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This question carries the India tag but is really about how to deal with some people's reluctance to enter into relationships, so I welcome answers from members all over the world!


This is about the close friend I described in a question here on IPS.SE 2 months back:

Is it possible for my friend to resume communication with his unofficial sister without earning her husband's mistrust?

Let's call him by the code name Robert. We are long-term school friends and went to the same 'boys junior school' in older days.

Robert is one of my very few really close friends and is nearly 40 but unmarried. Through some unintended events I came to know that he is intensely attracted to women (more physically than emotionally) but lacks the confidence to engage them in any sort of relationship, and he is also very mistrustful of the famous Indian institution of arranged marriage which he considers an 'emotional lottery' and a potentially loveless, business-minded social transaction that has significant risk of relationship failure.

His mother (not my real aunt but code name Aunty) is my mother's best friend and she is very worried that Robert will end up a lifelong bachelor unless he takes a chance with arranged marriage. She feels he will soon be 'too old to marry anyone except a divorcee', and is also anxious that the 'wrong type of unsuitable girl' should not take advantage of the 'socially and financially well-endowed bachelor.'

That really means Aunty wants Robert to marry precisely the type of socially acceptable girl Indians try so hard to find by setting a large number of inclusion and exclusion criteria in arranged marriage. His as-yet-unidentified prospective bride is likely to be an 'upper-caste middle-class well-educated Indian girl of medium height, aged between 34 and 38' by current standards of Indian matrimony.

I am not inclined to intervene in anybody's personal matters but Aunty repeatedly requested me to try and convince him and even got my mother to request it: so in a weak moment I agreed to make a sincere effort. My goal is to give Robert the understanding that he could actually give arranged marriage a chance and make a good effort to succeed in the relationship. He is a type to be rather convinced by well-reasoned logical arguments.

Outline of my proposed argument:

  1. Robert loses nothing by giving himself the chance to get into this type of relationship which he is otherwise unlikely to find by romantic means.
  2. Since arranged marriage is an ancient and socially accepted Indian tradition, and moreover entirely voluntary in modern society, the 'girl' will also come to the relationship with a committment to make it succeed.
  3. If things don't work out, divorce is now socially acceptable in India. Many of my relatives have taken the divorce option after a few years of arranged (or even love) marriage due to irreconcilable differences or even simply for lack of general compatibility, and many went on to make another good marriage!

  4. That would have been unimaginable in India even 30 years ago and it makes arranged marriage much more viable for Robert as a 'trial and error' option.

Problem: Although I am supposed to 'advise and convince' my friend about the virtues of arranged marriage, I am 2 years younger than Robert (juniors' advice is less influential in India) and unmarried myself, hence no authority on 'the marital life'; I am also absolutely not an expert on interpersonal or romantic relationships and fear that I shall not be in any way useful to Aunty in this matter. I am not even convinced about the advantages of arranged marriage myself, because all 4 of my real aunts have had to various degrees love-impaired arranged marriages.

On the other hand, Aunty knows nobody else that is a close friend with significant influence, and Robert is an intensely private person who would never ask this question himself online -- that's why I need the advice of the relationship gurus here on Interpersonal.SE!

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Catija Nov 6 '17 at 2:05
  • "I came to know that he is intensely attracted to women (more physically than emotionally)". For some reason this reads as... catching him watching porn. – Nelson Nov 9 '17 at 8:31
  • Not so much 'catching him' as interpreting some of his statements about women and relationships @Nelson. Here are 2 revealing statements which I didn't include in the question because it might have negatively influenced some members while writing answers. Robert recently said about a woman whom a co-worker is sentimentally romantic about: "well, she is certainly very very attractive for one thing but not for any other!" When I asked him what he meant, Robert said: "I know what I want but it seems hardly worth all the time, energy, risk and emotion that needs to be invested in a relationship!" – English Student Nov 9 '17 at 9:57
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I will give it a shot, but only from an outsider's perspective. I have some experience with talking to someone on behalf of others, but I don't know much about Indian culture and so take it with a grain of salt.

In this answer, I will try to give "guidance on the ideal interpersonal approach that will convince Robert to consider favorably my argument" as you expressed in a comment. Basically, I try to imagine I was in your shoes and how would I approach the situation.

Be honest

Points to consider

  1. You are probably not known as a zealous marriage broker (my guess)
  2. You are younger ("juniors' advice is less influential in India")
  3. You aren't married yourself

So I doubt that Robert wouldnt know immediately, that you are doing that on someone else's behalf. Therefore, be open about it and say that Aunty asked you to. I would note her honest and good intentions for making yo do that, so that he's more willing.

A more light-hearted approach may also be successful to break the ice and provide a good start for a discussion. I don't know how suitable it is in this case, so I just mention it.

