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. anon

    Lol @ The Ad. He could have might as well made a face book page or myspace profile. Spff, whatever, if he's happy then congrats.

    February 16, 2011 at 9:17 am |
  2. meme

    Even though he got successful marriage by arranged, somehow I guess this is what is supposed to happen to himself after all. Whoever you are being with, there always mean something to your life. Doesn’t matter it is success or failure.

    February 16, 2011 at 3:25 am |
  3. Merewyn

    Does this guy even know what an arranged marriage is?

    February 15, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • Merewyn2

      yes he does, in fact he knows more than all of you put together. you are the one who doesn't know what marriage is you just have the incorrect messed up western version in your head sorry.

      February 16, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  4. John

    Correct, this man did not get an arranged marriage. What he did do was to change how he approached relationships in order to be successful. He decided that living inside a family would be where he would find contentment instead of being content from a romantic perspective. Marriage (in my conception) is a container for a family. Like the author, find a man/woman who also wants to create a family together, who has similar values, who isn't emotionally damaged, and you enjoy being with. Pretty simple.

    If there aren't children involved or going to be involved, there is no reason to be married. Marriage as a vehicle for romance is what most people point to as a failure, myself included.

    February 15, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  5. Matchedbymoon

    After watching my parent's marriage disintegrate into physical abuse towards each other and the psychological damage it did to everyone in the family, I came to think there must be a better way to prepare for marriage. Hollywood is a poor example that our society holds up as a model to our children and I can't think of one person that has a happily married life in that business. We still glorify their lifestyles and are told by these same idiots and newsmwdia that we should ditch marriage because it didn't work for them. Just live together and test drive the person. No wonder we have an aids epidemic. So is an arranged marriage the solution? Yes and no. As a Unificationist married by the Reverend Moon, we have learned that the whole family needs to be involved in the process. If a child wants to marry someone in our movement then they still must ask permission for the parents' blessing. When a person is accepted into the family through the mutual agreement of both sets of parents then we have a ceremony to commemorate it. It is up to the families to host the occasion and celebrate the union. Similar to an Indian tradition but not too formal. We have to remember that a person is not just marrying just for themselves but marrying into a another family. That way the kids from that union are securely raised in love by the extended family. The kids out perform those kids in school who come from broken homes. This is not for everyone but it works really well in most cases and cultures.

    February 15, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  6. an indian guy's two cents

    The term arranged marriage has two meanings. There are the ridiculous backward-thinking villages where the groom and bride have absolutely no say in whether or not they want to get married. It is the family's decision and they have to do as told. At the other end of the spectrum, you have the typical middle and upper class arranged marriages which different and much more practical. The groom and bride do express some sort of interest after the initial meeting or after communication via letters, mail, or e-mail and videochat. Thirty-five years ago when my dad was studying to become a mechanical engineer in the United States, he went back to India to get married (an arranged marriage). He placed an ad like this guy and met with 35 women over the span of 3 days. It was a big deal for an Indian guy to have a job in American so I guess he had the ladies lined up. Either way, there was mutual interest between him and two of the women – one of whom is my mother today and his wife of 35 years. The system works well, in part because you fall in love with someone's personality and exchange letters or have phone calls for nearly 6 months before you ever even meet them. It's complicated – but the system does work. I do agree with the posters who say that the low divorce rate is misleading. People who get divorced in those societies are looked down upon. These days, amongst Indian people in both India as well as America, it has become much more accepted to get a divorce and so people are much more willing to leave their spouses.

    February 15, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • daisy

      Your comment contradicts itself. If it is becoming more acceptable to divorce, then the arranged marriages do not work.
      The only reason why Indian couples stayed together was due to family pressure. Now that the women have jobs and can support themselves then they dont want to live with some spoiled Indian guy who is under mommy's thumb. This girl was smart to marry a foreigner. This guy was looking for a passive woman and was not able to achieve this in the US.

      February 16, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • Jack1966

      What no one has mentioned is that a number of the older generation of Asian men in arranged marriages have married their first cousin and if it is not a happy marriage they just keep an American girlfriend. And if they have lived in this country for so long, why do they send their children back to their country for marriage...our jobs are good enough, why do they not assimilate?

