My Take: Forget falling in love. Try arranged marriage.
February 14th, 2011
07:00 AM ET

My Take: Forget falling in love. Try arranged marriage.

Editor's Note: Ehud Sperling is founder and president of Inner Traditions International, one of the world's largest publishers of books on spirituality, religion, and holistic health. He is the co-author of For Seven Lifetimes: an East-West Journey to A Spiritually Fulfilling and Sustainable Marriage.

By Ehud Sperling, Special to CNN

All my life I had believed, like most of us, that romantic love was a sure precursor and indicator of marital bliss. I had played the game of love and lost.

How could this be? I was and still am a book publisher, successfully working with women on a daily basis for 35 years. But a lasting and stable relationship with a woman in the role of my wife was eluding me.

Disillusioned with romance after my second divorce, I decided to take a year off from conventional dating to try to figure out how to succeed at finding a wife with whom I could spend the rest of my life in unspoiled domestic bliss.

I wanted to be married and have a family. I was convinced that marriage was the right vehicle through which I would find happiness and fulfillment.

Since I had fallen in love and married twice, I thought about the whole process and wondered why it was called “falling in love.” I came to realize that what in fact fell was self-awareness, a necessary loss for Eros to be given full play in our psyche.

But one day we wake up and start to wonder, “Who is that person I fell in love with? What are his or her values? Are they compatible with my own?” As these ideas were passing through my mind, I found myself in New Delhi, India, participating in the arranged marriage of Sapna, the youngest daughter of an old friend named Harish Johari.

I had known Sapna as a child and was amazed to see her married to a man that her father and mother had chosen for her. Equally amazing was meeting up with the newlyweds two weeks after the wedding and seeing them already settled in as an old happily married couple.

It occurred to me that my ancestors from Eastern Europe had also practiced arranged marriage. In fact, this system of marriage was dominant throughout the world up until the modern era. The modern concept of romantic love has less than a 200-year history and a mere 50 percent success rate.

With that thought in mind and with encouragement from Harish - who has published more than a dozen books on Indian spirituality - I decided to try for an arranged marriage in India, where this system has operated with a high success rate for thousands of years and is still the dominant marriage system, as anyone who reads an Indian newspaper’s matrimonial section is sure to discover.

With the help of my friends I placed an ad looking for a woman that I could successfully share my life with, a woman with an excellent relationship with her mother and whose horoscope matched mine.

From almost half a billion women in India, Vatsala saw my ad and responded to it because, per the tradition in her country and family, she was also looking for an arranged marriage. Before we met or spoke to each other and way before Eros could raise his handsome head, we wrote 99 letters to each other in a little less than a year.

In these letters, we explored our values and all the day-to-day practical concerns that, if left unresolved, could trigger domestic wars, potentially break a marriage, and kill the sparkle and warm blush of romantic love. Our common goals for this marriage were stable and happy family life and self-realization.

Our ideals were also reflected in the ancient Vedic shlokas, or verses, recited at our Hindu wedding in India when my bride’s father placed her hand in mine:

. . . you need not go to the forest to do austerities for gaining wisdom. If you marry my wise daughter and settle down in the household, you will - by virtue of a family life lived well - gain all the wisdom that you are seeking.

Isn’t wisdom what we need to handle the complexities of modern marriage and its demands for clear gender roles? Isn’t wisdom necessary to create a successful partnership that supports the growth of the individual?

Isn’t it the better part of wisdom to have the advantage of arranging a marriage with the help of the people who love you most - your family - in an effort to harmonize and complement the qualities backgrounds, and value systems of the couple-to-be?

So how did it work out? After 15 years of marriage, we’ve just published a book on sustainable marriage.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ehud Sperling.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Asia • Hinduism • India • Interfaith issues • Opinion

soundoff (205 Responses)
  1. S. Sure Brec

    Is it a coincidence that there's a high rate of arranged marriages that work simply because divorce wasn't allowed or is not socially accepted? After all, people might have been married but they had no qualms about having mistresses or other things to keep them occupied. A lot of arranged marriages benefit the family by merging assets rather than personal matchmaking. Unless you truly believe that poor and beautiful young women match bad looking and much older men with power.

