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Post Valentines Day: Rewrite Romance -- Arranged Marriage Style

When it comes to romance, women in arranged marriages are getting it right. And yes, I really mean that.
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There are lots of reasons to be anti-Valentine's Day - you're single and it sucks, its commercial and tacky or that its based on the worst gender stereotypes (men are hapless buffoons and a woman's sexuality is about nylon thongs)...

Beyond that: I think Valentine's Day is the biggest symbol of how and why as a culture we are getting our approach to love and relationships wrong.

For my book, "First Comes Marriage: Modern Relationship Advice From the Wisdom of Arranged Marriages" (Simon & Schuster: June 2008) I interviewed over 300 women over five years who had all decided to have an arranged marriage. These were women living in the US, Canada, the UK and across Europe. The book isn't about saying arranged marriages are better or suggesting that you should actually have one but about taking their approach and applying the seven lessons I describe to the way we approach dating and relationships.

Its an approach that I found is hugely practical and ultimately successful (I used these lessons to meet my husband of five years and we got engaged after just 7 dates).

And when it comes to romance, women in arranged marriages are getting it right. And yes, I really mean that.

By their very nature (and the way they come together), arranged marriages don't fit into any of models or narratives of romance shown in advertising and popular culture. Its not about finding your soulmate, or having Mr. Right conveniently stumble into your life. Instead, arranged marriages are about taking a practical approach to finding a life partner based on shared values and goals.

Since couples in arranged marriages can't really identify with any of the cultural or marketing images around what romance or love should be like I found that they tend to develop their own rituals, traditions and interpretations of romance as they get to know each other and over the course of a marriage.

The result is that by not accepting prescribed "popular" definitions of how love and affection should be, women in arranged marriages tend to have a much easier time both recognizing and enjoying the more individual romantic gestures of their partners. They look for the small things that we might not notice and choose to see them as proof of love and romance.

At first, when I started doing my interviews I was still of the belief that if you weren't in love when you got married you couldn't possibly have romance. I learned very quickly that this is not so and that if anything, coming into a relationship without pre-conceived ideas of marital love often means that you have more freedom to enjoy romance on your own terms that you decide together. I heard woman tell me stories about the "romantic" gestures of their husbands that ranged from people getting up at 5am to drop someone off across town since she hated driving in the snow, inviting a sister-in-law to come live with the family after her husband had died or taking a second job to buy his wife the house she really wanted.

As my conversations continued with other women in arranged marriages, I began to learn what so many of the women I interviewed seemed to have intuited early in their relationships: that romance comes in many forms and that each person expresses it differently. And that sometimes, having romance in your marriage can be about learning to recognize it. As Christina, a 53 year old woman from the West Indies told me, "It doesn't have to look like what you see on TV! I don't look like what you see on TV!"

The lesson for the rest of us: don't believe the hype and let Hollywood, the media or marketing agencies define what romance or a happy relationship needs to look like. Take the pressure off and figure out what works for you and your partner. And that goes beyond Valentines Day - forget all the hyped up expectations and narrow definitions that just cause chaos in our dating lives and undermine our personal happiness and relationship confidence. And if you're single decide this year to stop have the limiting beliefs that come buying into outside rules of what love and romance needs to be. The result? Dating will be easier and more enjoyable since your only criteria for what is romantic is that make you feel good.

Reva Seth is the author of First Comes Marriage: Modern Relationship Advice From the Wisdom of Arranged Marriages (Simon & Schuster: June 2008).

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