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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. should i at any time just fall in love,Most definitely i'll in no way just fall in love,concerned to fall madly in love,I possibly could love you,falling inside and outside of affection

    I simply could not leave your site before suggesting that I really enjoyed the standard info a person provide in your visitors? Is gonna be back ceaselessly in order to inspect new posts

    July 5, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  2. Chuck

    Kitchens are asmlot certainly one with the significant places within the house. This is exactly where you store your utensils, food items, as well as prepare the food. Normally, homemakers spend considerable time in this part with the property; therefore it assists to pay important attention to developing a safe, clean and sturdy place for your cooking and food preparation chores. The selection of kitchen flooring is also important, because the wrong choice could mean a whole lot of stuff. A slippery floor tile pattern could lead to possibly extra slips and falls, creating the work location unsafe.

    March 2, 2012 at 4:07 am |
  3. cynthia

    The author ponders the questions of "Who is this person, really?" and "What are my mate's true values and beliefs?" and concludes that because these questions will eventually raise their challenging heads, divorce is inevitable. But precisely because tough questions like these will arise, it is best to know the answers to them *before* you marry someone. Of course knowledge of your partner's values, etc., doesn't guarantee marital success, but it certainly seems wiser to me to judge those values, etc., for myself, rather than sitting back and letting my parents and friends broker a deal on my behalf–a binding and lifelong deal at that. To give up on judging and choosing your own mate seems to me to be simply abdicating your own responsibility in the matter: "it was too hard for me to figure all this stuff out before...why don't you (other) guys figure it out for me this time...." My take? Not a promising start if genuine intimacy and *shared* values are the goal.

    March 16, 2011 at 12:55 am |
  4. Aaron Moore Sacramento, CA

    Preach, Martin!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 15, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  5. Martin

    The women posting here couldn't illustrate any better why this man went beyond the boundaries of this country to find a good wife. I mean, look at the vitriol contained within their posts. All of them, unhappy, angry and way too full of themselves. The arrogance they display is nauseating. Exactly what no man in his right mind is looking for – as I am pretty sure they already know since I'll bet they've all been in and out of divorce court at least once and continue to sit alone at home whining about how great a catch they are if only the right emasculated man would come along and agree.

    March 15, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  6. lachman

    The most important thing for a marriage to succeed whether it's a love marriage, or an arranged marriage, is a good communication between the couple, secondly they should be honest to each other on their daily basis.

    March 15, 2011 at 12:29 am |
  7. Pauline

    Arranged marriages are prolific in cultures where women have less rights, implied and implicit, than men.

    March 11, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • Andy

      You have not felt the authority of the wife / mother in an Indian household. The woman rules the household de-facto, without screaming for authority. The man is the head of the household , but the real power lies with the woman. And women in those cultures know how to command that power without screaming, or competing with men. They are therefore more respected and admired. That carries in the work place too . I have yet to see a woman openly being called a Bit*h in the work place as I have seen in the US . Women there, do not have to be one of the boys to succeed and trust me there are enough women working in the corporate sector in all positions from call center operators to board members of very large organizations.

      March 15, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
  8. Pauline

    I read the story and thought, what would have been the headline for his ad? "Self-indulgent, American Narcissist Seeks Sub-servient, Economically Disadvantaged Woman From Third-World Country To Tie My Shoe Laces And Cook My Meals" etc.

    March 11, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Mamulya

      100% correct. I saw tons of them in Thailand. Some 'perfect' wives didn't speak a word of English.

      March 13, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  9. Camille Harman

    My husband is a Vedic Astrologer. He chose our wedding date 10 years ago, and we're still going strong. We are very compatible astrologically. At first I resented getting married on a Wednesday morning at 10:35. But, our guests showed up and we had a great time.

    March 10, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  10. Jerry

    Ok...OK.....class ,we need to understand what is ment by "Arranged" marriage. If I the groom...dont know you ..and you..the bride... dont know me, but our parents knows the orther family..., and wants us to get married...that is arranged. Love has nothing to do with arrange marrages......its more for money or cast. However some A/M do fall in love after living together, but some dont.

    March 9, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • Meleon

      You are right , arranged marriages have more to do with caste, not so much about money these days. Its basically based on the concept birds of a feather flock together. Arranged marriages these days the parents dont have to know the other parents, they can be strangers who come to an agreement online via matrimonial sites, after the horoscopes have been matched.

