Category Archives: Arranged Marriage

The Aftermath Part One: From Smooth Sailing to Choppy Waters

This is part one of two posts describing what happened while my parents were visiting me and L.


It started off so well.

So well, in fact, that I spent the first few days dreaming of the victorious blog post I would write when my parents left – “We should have never worried about a thing!”

Before they got here L and I spent hours cleaning our unit. Actually, L spent hours cleaning our unit…he scrubbed all the crevices between the bathroom tiles with an old toothbrush and wiped out all the light shades and ceiling fans, poured boiling water over all the walls and scrubbed out the stains…geez he even took apart his keyboard and tapped out the dust from under each key. Being a more homely person than me, he had bought a few essentials we’d been living without until now, to make sure my parents had a comfortable stay: a microwave, some glasses (we’d just been drinking everything out of mugs), a shower curtain (we were never bothered by a bit of water on the bathroom floor), and more cutlery.

They were arriving in the middle of the night and we both drove to the airport. Mum and Dad seemed really pleased to see both me and L, and the drive home was pleasant chatter. Phew! That was the first hurdle down. I was afraid my mum would be cold towards L at the start. At one point during the drive home she did give out this massive, frustrated sigh (I was driving with her in the front seat, and Dad and L in the back). When I nervously started chewing my nails she turned around sharply and asked, “What’s wrong?”, but apart from this there were no tense moments.

We showed them around the first two days and it was all family fun: Dad insisted that L get in every photo, and the second night L totally won them over by cooking a killer chicken curry. We even sat down and went through some photos of his family – his brothers, his parents, and his brothers’ children. Considering my mum has been known to say things like, “One good thing about Australia compared to the US is that you don’t see as many black people around”, looking at photos of L’s little black nephews and nieces was important to me. Because you know, her grandkids will probably be black.

Fortunately there were no references to skin colour, unless you count an innocent sunscreen error. My Mum has much fairer skin than the rest of us, coupled with a number of friends who’ve had close calls with skin cancer. Growing up, we were never allowed to leave the house without a healthy dose of sunscreen and a good hat. Dad has always resisted wearing a hat and sunscreen, and while we were lathering up on our first day out on this trip he asked if it was absolutely necessary. Yes Dad, the sun is really strong here. Then he looked suspiciously at L and proclaimed, “But you’re not wearing it!” No no, L explained, I just have sunglasses. And that was that 🙂

When I took them to the local fresh fruit and veggie market they bought an expensive bottle of homemade chilli-sauce for L, insisting that he’ll like it because he likes hot food (I’m not so much of a chill person) – and this was while L wasn’t even with us!

Also they insisted on buying me a present. Now one thing about South Asian culture is that there is an ever-present ethic of giving gifts to your daughter, especially once she’s moved out of home, and often in the form of jewellery or household appliances. They’d been asking me for weeks before coming up what I wanted, and I kept replying nothing because they were already spending a lot of money to come and see me. Of course they decided to buy a gift while here and guess what it was? Nothing personal like jewellery or nice shoes or a new dress or anything…but an esky set!! “So you and L can use it when you go for picnics”. This was another win, to have them gift the two of us, which is really an acknowledgement that L is a part of their daughter’s life.

Then Mum, Dad and I went away for a few days. L couldn’t come along because he didn’t get the time off work, and I was really afraid the trip would be all fighting. But no, the first three days were surprisingly smooth sailing – we were enjoying being together after not seeing each other for a long time.


It went rocky with my parents on the third night. Or more accurately, it went rocky with Mum.

When they first told me they were visiting, about 4 months ago, I had offered for L and I to have a civil marriage while they were up, assuming that they’d be uncomfortable with us living together. At the time they had not warmed to the idea, and Mum had suggested that I “stay with him for a while before jumping into marriage, take you time to get to know him” (in the hope, obviously, that I’d get to know him and then choose the break-up path rather than the marriage path). She asked me what our plans are regarding marriage now. I replied, a bit defensively, that because she’d rejected the idea and I had only really offered to get married for her sake (L and I aren’t religious and getting married is not really a priority at the moment), we haven’t thought about it any further. “But we’re still planning to be together long term, we just don’t want to get married”.

