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. KeyLimePie

    She is a mail order bride. Aging American guy strikes out with American women, then goes overseas to find a younger wife who is excited about moving to the States.

    February 14, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • LEB

      Zing! Marriage probably is much easier for men when their wives don't expect to be, like, all equal and stuff. I'm sure she'll stay hone and make samosas every Thursday like a good Bengali wife.

      February 15, 2011 at 2:00 am |
  2. DebG

    Arranged marriages should not be allowed for Americans. If you immigrated here, it's not an excuse to bring a cousin or other into the US. It's barbaric, and honestly if Indians think it's so great, stay where you are and don't immigrate! It's backwards and should not be condoned if you're in the West. Sorry.

    February 14, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  3. iggy

    25yrs this august – 2 kids – married early in our twenties – divorce is to easy – marriage is hard...but worth it – also I think they have the divorce rate off...If one man gets married 5 and divorced 4 times (my dad:-) they say that is a 90% divorce rate...no...that is ONE person only....I think the multi divoces skew the whole thing...I will give an example...in our circle of friends and family....out of 15 couples..we all married young (20's) only 2 couples split and of those the men got married and divorced again so 13/15 marriages all OVER 15 yrs...doesn't seem like a 50% divorce rate

    February 14, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  4. rahul

    I guess people commenting dont know what arrranged marriage is about ... there is a substantial time precursor to the actual marriage for both sides to know each other and explore and then tie the knot ... people are idiots when they say that it was nt arranged coz they wrote each other 99 letters ... they just dont understand wht arranged marriage means and how it actually happens ... attraction is always precursor to the actual marriage in urban india at least ... and the marriage satisfaction rate is much higher than me-me-me so called falling in love and then marrying ...

    people ... get to know what arranged marriage is ..
    author .. great job

    February 14, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  5. LEB

    "The modern concept of romantic love has less than a 200-year history and a mere 50 percent success rate."

    And you think that 100% of arranged marriages are blissfully happy? You'd be very, very wrong, my friend. Many arranged marriages result in abusive or even dangerous situations for the wife and for children. Wives very often find themselves trapped in marriages with partners who hurt them, cheat on them, and control them. And both husbands and wives may be very unhappy in their marriages, but because of social restrictions they cannot ever leave the marriage, no matter how miserable. You think it's good for kids to grow up with parents in that situation?

    I might also point out that spousal homicide has decreased with the popularization of divorce in the West. In countries where arranged marriage is practiced, divorce is taboo. IMO, it is FAR preferable to possibly make a mistake in who you choose to marry and get divorced than possibly get stuck in a marriage to someone you don't like or even fear, and where the only way out is death.

    February 14, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  6. Reality

    Additional information:

    "Inner Traditions publishes books related to New Age spiritualism and esotericism, mysticism, neoshamanism, astrology, the perennial philosophy, visionary art, Earth mysteries, sacred se-xuality, alternative medicine, and recordings of ethnic music and accompaniments for meditation.

    In 2000, the independent publisher Bear & Company joined with Inner Traditions, moving from Santa Fe, New Mexico, where it had been founded in 1980 by Gerry Clow and astrologer Barbara Hand Clow [2]."

    Hmmm, now there is a real mixture of visions, myths, stars and s-ex as one pluck's the sitars!!! Could it be Hinduism?

    Then there are those visions of lower castes cleaning up the dung from all the those revered cows owned by the higher castes?????

    February 14, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
  7. Norman

    CNN reaches a new low in useful Internet discourse. I'm sure that Mr. Sperling means well, but arranged marriages gave us the royal families of Europe. Not good.

    February 14, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Becky

      Hey, those are my ancestors (before my side came to America).

      March 8, 2011 at 2:23 am |
  8. sapna in ny (not the wife)

    Dear author,
    you met each other directly and wrote 99 letters to each other – it wasnt arranged.

    February 14, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  9. Stef

    I agree, this was not an arranged marriage. I have a friend whose family is from India and who was raised in the US, her husband in India. Her marriage was arranged and she says that when her three children are adults, she will NEVER place them in an arranged marriage. That alone says it all to me. The 50% success/failure ratio applies to young couples in their 20s, look at older couples in their second or third marriage and the divorce rate drops significantly. There is no saying that this man would not have had a successful marriage on the third try with a western woman.

    February 14, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  10. pp

    Try the song Arranged Marriage by apache indian ......

    February 14, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  11. Anna

    Poor journalism. This was NOT an arranged marriage by any stretch of the imagination.

    February 14, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  12. iminim

    By whom was this marriage "arranged"? He placed the ad, she answered, and they had multiple conversations albeit in written form. Neither of them put their marriage fates into the hands of their families or a marriage broker. What played a role in their "successful" marriage was their commitment to open communication about their expectations and their wants before they met in person & later married. Open lines of communication in a relationship can strengthen the relationship...not exactly a new concept.

    February 14, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Anna

      Exactly. This wasn't an arranged marriage at all. I can talk about arranged marriages because I have seen the fallout where the marriage is not consensual. It's not pretty.

