One way or another

…it doesn’t matter. This person I was talking to commented of being in favour of arranged marriages. I don’t have an opinion either way, your choice or someone else’s choice is not really the issue. It bugged me for a while and then it struck me why. I have seen both types of marriages succeed and fail, arranged and own choice. Some failed spectacularly, some quietly. Some were the envy of those around them, others evoked pity in the people observing.

This was almost a year back and I was absolutely stumped as to the reason why it caused me such an itch. Recently, two incidents cleared up my doubts, enough that I can confidently lay my case.

  1. Someone remarked to me that “colleagues can never be friends” while listing types who cannot be friends.
  2. I was party to a discussion where everyone was saying that the person they knew before marriage was completely different from who they knew after marriage (all were married to their choice).

In neither case did I have anything to say, both the times I heard the words fly around me fast and my thoughts were racing faster. In both of these situations, I was busy thinking about what are the same and what are different in each case. Then one of those in the group conversation remarked about seeing many new facets of his spouse’s personality that it had taken him by surprise. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place then.

In none of the situations was, and is, it a different person throughout. It was the same person reacting to different situations. Let me repeat that again, the same person reacting to different situations. Over time, that same person may or may not change with the situations, change for the better or worse, but all that depends on the guidance and support the person receives.

Imagine a person, facing different situations alone, with no guidance. This situation is akin to a box that emits red light, hence appearing red, being viewed while being illuminated by blue light. The object will appear purple (magenta really). Here’s a short explanation of “mixing light” versus “mixing pigment”.

Now instead of a box that emits red light, imagine a box that is coloured red. That is, it contains the red pigment. Pigments absorb all other wavelengths except the colour it is supposed to be, and since blue is a different wavelength, the box appears, not magenta/purple, but black. That is because the box covered in red pigment will absorb all blue light being directed at it and, as a result, the box appears black.

That was a really long way of saying what appears as one thing may in fact be another, not readily apparent, but it appears different depending on the type of the box and the light being directed at it.

Similarly, the person is like the box and the situations being faced by a person can be the light that is incident on the box.

So I pondered a while about the topic, what was the common factor between the few stories I could dredge up from memory? Nothing, I realised with a start. There was no factor common to them. The only thing that was common amongst them all, was that they had two people, so I thought about possible consequences of having different types of personalities come to live together and voíla! That is all that mattered in the end! But if the type of people has such importance, how does one figure out the type then? This is probably the biggest argument used by those who support dating and mixing to get to know the other. Ironically, it is also the biggest argument used by those in favour of arranged marriages, “Who’ll know them better than their closest family and friends and then vouch for them?” The dismal scientist in me cringes at the thought of having absolute, any, trust in any person (barring exceptions I can count on the fingers of one hand). Which brings us to the question, so how do/can we figure out our compatibility with the other person? And might not not trusting the instincts of someone close to us lead to the relationship becoming awkward, for one or both? Seems like a rock and hard place.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, I don’t even know what I should be answering. But like any good research, it helps to start out by listing the questions/situations/possibilities.

Let’s start with arranged marriage (alphabetical order, what did you think?). In Bangladesh, arranged marriages are very common and almost all parents take it as their obligation (agree or not, this is as it is), especially the parents of girls. So how is one to know the person presented to them is suitable for them? “The parents/guardians obviously chose the best for their child! How silly of you to ask!” And how do the parents/guardians know what’s best? The depressing answer – no one really does, maybe the two getting married do, but that is a MAYBE. The problem with arranged marriages is that everyone considers their own choice as the most suitable partner, even if the bride-to-be or husband-to-be have any reservations. “Oh don’t worry, we’ll support and guide you through it all!” is the reply they are given when either gets cold feet. But that is not the main problem at hand. What’s to stop any one party conspiring to make their candidate seem good but grossly misunderstood? (when the truth is that person is unworthy.) Nothing really. So in the end, the best option will be the least worst option; a mind-warp, nonetheless a truth.

This then brings to my mind the question: so how does one know the actual “type”? Particularly in the case of arranged marriages, where the two don’t get to interact much, if at all?

If the answer is: we will go by the words of those around them. I’ll just point out that, in this society, it is entirely probable to get enough liars together or have them congregate together, and liars of the right type for the purpose required. Conspiracy? You find that hard to believe? Ask yourself: Is that really an impossibility? There are too many instances that spring to mind (and not just the criminal ones, there are quite a few, morally wrong but legally ignored, as well).

Someone gave me the idea of questioning the friends of the two to be married. Good idea, in therory. The problem is that the friends, on hearing a marriage is due, will gloss over any defects their friend will be having.

A popular way is to submit a “biodata” of the two sides to introduce each other for marriage. I personally am not a huge fan of this procedure either [I often joke that it should be called a “marriage CV”]. Again, important information is often glossed over or left out in a biodata.

Another popular way, one that freaks me out, is a guy seeing a girl at a wedding, and sends the proposal.

Each case here represents a decreasing level of information collected about the two parties getting married. Most people, looking to get married, look at each other, talk for 5 minutes, then (often just the boy’s acceptance, the girl’s wish damned) they get married off. In most cases, neither side knows the other well enough to take such a major decision. People here gather more information when making an investment, money is more important than people it seems.

The classical way, the families go to visit each other. Does that rule out either side acting to seem like the best match? Unfortunately, no, it doesn’t. The boy and his family would put on their best behaviour, as would the girl’s side.

Best way? There is none really. At least, none that I can think of. I did come up with one strange method though, the girl’s side can mix some salt in the tea that is served to see how the boy’s side reacts. If nothing, that will give both the sides a good tale.


  1. Tbone Tbone

    There is a Chinese saying that judge a man by his enemies . I say judge a person by the way they treat other people for example their relationship with their parents, siblings ,people they like , people they hate, people who are inferior to them ,People who makes them feel inferior . You can use these points to probabilistically determine their nature. And yes a properly executed stress test works too. My personal bias is arranged because

  2. taziakhushboo taziakhushboo

    It is never possible for a human being to find out about all the facets of a person’s character (what he/she would do in reaction to future events? let’s really leave that out for now) in order to take an informed decision; there will always be the matter of probability into play, even if there were no conspiracies involved. So what? people should stop getting married? How about putting one’s trust in Allah and praying istikhara before the decision. God will never mislead a person who sincerely seeks His help. That could be a way better option than adding salt in the guy’s tea and enjoying the subsequent tale. 😀

      1. taziakhushboo taziakhushboo

        The tea would be a good idea for some gossip, but it doesn’t really promise insight into a person’s character or reactions to situations in future. On the other hand, the istikhara is a recommended method for a believer.

        Btw, do you think more people will prefer your tea idea to istikhara? I have doubts.

        If you regard the sunnah of our beloved Prophet as a boring option, then I really got nothing to say…

        1. Ahmed Waris al-Majid Ahmed Waris al-Majid

          Whether more people prefer my tea to istikhara depends on them, not really my business.
          If you cannot understand the nature of people when they subject to stress, there really is no arguing with you.


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