Friday, July 22, 2011

Lie #1: Arranged Marriages are Antiquated

(The back-story behind this series of posts is "Relationship Lies Exposed." If you haven't already checked it out, that will clue you in on what this and the next two posts are all about)

Confession: In my DVD collection resides a copy of The Wedding Planner. Ugh. I chide myself at the very thought of it, not only because it stars Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey (reason enough not to own a film), but because I dont agree with its relationship philosophy at all. The problem was, they wooed me into the plot-line by making me think that this rom-com was somehow different than its many clichéd counterparts.

To summarize the most interesting part of the film, Lopez’s character, a beautiful, but (alas) single, wedding planner, has the opportunity to choose between a man whom she is attracted to (but is engaged to another woman!), or a man whom her father wants to set her up with. In an intriguing plot twist (the hook for me), you discover that our beautiful heroine’s own father and mother were actually a love story born of an arranged marriage. Humbled by this new revelation, Lopez’s character comes to believe that she too can choose to be happy in an arranged marriage, just like her parents. When I first saw it, I sat perched on the edge of my couch, absolutely fascinated that a Hollywood film would redeem the concept of arranged marriage. (After all Bollywood films, stemming from the very sub-continent of matrimony set-ups, seem to be now showcasing more and more Western-style “love matches” than parental fix ups).

So, there I was, ready for some Hollywood redemption (oddly enough, care of a woman formerly known as “J-Lo”), when things quickly turned sour. The plot twisted yet again into something predictable (bleh). Instead of “taking the road less travelled,” the writers fell back on what they knew, which unfortunately, was attractions and affairs. J-Lo inevitably decides to “follow her heart” (attraction), and in the process, breaks up a happy couple (the object of her affection is about to get married). As a viewer, you are, of course, drawn into the story so as to empathize with J-Lo and not the ex-fiancée with the now broken relationship and broken heart.

“But its sooooooooooo romantic…,” all the starry-eyed girls would swoon.

Personally, I’m not swooning.

Why, then, would I actually choose to own this film? A bit of self psycho-analysis offers two possible reasons: Reason #1) To empathize with the protagonist’s lonely single life (outsiders assume that as a big-time wedding planner, it must be simply magical, while in the next scene, her mystique is unveiled to reveal she actually spends her evenings alone in her apartment, obsessively but quietly organizing it). Reason #2) As a platform for a relational rant on Hollywood’s messed up morals and their destructive effect on the psyche of both innocent young girls and disappointed middle aged women alike (the last thing my girlfriends expected on Chick Flick Friday. Reel them in with hunky men with Southern accents and go in for the kill with some pre-weekend philosophy. Ha!). Truth be told, my rant is actually quite brief. Its just to say that I believe our culture bases FAR too much emphasis on instant physical attraction and the necessity of “a spark” as a pre-cursor to a relationship (Wait for #3 of the list of things I no longer believe).

Back at my Christian university, our entire student body shared an inside joke in which we reminded each other, “Your camel is coming!” This infamous line came straight from our university president during a bi-weekly chapel address, referencing the story of Isaac and Rebecca in the Bible. Isaac, the story goes, was on the hunt for a wife. As was the thing to do in that day, Isaac travelled a long distance in order to find a woman that his family deemed a suitable match for him. Rebecca, it would appear, knew about the set up, and one day, while she was going about her business, was swept away by something she saw over the mountains. Trekking across the desert with his entourage of cattle and camels (hey, camels were it back in the day!), there was (at last!) her future husband--her personal prince whom she had never met!

As cliché as it sounds, I believe God is all about arranging marriages. When we let Him have the say, how can we expect to be let down? Maybe it doesn’t always come in the package we expected, but we have to admit that He knows a bit more than we do about what is best for us. Just like any other important decision in our life, I believe the choice of a spouse also needs to be surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus.

Now, I don’t claim to know whether these two had a spark when they met or they created their chemistry after years of marriage. But the point is, Isaac went out on a limb to travel a long way to spend the rest of his life with a girl he didn’t even know. He didn’t have the guarantee of physical attraction or compatible personalities, but he did trust the judgment of the family who knew him best. Perhaps Isaac learned from that same family the oh-so-important lesson that marriage is based on commitment, not necessarily romantic feelings.

The Big Book, the birthplace of the tale of Isaac and Rebecca, says very little about fairy-tale based stirrings as the ideal beginning for a relationship. Instead, it says things like “If you’re married, stay married” and “Love the wife of your youth.” Commitment, it seems, is much more important to God than whether two people “click” when they first meet.

A few years back, a friend bought me a stuffed camel from Hallmark. I now keep it by my bed as a reminder to keep an eye out for the substantial characteristics that sustain a marriage--not simply a spark. As God shuts relational doors and opens another, I hope I will have the courage to follow Him into the one He is holding open (even if I’m unconvinced at the start). When I see the camel that God has arranged for me, coming down that hill in my direction, I’ll just smile and trust that whether we click right away or not, by the grace of the Lord, we will make it work.

After all, that’s what an arranged marriage is about; trusting that most important Man in my life up until that point knows me well enough to pick out the second most important. It’s a pretty big deal, but if anyone won’t fail me, it’s Him…

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