The Truth About Arranged Marriages

The year was 2000.

In a dimly-lit room, I was forced to sit on a cold metal chair with my hands tied tightly behind my back.

With a dirty rag into my mouth, I was being held against my will.

She hovered over me, a filthy knife clasped in her hands.

"We've given his family our word," she hissed. "Your answer is a matter of honour. And it has to be yes. You must marry him".

My mind calculated the options before me.

The first option involved saying yes to the marriage. I'd be lumbered with a dull man, drunk on his ego and expectations of a 'wife'. I'd bear three children and spend my days wishing for a life I couldn't give myself.

The alternative option meant saying no to the marriage, my parents hanging their heads in shame and I'd tolerate a life of endless rejection from my family.

My heart was heavy and my eyes sore. With a soul broken from torture, I decided to succumb. I couldn't bring shame on my family.

I said yes to the marriage. And the rest is history.

Well ... not quite.

Arranged marriages: They're not as clear-cut as the Western world naively assumes.

In the Indian and Pakistani community, an arranged marriage doesn't involve one or both parties being forced to make the decision against their will. Nor does it mean the bride and groom don't set eyes on each other until the wedding day.

For those with an Indian/Pakistani origin living in the West however, agreeing to an arranged marriage can feel conflicting.

On the one hand, we spend years being guests at weddings of friends, relatives and neighbours where the marriage was fully arranged. The love comes later. It feels like the norm.

And on the other, we have TV, movies and music screaming about love-before-marriage, with anything else being an alien concept confined to Bollywood movies and the-Khan's-living-down-the-street-who-shipped-their-daughter-to-Pakistan-that-one-summer.

Add to the mix the pressure from family to consider our honour, respect your parents and represent your family like you've been raised to, and the decision on which path to go down suddenly feels like it's not entirely in your control.

But it can be.

Mine certainly was, but I made my decision to agree to an arranged marriage for a very particular reason.

More on that later.

But first, for anyone feeling pressured to agree to an arranged marriage (when the alternative is far more attractive), here's some advice from the other side:

There's life beyond your family
There's life beyond what your family want for you, but this doesn't necessarily mean your life has to be without them.

I get it. Your parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles all expect the same thing - that you'll marry the budding paediatrician they're doe-eyed for, and if you don't, they'll disown you and you'll forever be a disappointment.

For some reason, this culture involves a lot of guilt. And guilt-tripping you into making a decision they think's best for you is one way they'll try and get their way.

But here's the thing: their way isn't the only way. And the alternative doesn't necessarily mean they'll never speak to you again.

So decide what you want and get some guts.

Test them - will they really disown you?

It's highly likely they won't (because not speaking to their child's far more shameful than turning down a marriage arrangement).

Know the consequences
When your family's involved in arranging your marriage, they tend to stay involved.

This can be wonderful - they'll celebrate with you when your marriage is going well, and they'll support you when it isn't. You'll have an agony aunt, shrink and guru all on speed dial.

The down-side is that if you don't like mother meddling in your affairs now, you certainly won't like it when she asks why you haven't had a baby yet or how you can change your behaviour to make your mother-in-law approve of you.

How much family involvement are you willing to accept? Decide this first.

Respect them and yourself
Just because your parents think they know what's best for you doesn't mean it is.

They'll make a decision based on their life experience, not yours. While their experience and opinions are both valid and relevant, it doesn't mean you're obliged to agree to every request they make.

You can still respect them while respecting yourself.

What do you want from your life? How can you build a bridge between what you want and what they want?

That's exactly what I did.

I was 19 when I agreed to an arranged marriage.

My mother was floored when I said yes (so much so that she asked me twice more just to ensure she wasn't hallucinating).

I hadn't lost my mind. I had, however, lost my dad three days prior.

Seeing my mother's agony through my dad's illness and death was more than enough for me to give this notion of an arranged marriage a go.

My decision was strategic: If the marriage worked, then I'd found my partner early and could finally stop agonising over whether my phone was broken because that cute guy who asked for my number three days ago? Still hasn't called.

And if the marriage didn't work, I was young enough to start over.

So I went into it with my eyes fully open.

And when the time came to end my marriage, I did. Despite my entire family opposing me in the most hear breaking way. I stood up for both my beliefs and myself.

So for anyone agonising over whether to say yes to an arranged marriage or not, my question to you is this:

If you don't stand up for yourself, who else will?