    February 28, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  2. better economy

    i agree with dhanya.
    there is nothing wrong is some give and take to keep the family together. indian women are very well educated now and financially stable and sensible to make good choices to keep the family together to provide stable nurturing environment for their kids.
    where as in the western world ,there is more selfishness involved as the spouses think more about themselves only and instead of trying to make the marriage work, they find it easy to divorce and the poor kid has to think ,"christmas will be at mom's place and thanksgiving will be at dad's place".

    February 26, 2011 at 1:34 am |
  3. Wash

    In indian culture, white is Right!!! that is it. Aging American men, young black wife, make pretty much sense.

    February 25, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  4. Ben Dover

    How about NOT getting married at all. That's the best choice.

    February 24, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  5. Dhanya

    "Indian women are taught to obey from early life." Being an Indian woman... my response is Say What? And what about the "time-outs" and "grounding" and other stuff that westerners give to their children? Isnt' that a form of punishment that is a way to get them to "OBEY" or follow rules?
    Let me just say that Marriage is a give & take. If all one person does is TAKE then its not fair – whether it is an "Arranged" Marriage or not. If you are judging by what you see on the Discovery channel or like Reva said some stupid TV show, then you are by far misjudging and severely misinformed. We do not take orders, my husband still takes out the trash, fixes leaks in the house, helps with cooking, cleaning and the baby. I know a lot of "western" husbands who can't or WON'T do any of that. We argue, we fight and we make up! Most traditional families stay together and work on their marriage for the sake of their children and not having them grow up in a broken home. If a western woman would shut up for one minute or even walk away from an argument sometimes (wooo... can't loose an argument can you?!?!?) then half of the problems would disappear. Here's my two cents! Make what you will of it.

    February 24, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • daisy

      dhanya you are an exception. Congrats on your supportive husband. the obeying is well into adulthood. THis has been my experience unfortunately.
      I wonder how supportive this chap was on his first two marriages? Did he work on them or just run away from his problems?

      February 24, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • better economy

      i agree with dhanya.
      there is nothing wrong is some give and take to keep the family together. indian women are very well educated now and financially stable and sensible to make good choices to keep the family together to provide stable nurturing environment for their kids.
      where as in the western world ,there is more selfishness involved as the spouses think more about themselves only and instead of trying to make the marriage work, they find it easy to divorce and the poor kid has to think ,"christmas will be at mom's place and thanksgiving will be at dad's place".

      February 26, 2011 at 1:32 am |
  6. daisy

    @Reva. Indian women make very few major choices on their own. My opinions come from experience in living with an Indian guy, in observing Indian marriages, an the dreaded Indian mother in law. Even though they think they have choices, until recently divorce was rare. I am happy that you seem to have strong opinions and are trying to carve a life for yourself. I have seen too many Indian women friends stuck in arranged marriages and dont feel they have options. They are afraid the shame their decision to leave would bring on their familes that supported this union. With kids it becomes even harder. So instead they focus on trying to make the best of it.

    February 24, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Dhanya

      Dreaded mother in law? Are you kidding me? What century do you live in? My mother in law is a retired school principal and I can't dream of ever being scared of her... I even asked her.. how did you manage those kids? There was no way they were scared of you!
      But be honest, Do all westerners like their Mother in laws? Are ALL mother in laws perfect and its only the INDIAN mother in law thats bad?? Stop stereotyping. I don't know any girl friends of mine who even "like" their MinLaws. So I'm blessed with MY INDIAN MOTHER IN LAW!!!

      February 24, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  7. Hot?? or Hot!!!

    She is hot hot hot??????