      June 14, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  11. Blue Puppy

    All it takes for love is two people willing to love each other. But people these days seem to expect for more than that? Then they get mad, when something that they can't even identify doesn't appear before them?

    March 8, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  12. Experienced

    What the author completely overlooked is the high rate of divorce in arranged marriages these days...! Bottom line...both parties gotta make it work after getting married period.

    March 8, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  13. Middle-Aged Mom

    I met my husband on Match.com 15 years ago. It was certainly not an "arranged" marriage. True, I met him long before we exchanged 99 letters, but overall, I fail to see how this guy's courtship was substantially different. He placed an ad, he corresponded with a likely candidate, they liked each other, they got married. What was "arranged" about it?

    March 6, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  14. Peggy

    So really he was just looking for a 'wife', like car or a house. Sustainable marriage? Sounds bland to me like. Anyone can do that, just shut your mouth, don't have an opinion and have dinner ready by 6 o'clock. Watch some tv with a little, light conversaton and hit teh sack for some robotic s e x, i.e no lu stful or passionate 'I am crazy in love with you' thoughts required. Hmmm not for me. She is just a mailorder bride.

    March 6, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  15. El Kababa

    Love is much overrated. It is very perishable. It comes and it goes. The idea of living with one person for a lifetime is sort of like the idea of never telling a lie in your life. It very rarely happens. Most of us will marry two or three times. Most of us will sleep with 5 – 15 people. We're human beings. Our feelings change over time.

    March 5, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • Becky

      Love is not over-rated. It is misunderstood. I have been married for 25 years to the same man. The only man I have been married to. We met when he went to visit my parents, whom he had been friends with for 2-3 years before I met him. I was also visiting them and didn't like him at all. I eventually got to know him and discovered an amazing friend. We eventually started to date and within a year we were married. You need to get to know a person before committing to spend your life with them. You also need to COMMIT to spending your life with them. If you think of divorce as a way out you will not make it. I told him when he asked me to marry him to think about it some more because I do not do divorce and believe that to make a marriage work is just that, WORK. Love is definitely worth it but so is a long-term commitment.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:55 am |
  16. R Burns

    How was this an arranged marriage if both parties took out personal ads and the couple communicated for nearly a year before meeting? An arranged marriage is usually matched by relatives on behalf of the betrothed. What am I missing here?

    March 3, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • Priya

      Arranged marriages these days aren't like they were in the olden times. Now, the couple get to know each other before hand. It's almost like being set up on a date. You meet different people who may or may not be compatible with you, you pick someone who you believe you may have a future with, and over time get to know them.

      March 7, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  17. Frankly Speaking..

    The author is a perv

    March 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  18. James

    I'd have to agree with Paula, especially on point number two. Arranged marriage does not necessarily address the issues of figuring out compatibility more effectively than so-called "love" marriages. Parents can just as hastily rush their child into a marriage as any hormone-fueled couple. I've seen it happen first hand.

    March 2, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  19. Paula

    The author says..." 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?”

    Perhaps this is part of your problem...you should be asking these questions before you marry. If you don't know these things how can you really be in love with someone? You were in lust, or infatuated with your wife, but real love involves really knowing a person. Otherwise it's just hormones.

    Then he says... "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."

    I would hope that your criteria for a marriage partner were deeper than her relationship with her mother (seriously?) and a horoscope, which is fiction anyway. When is divorce number three?

    March 1, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Peggy

      Don't you understand this was based on HIS astrological sign too! Just another cre epy white dude that orders his woman online. A submissive asian woman & a we ird white dude...gag.

      March 6, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  20. Jessica

    I don't know anything about India but my family was close to a Palestinian family with seven brothers. Several of their marriages were arranged. One marriage was totally awful. Both people were miserable. In another case, the couple divorced and remarried. In a third case, there was a divorce bit I didn't know that couple well because he worked in Saudi Arabia. None of the marriages were ones I would want. The marriages were based on a division of labor. The husbands knew NOTHING about their wives as human beings. Of course, one woman was ordered by her aunt to marry. One son was pressured by his mother to marry his cousin. Maybe the system works well among upper– class Indians but for many women, the system is coercive and results in great unhappiness.

    March 1, 2011 at 7:52 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.