Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Arranging a Marriage - Part 2

If you haven't yet read Part 1 of  "Arranging a Marriage" you may want to do that before jumping in here, although it isn't absolutely necessary.

After the marriage of our first daughter, my husband (hereinafter "Dad") approached our second daughter with a very serious proposition. She was 16 years old at that time. Dad asked our daughter (Let's call her Jennifer) to trust him to find a husband for her. By this he meant that she would agree not to pursue the attraction of any man and would not dwell on or try to form any relationship with any man. He also told her that she must not attempt to steer him toward any particular man and that if she brought up the name of any man in that context that the young man would be scratched from the list of potential suitors. Much to our surprise and pleasure, she assented immediately and never wavered from her commitment.

One of the benefits of this agreement which we predicted and which we observed to have been true was that our daughter was liberated from the competitive nature of social interactions. When we attended events ranging from picnics to dances to potlucks, she never had to view them as opportunities to snag a fellow or to attempt to out-shine her young lady acquaintances.  This is not to say that she didn't feel the pressure that all young ladies feel to present herself as an attractive person and wife-material, but that she was able to rest in the promise of her father and could therefore enjoy all outings with the liberty of treating all others equally and without testing whether she could monopolize the attentions of any single person. For example, at dances, she didn't have to despair if the evening passed and one certain young man didn't ask her to dance, because if he was to be her husband, her Dad would take care of it, regardless of the young man's dancing partner choices.

From the time of the agreement's commencement, Dad began to take very seriously his promise to find a husband for Jennifer. He even left her an out. If Dad failed to find a husband for Jennifer by the age of 26, he would release her from her commitment and she would be  permitted to seek a husband in any manner that she believed would work. Naturally Dad intended to work very hard to make sure that clause of the agreement would never come into play!

As I relate my version of how Jennifer came to be married I want to emphasize, as I did in Part 1, that while facts are facts, my perceptions and therefore my descriptions of what took place may not exactly match how my husband or daughter would describe it. As Jennifer's mother I was not an outsider to the process and the events, but I was on the fringes, not in the middle, as the bulk of the negotiations, questioning and arranging took place between Dad and the father of the groom. Sometimes I knew about their discussions, sometimes I did not. My husband consulted me whenever he knew that my input would be valuable or when my knowledge of plans would further our goals of confidentiality and discretion.

On to the story! The church that we attend does not have any other families in it. Because of that, we had to travel in order to come into contact with men and to form networks of friends and acquaintances from which we could find a husband for Jennifer. Dad called this "trolling my daughter." In case you are not familiar with fishing terms, it refers to dragging a baited hook behind a boat while the boat moves through the water. Our other option was to sit at home and pray for a husband to come. While this is certainly within God's abilities, we did not feel it was an appropriate option. There is no other important thing in our life in which we sit at home and just wait, or even just wait and pray, for a great thing to occur. We don't do this with getting food or clothing, we don't do it concerning work or forming other relationships, and we don't believe the Bible teaches that it is the norm for God to just send a husband out into the boondocks to our door to obtain our daughter as his wife. So we took action.

In this case, we visited other churches where we knew there were like-minded families. This networking led to us forming friendships with families who would introduce us to other families. This sort of thing can be done on the internet, and that may work well for some families. We had really wanted to give our daughter in marriage to a family with which we had formed a friendship that included the parents as well as the potential suitor. Our first choice would be for Dad to be arranging a marriage with another father, rather than directly with the would-be husband, and therefore in-person friendships seemed a better route to that particular destination. Also, in our particular situation with this daughter, we didn't want her marrying someone who had no intention of  living near us, so arranging a marriage with a man who lived in anther country or on the other side of this one was not an option for this daughter.

After several years of trolling and of Dad making inquiries with other fathers, we received a communication from some very close friends inviting us to visit the church they had recently started attending. Our friends live in a largish city about 3 hours from our home and we had attended worship with them at their former church on several occasions without furthering the goal of finding a husband for our daughter. This new church, they informed us, was made up mostly of very large home-educating families and many of these families had adult sons who needed wives. We were intrigued by the prospect and made plans to spend a weekend with our friends.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into their church was the small children out-numbered the adults by about 2  to 1. The second thing I noticed was a large number of young adults, both men and women, which was something completely lacking in our own congregation. After worship, we were invited to the home of one of the larger families. Our friends were also invited so we all made our way to the rural home of our new friends. I walked into the living room of their home and there were 4 or 5 young men scattered around the large room. I thought to myself, "How many families did they invite over here?" In a few minutes I discovered that all of these young men were the sons of the family who lived here. In fact, they have 10 sons and 3 daughters. None of them are married. Four of the sons were wanting to be married, the four oldest ranged in age from 20 to 26. Naturally, I tried to contain my obvious interest and excitement, this was like the suitor jackpot!

Because the time-line of events will be of interest to some readers, I will state that this first meeting took place on the 14th of December, 2014. Just slightly over one year from the date of this writing.  There was no talk of marriage during this visit but it was clear that, marriage or no marriage, these people were going to be our friends for life. We had much in common, we had children close in ages, we shared philosophies about politics, government, home education, the Kingdom of God, etc.

