I'm in an arranged marriage but I think I want out

My family in India found me a mate, but I don't think he's right for me.

Published July 26, 2006 11:00AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am a 29-year-old woman from India. Other than two years of grad school in the U.S., I have lived all my life in India. I had a yearlong relationship when I was 22. I had expected it to end in marriage but it ended in a mess instead. I thought at the time that I had learned all the lessons there are to be learned about relationships and choosing the right man. Then at 25 I fell into a relationship with my married boss who convinced me that he was breaking up with his wife. Even as I write this I realize how clichéd that sounds. Needless to say, I feel very silly about having fallen for that line. The end of that relationship in some ways precipitated my flight to the U.S.

Arranged marriages have seen a resurgence in India and I suspect it is propelled by young people's desire to shield themselves from heartbreak. I was one of those and I agreed to marry a doctor I met just once after I returned home from the States. I thought I was taking a very sane and levelheaded decision. He came from a good family and was well liked and respected in his hospital (all this info gathered through the extended family network that goes into operation for marital missions). He had no known addictions, was reasonably good-looking according to Indian standards (not my standards, I must point out, because I like muscular, clean-shaven men and he is neither). We came from similar backgrounds and our life goals seemed to match -- raise kids, earn a lot of money and make our parents proud of us.

Three months into our marriage we had our first fight. It was nasty. We are still living apart.

Now I am not sure marrying him was such a great idea. He seems immature and his anger was shocking. Staying on in a marriage just because he is a doctor seems wrong now. I thought my decision would be right because it was dispassionate. But now I think the lack of passion should have been a warning sign. The fact that I wasn't physically attracted to him should have been enough to decide against marrying him.

How do I know if I made a huge mistake? Divorce is a big deal here, especially in my religion. But I figure the sooner we break up the easier it will be. Then again, who am I kidding? I probably won't muster up the courage to break up the marriage until he does something really horrible.

Perhaps I am being too idealistic. Perhaps all marriages are a bit like this. Perhaps passion, respect and a deep understanding between partners exists only in fiction.


Dear Riya,

I do not know what it is like to be from India but I know what it is like to live with the choices I have made. I do not know what it is like to be from India but I know what it is like to wonder if I have buckled under too easily. I do not know what it is like to be in an arranged marriage but I know that all marriages are in a sense arranged -- by relatives, by the rain, by smiles and secret dances; by children whose arrival can no longer be postponed, by the intersection of ripening desires, by thirsty hope meeting cool water.

So you ask an American what to do. To do what an American would do would be disastrous, I fear. The American shucks off his wedding tux and walks to the next town to set up a new gambling operation in a new hotel.

No one asks him where he came from there. No one cares.

You can't do that. You can't set up your gambling operation in a new hotel where no one cares where you came from. So you ask me what I would do? I would try to live within what you have already done. I would attempt to carry out the plans you had when you decided to marry: Have lots of children and make a lot of money. Absent one of the limited general grounds for divorce available to you under Indian divorce law (depending of course on whether you are Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh etc.), I would try to see this thing through.

Married people fight. Fights are scary. But they are also revealing.

If you find yourself in physical danger, that should be grounds for divorce. If you find yourself being treated cruelly, or abandoned, those also should be grounds. But simply encountering, in a fight, the ugly side of the man you married -- that, I fear, is the universal discovery at the heart of marriage: Most men are flawed; they have an ugly side. You probably do too. Within limits, this is intimacy.

And what if you truly believe you have made a mistake, but cannot demonstrate grounds for divorce? Not all mistakes can be undone. Some mistakes are to be lived with. The undoing can be messier than the mistake.

Beyond that, I cannot say much. I do not know what it is like to be from India. I do not know what it is like to be in an arranged marriage. I only know what it is like to live with the choices I have made.

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