Arranging Love in the 21st Century

Arranged marriages are viewed with some mystery in the broader Australian community.

The idea of having family members choose your life partner is unthinkable for most.

But for many young people from Middle Eastern and Asian migrant backgrounds, it's still a tradition that is embraced.

Pakistani-born Aisha*, 27, was introduced to her husband in Karachi through family networks in August 2006.

"He came to my place with his mother, we had a bit of chat for an hour - I really liked him, I found him a decent person - it was just an introduction and he was telling me about his job and asking me about my studies."

Aisha and her husband Aktar*, a doctor, continued to get to know each other.

"We went for a dinner a couple of times... it was nice, I talked to his friends," Aisha says.

"I found his friends quite decent people. You get an idea from a person's friend how a person is."

Within five months the couple were married and in August 2007 they emigrated to Australia.

"I'm very satisfied and happy I have no regrets," Aisha says.

This does not mean her marriage has not faced its challenges including her husband's long working hours and a miscarriage.

"I'm not going to say we don't fight... but you know sometimes these things do make you come closer to your partner," she says.

"I had my miscarriage... it was at that time I realised me and my husband (sic) we really got close together because we were depressed and a bit sad," she says.

Aisha says being there for each other fostered love and respect.

"There were many instances where I really needed him and he really proved himself," she says.

"For instance, once my mother was ill and because she lives all alone in Pakistan... I asked my husband because I was so tense that I want him to travel with me (to visit her)."

Aisha believes the marriage works because the couple understand each other.

Dr Shakira Hussein, a researcher at the National Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies at Melbourne University, says there are many reasons why people who grew up in Australia would opt for an arranged marriage like Aisha's.

"They want their children to grow up in a similar family environment to the one that they grew up (in) and to have a similar connection to the religion and the culture," she says.

"In the wake of a break up of another relationship, a love match, that can be where the family may intervene and say `OK you've tried your way now leave it to us'," Dr Hussein says.

"Also the dating scene can look intimidating and they're not having any luck with it."

Arranged marriages range from full family involvement to a simple introduction.

"It can be not just families putting forward prospective partners but... it can also be parents vetoing what you bring to them," she says.

"It can be that they just happen to be pushed in each other's direction... that is of course not something that's particular to South Asian communities."

Dr Hussein says arranged marriages can be positive if the couple are at the forefront of the decision-making: "If they had the chance to get to know each other beforehand, if they're both not too young, if they have explored other openings."

The idea of marriage not just being between two individuals but a project of families can have its pros and cons.

"I have to say there's a much stronger expectation that you won't leave the match if it starts going wrong," Dr Hussein says.

For 25-year-old Sushmita*, recently divorced with a young son, the experience was far from positive.

Sushmita got married on a trip to Bangladesh with her family when she was 19.

"When I went over there my parents were like `OK, since we're here why don't we check out some guys?' and I said `OK yes, that's fine with me'," she says.

It all happened so quickly she barely had time to process it.

"I met with him and his friends initially, and spoke to him, and after that his family came over and it was like a rush engagement," she says.

"Literally, the first I met him was at the end of January and then we got married on the 10th of February."

Sushmita says cultural differences led to clashes early in the marriage.

"We're just two different people - if I had gotten to know him any better all that would happened was that we probably wouldn't have gotten married, we would have figured out we're too different to be together," she says.

"The family that he comes from... they are traditional in terms of (viewing) the woman's role in the house."

Sushmita believes her youth and inexperience made her less able to make a mature decision.

"I guess at that age you're kind of impressionable and you have a different kind of view on the world and your future.

"I didn't really think about it too much and maybe I didn't put in enough consideration as I should have."

Sushmita says she doesn't warn against the practice but urges caution.

"The thing is you really have to find out and know what the other person is like and whether or not you can deal with that and that's hard to do in a short frame of time."

Despite her experience Sushmita is philosophical about the concept.

"I wouldn't go down that avenue again (but) you never know where you're going to find someone and I think it's just one more way to do it."


By Sarah Malik, AAP

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