When I was a teenager, my father once tried to explain and extol the virtues of the arranged marriage. He said that when people fall in love, they are acting on an emotional, physical and hormonal impulse. The behaviour is not necessarily rational or reasonable. When the feeling fades or dissipates, if certain “fundamentals” are not in place or if there is not a compatibility between these fundamentals, then the relationship was unlikely to be a happy or lasting one. He’s a real romantic, my dad.
On the other hand, the arranged marriage (again, Marriage According to Appa) is when wise, experienced and mature people (such as one’s parents, grandparents, the family astrologer or that busybody at the temple) make an assessment of the “fundamentals” between two people (and their extended families) to ensure they are in place and compatible. On this basis, a marriage will be rationally and reasonably arranged.
In the case of my grandparents, the bride and groom do not see each other until the day they get married and they will spend the rest of their lives living with some one else’s assessment of their compatibility. If they are lucky, as my grandparents were, they will grow to love each other deeply whilst also irritating the hell out of each other daily.
My husband and I have developed a new concept (we are ground breaking like that). It’s called the Arranged House. It is where my husband goes house hunting in Sydney without me because apparently some one has to stay in Canberra with the four little ducklings. If he finds a house that, after his rational assessment, has certain fundamentals in place and is compatible with our family, he makes a proposal.
The house and I won’t see each other until the day we exchange contracts and pay over a deposit. It is a risky strategy, because we would then have to spend the rest of our lives living with my husband’s assessment of our compatibility. If we are lucky, the house and I will grow to love each other deeply whilst also irritating the hell out of each other daily.
On Monday, the Duck family, had an Arranged House.
Four days earlier, on Thursday, husband made an offer on our future family home without me seeing it. The offer was accepted that night; on Friday morning I thought I was having heart failure but it was just cold feet and we pulled out. I spent the next 12 hours internet dating every house for sale in the North Shore. I must have looked at hundreds (ok, may be forty) – but I looked at them for their “fundamentals”.
When my father talked about the fundamentals of an arranged marriage, he meant:
- is the boy from a good family and well-raised – I think this is code for is he a nice person and are you sure his extended family will get on with our extended family? (no one really knows what “good” means);
- is the boy educated and a professional – I think this is code for can he earn a decent living and support the family? (no one really knows what “decent living” means and fathers often forget that they educated their daughters so we too know how to help support the family as well as bear it);
- do you share the same values in relation to raising children (ie. will you both agree to educate the children intensively, encourage them to become professionals and engineer them to marry within the community); respect for family (ie. will you both agree to house your elders instead of checking them into the nearest/furthest retirement village) and respect for religion?
- is his planetary alignment compatible with yours? As planetary misalignment is grounds for parental veto, this is code for: if I don’t like him I will pay the astrologer to find astrological incompatibility.
When my husband and I decided on the fundamentals of an Arranged House, we meant:
- is the house from a good neighbourhood and well-built – this is code for (a) are the children going to get mugged on their way home from school – no; (b) has the foundation been destroyed by termites and damp – no; (c) is it walking distance from schools and trains – yes; (d) does it have more space than London – yes; (e) does it remind us of London – yes; (f) are we close enough to the city so we don’t feel Lost in Suburbia – yes;
- is there enough bed space for 4 little ducklings and three grandparents (including one who will live with us permanently from the beginning)? – yes, if we stack some of them up;
- is there enough floor space for numerous siblings, cousins and friends who we hope will come over whenever they feel like it? – yes, if we implement a rota system;
- if you add up the digits of the house number, is the sum (2) numerologically acceptable to my parents and in-laws? – yes.
By Saturday morning, having not slept properly since Thursday night, I realised that the house had everything we would need for a long and successful relationship. I was in Canberra, the wrong city to pay the deposit and so I had to ask my cousin A in Sydney if he would cover me – he agreed but was tied up in surgery. Apparently he is a real doctor and can’t just close up a patient in mid-excision at my request. So I had to ask my uncle – I heard him swallow hard on his heart medication and then agree, because he is my mother’s brother and he would do anything for us. Saturday was spent negotiating and rowing with the agent but by the close of temple, it was done.
And so on Monday I went to visit our house for the first time. I asked my husband to take me there before the agent arrived, just in case I burst out crying. I asked my cousin T to come because she is both eternally optimistic and an impressive liar (for example, that morning she told me I have lost all my baby weight). I asked my brother to come because when I am upset, no one makes me laugh the way he does. My husband’s stress levels hit a historic high – he had chosen the house for us and if I hated it, he knew I would spend the rest of our (short-lived) married life punishing him for it.
I saw the house and within minutes I realised what my clever husband had known all along. The house met all of the above criteria and our final one:
- can we grow old together in this house, learn to love it, feel grateful for it and live happily in it as we enjoy and traverse the daily blessings and challenges of life?