    February 23, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  8. daisy

    @Eswar. Indian women are taught to obey from early life. Perhaps this guy really wanted someone that would support him no matter what. Its not about western women being wild but rather about choice and equality in a marriage. Two people who stay together but cannot regard each others feelings by bickering all the time did not have choices. You cannot have a marriage where one considers his/her needs before their spouse. Love is loving every part of that person and wanting only the best for them, not bickering and fighting all the time.

    February 22, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • Reva

      "Indian women are taught to obey from early life."
      I am an Indian woman (born and raised in India if I may add) so I assume some authority in responding to this blatantly ridiculous statement, typical of an ignorant white woman. Indian women today are educated, aware and financially independent. What they are not, however, are arrogant fools who think that winning every argument or refusing to ever compromise shows strength and independence. So (surprise surprise).. Indian women are better at building stable homes and loving marriages.
      How many Indian women do you even know? Or does your knowledge of India and Indians come from a certain Thursday night TV show? I feel terrible for people like you who spend their entire lives in their own smug little world.

      February 24, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • Lena

      How do you know that we are taught to obey at an early age? Are you Indian, my dear.? I am and I can tell you that we are taught to be free thinkers, to ALWAYS put our family first and to have respect for ourselves and those around us. I have grown up in Chicago and have been taught a lot of things...but the only person I was ever told to obey, were my parents. The same parents who had no problem with me marrying an American. Just saying....

      February 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  9. Amita Reigle

    I am wife of above mentioned Mark Reigle.
    To all those negative and almost insulting blog writers. I have to say, please don’t be judgmental. I am Indian. And we Indian Women are not Dirt. Mark did not marry me thinking that he will have someone who does not know how to say NO. We emailed each other and found out about each other’s values and way of life. We found out that we share same values. We were ready to adopt each other’s problems and happiness equally. That’s why we are still happily married and plan to stay married. I do agree with Beth. Marriages take a lot of Work and most importantly willingness to stay married from both party. Point is love will follow you if you share values. I do have lots of friends here who are married for 30 yrs. They all agree that it takes work and dedication to make a marriage work.

    February 22, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  10. john

    I have an arranged marriage: I will tell you of it not to make a statment, but to show perhaps a different shade of marriage. Mine was aranged by God. Paul the appostle wrote telling us to be equally yoked. ~ I was married once before for 15 years to a women that was a total opposite of me. Enough said to that. Everyone told us that would make a great marriage because we would complement each other. After 15 years of (for both of us) "hell on earth" and raising two wonderful boys we divorced. I then spent 14 years single, durring which I found a true faith and relationship in Jesus. About then I met a young lady whom I met in a ministry and soon we realized that God seemed to have brought us together. We both share an equal faith in our Lord Jesus, and both share a very common way of seeing life. So now we are about to celebrate 4 years married and I could not be happier, and she tells me the same. 🙂 Arranged by God. I do want to say too that I have friends who have no faith in God yet have very good marriages as well. They also are very "equally yoked". Did God arrange their marriage??? I don't know perhaps so.

    February 19, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • renee pearman

      When I met my husband, neither of us were Christian. He had been very unsuccessfully married, I had had two long-term live-in relationships; we spent hours every night for a week talking about everything. At the end of that week, I asked him to marry me...shameless hussy! We were married within 6 weeks, he was 30, I was 28. A daughter was born, we were born again and a son was born.....This Jan.1, we celebrated 30 yrs. of very happy marriage and are currently teaching a class on marriage called Love & Respect which, because they are Biblical instructions, work for every class, nationality and religion. The book should be at Christian book stores, dvd's and workbooks available on-line.
      Congrats to you and your wife, Live long & prosper in the Lord.

      February 21, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  11. Beth

    I've been wtih my husband almost eighteen years, but married for thirteen. It has nothing to do with "western" woman/men, but the fact is marriages take work, ALOT of work.

    February 19, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  12. Rahul Iyer

    Arranged marriages are still quite common in India. This is India (not the West). No one person then impose their views on others. I am Asian Indian by background, born and raised in Chicago. My marriage is not arranged....far from it. My sister's marriage is not arranged either. My parents was not arranged. However, among my relatives in India, many of them my age or older, they still have arranged marriages. This is just their normal. It is difficult for me to pass judgement as such. To each their own.

