My first year in an arranged marriage

By Hoe I Yune, May 20, 2021

For many couples, falling in love happens before marriage. But in arranged marriages, love tends to grow only after the two tie the knot. In arranged marriages, both parties are usually serious about settling down from the start and there’s a greater emphasis on family background, similar lifestyles and coming from the same community. However such unions often mean brief engagements and fewer opportunities to really get to know each other before marriage. 

The first year of marriage can be quite the adjustment. There’s combining responsibilities, possibly sharing finances, and dividing quality time between two families. So what does it mean when two people are not only juggling the new relationship dynamic but also learning about one another and falling in love at the same time? 

To find out, we hear from Aikya, a 29-year-old from India, which is one country where arranged marriages remain commonplace in the fabric of culture and society. Aikya, who works in human resources, met her husband of six years through an introduction by their parents. The millennial shares with us what the early days of her relationship were like, and what it was like to grow into love as a wife. 

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I met my husband Varun in an arranged marriage. We had only known each other for eight months before getting married and moving in together. This meant that we only saw the best parts of each other during the short courtship.

Our first year as husband and wife brought about the most disagreements. Fights could break out over the smallest issues, like what furniture to buy or one of us just not being in the mood to go out for dinner after a long day of work. Only in time did we learn to recognise each other’s triggers and pet peeves, as well as put our egos aside to make things work.

I never questioned whether I made the right choice. Being in a committed relationship made us want to work harder.

I think that is the beauty of love and marriage: embracing the cons as much as the pros; it’s understanding one another and continuing to support each other to grow as people.

I chose to pursue an arranged marriage over a love marriage — what would entail an organic encounter without parental intervention — after my first relationship ended. It’s because I see family background as what shapes a person's values, lifestyle, and preferences. I met my ex-boyfriend in school and we broke up after four years of dating and he moved abroad. It was our differences more so than the distance that tore us apart. For one, he was overprotective to the point that it stifled my independence; I wanted to work after graduation, whereas he preferred that I become a stay-at-home wife.

I decided that given the chance, I would choose an arranged marriage because this means heavier parental involvement and aligning our values from the start. Marriage is always going to be an adjustment but arranged marriages usually focus on the practicalities first, which I believe enables a smoother lifestyle transition after marriage. If you choose an arranged marriage purely to please parents then I think that might breed resentment or lead to unhappiness. Being close to my parents, I trusted them to be able to introduce me to compatible matches and that I would have the final say. 

Arranged marriages and loved marriages are not too different; it’s just that perhaps the timing and sequence of events differ.

Family-oriented, well-educated, and from a family whose lifestyle and values closely resemble mine were the qualities used to describe Varun when my parents received a marriage proposal from his family. Such proposals in India don’t necessarily mean you have to get married right away and to accept is simply to agree to an introduction. This was in 2014. I was 22, and I had just graduated from university; he was 26 and running his own business after studying abroad in Singapore. Our parents exchanged biodatas consisting of our jobs, education background, and hobbies. Verbally, my parents said Varun was keen on a partner who wants to work — someone independent and open-minded like me.

Once I agreed to meeting him and his family, Varun added me on Facebook, and we chatted online and over the phone. This helped alleviate awkward tension when we met in person a week later. At first our conversations revolved around our hobbies and work, then they gradually progressed into talking about the kind of lives we hope to lead and what we’re looking for in a life partner. 

As an only child who is close to my parents and cousins, what drew me to Varun was how he similarly shared a close bond with his family. 

I noticed it from how he spoke about his sister and cousins and how he described what they would do together — hanging out on weekends, partying, and travelling together. It was the kind of lifestyle I could see myself assimilating into. Should trouble arise, his family would sit down to discuss and there was never any question about them having each other’s backs. 

Besides, one of the things I was clear about from the start was wanting to maintain a sense of self in a marriage. A marriage means building a life together as a couple but there might be some hobbies that only one of us is interested in, in which case I think we should be comfortable enough to support one another’s individual pursuits. He immediately understood. 

Every step of the way, it felt like we shared a mutual understanding. 

We were in a long-distance relationship for a month before he proposed again. It wasn’t an elaborate proposal but he said he felt really happy with how things were going and that he wanted to take things forward. He said, “I see a future together and would like to spend the rest of my life with you.” It was really sweet and I liked how it was an open discussion. I said I felt the same way and this time, we were officially engaged. 

One of the first things Varun pointed out was how strong and in control of my emotions I am. It’s true that I don’t easily have outbursts and usually first ask myself if it’s the right time and place before saying anything. I think he saw that my cool, calm and collected personality complemented his more emotional ways.

One of the first things Varun pointed out was how strong and in control of my emotions I am. It’s true that I don’t easily have outbursts and usually first ask myself if it’s the right time and place before saying anything. I think he saw that my cool, calm and collected personality complemented his more emotional ways.

Despite all that I said about practicality earlier, I know that you can’t just enter a marriage with your mind and ignore your heart. 

I’m more reserved and only confide in a few people but Varun’s like an open book who doesn’t shy away from talking about feelings. Once he knew he liked me, he made sure that I knew it too. I have to give him and his romantic personality credit for igniting the spark between us. During lunch and dinner dates, he would surprise me by making reservations at candlelight restaurants or saying something incredibly thoughtful and sweet.