This may also alleviate his reluctance to listen to you due to your lower age, since Aunty backs you up.

Don't pressure him

Your first try should not be to discuss the matter with him, but to make him talk to you about it at all. Don't try to force him intom a talk he doesn't want to have. Give him the options if, when and where. This will further build trust and if he agrees, he is probably even more willing to listen to your arguments. If not, this already counts as an honest try, so you fulfilled Aunty's wish.

Don't lecture him

I would approach it as more of a talk between equals, not a lecture by a teacher who has to make a reluctant pupil listen. If you both talk about it, your lives, life choices and the options that are there, it may well also benefit you. In addition, you avoid much of the awkwardness created by your marital status. You can bring forth arguments for or against it, also your own motivations regarding these choices. This will probably also help him open up.

Just to mention it again, I'm definitely lacking experience with Indian culture (and arranged marriages), so rather treat my answer as some points to consider and think about, not necessarily as the best solution/approach to your problem.

  • This is just the type of advice 'about the interpersonal approach' I was looking for, which is not necessarily culture-specific, thanks a lot @Anne Daunted. You have not only given an insightful and very helpful answer yourself, addressing my main concern how I am not really qualified to make an authoritative argument to Robert on this subject, but you have also given other users a clear example of the type of answer that I need for this question. – English Student Nov 4 '17 at 13:21
  • @EnglishStudent Following the pattern of this answer, how socially acceptable would it be to tell Robert outright that Aunty asked you to talk to him? Personally in my culture I would use that approach, tell him honestly why I am talking to him and then working together to work out the pro's and con's of the situation to help him come to an informed decision. This helps establish a rapport but also helps you to be constructive and help both parties (Aunty and Robert). – Cronax Nov 7 '17 at 16:01
  • Yes, that is a good approach and the direct opening is socially acceptable between immediate family and close friends here, but I would strongly resent a relative or acquaintance trying to 'convince' me of the merits of arranged marriage (even though I may not show it to the other person.) Referring to Aunty's wish establishes validity for my intervention. Robert has a nice temperament and won't take offence if I say "your mother is anxious and wanted me to speak to you about this arranged marriage matter, etc" -- at the very least he will give me his patience and attention, thanks @Cronax. – English Student Nov 7 '17 at 16:09
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I don't have experience with arranged marriage directly but I felt like sharing the fact that my grandpa and grandma (and a lot of grandparents where I come from) have had arranged marriages. My grandma always thought of my grandpa as a "good man" (but wasn't in love with him), but yeah back then in the 1930's and 40's arranged marriage was pretty common and divorces were rare. We are talking about three generations ago!

One unpleasant consequence this had on my family was my grandma constantly thinking about a man she had fallen in love for 50 years ago and who had asked her to marry him but her strict dad wouldn't let her. Even after my grandpa's death, she would always tell everyone the story about not being able to be with the love of her life. Neither my mother nor me felt particularly happy listening to that over and over again for years. Of course, back then, divorce was a HUGE taboo.

I don't know how much your mother and Auntie are pressuring you to talk to Robert and this is why you are asking this question here, but it's more important to be a good friend and understand Robert's difficulties with women and try to help him with that, than to please your mom or Auntie. We can't always please everyone.

HOWEVER:

To attempt to answer your question regardless of how I feel about this, what I would suggest is for you to reconsider your role. Don't think of it as how you should convince Robert to listen to his mother. He's an adult and he should only listen to himself when making a decision about who to potentially spend the rest of his life with and how to go about it. Instead, what about having a chat with him about the pros and cons of having an arranged marriage (doing some research, making it fun instead of serious and so on) vs dating sites (what about dating sites, by the way?) vs Robert's difficulties and so on.

If divorces are not as big of a deal to Indians these days and many of your family members have had the experience of having an arranged marriage and then divorcing then you could look at arranged marriages as an opportunity to meet and date women and sorta emphasize that aspect to Robert as long as Robert has expressed the desire to date and get married but doesn't feel confident approaching women for whatever reason (another idea would be to help him with the underlying reasons for not feeling confident when it comes to dating).

So invite Robert for a drink and just chat about dating, marriage, relationships and perhaps emphasize that having an arranged marriage (these days and for your generation) feels more like getting to date a girl for some time and get to know her and then breaking it off if it doesn't work.

What you might probably need to do at the same time is try to convince your mother to ask Auntie (or do it yourself) to not pressure Robert anymore about this as he might get less likely to even remotely consider the idea of an arranged marriage.

Just tell them you'll handle this for a bit and that if they want your help they need to trust you and stop pestering Robert (so as to give yourself time to think of how to better and effectively approach Robert).

