Looking at my beautiful daughter, nearly four, I’m struck by how quickly these past four years have fled. The next 15 to 20, I imagine, will be the same. Tomorrow she’ll be 20 and thinking about love, and I won’t be ready. Would it really be so bad if I beat her to the punch, if, 20 or so years from now, when she is mature and stable enough, I picked out a nice man for her? I would, of course, be very kind about it. I’d choose someone mature and gainfully employed, someone with a sense of humour and a good family. I’d make sure he had warm eyes, engaging interests and a decent sense of style. I might even interview his mother about his toilet-seat habits and willingness to pull his weight in cooking and housekeeping. I’m a good candidate to make this oh-so-important selection; after all, I have some life experience and marriage experience and I know my daughter really well. Most of all, I have her best interests at heart. Isn’t it possible that I could make a better choice than she could, compromised as she will be with wily hormones, a vulnerability to flattery and total inexperience with long-term relationships? Something about this idea really appeals to me. If I explain it to her carefully and thoughtfully somewhere in her mid-teens, I’m pretty sure I can get her on board. In my dreams.

Communal contract

Years ago, my friend’s mom had an Indian coworker who had been in an arranged marriage for many years. As the two women got to talking about marriage, the Indian woman said, “Oh, you Americans. You put a hot pot on a cold stove and expect it to stay hot. In India we put a cold pot on a hot stove and watch it boil!” Why do I love this so much?

This is not to say that I would, in all seriousness, advocate for arranged marriage. Even if its merits outweighed its complications, our society is no longer structured in a way that would make it work. We no longer live in fixed communities that force intimacy and accountability. But still, an important thing that has been lost in our individualistic culture is the awareness that marriage is actually a communal contract. In the West, we have nurtured the belief that romance is a private thing between two individuals, and no one has a say in the choices they make. We believe that happiness is a private experience based on private rights and decisions.

The older I get, the more I believe this thinking is radically untrue and actually quite dangerous. In the eight years we have been married, my husband and I have seen quite a number of marriages in our community of friends and family disintegrate. And I’ve noticed that my primary response to a broken marriage is not only sadness, but also something harder to describe. It corrodes my sense of security and faith in the structures of life. I never realized how much of life is woven into these chosen contracts, how friendships rely on their consistency, how children sprout from their bedrock and how networks are circuited through their foundation. One change in the network has far-reaching consequences as friendships are redefined, children are redistributed and history is rewritten.

Moreover, the underlying implication of believing marriage is your choice and yours alone is that its problems are also yours and yours alone. It becomes harder and harder to accept help, to allow the watching community to teach and to intervene. Our rights to choose and to be independent have cost us so much.

The whole arranged-marriage scenario may be a thing of the past, at least in this part of the world, but I’m wondering what take-aways can be gleaned. Building intentional communities within our larger cities is a way to combat individualism, populating our kids’ lives with people who will know them deeply, and walk with them, and model the same values we try to. We can encourage specific friendships for our kids by creating spaces and activities through which they can connect. We can also work on being accountable ourselves by investing deeply in relationships and allowing people to know us well enough to speak into our lives; our children are likely to imitate what they see in us. Staying and dwelling and investing are counter-cultural concepts, but not only do they hold potential in terms of rooting and connecting our kids, they are also a way of following and imitating Jesus.


  • Emily Cramer

    Emily Cramer grew up in the Toronto area and spent most of her twenties living nomadically. She completed her English B.A. in New Brunswick (1999), burned through some existential angst in eastern Ontario and in Scotland, and finally wrapped up a Master’s in Christianity & the Arts in British Columbia (2008). She now lives in Barrie, Ontario with her husband and daughter, where she works as a college Communications teacher and hopes to stay put, at least for awhile. She has been privileged with a number of writing opportunities over the years, such as a summer newspaper column on the natural environment and a novella for her graduating thesis, and is now feeling honoured to be able to explore the next leg of her travels - parenting and family life - with the CC.

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