About a month later, in mid January, we made a second visit. This visit included attending worship with them, having a meal at their home and attending an evening social event. After this visit, Dad began an email exchange with the father (Let's call him James) with the express purpose of discussing arranged marriage. James had never even given arranged marriage any thought, their family was more courtship-minded, and so the first email exchanges consisted of Dad describing what he meant by the term arranged marriage and how he thought such a thing might go. James was taking it all in and evaluating whether he liked the idea and whether any of his sons would possibly be open to an arranged marriage.

During these talks, no son was singled out as the object of interest, as the discussion involved mostly principles and not details. How would they arrange a marriage if they decided to do that? How long would it take? Who would be involved? What would be the process? Etc. Their goal was to bring the marrying couple into the process as late in the game as practically possible.

Both fathers were committed to complete discretion. And by that, I mean secrecy. Only the parents would know about the negotiations. This was for the protection of the sons and the daughter (we only had one daughter of age to marry, so it was clear that it was Jennifer). If for any reason the fathers decided that the process should not move forward, the children would be none the wiser and no one would be hurt or have their reputations damaged by a "failed"  relationship. In fact, there would be no relationship to fail.

During that time, and all the way up to the wedding itself, there was no relationship, or special romantic relationship between Jennifer and the young man she married (We will call him Robert). For most of the time she did not know about the negotiations between Dad and James, and even when she began to suspect something, she did not know which son was being discussed. The only contact she had with Robert was through church and social events involving both families, and usually other families as well. For example, we attended an event with them towards the end of January, a beach birthday party for a home-educated mutual friend. During these contacts there was no special contact between Jennifer and Robert, they did not single each other out for special treatment or spend time together. They played games and danced and sang and treated each other in the same manner as they treated everyone else.

This might be a good point to explain our policy about the "no romantic involvement". It is explained more completely in my post "To Court or Not to Court", so I will just address it briefly here. To a man, every woman in the world can be placed into two distinct categories for him. The first category is "my wife." For the sake of argument, let's just say that only one woman could fit in that category and for many young men, NO woman fits in that category. EVERY OTHER woman is in the other category, "not my wife." The women who are not his wife, are going to be, or already are the wives of other men. Since no man can lawfully be in a romantic relationship with the wife of another man, Dad cannot justify any sort of romantic involvement between Jennifer and any man until they are married. Period. There is no biblical category such as girlfriend or finance where a woman is not the wife, but is something more than other women.

We didn't see James' family at all in February, although Dad and James continued their email correspondence where they were finding out about and evaluating each other, and by proxy evaluating their children. In the beginning of March our family hosted a dance and James' family attended and spent the night with our family.  Because of the distance between our homes, we rarely, if ever, had a visit that was just for one day. Dad's parents have a large home with many guest rooms and they live next door to us, so we were able to accommodate James' large family for overnight visits without compromising the morals of our children. When we visited their family we stayed with friends or with Dad's brother, who lives only 20 minutes drive from James' family. Additionally, James has a rental home on the property adjacent to his own home which was not occupied during the time of our visitations and we sometimes stayed there. The week following our dance, James' family hosted a dance and we traveled to their town to attend the dance, attend worship and share a meal with them. In case you are keeping track, by the end of March our families had visited together 5 times.

We saw James' family one time during April and by that time the communications concerning the possible arranged marriage had been narrowed down to the son Robert, with another son as possible choice. Two sons had been eliminated. From our perspective, all four of the sons would have made acceptable husbands for our daughter, it was their father who had determined that only two would be good matches for Jennifer based upon many factors including timing, common interests, etc. At that time, Robert was finishing up his college studies and was working on a senior project and James did not want to distract him from that with marriage talk until after graduation.

We did not see James' family in May, but Robert graduated in the middle of the month and his father approached him with the idea of arranging a marriage for him with Jennifer and Robert said that, yes, he would like his father to continue pursuing that route. Jennifer was still not told anything although she was aware that Dad was talking to James, she was unaware of the particulars and she did not know that Robert was the son being discussed.

Once Robert was brought into the process Dad presented him with a questionnaire covering many aspects of life including theology, future plans, marriage, health, children, finances, etc. The purpose of the questionnaire was not to rule Robert out as a suitor, as we were pretty sure at that point there was nothing about this young man that would disqualify him. The purpose was to make sure he was aware of the many, many potential friction areas in marriage and to know ahead of the marriage which ones were going to be in question between Jennifer and himself. Also it would provide an opportunity to offer teaching or counseling if he expressed ideas that were unbiblical or if he needed further instruction in any area. After Robert answered the questions and there were follow-up questions to some of his responses, we asked him to prepare questions for Jennifer.

The questions prepared for Jennifer did not reveal that Robert was the suitor and we did not tell her because we wanted her to answer the questions as honestly as possible without attempting to tailor her answers to a certain man. After she had submitted her responses to Robert, we allowed her to see how he had answered the questionnaire and told her that Robert was the man. They were then permitted to ask each other follow-up questions through Dad. They were not permitted to email each other directly.