    February 19, 2011 at 9:29 am |
  13. Ituri

    Wow. He gets married, and THEN wonders "what is this persons values? Who are they really?"

    Translation: He married too fast too often, and didn't engage his brain before he did it. No wonder he needed a wife from a culture who couldn't say no and could be socialy ostracized from her entire culture if she leaves her husband.

    February 19, 2011 at 2:28 am |
    • Kiran

      Sorry but that's a very ignorant statement. I'm an Indian woman, I stand up for myself. My family is supportive of my decision to say no, and would not force me to stay in an unhappy marriage. Please don't make generalizations about the Indian culture!

      March 4, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  14. Eric

    Not to mention, his wife is pretty hot.

    February 18, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  15. Alabama chick

    As a history prof I can say that ARRANGED MARRIAGE HAS BEEN SUCCESSFUL ONLY BECAUSE DIVORCE HAS BEEN AN OPTION ONLY RECENTLY!!!! When you have no choice but to stay, you stay. In most cultures men just went off and had many affairs and this was deemed "the way things are." Certain women did too.

    February 17, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  16. mark reigle

    I have been married only once. I married an indian woman whom I met in matrimonial ads over 10 years ago, she was divorced from an indian man and Is 2 years younger than me. she came complete with a wonderful daughter whom I think of as my own.

    She is very family oriented and we both have that same attatude. I am not trying to insult but that is a hard quality to find in western women today.

    February 17, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Jenna

      I think you have valid points Mark, but I've had the same issues with Western men. My last two boyfriends were from Turkey and Pakistan and while I didn't marry either due to differences in religion...they treated me much better and we had the same values. I've always noticed I am much more old-fashioned in my values than society deems necessary today. I would rather marry once and build a happy home as I believe that is largely the responsibility of the woman.

      February 17, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  17. daisy

    he chose a wife that would be passive as women in India are taught from birth. With two failed marriages, this guy has issues. He may be happy, she has no life really. Falling and staying in love is the goal in life.

    February 17, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Eswar

      @Daisy. Not all Indian women are passive just as not all American women are wild. I wouldn't jump to the same conclusion as you did.

      In so far as arranged marriage is concerned – it is not black and white. there are shades of gray. Would a date set up by an anxious mother for her son/daughter that leads to marriage be called arranged marriage? My sister introduced me to my prospective (at that time) wife. We talked, we liked each other and get married. Is this arranged marriage? My in-laws marriage was arranged and have been married for more than 50 years – they argue all the time – but they couldn't imagine a life without the other. Is that not love?

      I heard this on the radio a few years ago. If we are to view marriage as a house – do we choose a "perfect house" and move in -or- do we choose to move into a good house and make it perfect?

      Point is we are not perfect and therefore cannot expect that from our prospective spouses. But after 10, 20 or 50 years do we still see a "perfect union" for each other?

      February 22, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • Manolo Rodriguez

      I would say that the goal in life is to attain our happiness, and all other activities should be aimed to doing that. You may or may not need to fall in love, to have a family, to have a career, etc. But people do want to have better lives, to improve their human condition, to be happy...

      February 27, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  18. Hmm...

    Sustainable marriage – here comes the new relationship catchphrase.

    February 17, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  19. God is BS!

    Go to Las Vegas and get a hook er. It's cheaper and less of a headache! Try it & you'll like it!

    February 16, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  20. Edward Nashville, TN

    Its one thing to have someone pick a spouse it is quite another to place a personals ad, How is this an arranged marriage. If he thinks romantic love was invented in the last 200 years he is N-U-T-Z!

    February 16, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
    • Alabama chick

      So right, just that "falling in love" had nothing to do with marriage. And with divorce not being an option in most cultures for most of history, one was most often stuck in a loveless (not necessarily unhappy) marriage. The two were not seen as going together

      February 17, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
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