Mum and Dad had both discussed my offer at the time, and decided it was not a good idea to get married with just L, me and my parents present. As if we’re hiding from the rest of the family (Dad’s brothers have also moved to Australia over the years) and doing something wrong. “A wedding isn’t something you hide from everybody, it’s something you should celebrate with everybody. So if you ever decide you do want to get married, we’ll do it properly, and openly”.

Ok, I’m glad we’re on the same page there.

Dad even said: “I know why you offered. You were offering to get married for us, so we would be ok with you staying together and so you could receive us into your home. But we don’t want you getting married for our sake, if you’re going to get married, it has to be for your own sake. We’re mainly concerned that you’re happy with him, whether you’re married or not. To get married just for us would be wrong.”

I was really touched by this but Mum kind of ruined the atmosphere by muttering “Speak for yourself…”

Then she started. He’s not the right age. Nothing has happened yet (i.e. we’re not married or pregnant) so we can safely call it off. It’s too much of a risk committing to someone if you have no way of finding out about their background.

I blew up, of course. L has spent days cleaning for you, even attacking the floor with a toothbrush. He speaks of you with the greatest respect yet you won’t even acknowledge his existence, much less mention his name, when we speak on the phone. He has no family in Australia and he’s always hoping that you will become family for him.

Fortunately Dad backed me on this one. When Mum said it’s too risky to be with somebody who’s background you can’t investigate (i.e. ask friends of friends about L and his family, as per the arranged marriage system), Dad pointed out that “it would be even riskier to leave him.” He added, “L seems like a real gentleman. It’s a big thing for you to find a partner. I can see you’re happy with him, and that’s all we care about”.

Again, before I could thank him for his empathy Mum took over with her raving: When you were going out you lied to us about staying over at his place. I’m so hurt by what you’ve done to me. (Uhmmm…what have I done to you?). I don’t need to say it now, you know what I mean. And on and on it went.

Finally, exhausted, she became sullen and quiet and slipped into bed with the doona pulled above her head. Dad could see I was really upset by this stage, and tried to calm me down. “All we care about is your happiness. Your Mum thinks this too, she just doesn’t know how to say it. If you show her over the next couple of years that you two are fine and you’re happy together, she’ll come around too.” He paused. “But don’t just show that you’re happy of course, don’t put it on for us. We need to know that you actually are happy”.

I almost broke down at this. L and I didn’t have to put on a show these last few days, but we have had some huge difficulties since we moved in together, as we grapple with all this stuff related to racism and how it affects our relationship. Two months ago, our relationship would often turn into a microcosm of everything that is wrong with the world when we both lost our tempers. But when I’d just converted Dad into accepting L, and while Mum was lying there openly hostile, how on earth could I blurt it all out? A part of me so wanted cry out, “It’s been really difficult, please teach me how to have some strength and empathy and patience”, but instead I crouched down near my mother and asked if it was true. “Will you really be happy if I’m happy? Because I am, and it hurts me that you’re not recognising it. And that, worse still, you’re personally offended by happiness!”

That’s a pretty desperate cry right, to ask a mum to say something nice?

No such luck. Instead she said angrily, “We’ve done our duty towards you by bringing you up and graduating you, now you have a duty towards us”.

Grrrr…what fucking duty?

But she wouldn’t say.

Now I don’t know much about what goes in my Mum’s head, but the fact that she wouldn’t say it in front of Dad makes me think it has a lot to do with the whole sex before marriage thing.

