Marry First, Love Second: The Case For DIY Arranged Marriage


If you really want to be married, get married — and let romance happen later.

Matchmaker Hellen Chen thinks you're spending too much time dating. If you really want to be married, she says, you should simply get married, and let romance happen later. Dating is a recipe for heartbreak, and marriage should come first. Hellen Chen may be right on the money.

Chen says she's seen too many people date for two, three, even five or more years, and then break up. If you spend time dating, you're bound to get crushed. What you need to be truly happy and free, says Chen, is a spouse. When you have someone and something to come home to, then you can experience freedom like you've never had. In her world, the barrier that separates two single people poses the problem; if you just get rid of that and get married, well, problem solved. 


The Case For "Settling"
Be warned, singles looking to mingle: Chen's advice on marrying before dating is bound to strike you as odd, if not out-and-out preposterous. After all, how do you find the person you want to marry if you don't date first? While I haven't experienced her matchmaking style directly, I do know that she's not exactly expecting you to book a chapel for the first date. That said, her message is clear: Stop nitpicking every date to death and finding reasons to not commit to someone. Stop wasting years and years in relationship limbo, cohabitating with someone you're not sure about. If you want a happy relationship, you have to settle to some degree. So stop all this nonsense and get married already.

Before you go dismissing Chen as some out-of-touch relic, remember: What she's advocating isn't much different than what Lori Gottlieb dared to suggest in the book Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough (and the notoriously polarizing Atlantic article of the same name that went insanely viral in 2008). Gottlieb warned us that we'd live to regret the day we let that nice guy with the receding hairline or questionable spelling get snapped up by the woman willing to overlook his superficial flaws. If you find something wrong with everyone, she argued, you'll end up past your prime with fewer prospects and fewer men to choose from.

I'm not a fan of this scarcity-of-men argument, personally, but she made her point, reached a lot of people and perhaps humbled more than a few women into solid marriages they might have missed. (Did Gottlieb herself ever settle? Word on the street, says Melanie Notkin in her book Otherhood, is that she has not.) 

The Paradox Of Choice
In his 2004 book The Paradox Of Choice, psychologist Barry Schwartz illustrated the theory that too many options tend to confuse people, breed anxiety and lead to a kind of paralysis when it comes to making a decision. An abundance — or even a perceived abundance — of partner choices may actually prevent you from choosing just one; after all, a better partner might be just around the corner.

A few years back, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Slater, author of Love in the Time of Algorithms. Slater believes that online dating poses a threat to monogamy — or at least unhappy monogamy — simply because if you know there are other potential mates out there, why would you put up with characteristics you don't like?

And yet, putting up with all of your partner's flaws is exactly what you must do, says Chen. That's the job! She makes it clear that this is precisely what you're signing up for. But the payoff is worth every last quirk, she says. Either you marry someone now and start creating a home and a life, or continue to pointlessly date and end up "homeless and loveless" (her words, not mine!).

Marriage Requires Compromise
The fact is, anyone who wants a specific thing must make some compromises to get it, be it something material like a fancy apartment or something more spiritual like a spouse. And this isn't even just about marriage. If you want sex without relationship, you can have it, but you're still making a sacrifice; you risk not having a supportive bond. If you want marriage, and to be married, more than anything else, then you can do that, too, provided you're willing to do away with the impossible standards and endlesss dealbreakers you've clung to in your search for Mr. Perfect ... who doesn’t exist, by the way.

In other words, you must have to be willing to commit first and love second. After all, it's only (fairly) recently that we demanded the whole package: true love, intellectual match, perfect partner, best friend forever. As Stephanie Coontz taught us in Marriage: A History, for most of recorded history, love was considered a pretty fickle reason to get married — it was more about creating a family unit and a stable life — which may be why today, with so many couples marrying for love alone, so many of us are leaving in droves.

DIY Arranged Marriage
You know where I'm going here, right? Because what Chen is essentially telling you to do is perform your own arranged marriage. And you can decide to do it now. If what you want is a committed, long-term bond, then maybe — just maybe — this is the way to go.

It's estimated that 55 percent of the world's marriages are arranged — 90 percent of which happen in India. The divorce rate, as you probably know, is roughly 50 percent in this country. Guess how many divorces result from arranged marriages? Four percent. That's not because people are happier elsewhere as a rule, or don't suffer the same emotions or experiences that all couples do. It just means the ones who enter into arranged marriages by and large don't do so with the same expectations as others do. They kind of say, "He'll do," and let the bond form over time. Then love grows — not in all cases, certainly, but a lot more than you realize. Full lives, children, a summer home, perhaps — all of this can be yours, too.  Keep reading ...

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