Year 5 to Year 10
In the West, most of us believe in romantic love. Our culture builds an expectation in each of us that we should find that "special someone," fall in love, marry, and live happily ever after. In many non-western cultures, though, there is an different idea -- that the sentiment of romantic love is frivolous and pointless. In those cultures, the elders of families are more likely to contact the elders of other families of similar backgrounds and interests and arrange marriages between the "children." As we are aware from representations in various media, the prospective bride and groom may only meet once the agreement has been reached (and there is no turning back!), or in more "liberal" cultures they may meet once or twice and have some degree of veto power, but the agreement even in these cases is based on what westerners would consider an insignificant knowledge of the prospective partner.
When I was young, my generation's idea of living together out of wedlock was considered a bit scandalous, but society was getting used to it. Today, my generation is older and we might encourage our children to live with boyfriends or girlfriends before they marry, or even before they get engaged, with the idea that they should get to know each other better and figure out whether they are compatible and whether love lasts before they take a step we view as "permanent" as a commitment to marriage.
Unfortunately, in case you haven't noticed, marriage doesn't turn out to be exactly "permanent" much of the time. But why is this? We may date for some months or even a year, then move in and live together for a year or more, and still, even then, our marriage may break down and dissolve. Why, why does this happen? And more alarmingly, why do many couples in arranged marriages report just as much happiness and satisfaction as those who identify themselves as deeply in love? You think that's not the case? Here's what Utpal Dholakia Ph.D., wrote in Psychology Today (November 2015):
A recent study of relationship outcomes among Indian-American couples
married either through free-choice or arranged marriages for about a decade found absolutely no differences.... Those in arranged marriages were just as
satisfied with their marriage and loved their partner as intensely as those
who wed through free-choice.... Despite criticisms of self-selection and small
sample sizes leveled against some of these studies, this is the best available
evidence and it suggests that Indian arranged marriages are at least as
successful as free-choice ones.
Dr. Dholakia provides an explanation that draws on research from a marketing perspective. But my point of view is different. Here's what I think: We have no idea who it is we are marrying. Sure, we make our best guess (though a lot of people confess to having had grave doubts once it was "too late" to stop the wedding... presumably after the invitations went out!), but really we see our partner in only three dimensions early in a relationship. In simple terms, we see what they look like (two dimensions) and we learn about their thoughts, their personalities, and their inclinations (three dimensions, for the sake of this argument), but what we don't see is the fourth dimension. And what is the fourth dimension? It is the critical element of change over time.
What I am proposing is it is actually impossible to gain the most critical piece of information before we marry. The question here is not "who is this person I am marrying?" but rather, "Who is this person going to turn out to be?" Change over time takes time to discern, and it seems to me that a fair persective crystalizes (on average, let's say) between year 5 and year 10 of marriage.
Let's face it -- everyone is on their best behavior in the beginning of a relationship. Even during the engagement, leading up to the wedding, we are probably not getting a clear read. And the first year or two of marriage -- well quite often people are still pretty excited and trying pretty hard.
But after five years we do get a sense of where they are heading. Are they still ambitious at work, or have they grown complacent? Are they taking care of themselves physically, or have they stopped trying? Are they sick of the in-laws or still considerate and generous about those relationships? Much more significantly --- is the good treatment they have given us early in the relationship a sustained part of who they are intrinsically, or is it going to degenerate into selfishness, mean-spiritedness, or worse?
Conversely, do we see our partner maturing and growning more and more into someone we can admire and appreciate? Are they correcting mistakes and gaining wisdom and perspective? Are they building wholesome relationships with our families, making good decisions about money and careers, and showing patience and wisdom in raising our children?
I have observed that it is pretty tough to predict these characteristics early in a relationship. This is not a happy thought, really. But I bring it up, actually, not as a warning as we choose a partner, but rather as a warning to ourselves, as we become a partner to someone else. We are responsible to keep building our character and becoming better people. We have to have the humility to admit when we are wrong and we have to learn from our partners, our role models, and our life experiences how to do things right.
Romantic marriages and arranged marriages have the same outcomes because it doesn't really matter who you were when you met and "fell in love." What matters is who you are becoming over time and what responsibility you feel to become a great person and a great partner. We have to hold ourselves and our partners to the expectation that we will work together to be the best we can be. We have to keep making our marriage the best it can be too. This means not getting sloppy and it means not treating our marriage like a trivial thing. It means building a shared understanding with our partner that marriage is always going to require hard work and that we are up to that and committed to that. It means having patience and some vision for the rewards of long-term partnership (something I am going to write about in a future blog entry).