Modern-Day Arrangement

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

She was a twentysomething college graduate and working woman already uncomfortable with the idea of mingling with the family of a stranger her parents wanted her to marry. Then, in the middle of the gathering, the woman who could have been Sheila Patel's mother-in-law starting asking about her domestic prowess.

Could she cook?, the woman asked. Could she sew?

"It puts you in such an awkward position," Sheila said. "I was like, 'No, I don't think I fit into this family.' "

Her family was determined to find her a husband, though, so the search for a suitable candidate continued. It led to Prakash Patel, with whom Sheila simply clicked. After having nixed a couple of women himself, he was wowed. "I was crazy about long hair, and she had really beautiful long hair," he said, laughing. "I just liked her."

On a tight schedule because Prakash had to return from India to work in America, they married within 20 days. More than 20 years later, the happy Central Ohio couple with two teenage children are proponents of arranged marriages-even in a modern-day era.

"I think arranged marriages are great," Sheila said.

As the world continues melting together and myriad cultures collide, many people who are part of arranged marriages say there is still a misinformed stigma surrounding them. While in ancient times arranged marriages may have been forced, the vast majority now are not.

Often, families-or, now, friends-choose potential partners, but the son or daughter meets the person and decides for himself or herself whether to move forward. Sometimes, there is significant time to date that person before deciding on marriage.

Some even liken the process to using online dating services-except that instead of a random third party matching personalities, it's the people they love the most doing the matchmaking.

Amit Batabyal, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology who wrote a book on arranged marriages, said they are far more lenient than they once were. And they are, he said, similar to Internet dating, with a twist.

"E-Harmony and those kinds of dating agencies, they never use the word 'arranged' in their advertising, but that's exactly what they're doing," Batabyal said. "They're arranging people together with similar interests.... The only difference is the arranging [in arranged marriages] is typically done by family, friends, parents."

There are no statistics proving whether arranged marriages last longer than other marriages, he said. But anecdotal evidence suggests that the success rate of arranged marriages is slightly higher than that of others.

Gahanna couple Pankaj and Poonam Gupta said their arranged marriage has been an enjoyable one.

Pankaj said that while his mother is old-fashioned, he told her he wanted her to choose a career woman for him, not a homemaker.

He was thrilled with her first choice of Poonam, who has degrees in law and accounting, and said he needed to meet no other women.

"[Friends] think it's like a blindfold. It's not," Pankaj said. "You exchange views. You talk about what your hobbies are. You talk about what your career goals are. We clicked. She liked me; I liked her."

Their families obviously liked each other, too, and that support, Poonam said, has been invaluable. "Your parents are involved; your [spouse's] parents are involved," she said. "So it's like support from all sides, which helps."

Of course, as in other types of marriages, not all arranged marriages work.

Asher Puri of Pickerington first married a woman he dated. When it ended in divorce, his family wanted to help. "My family was concerned about it, like, 'You did it your way and it didn't work out.' "

Facing enormous pressure from them, Asher started talking on the phone to the woman his parents chose-an old neighbor he had known growing up. He eventually flew from America back to his native Pakistan to marry her.

But after the wedding excitement ended, he said, they realized they had little in common. They separated after 17 days. "We realized," he said, "it was not going to work."

Many, however, still trust their families to choose their mates. Iti Patel, a recent graduate of Hilliard Darby High School (and unrelated to the other Patel family), was born and raised in America. But if she doesn't find a spouse herself, she wouldn't mind having her parents choose him.

"It's kind of like online dating, except instead of using professionals to hook you up, it's your parents," she said. "I think your parents are more trustable than random people."

Krishna Patel, who is studying microbiology at the Newark branch of Ohio State University, has also spent her whole life in Central Ohio. While she understands why some people think arranged marriages are strange, she sees its resulting joys in her parents, Sheila and Prakash.

She'll try to find a great guy on her own. But if she doesn't by age 28, she said, she wants her parents to find him for her. (They're open to her getting married either way, they said.) Of course, she would date him first, and have full veto power-much like her mom used on that first young man.

"Some people are kind of iffy about it, like, 'How do you trust your parents to pick somebody who you're going to be spending the rest of your life with?' " Krishna said.

But to her, the answer is obvious. "They've raised me since I was little," she said. "So they wouldn't make a bad decision for me."

Sheila & Prakash Patel

Ages: Sheila, 47; Prakash, 49

Residence: Hilliard

Married: 23 years

Children: Two

How the marriage was arranged: After each had turned down other choices, their families introduced them.

Sheila on Prakash: "I'm fortunate I can have the best partner that anybody could ever dream about."

Poonam & Pankaj Gupta

Ages: Poonam, 43; Pankaj, 45

Residence: Gahanna

Married: 19 years

Children: Two

How the marriage was arranged: Pankaj asked his mother to choose a career-oriented woman, and was thrilled with Poonam - Mom's first choice.

Poonam on Pankaj: "I think I made a good decision. He's a very nice person - very understanding."