For half of my life, I have studied at Woodstock, an international boarding school. When I first arrived, I was completely shocked: students could speak against those older than them, they could stay up late talking to each other, and most importantly, they could date each other. In other words, everything that my parents disagreed with was allowed at this school.
Countless nights passed when, as a 10-year-old, I saw couples “coupling” in dark corners. When they would roam around the school holding hands and acting playfully. When guys would try to “hit on” girls or vice-versa. Romance. More importantly, teenage romance. A world that was so different from the one I was molded by.
I grew upset. The biased West, beginning at an early age, began to infiltrate my thoughts. This theme of jealousy was not present only in me, but with my sisters as well, who, similarly, went to international boarding schools. We all began to envy what we could not have: romantic love. A love in which we could choose. A love that was ours.
As time passed, our parents started talking about marriage: we were to accept what they decided for us. We had no choice but to obey. We must not break thousands of years of tradition. We must not disgrace the family. We must think about the survival of our lineage.
Furious, we talked back softly to our parents, who were the backbones of our lives. In whispers, we expressed our disgust. And, in whispers, our parents refuted. It was and continues to be an ongoing indirect war.
The West was brimming within us. It fueled our innermost truths. The West taught us the world, as we were so far from the East in our schools. How to love. How to live. We were frightened by the East. The East sought to dominate us. It sought to incarcerate our lives. The East chained us to our culture.
And for a very long time, I alongside my sisters held on to our imaginary romantic world: its fast-paced relationships; its focus on the individual; its unlimited sense of freedom; its sense of excitement.
But even perfection came to an end through time. I opened my maturing eyes to see the exaggerated fantasy of the West. Its lies of love. Its lies of perfection. Its futility. The countless breakups that happened at the teenage level. The divorces back home, especially those of a loving marriage involving a Pinay and Indian became more imminent. Cases of people divorcing for money, leaving children, both born and unborn, behind.
A perversion of love seeped into my eyes. “Till death do us part” began to renegotiate its terms. The horrific East became clearer now, moreover through my own parents.
My mother and father only got to know each other 15 minutes before their marriage. It was awkward, they admitted: their first few days together as newlyweds were filled with friction. After all, two complete strangers were now living together in one of the most sacred of unions.
However, my father clearly remembers a day he came back from work one day, sick; my mother then proceeded to make soup, one of the first dishes that she ever made for him. Instantly, my father’s heart melted and he truly fell for my mother.
Slowly, my parents dived into this realm of slow, accumulated love. With every passing day, they grew closer to each other. Love did not come before. It came after. Now, my parents have lived together for 25 years, having four children.
Yes, they do not have a perfect marriage. But the difference between the East and the West is that the East likes to take things slow within. It likes to expend time to polish something that will remain durable for the rest of its life. That was my parents’ marriage: they fought with each other. But with every passing fight, they strengthened the slow bond that connected both of them.
With age, they fell deeper in love. Strangers can fall in love with each other.
This was what I was too foolish to understand when I was younger. I thought of love as some gift and fun that was immediately eternal. I was blinded into thinking that arranged marriage was backward and began to agonize over the burden of having my parents choose my partner for me. When, in reality, the tradition has continued for thousands of years. An ancient tradition that has unified families.
In fact, modern statistics also point towards the success of arranged marriage; where divorce rates for those that “fall in love” soar up to 50 percent in the United States. On the contrary, in India, the divorce rate plummets down to one percent.
Furthermore, according to Andrew Trees, author of Decoding Love, most romantic relationships today are based off “style and short on substance.” Thus, these romantic relationships, even after reaching the marital stage, often fade away. On the other hand, in arranged marriages, people have to learn to live with each other and begin to accept the other in every aspect, making it much more durable and successful.
It seems to me that, in such a fast-paced world, we ignore the most basic of unions. We put ourselves in front of others. We value our own lust and happiness rather than the good of our wider community or even our own spouses.
It is because of this trend that people like me, Indian youth in traditional families, have grown so disillusioned with our culture. To this date, my family remains divided on the issue. My sisters, in fact, face altogether a different type of problem. It is significantly harder for them to speak out against parents and their potential spouses.
In other words, males have it much easier most of the time. And being a guy, I do not fully understand the anxiety and pressure my sisters face regarding this issue.
But those of us facing traditional expectations should not give up hope. When division arises, we all have to collectively try to learn from one another to improve the situation.
Parents should strive to understand the “modern” world their children were brought up in. Similarly, children should try their hardest to understand the “traditional” world their parents were brought in. Perhaps, once there is more empathy and understanding on both sides, things will start to become clearer. Like it has, gradually, for me.
Perhaps communities, ancient traditions, and virtues can be restored and debated to suit both generations. Perhaps new responsibilities will emerge.
Perhaps bondage may not seem like bondage at all.