First Comes Marriage, Then Comes Love

Experts say arranged marriages, popular in India, have a high success rate.

January 29, 2009, 2:56 PM

Jan. 30, 2009— -- Preeti Gulati sat patiently for hours last October during a traditional ceremony in New Dehli, India, where her body was adorned in intricate patterns with a paste of henna and lemon juice.

In just two days the 29-year-old would leave the familiar comfort of family, friends, even her country for 30-year-old Aashish Paruthi, a man she barely knew and had not yet kissed. She did this not for love, but for marriage.

Paruthi left India for the United States seven years ago to attend graduate school and had decided to stay here to work. Although he had tried his hand at dating, he had not met the right woman.

"There were certain expectations, certain things that I wanted my life partner to have. I just never found anyone who was close enough to those expectations," Paruthi said.

So he gave up on the American dating scene and turned to tradition, asking his parents back home to arrange a match for him. A match not made in heaven, but in the classifieds. Just as in America, Indian matchmaking sites in newspapers and on the Internet are popular hunting grounds for singles.

Gulati's father had placed a typical matrimonial ad in an Indian newspaper on his daughter's behalf.

"He said, 'Groom wanted for beautiful young girl.' It's very normal here," she said. "The concept of an arranged marriage is something which has been prevalent in our society for the longest time."

In fact, today up to 90 percent of marriages in India and 60 percent of all marriages in the world are arranged. Gulati and Paruthi, with the help of their parents, had separately worked out a list of what they were looking for in a partner with categories including education, family background and career.

Gulati was interested in someone who was well qualified and respected her as an individual. Paruthi wanted someone who was comfortable moving to America and would get along with his family.

'It's Not Just About the Two of You'

Reva Seth, author of "First Comes Marriage," interviewed more than 300 women in arranged marriages and says families do play a big part, not only in matchmaking, but also in the relationship itself.

"It's not just about the two of you and I think over the long term that takes a lot of pressure off a relationship," Seth said.

Indian singles, she said, have no problem trusting relatives to find them a match.

"People are looking for help and they're looking for a third party to step in and help mediate the process," Seth said.

And even though the idea an arranged marriage doesn't sound romantic, it may be the key to making the relationship work.

Anthropologist Helen Fisher said she believes that sharing common values and interests are usually the first steps leading to true love.

"These young people who barely met each other do fall in love at some point," she said. "They've got a partner who is from their social background, same general level of intelligence and education, deep family connections, the kind of things that create a stable marriage."

When Paruthi's parents saw Gulati's ad in the paper, they called her parents and scheduled a meeting for their children in India.

"The first meeting was just about me and Aashish knowing each other, and knowing the families. I really thought I'd like to meet him again and just see how things go with him," Gulati said.

The couple decided to keep dating and apparently liked what they learned about each other. Just 10 days after their initial meeting, and having fulfilled each other's checklists, they decided to seal the deal.

"Preeti just turned out to be the one that I was looking for, so perfectly," Paruthi said.

Although ten days seems astonishing, Gulati was confident in her choice.

"So long as you're sure about what you want in the person, you could be absolutely sure even in one day about the person who you want to spend your life with," she said.

A Tradition Worth Keeping

More than 500 family members and friends came together to celebrate their wedding. It was a lavish and colorful traditional Hindu wedding spread over three days. In the first ceremony, the bride and groom were introduced to their new relatives.

"There is a huge support network to say, 'You can get through this. And it might be tough, but this whole community is behind you,'" Seth said.

On the second day, the couple was formally engaged and exchanged wedding bands.

Festivities on the last day began with outdoor fireworks, as Paruthi arrived atop a white horse and was surrounded by portable chandeliers and street musicians. Gulati entered looking like an Indian princess in glittering jewels.

Fisher said this extravagant ritual was designed to jumpstart their relationship.

"During the marriage ceremony, which is extended and very exciting for everybody, excitement and novelty drive up dopamine in the brain and can push you over the threshold to falling in love. In India they say first we marry, then we fall in love," Fisher said.

And it seems to have worked. It has now been three months since the wedding and Gulati has moved to the U.S.

There are big adjustments though. She is just getting familiar with her new husband and a new country. She was able to transfer her job from India to Connecticut. But it is still hours away from Paruthi's job in Pennsylvania.

Although they're living apart for the moment, the couple agrees that they're in love.

They can be confident about the success of their arranged marriage -- just 5 to 7 percent end in divorce, compared with a 50 percent of American marriages made for love. Seth said there is a lesson in Gulati and Paruthi's arranged marriage for all cultures.

"Marriage is about a life partner, not a life-saver," she said. "I think we have to change how we think of marriage. Marriage is a long-term partnership. And the problem is, a lot of times, we drift into marriage like it's a summer fling and then we're surprised when it doesn't work out."

As for Gulati, she said there were no doubts entering her marriage.

"This is," she said, "for my lifetime."