NYU Love: Love, Family, and Arranged Marriages

By Emily Neuberger

NYU Love Graphic

Modern Love is so much more than the phone in your pocket; it’s about the choices available to us. Welcome to NYU Love, a new column exploring how the student body deals with love and sex.

I spoke with Vivek*, a Tamil-Brahmin young man born in America, with parents from Chennai, Tamil-Nadu, India. He considers America his home, and does not observe Hinduism regularly. The majority of people in his family have had arranged marriages. He wished to speak about his individual experience growing up at the intersection of Western and South Indian culture and the culture of Hinduism, and how that has shaped his views on love and dating. In his experience, family is far more important than romance.

Growing up, dating was not on his to-do list. “I did not get a ‘birds-and-bees’ talk from my father until an awkward car ride this summer when I was 21-years-old.” None of his immediate family members had dated; it was only presented in the context of marriage, so why date if not to marry?

In terms of sexuality, Vivek states again that it was not on his radar. His parents made their feelings clear in their disdain for “Western teen pregnancy” and “the way those American kids dress.” However, he says, “I am still an American male. Hell! There are wants and needs. I am not a virgin, but I do not have sex often. Partly because I always feel a sense of guilt after sex. It’s not guilt that I’ve offended god or anything, but that I’ve made an illogical choice. That I’ve made the ‘American choice.’”

“I was born to an engineer and a plant biologist, so a lot of my views on love and relationships is based on pure practicality and efficiency. However, more importantly, I was raised by my grandparents, as my immigrant parents had to spend more time climbing the corporate ladder to support the family.” Through respect for the struggles his parents went through working many jobs and putting themselves through school, he gained a sense of his obligation to his family before any other relationship.

“My Western friends growing up never understood why I never argued with my family when they said I need to stay home and play with my cousins. This family unit, which is so key to the TamBram lifestyle, is next to godliness. Even though it was quite irksome, deep down I had an immense sense of guilt if I ever ignored the family.”

Vivek says he will probably end up having an arranged marriage, though the idea of getting married is far away (no Bharat Matrimony account, yet!). But due to the many restrictions on a potential spouse, such as complimentary astrological sign, caste, sub-caste, and agreement with the family, an arranged marriage could be fraught with rejection and anger. “I feel worse for women who have to go through this process — they’ve got so many extra expectations put on them.”

“For my own children, I don’t think it’s too wrong to do what my family did. I felt no loss never having thought about dating growing up. I was raised with the idea that I am only as strong as those around me. Most of my family has arranged marriages, and only one has not worked out. What I think the biggest thing I will do for my child, which my parents did for me, is show them, rather than tell them, how a happy marriage can work out, arranged or not.”

While his parents did not have a perfect relationship, he says that over the years, genuine love has developed. While learning to adjust to the other and uphold the expectations of family on both sides, they grew stronger.

But he’s realistic. “At the end of the day, though, it’s all way too early to think about this… I’m just happy to watch Netflix all night and eat cereal in my underwear.”

* Name has been changed

How do you handle love and sex? Share your kickass single life, sexual mishaps, and relationship challenges.

Email egn222@nyu.edu with a few sentences about your approach to NYU Love, and see your story here.

Names can be changed.

[Image Credit Nathalie Hoffman]