      February 16, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  7. Richard Allen

    here is a solution. forget marriage. its overrated.

    February 15, 2011 at 8:51 am |
  8. TXMom

    As an anthropologist, let me point out that this was not 'an arranged marriage", this was the Indian equivilent of EHarmony. He wasn't chosen by the parents, but by the woman from an ad. She probably married him to escape the grinding poverty in her country. Even tho America 's image is tarnished, it is still one of the best places to live in the world. This woman saw an opportunity to better her life and took it. Mr. Sperling's inability to find 'love' shows what a damaged person he really is, and this woman is married to someone who does not seem to have the ability to love 'normally'. Compared to India, this woman is living a dream.

    February 15, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • Bliss

      Your Ignorance must be blissful!!!

      February 15, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • better economy

      living in america is no longer a dream. Indian economy,values, education is better.

      February 16, 2011 at 12:01 am |
  9. Whatevah

    I think this man is in love with the ideas of the traditional nuclear family and the romanticized marriage. Sure, he can experience that but if he hopes to have that 100% of the time without any bumps along the road, this marriage is doomed.

    February 15, 2011 at 8:28 am |
  10. Confused

    I'm confused how his is an arranged marriage? He placed an ad in a newspaper & a woman (his future wife) responded. Isn't that what it says? That's not arranged, that's the classifieds.

    February 15, 2011 at 8:27 am |
  11. Reality

    Bollywood, Bollywood, Bollywood !!! with some Kam-a Su-tra thrown in to spi-ce it up!!!

    February 15, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  12. Jeff J.

    What a loser.

    So he attends the wedding of his Indian buddy's youngest daughter and decides he'd like to have an arranged marriage, too?

    Who arranged his marriage? Nobody.

    Who was operating on the Indian lady's behalf to "screen" or approve of her courtship with this guy? An Indian father would not arrange a marriage for his daughter with a foreigner who has two failed marriages under his belt.

    February 15, 2011 at 7:53 am |
  13. Jon

    His success story has nothing to do with the marriage being arranged. The success comes from being rational in your choice, and not just emotional. Furthermore, it sounds like the marriage wasnt even arranged - he and his bride to be made the decision based on their letters - the decision wasn't made by the parents. This story has exactly zero logic. You know, when we in the U.S. considered marriage more sacred - before the 60's - the divorce rate also was very low, even though people married for love. Also, perhaps arranged marriages in india *now* are usually voluntary, but one of the reasons arranged marriages were (absolutely correctly!) disposed of in Europe is that couples were *forced* to marry each other by their parents. It was an issue of freedom. Thank god arranged marriages are gone. But the situation here would be much better if people regarded marriage as a little bit more sacred.

    February 15, 2011 at 5:19 am |
    • MarkinFL

      I don't know. I'm with my wife because I love her. It would take a heck of lot for me to "fall out of love", I can't even imagine a realistic scenario in which that would happen. But if that did happen, why should we stay together in a loveless marriage? Who is it helping? Many people died in miserable marriages when they were sacred. That's not such a great scenario either.

      February 15, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  14. Common Sense

    Sound's to me closer to a match.com than arranged...He just met another person he has interests in and they decide they might want to be together. That certainly is not arranged-that's more like 'falling in love' type of relationship. This guy has no idea what an arranged marriage is-and sounds like he should stay out of marriage since he doesn't know what the heck he's talking about.

    February 15, 2011 at 12:11 am |
  15. love

    people do not seem to understand the concept of arranged marriage. The divorce rate is much lower in arranged marriages.The family looks at the background,occupation,personality ,financial status of the bride and the groom's side.The bride and the groom are allowed to meet or talk or write letters to each other.If everything is okayed, the wedding happens.Then they get to know each other more after the wedding and love blossoms......................
    You all could compare arranged marriage to the concept of having a child.Think about it, we do not get to select who our child is going to be.After the child is born, we learn to love the child..........
    that is what happens in arranged marriage......