  • Thanks a lot @Tycho's Nose for raising a number of important points that need considering before that discussion with Robert. You are very right to note that in this conservative society and with Robert's orthodox and very reserved temperament, going through the arranged marriage selection process might well be his best chance of meeting various interesting women in a socially acceptable setting. I shall also tell Aunty that pressurising Robert into any decision will be counterproductive. – English Student Nov 4 '17 at 17:41
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    "having an arranged marriage (these days and for your generation) feels more like getting to date a girl for some time and get to know her and then breaking it off if it doesn't work." __ this part is exactly right @Tycho's Nose, although Indians are expected to have made serious long-term committments while getting into arranged marriages. Times have changed and couples no longer feel obliged to stay together in a loveless marriage. If the arranged marriage does not take up well for whatever reason, the modern Indian woman will often herself take the positive decision to file for divorce. – English Student Nov 4 '17 at 17:47
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I'm just a Westerner, so take this with a grain of salt...

My advice would be to not try to convince Robert that an arranged marriage is the way to go. Rather, I'd ask Aunty and Mom to back off a little and stop pressuring Robert - because, clearly, pressure isn't working (or he would be married already).

Then I'd chat with Robert about long-term relationships. If he wants to be in one or if he's just happy the way he is.

If he's happy being single, think about supporting his choice - it's his life after all. Forcing him into marriage will probably make at least two people (but probably more) unhappy in the long term.

If he actually wants to marry but doesn't know how to find The One, I'd suggest looking for a socially acceptable (to him) way of meeting people (including women) with a common interest - and not with the primary goal of marrying. In Europe, I'd suggest joining a club or a group with regular meetings: a (mixed) sports team, a theater group, a choir, a gardening club, an arts and crafts course, a language course, a prayer group - whatever interests him and includes some women. (The catch of course is that I have no idea what kind of offers in this vein there are in India.)

This should have multiple benefits:

  • Talking about a common hobby (and not about "Should we make kids together, starting tomorrow?") should lower the stakes for talking to women and he can "practise" and become more comfortable with it.
  • If no marriage comes of it, it's still not only wasted time and disappointment because he gets to do a hobby he enjoys.
  • If he finds The One through this, they already share a common interest and have a basis for the friendship necessary for a satisfying long-term relationship. He then knows something about her personality and if he likes her and not just her background ('upper-caste middle-class well-educated Indian girl of medium height, aged between 34 and 38').

In essence: if he can increase his exposure to women in general, he's statistically more likely to meet one he likes. If he can talk with them about something else than marrying, he's more likely to get to know and like them and it removes the pressure. If they share an interest, he becomes more interesting to her and she to him.

A final note about the "divorce is acceptable now so he can just 'try out' married life" thing: I think you're deluding yourself there. If the future wife is 34 to 38 I expect there will be a high pressure to have kids soon, and once they have kids, splitting up gets (at least emotionally) complicated.

Also, something (probably your Aunty's worry that he'll be 'too old to marry anyone except a divorcee') tells me that divorced women are still considered "damaged goods". So - at least for the woman involved - it's not really as easy as "just get a divorce if you don't like him". And so ethically speaking: No, he should not just try someone out randomly and "send her back" if he doesn't like her.

  • Thank you so much for writing this very thoughtful and eminently sensible answer @AllTheKingsHorses -- the best advice I heard so far on this matter: "I'd suggest looking for a socially acceptable (to him) way of meeting people (including women) with a common interest - and not with the primary goal of marrying (...) In essence: if he can increase his exposure to women in general, he's statistically more likely to meet one he likes." __ I agree, appreciate and upvote! – English Student Nov 8 '17 at 11:15
  • (contd) One reason that Robert is not in a hurry to get married is that unlike his mother he is just as willing to marry a divorced woman as a never-married woman, and therefore believes he still has time on his side @AllTheKingsHorses. I cautiously discussed the topic with him on a superficial level yesterday and he called arranged marriage a 'institutionally randomized and heartless method of trial-marrying a perfect stranger' -- so I think he will be much better convinced by your method for sure! – English Student Nov 8 '17 at 11:20
  • @EnglishStudent Thanks for the kind words :-) Also 'institutionally randomized and heartless method of trial-marrying a perfect stranger' doesn't sound like he's on the fence about arranged marriage. Rather, he's got his mind made up and you're unlikely to convince him anyway. If that's the case and if I were in your shoes, I'd be doubly reluctant to let Aunty and Mom use me to pressure him because it'll just damage your friendship and achieve nothing. – AllTheKingsHorses Nov 8 '17 at 13:03
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    Very true @AllTheKingsHorses. So I shall instead concentrate on conveying to him your very valid alternative ideas for relationships expressed in this answer. – English Student Nov 8 '17 at 14:26

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