You may have noticed my parents have rather different approaches to parenting. Mum has always been a strict disciplinarian, while Dad is more of a gentle, understanding, flexible type. This characterises their clash of personalities when it comes to their entire relationship, really, and the argument was quickly becoming as much about them as it was about me and L. That’s the problem with family fighting and family politics, everything becomes about everything else and instead of solving it all in one go you end up amplifying it all. I dashed out of the room before bursting into tears, not bothering to respond to the one, reconciliatory “good night” from Mum.

Later Dad called me into their room. “Your Mum wants to say something”. I walked up to the bed and he nudged her. “Tell her”. But again she simply muttered something about not being able to say things she doesn’t mean, and pretended to sleep. “Sorry, she said she would say that she’s happy for you. But even if she doesn’t say it, that’s what we both mean”.

Thanks Dad. I want to thank you for all your support and being a great father but I can’t. I’m choking again.


Filed under About, Arranged Marriage, Family Acceptance, Interracial Relationships, Parents, Race, Racism, South Asian Marriage, Western Privilege

Sex Before Marriage? I Should Have Lied

If your mum is anything like my mum (strong-willed, dramatic and South Asian), there are some things you should probably hide until the time is right.

Unfortunately for me this realisation has come a little late.

L and I live together now (we’re not married) and there’s no point in hiding the obvious. But back when I was still living with my parents, I could have spared both mum and I two years of feeling hurt and betrayed if I’d just told one tiny white lie. “No mum, we’ve never slept together”.

I’ve always been honest with my mum. In the early days of my relationship with L, I was keen to share, hoping my openness would warm her up to the idea of us being together (in case you’re wondering, this strategy didn’t work). Clearly there were things I would never have told her. Usually these were things that left me feeling dirty and low myself – having a one night stand, for instance.

But making love to the guy I love, and having such intense feelings for each other the whole thing felt almost sacred? That to me was something to cherish. It was certainly not something I would ever deny when asked about, as if we were naughty kids doing the wrong thing. To hide it would have felt belittling and dismissive of our love.

Which is why, when I told mum the truth, and she hit the wall and basically implied I was a whore, I came out of the battle badly badly bruised. Yes, she apologised for saying it (after I didn’t speak to her for a couple of days), and now that L and I live together the issue barely rates a mention. All mum has said is, “Make sure you don’t get pregnant”. But the memory still stings. It was after this episode that I clammed up about L…avoided mentioning his name, stopped hinting that he and mum should try to get to know one another better. All I could think about was how my friends’ mums welcomed their partners with open arms (they didn’t all do this, but I wasn’t looking out for such reality checks at the time). And how my own mother, in contrast, had not only refused to be happy about my relationship, but had actually shot down my self esteem and selfishly turned the whole special thing around to make it be about her. How could she insist that my making love to my own partner is the ultimate betrayal? How is that logical? Or loving? Or anything else a mother is supposed to be?

And it’s not just with me either. She once found a packet of empty condoms in my brother’s room and went wild at him, replaying the betrayal script once again. (My suggestion that at least it was empty and at least he’s being responsible didn’t quite go down as I had intended).

It was after the fight with me that mum became explicitly anti-L. On some warped level of reality, she obviously did recognise the seriousness of the relationship, because she realised at this point that we were in it for the long haul. But the whole thing also allowed her to crystallise her objections, to turn our relationship into – out of the all the special things that it is – a personal attack against her!

I do understand that my mum has sacrificed a lot for her children. And I do understand that it must hurt so much when your kids act in an almost alien way, completely disregarding some of your most dear values. Just as it hurts me deeply when I feel mum has betrayed some of my dearest values – like the assumption that she would be happy for me when I found my long-term partner.

But hey, at least I was honest.

I wonder how mum would’ve reacted if I had approached my relationship with L the way most of my cousins have approach their relationships: by hiding them from their parents until they’re ready to get married or move in together. And then, in the case of monocultural relationships, asking for their parent’s permission and hey pronto, turning it into the perfect (self) arranged marriage. Everyone’s happy and no one’s asking questions.