    February 15, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • LEB

      Uh, no, the divorce rate of arranged marriages is lower because cultures that practice arranged marriage tend to have social and legal prohibitions against divorce. If the wife is not allowed to have a job outside of the home and/or not allowed to divorce her husband except for in cases of extreme cruelty, then OF COURSE she's not going to divorce him. Where would she go? How would she support herself? Women in such cultures often don't have a choice but to stay, no matter how unhappy they are.

      And comparing who you marry with how you love your child is absurd. Your child is related to you. You are driven by POWERFUL biological forces to love your child from the moment they are born, especially the mother. The romantic bond between husband and wife is completely different from the parent-child bond you have with your offspring. If you have to "learn to love" your child, why on earth did you even decide to have one?

      February 15, 2011 at 1:52 am |
    • better economy

      if it is just "biological forces " , why are so many children in foster homes or living through neglect and child abuse in this country?

      February 16, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • daisy

      Arranged marriages are not happy ones. Both parties try to get along and not dissapoint the families. If they divorce, they have to tell their respective families that they made a mistake. The parental pressure is extreme in arranged marriages. Very few turn into love, really its just cohabitation. This man was unable to build strong marriages twice. Chose an Indian woman who was taught to be passive and accepting from birth. If its working its due to her not having a life

      February 16, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  16. Katherine

    This man's marriage is not a "traditional arranged marriage" by Indian cultural standards. This was a new-era Indian woman, seeking personal ads in a newspaper. Did the Indian woman's parents select this older Westerner has as a suitor for their daughter? Most certainly not. They will need to overcome obstacles, like any marriage, as they pursue their long term marital bliss and commitment. He has been twice divorced; their is a large age difference; cultural and potential religious differerence. The other states that it was crucial that a potential wife lover her mother. Did HIS previous marriages break up because he disliked his own father? I'll be both of his ex-wives could share an aducated opinon on what life was like with him as a marital partner. Happy Valentines Day, my little Dumplink.

    February 15, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  17. Reality

    "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."

    And there it is, matching horoscopes!!! Who would have guessed and such a simple solution to a happy marriage for all!!! And definitely a reason for divorcing your wife if your horoscopes don't match. Sounds like good fodder for Bollywood!!!

    February 15, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • Chris

      You are hereby ordered to refrain from using exclamation points; you've used your monthly allotment up.

      February 15, 2011 at 8:14 am |
  18. Josephine

    The modern concept of romantic love is less than 200 years old ? That is a total lie made up by those who don't understand love at all. There is this nihilist conspiracy that love doesn't really exist and that we have no real meaning or hope or real connection. These lies are put out by psychologically deficient individuals who do not know how to experience real connection to other human beings. There are love poems in almost every culture. There is ancient Egyptian love poetry. The Greeks and Romans had a lot to say about romantic love. Even the Song of Solomon in the old testament is about romantic love. Once again, insanity rears its ugly head. Don't believe the lie. The people who espouse this type of lie are simply one thing – romantic losers. Romance and love are as old as humanity.

    February 14, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • Dave

      what if they actually meant that the common romantic love was only 200 years old. While it has existed for a long time it has become rampant in the recent history.

      February 16, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  19. Blessed Geek

    "The modern concept of romantic love has less than a 200-year history ..." Anecdotal and unverified conjecture due to ... again ... misconceptions due to restricting oneself to a perspective due to 'western' culture.

    DUE TO 'western' culture perception, when there is actually "no such thing" as 'western' culture but an anomalous delineation and definition that anything comparatively liberal and progressive is 'western', otherwise 'eastern'.

    A person who identifies himself/herself as having 'western' cultural roots searches answers from 'eastern' roots. They believe 'eastern' has more traditions, more quirks, no romance but simply spontaneously spiritual. Delusions.

    February 14, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  20. anne

    no, arranged marriages don't work either. there is starting to be high divorce cases in India now among the middle class, because they fall in love with other people. read the news on the internet and the new stats of divorce cases in India.
    also, so many arranged marriages in Us among the Indian families, and so many divorces also. so many cases of domestic violence are being brought up among the families in US who have arranged marriages.
    no, arranged marriages don't work either. very few that work and if this guy made it work, lucky him.

    February 14, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
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