ve come to experience it, is far more complicated than either its champions or its critics understand."   (©)
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In ways I’m still coming to understand, it's our not-choosing that has reverberated across the years of our marriage, breaking us in ways we can’t mend, and recreating us in others. - Debie Thomas

Arranged marriage, as I’ve come to experience it, is far more complicated than either its champions or its critics understand. - Debie Thomas

When I told my family I couldn't fall in love with a stranger, they told me Indians don't have to fall like 'poor, helpless Americans.' 'We choose,' they said triumphantly, as if their notion of choice would make me feel free.

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