As an English teenager, you will have been bombarded with images of romantic love – at the cinema, in magazines and on television. You will be encouraged to think that the way to happiness lies in finding Mr. Right.
Much of your life will be a quest for love. What is particularly unusual about the world of passionate love which we idealize is not that we feel such emotions, but that we make them a pre-condition for marriage.
Romantic attachments, an overwhelming love and desire for another, can be found in all societies. Often this is between members of the opposite sex and often the feelings are strongest in the period around the arrival of sexual maturity. So ‘love’ is not confined to what we would call ‘love marriage’ societies.
Yet in most societies, as in India, China and much of Africa and the Near East, where marriage and the bearing of children is the basic political, economic and social mechanism for the future, marriage is too important a matter to leave to the individual. Self-centred and irrational emotions should not dictate who should have children with whom.
While teenagers may sing love songs and even, in some societies, have sexual relationships, marriage and child-bearing have to be arranged by older members of the family or professional matchmakers. Elaborate economic exchanges are organized and individuals are exchanged between groups. Marriage is arranged on the basis of relationships between the older generation. Individual feelings have nothing to do with marital strategies. Someone does not choose when or who to marry. This is done by others.
I remember my shock when, even after knowing all this in theory, I went into a friend’s house in a Nepalese village and asked him what he was doing the next day. He said he was getting married. I congratulated him, but commented that he had not mentioned this the day before. He replied that this was because his parents had only told him that morning that it had been arranged. I asked him whether his bride was pretty and nice. He said he had no idea as he had never met her.