During the course of the questions going back and forth James' family visited with us twice as they stayed with us while going to and coming from their family vacation in California. For those keeping track, at that point we had visited together 8 times.

As soon as the two of them were satisfied that they understood each other's answers, Robert asked Dad if he could propose marriage to Jennifer.  This was merely a formality and a romantic nod to the culture. On June 20, 2015, our two families attended a dance and Robert proposed to Jennifer on the dance floor. She said, "Yes." At that point, Robert announced loudly to everyone in the room, "Jennifer and I are engaged." There was complete shock. The only people who knew a proposal was coming were Robert and both sets of parents. None of his siblings had any idea that anything was happening.

The rest of the evening was great fun for us as we answered the question, "How long have they been courting?" with "They haven't been courting at all." Dad was able to corral a bunch of other fathers into a group and extol the benefits of arranged marriage. Because we are strong supporters of short engagements, by the end of the night we had pretty much settled on August 29, 2015 for the wedding date.

The next morning, at James' church, after worship James announced the engagement to the absolute astonishment of everyone in the room. We had lunch with James' family before heading back to our own home.

Between the time of the engagement and the wedding we visited with James' family twice. The only communication between Robert and Jennifer was via group email as we made plans for the wedding. Robert and Jennifer had no sort of romantic involvement at all. When Dad presented Jennifer to Robert, as his wife, the entire crowd of witnesses literally witnessed the very beginning of their romance as Robert kissed Jennifer.

You can use the comments below to ask questions, I will do my best to answer them. My husband is still working on writing more about how we came to choose an arranged marriage and how we did it. It is turning into a small book, but when finished it will be available through my blog or directly through him. If you would like to talk with him directly, let me know in the comments and I will connect you.


Radha said...

nice to see you blogging again.
from the post,I think there was absolutely no private discussion happen between your daughter and her earthly master and any discussion happen only through your husband.I appreciate that your daughter would have no feeling on him(even if the proposal breaks) and he has no feeling on some other's would-be wife(again if the proposal breaks) but i think there would be questions for a man on how his wife has to be but he cannot ask her through her dad.I mean the questions regarding husband also had them.
mine was arranged father arranged it and my husband came to my house(sorry,not mine now:) ) with his family to see me.after his family satisfied with me,my knowledge of domestic duties,role of a wife,he was allowed to ask me questions,to discuss certain things in private for some time.after some questions he asked what is 'sex' to me.while sex is forbidden word to hear for unmarried girls(also boys) in my culture,i believe it makes girls to feel sex is dirty,sin and only for giving she let her husband only once in a while and it is breaking homes.I dont understand..she says you own me but dont allow her husband to enjoy her while it is her duty.I said him,it's my duty to please you.he was satisfied and we married.
my question is-how could a man ask a young woman some questions that may embarrass parents?even in western countries,women believe sex is a duty(i mean she don't want to please him,only a chore to be completed and get out of bed as soon as possible).I would say food and sex are basic needs of a man.after she smells something wrong,she goes on to read scriptures and say he is adulterous,sinner

subject by design said...

Mrs. Rahda, I appreciate your comments because your cultural training puts you in a position to evaluate my life from an entirely different perspective. You are correct that many, perhaps most, parents would be uncomfortable discussing those issues. However, we are not those type of parents. The questions and answers that were exchanged between them included questions about sex which most people would think were very embarrassing. Also, we have trained our daughter since she was young about her duties and also her privileges in marriage, to not only meet his needs, but to give him pleasure, as you mentioned. The Bible does not avoid this very important issue, so we believe there is no shame in talking about it. God design sex as a foundation of marriage and it separates marriage from every other relationship. Husband and wife need to understand the importance of sex in marriage and as a mother, I could not leave it to chance and just hope that it would all work out. I owe it to my daughter and my son-in-law to to make sure my daughter was prepared to serve her husband in this area.

Radha said...

Thanks for the reply.yes,sex is the foundation of marriage.while it is not the only reason,it is the main reason a man would need a is very strong force that a man better have a wife and enjoy.while love should be there,it should lead us women to better serve our masters and our men to protect & provide us.but many are using love as an excuse to get rid of their roles.why is it called love if we don't serve our men?
I would like to ask you what are the qualities you have seen in the man to give your daughter?what are the qualities you think man and woman should need to get married?

subject by design said...

I don't have a list of qualities a man should have to marry my daughter or that a woman should have to marry my son. I look at it more from the standpoint of whether the two are compatible. Their religious beliefs would be the number one point of compatibility, then it would be whether or not they understand and agree on the nature of marriage, the roles of husbands and wives within marriage, how they view having children. Then other issues like medical care, education for children, duties to their parents in old age, and lastly, more personal interests such as hobbies, etc.

There are such a variety of people out there, and many different personalities and qualities. The question is not really whether any of those people is qualified to be married, but whether that person would be a good match for my son or daughter. I see a lot Christians trying to come up with lists like "What you must be to marry my daughter" or imagining that there is a handsome prince, perfect in every way who will ride up on a white horse and take her to a castle to live happily ever after, like a fairy tale. But in reality, all men (and women) are sinners. We were not looking for the perfect man, but for the man who was good enough.