      February 14, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • LEB

      My husband and I did the exact same thing through Match.com. The author's marriage wasn't any more "arranged" than mine was.

      February 14, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
  13. ana

    Any type of marriage will have problems, but you will be success in the marriage only when you respect your spouse. You need to be little selfless when it comes to marriage. If you do me me me all the time, if you think only about your happiness then it wont work, either arranged or love.

    February 14, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  14. Gonzoaster11

    The problem with arranged marriage is that its based on a system of inequality. Arranged marriages effectively sap the woman of her independence. She has no choice in an arranged marriage, as it is often the woman's parents who are trying to 'sell' their daughter to the family of the man. I cannot accept such a system.

    February 14, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  15. Oregon

    I don't know... making it sound as if "arranged" marriage(and I agree, not much was arranged here, she and he were doing their own selection process, not their parents) is some magical solution to marriage woes is naive at best and dangerous at worst. The 99 letters doesn't sound all that different to how I met my husband on the internet and got to know him over the course of a year before we met in person. Not much arranged about that.

    February 14, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  16. Cathym112

    Just because you don't get a divorce, doesn't automatically mean that your marriage was successful.

    I don't think there is any right or wrong way to have a good marriage. What works for one will not work for another. And there is no one thing to blame on divorce. The divorce rate has nothing to do with the relationship working or not so much as it has to do with society and upbringing in general. Chances are that if the big D was frowned upon in your upbringing – then you are more likely to stay in an unhappy marriage. That doesn't make your marriage "successful" just because you didn't divorce. I know lots of prople who are marriage that frankly, aren't a team in the slightest. Thats not successful, thats just sad.

    February 14, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  17. Native American

    Agreed, Ellid. There's also the matter of how many people stay unhappily married due to the social pressure to just stay together even if you're miserable due to the stigma of divorce.

    February 14, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  18. just me

    How is this an arranged marriage? He placed an ad online and she chose to respond. It sounds an awful lot like any web based dating service.

    February 14, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Lani

      Well said! Exactly what I was thinking!!

      February 14, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Truefax

      Yes all arranged marriages are to slave a girl off to settle the debt of her parents. The point is that they shared common goals and understood what roles they wanted before they got married. Sometimes parents (knowing their children) introduce them to people that's gernerally how it works. Very much the same as a e-dating site.

      But the stuff that gets the press is the bride trade, I think that's his point.

      February 14, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Frisco Andy

      I don't think they saw each other until the marriage day other than pictures. Online dating doesn't work like that. I work with several people whose marriages played out in the same manner.

      February 14, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  19. ellid

    And this nice little article ignores how many girls and women were married off to men they didn't even like, let alone love, and how many marriages ended in separation when divorce was unavailable. Bad job, CNN. Very, very bad.

    February 14, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Anna

      Agree. I personally know of a woman from Eastern Europe who lives in the US now and feels she is her husband's prisoner. She is scared to death of him and afraid of what he might do if she tries to leave.

      I don't think this is particularly uncommon. Moreover, the author refers to his marriage as "arranged" but it appears that they got to know each other (99 letters) and each consented to the marriage (unlike my friend.)

      February 14, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  20. kanadiangirl

    After 23 years, 13 children, and many ups and downs, I can say that marriage is awesome.

    February 14, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      13 Children? You deserve a medal or something! Congrats!

      February 14, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Educated

      Wow that is more than trashy, yes everyone have 13 kids and let the tax dollars pay for it all

      February 14, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      Wow that is more than trashy, yes everyone have 13 kids and let the tax dollars pay for it all
      1. I have no idea who Kanadian Girl is, Do you?
      2. It appears you KNOW that she is on government assistant. Mind if I ask exactly how do you know that? I read and re-read her post. I didn't see that anywhere.
      3. Why is it neccessary for you to think the worst?
      4. I am just wondering.

      February 14, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Q

      I always applaud a successful marriage and appreciate different folks have different views on how many children to have, but I can't help thinking of a demotivational poster I saw featuring a nice picture of the Duggars and their (at the time) 14 children with the caption, "V@gina – It's not a clown car".

      February 14, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Magic


      Hilarious... 🙂

      February 14, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      I always applaud a successful marriage and appreciate different folks have different views on how many children to have, but I can't help thinking of a demotivational poster I saw featuring a nice picture of the Duggars and their (at the time) 14 children with the caption, "V@gina – It's not a clown car".
      Nice sentiments (not including the poster) because it is reallly nobody's business with the execption of the Duggar family. As far as I know they are not living off taxpaper money. The Duggars seem (because I don't know them) to be a loving, stable family that have BOTH parents there. Now let's compare/contrast with the woman commonly known as Octomom! What family would you rather be a part of?

      February 14, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • cb

      Tax dollars aside, having that many children is an extremely selfish decision in a world with far too many people and scant resources. Why not adopt 11-13 children if you are fortunate enough to have the desire and means to care for a large family?