I never grew up knowing my cousins or how they interacted with their South Asian parents (maybe if I had I’d be better equipped to handle my mum). But I do wonder: doesn’t it hurt to hide your relationship from your parents? Doesn’t it feel demeaning of your love? Maybe these cousins understand better than me what their parents can and cannot handle. And maybe they know better than to feel hurt by lack of parental understanding.

I’m not so sure sharpened cultural awareness would have made me less honest (and therefore more sensitive) with mum back then. There was definitely a stubborn assumption and expectation from my part that she would react just like all the other mothers I knew. Considering all these other mums were white, this was hardly a fair expectation and I don’t think it’s entirely mum’s fault I came out of it feeling so hurt and resentful. And anyway I’ve learnt my lesson. With cultural understanding has come a much less militant attitude towards honesty.


Filed under Arranged Marriage, Cultural Difference, Family Acceptance, Parents, South Asian Marriage

No No…Don’t Have That Arranged Marriage!

Ok, here goes, my take on arranged marriage…a favourite topic because it never fails to ignite some good-ol’ fashioned argument.

Recently, I had a heated debate with my housemates about why arranged marriage is not an inferior form of matrimony to so-called love marriage.

As the daughter of South Asian migrants, I’ve often argued to friends that a system which upholds marriage as a union of families (where love and desire between a woman and man may only be one factor informing the collective decision to endorse a match) is no better or no worse than a system which upholds marriage as a union of two individuals. On the flip side, I’ve fiercely defended ‘love marriage’ to South Asian relatives who are convinced that in the west, marriage = divorce.

Despite this public commitment to cross-cultural tolerance and understanding, I have a personal confession: As daughter of South Asian migrants, I can’t help but feel disappointed – and yes judgemental – when I hear that yet another daughter or son of this-or-that Aunty has opted for an arranged marriage.

Dude, what are you doing? Don’t you know that you’re behaviour is setting a precedent for the rest of us? One down for the team…

(The thought occurs that expecting young adults to conform to the wishes of their peers is just as Nazi as expecting them to conform to the wishes of their parents. But let’s not digress.)

Let me clarify that up until 4 years ago, I was judgemental of ANY form of marriage, ‘love’ or ‘arranged’, convinced as I was through adolescence that marriage is a conservative, misogynist conspiracy out to get women. That view is softening somewhat since (predictably) I met L. In high school, most of my friends had a much more tolerant attitude towards marriage (‘love’ marriage in the context of this post) than I did. I actually have more friend in their 20s (my age group) married or planning to get married than friends in their 30s, and I’ve surprised myself by embracing this desire to settle down with the love of my life…a desire I’ve previously dismissed as romantic nonsense. You can hardly blame us romantics – most of us spent our teens under a conservative Australian government which championed a form of family values harking straight back to the 1950s.

Anyway, back to the point – migrant marriage patterns are influenced to various degrees by both the ‘host’ and ‘home’ cultures, so maybe a general political climate sanctifying ‘family values’ reinforces South Asian notions of family values and hence, for marriageable 20-somethings, makes arranged marriage seem like an attractive and moral choice.

And let’s make no mistake that, at least of the community of youth with whom I’m familiar, arranged marriage is to a large extent a matter of choice (i.e. not a result of outright coercion by parents). Parental pressure may play a role – it certainly does for my female cousins in South Asia – but nobody I’m close to has yet ‘chosen’ an arranged marriage in Australia so I’m unsure how the parental pressure factor plays out here (except for in my own case, where parental pressure is not FOR an arranged marriage, but AGAINST the current relationship).

On the grapevine, I’ve heard that those who are having arranged marriages (friends of friends) are doing so because they want to. They want to have their marriages arranged. They always have since they were a kid.

To sum up so far…they want to have their marriages arranged and they have a right to do so and who am I to judge them for going through with it?

What’s my problem anyway?

I could say that the extended family structure, which underscores arranged marriage (again, through the idea that marriage is a union of families endorsed by the familial collective) is too patriarchal for any woman to have to bear.

