What My Arranged Marriage Taught Me About Love
The first conversation I had with my future husband, after my parents told me his name, was over instant messenger. It went something like this:
Me: so, I heard some news
Him: oh yeah?
Me: yeah, about us
Him: Oh, I think I know what you’re talking about
Me: so what do you think?
Him: I don’t know, what do you think?
Me: I’m cool with it
Him: me too
This is not an exact transcript, and what you don’t see is me freaking out in front of my computer while I figured out what to type in order to sound cool. Growing up as a Unificationist, I knew my parents would be closely involved in my engagement process. I wasn’t always so confident in this tradition, but I knew I wanted what my parents had: a loving, committed relationship.
We had been friends before our parents began talking to each other and decided we would make a good match. After that conversation, we went on dates and spent two years traveling back and forth between Philadelphia and New Jersey to visit each other on weekends while we finished college. In 2005, we participated in the Holy Marriage Blessing in Seoul, South Korea. This year will be our 10th anniversary.
Though our beginnings may be a bit unusual compared to most couples in the United States, we’re very much like any other married couple. We fight and make up, we talk about the future, we struggle to find time for each other amidst the demands of work and kids. I don’t have any magic formula for how to make a marriage work; we’re figuring it out just like everyone else. Looking back though, I do think that growing up in a culture that encouraged arranged marriages gave me a different perspective on love than some of my peers.
Love Starts with You
Before my engagement, I spent a long time in the realm of singlehood. While there were times, most notably in highschool, that I wanted to fit in and go on dates like the rest of my friends, staying single taught me a lot about love. Singlehood is a unique and valuable time in and of itself. It’s a time of exploration, growth, and of learning what love really means. Being single allowed me to focus my energies on lasting friendships, on my hopes and passions, and maturing into the kind of person I wanted to be when I met the man I would marry. I first learned how to love myself, and to show up as someone ready to give.
Love is Not About You
What is love? Growing up, my faith taught me that true love was the ability to put someone else’s needs above your own, to love someone more than yourself. A lot of people make lists about the qualities they want in a partner. Not that I didn’t have a list of my own, but I was also taught to focus on what I had to give to my future spouse. Think of the difference it would make, if two people came into a relationship thinking about what they can give instead of get from the other person. It’s not easy, and I still struggle with this on a daily basis, but it’s a worthy goal.
Love is Created
I’ll be honest, I was not in love at first. It’s completely backwards to the way that most couples approach relationships, and it’s not the kind of love that you see in the movies. The commitment comes first, then the friendship, then love. Romance is great, but it is also fleeting. That magical transcendent feeling is wonderful, and I’ve been lucky to have those moments as well, but when the rosy fog dissipates, it can feel like the love is gone too. Unless, we understand that love is more than just some swell of emotion. Love is an action; it’s something you practice and nurture every day. I know that our relationship is made of tougher stuff, that when life hits us hard and it feels like the love is gone, there is still hope. We can create love again, because we did it once before.
The issue of choice is what often comes up most when we hear the word “arranged”. How can you give up your choice? How could you let someone else decide something so important? I may not have chosen this person if it had been left only up to me, but I thank God that it wasn’t, because I would have missed out on an amazing person and the beautiful family I have now. I did choose. I chose to love. Love is a gift, whether it happens at first sight or is built over years. The choice is to continue to love through all of the ups and downs.