After an 8-month engagement (long by conventional standards in India), we were married and I moved from my hometown Vijayawada to Hyderabad, where Varun and his family live. 
 

Varun’s sister and cousins are like close friends to me now and together with the rest of the family, we would gather to spend an entire day together once a week.

Varun’s sister and cousins are like close friends to me now and together with the rest of the family, we would gather to spend an entire day together once a week.

His parents are supportive but never controlling. Despite the heavy involvement of our parents at the start of our courtship –– helping to screen for red flags and acting as a sounding board –– our parents were never the type to meddle and left us to our own devices after we got married. They respected our right to privacy.

Six months after getting married, we moved into our own apartment near his mum and dad, where we still live till this day. For the first six months, we stayed with them. They were really considerate towards me and made me feel at home. The elders would normally wake up early but as newlyweds, Varun and I would party till late and sleep in. Yet they never questioned why we were out until 3am or made me feel like I had to conform to their ways. It might sound like a minor detail but it meant a lot to me, especially knowing how in India, not every in-law would be as accepting. I learned new things for sure, like how to help my mother-in-law to entertain guests but I never felt like I had to be anyone else but me.

For Varun and I, it was pretty much the honeymoon phase until we moved into our own place. Reality sunk in about eight months into our marriage. That’s when it was less about travelling and meeting friends and more about making decisions as a couple. 

We realised we were quite different: even after the partying died down, Varun remained a night owl who sleeps at 3am or 4am, but I normally sleep at 12am. He learned to accommodate me by watching television in the next room before coming to bed. At first, it was hard to adjust to one another’s habits but then we realised — after sitting down and talking things out — that we share the common goal of wanting to understand each other and what’s best as a couple.

I mostly sought advice from my cousin’s wife and mother who said to keep my mind and heart open and not be too rigid in my own ways. 

An advice that I took to heart was that we both speak our minds but in a way that helps the other person understand our needs, and that we shouldn’t prolong arguments beyond necessary. 
 

I think for Varun and I, our biggest advantage was that despite sometimes reacting poorly and lashing out, we both believed in resolving issues before bedtime. I’ve seen couples who could go on with the silent treatment for days but we’re not like that at all. We also try not to carry over emotional baggage — when we fight, we don’t recall something that happened in the past. If we don’t let go, we cannot move forward.

Coincidentally, it was when the arguments began that I realised I was in love. I was really upset at something he said but it didn’t reduce my feelings of fondness for him and I didn’t feel like walking away in spite of my anger. We had said I love you to each other a month before the wedding and I felt butterflies in my stomach; it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had, but I think to really be in love means more than the sparks and chemistry. 

I realised it was love when I was ready to embrace all his qualities and work on our marriage; and he was willing to accept our differences and become a better person. 

Being with Varun has shown me that love is about mutual respect, wanting the best for each other and accepting each person as they are — warts and all.

Before marriage, Varun was already the more expressive one between us. Not one to sugarcoat, he’s very much “this is what my lifestyle is and how I am like and here are the things that I like and don’t like.” His openness and honesty made me comfortable to express my own opinions. This carried on after marriage. 

Unlike Varun who is very frank, saying “no” does not come easily to me. If he doesn’t like it, he will say it — politely but firmly. Since being together, he has taught me that there’s nothing wrong with saying “no”, even if it’s to him, my parents or colleagues. It could be about something as minor as ordering food — maybe I don’t want to eat what other people want to. This has helped me become less of a people pleaser, while Varun has learned not to react to things immediately and to be more patient and understanding like me.

Our love for each other has definitely grown over the years. Varun’s romantic spirit has stayed strong throughout our marriage. Whether it’s anniversaries or birthdays, he takes care of everything. Even holidays. He wasn’t much of a traveller before but knowing how much I enjoy it, he makes sure that we travel to at least three different places a year. All he’d ask of me is to check on my work schedule to figure out suitable times for getaways. Surprise vacations have been the absolute best — he never fails to impress me by planning and doing things that I love. 

Now we know how each other feels even without the other person saying anything. We know when to talk things out right away and when to give each other space and allow them to come forward when ready.

Now we know how each other feels even without the other person saying anything. We know when to talk things out right away and when to give each other space and allow them to come forward when ready.

An arranged marriage has worked for me but I know it isn’t necessarily a recipe for success. Among my closest friends, two are happily married in love marriages and another friend who partook in an arranged marriage recently divorced her husband. In the past, arranged marriages were preferred and divorces were frowned upon because of image-consciousness, but you can’t just stay in a marriage out of fear of what others might think or because parents might feel ashamed. Ultimately I think it’s for an individual to decide with their partner what is right for them. 

Varun and I are planning to start a family in a year or two. If we do have children, we don’t mind if they wish to remain single or whether they want to pursue a love or arranged marriage, because we believe in giving them the freedom to be themselves.

More importantly, we hope to raise them to be happy and healthy, and we’ll do what we can to support them, just as we’ve learned to support each other. 

Photos were provided by Aikya. 

Writer’s note:

My name is I Yune, and you can find me at @i_yune on the Dayre app. On my personal account, I write about what being in love and loved mean to me, celebrating my boyfriend’s birthday, and the random conversations that we have as a couple. 

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