But in Australia, couples don’t necessarily live with the husband’s family after marriage, and as I’ve already pointed out, all forms of marriage are based on patriarchal ideals in one way or another (e.g. a father giving away his daughter).

At the end of the day, I guess I’m uncomfortable and confused by the fact that migrant youth my age are identifying with a practice and culture that I have always associated with another time and another world (my parent’s world – which for me has always been at the other side of the world).


I always knew my parents had an arranged marriage. It was an everyday, taken-for-granted, ‘steel is grey’ kind of fact. Indeed, my parents had never seen or spoken to each other until the day of their wedding. Both my parents have older siblings who had ‘love marriages’ (but into the right caste) before them, both had finished their Masters degrees at the time of marriage and both come from relatively liberal urban families. (My mum’s mum, who had been married before she turned 10 and widowed with a large family to support, had given her 7 daughters a choice: we’ll sell whatever is left of your father’s belongings for dowry or spend it on your education…all chose education at a time when it was rare for daughters to go to university). Amongst their social group, it would have been normal for the couple to meet, once the match had been confirmed, in the context of a family gathering. But at the time dad was living in a rural area, and nobody owned a telephone, so no exchange until the wedding day.

I also always knew that arranged marriage was something they did over ‘there’, and that it had nothing to do with me. That too, was an everyday, taken-for-granted fact. I didn’t know anybody in Australia who had an arranged marriage or was planning to…who even gets married these days (much less – gasp – an arranged marriage), right? I remember teasing my dad about not being able to find somebody himself and getting his parents to do it for him. My dad – who has always been much more tolerant of my pigheadedness than I ever have been about some very basic aspects of his culture – replied with good humour that he went to a university with only 3 female students, and being the nerd that he was he never had a chance to meet anybody.

The first time I told my friends that my parents had an arranged marriage – and that they’d never even met before marriage – I was surprised by their surprise. I knew their parents had all dated before marriage, because that’s what people do here, and I’d assumed that they, like me, ‘knew’ that things were done differently in different parts of the world. This discussion happened in a high school English class, while completing an assignment on Jane Austin and arranged marriage (the 18th century English variety) versus contemporary marriage practices. I was even more surprised when one of my friends concluded during this discussion that because my parents had an arranged marriage, I would also take the side of arranged marriage. Again I had assumed that my friends would take what I took for granted: that anything I said about my parents and their marriage was something done over ‘there’, in a little-known country on the other side of the world, why would it have any relevance ‘here’?

These assumptions of course sum up my entire attitude towards my parents’ culture and their way of life, their religion, their language and even ‘their’ family (not ‘my’ family because they were strangers to me for a long time): that it belonged to another world and had nothing to do with me. We never talked about culture, or religion, or values, or marriage when I was growing up…unfortunately these expectations came out much later when I’d already been with L for two years. As a teenager, my dad had told me that when they moved to Australia, they accepted that their children would not marry somebody from [glorious homeland] because there wasn’t anybody from [glorious homeland] here to marry. Their attitude has been changing since they moved to a city with a growing community from [GH]. Studies of migrant communities point to this trend – as communities grow, the less they are forced to assimilate and thus the more ‘conservative’ (in the sense of maintaining/modifying traditions from home) they become. My parents (or more specifically, my mother’s) reaction to L is a case in point …but that’s a story for another post.

I realise now though what my high school friend (who is still a good friend) had known much earlier – that people aren’t just different because they’re in different parts of the world; they carry their differences with them because it’s a part of who they are.


And yet I’m still uncomfortable with the fact that having an arranged marriage can be a part of who you are if you live in Australia. Not least of all because it gives my mother leverage to say, “See, [so-and-so] are marrying a nice boy from [the glorious homeland], if only I’d raised you better I wouldn’t have this problem!”

See how your arranged marriage is turning me into a problem?


Filed under Adolescence, Arranged Marriage, Cultural Difference, Family Acceptance, Parents, South Asian Marriage