Dear Dr. Faizal,

My parents are forcing me into an arranged marriage. They haven’t found someone yet because I keep stalling but I won’t be able to keep that up for long. I’m 28 and have been a dating a guy from my religion (different caste though) but I could never tell my parents. I don’t know if he’s the guy I want to marry but I’m running out of time. It’s either him or some random stranger of my parents’ choice – who I know will not be my type. My parents are awfully traditional. How do I deal with the pressure?

– Freedom to Marry

Dear Freedom to Marry,

Please take comfort that your concerns are not uncommon; in fact, I see ladies with similar issues on a regular basis in my clinical practice.

Keep in mind that in the ‘olden days,’ and I’m presuming in the country where your parents immigrated from, it was – and may still be – typical for women to be wed in their early 20s, if not even in their late teens. So, when a woman from a traditional family approaches her 30s, her parents develop fears – will a man still feel attracted to her if she is considered too ‘old;’ will she be able to still have children in her 30s; will the parents be young enough to still enjoy their future grandchildren; etc.?

I believe you may be underestimating your parents. Your parents probably could find a match for you in a blink of an eye, if they wanted to. By them not doing so, tells me that they already either sense your resistance to the concept of arranged marriage or they sense that you may already be interested in someone or both.

It is time that you have ‘the talk’ with your parents. Begin by getting a verbal commitment from them that they would like to see you happy. Then review that in their day, husbands and wives had traditional roles, and if both followed these roles, the marriage leads to a sense of happiness. Today, however, marital bliss requires much more including compatibility, equality, physical, mental and emotional attractiveness, butterflies, etc.. Let them know that you would only be happy if you can share these qualities with someone special and with whom you can develop this relationship over time.

Your next step is to determine if your present partner is the ‘guy’ for you. Despite him not being the perfect match, traditionally (different caste), is he someone you could see yourself marrying and being happy with? If he or someone else lights your torch, you need to introduce this person eventually to your parents.

When you and your partner are ready to meet your parents, it should be done casually. If your man has a sister or female cousins whom you already know, invite them – and him – to a family gathering. If you don’t know any of his family members or relatives, invite him along with some of his friends (both male and female), and allow him to meet your parents in a group with his other friends. Let him be recognized by your family as your friend. This is less threatening and will allow your parents to spend more time with him informally and get to know him better.

When greeting your traditional parents, he should greet them in the language you speak with them in and follow customary actions (i.e., bow or fold hands or touch feet) out of respect for elders. He should address your parents as “Uncle” and “Auntie” – generic titles used to show respect for them as elders.

Meeting your partner in a few gatherings and appreciating his respect for their traditional ways will help your parents overcome the fact that he belongs to a different caste. Ultimately, they may develop a liking for him. In this case, your mission is almost complete. Now, all you need is someone in your family (say, your sister, cousin, aunt or another respected elder) to speak well of your partner in the presence of your parents and raise the idea of him being a possible husband for you. This, then, will sew the seed for a possible marriage.

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