      February 14, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      Tax dollars aside, having that many children is an extremely selfish decision in a world with far too many people and scant resources. Why not adopt 11-13 children if you are fortunate enough to have the desire and means to care for a large family?
      Again, nobody's business! Scant resources? Really? Consider this. Hosni Mubarak is worth $70 Billion (with a B) as a poltician! Yet there is rank poverty among the masses. Oh my friend, there is more that enough resources! The issue is NOT scant resources! The issue is greed which by the way, is evil. BTW how many children did you adopt?

      February 14, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • cb

      Exactly.. due to greed, there are scant resources! If you can solve that problem, let us know! And I don't have any children, why do you ask?

      February 14, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      Exactly.. due to greed, there are scant resources! If you can solve that problem, let us know! And I don't have any children, why do you ask?
      1. I wish I could BUT this is a matter of the heart, one I cannot solve but God can yet he allows free will! But as a righteous and just God, In His time it will be dealt with!

      2. Since you suggested folks adopt instead of giving birth, I just wondered if you are taking your own advice!

      3. Nothing wrong with adoption, don't get me wrong! Yet you said 13 children was selfish. Again not your business!

      February 14, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Q

      Steve (TRO) – I know the poster is in poor taste but couldn't help myself. I certainly don't question that kanadiangirl and the Duggars love their children and do their absolute best to provide for them emotionally and financially. That said, I believe cb makes the point implied in the demotivational poster. How do those with extremely large families justify them with respect to limited resources of time and money and how does this square with other ideals, e.g. the desire to provide loving homes for existing children via adoption?

      There's a fair amount of data indicating reproductive rates drop off dramatically with female education and opportunity and that developing nations (for better or worse) have higher reproductive rates born of a lack of social security-type safety nets, losses due to infant mortality and labor needs in family subsistence agriculture. As these generally aren't the case for most developed nations, I believe your reference to Octomom and her suspect personal motivations could be reasonably extended to others with very large numbers of children.

      February 14, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • cb

      Agree to disagree, I believe it is my business. And I certainly will adopt if I have the means and ability and find myself wanting more than 1 or 2 children, there's no purpose in a belief that one applies to others and not themselves.

      February 14, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • RichP, easton, pa

      29 years and 9 months, 2 children who graduate with their science degrees this May, coincidentally on our 30th anniversary plus or minus a day.

      February 14, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      Q and cb,

      First, if I can off as sound arrogant or condescending, that was not my intend and I apologize. All i am saying is The US and Canada are not 3rd world nations and families make the decison concerning family issues. Of course there are and always will be exception such as the lady in CA (Ms Suleman) and that nut case of a doctor. Saying that, It really is a different story in the third world and maybe that is what you and cb were trying to state! yet the US and other nations sends money, food medicine, missionaries, teachers and a host of others to those countries to help! There are several foundations of that poverty. One of the highest on the list is greed and the absense of humanity! If that is your point then I would agree BUT, if you are saying families who desire and can afford and maintain large families should not do it, I have a strong disagreement with that argument!

      February 14, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      Cb, help me to understand. How it it your business? If they are not on the taxpayers dime, how is it your business? Just asking.

      February 14, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Q

      @Steve(TRO) – I can't speak for cb (though I understand his/her point), but I believe we are running parallel here. The issues (on which I think we generally agree, e.g. greed, etc) facing developing nations are unique and distinct from developed nations and this is certainly why very large families in developing nations don't stand out like they do when in developed nations. Whether it's the Duggars or Octomom, there is the question of why? As you inferred before, the personal motivations of the parent(s) becomes a natural curiosity with respect to ethical and tangible social implications beyond just the parents. I certainly respect their right to have as many children as they wish, but I can also question their judgment given these extended implications and opportunity costs. Granted, the respective situations of the Duggars and Octomom are very different, but the question of larger, downstream impacts is quite similar.

      February 14, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • LEB

      After 9 years, no children, and more ups than downs... I agree.

      February 14, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • Drinker

      If she is living in Canada she is costing tax payers by having 13 children. I would venture a guess that perhaps she is in Quebec where they actually pay out baby bonuses to encourage a high birth rate. It's kinda messed up.

      February 14, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Q and cb,

      I respect your points of view! Still an internal debate as to whether I agree with it but respect it none the less!

      February 14, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • justine reay

      Steve, CB and Q – you guys must be Canadian. Even though you disagee to an extent, you really keep it civil. Most disagreements I've seen in the US are pretty virulent. Congrats on remaining gentlemen.

      February 14, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      justine reay
      Steve, CB and Q – you guys must be Canadian. Even though you disagee to an extent, you really keep it civil. Most disagreements I've seen in the US are pretty virulent. Congrats on remaining gentlemen.
      Thanks for that. Just one really small problem! In the words of Bruce Springsteen... I was born in the USA.

      February 15, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Becky

      Try this, they are civil because they walk the walk (Jesus), and talk the talk (God). Congrats for being REAL Christians. I am too. 25 years, 3 children, 2 adopts also. Still madly in love with my husband.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:18 am |
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