I always wondered as to how much neglected and underestimated is the intertwining period between engagement and marriage. My curiosity is not with respect to this time period per se but the duration of this time period. Most of the modern marriages go through this engagement followed by marriage routine so as to provide some time and space for the couple to learn more about each other and be ready to accept each other with a deeper awareness of their respective personality traits. This is more critical for marriages in India as they need this probationary period owing to the undeniable fact that most of the Indian marriages are arranged. And these arrangements are mostly based on commonalities which might not necessarily be in sync with the personalities of the couple involved. Coming back to my question as to how the length of this period affects the impending marriage, should the gap between engagement and marriage be too long or too short? Is 1 year too long and 1 month too short?
Definitely any amount of time is not enough to fully understand a person. In fact we might spend an enter lifetime trying to adjust, adapt and live with that person and we might still need more time. But how does the length of this time period affect the ensuing marriage ?
Let us consider the case if this period is too long, maybe a year or so. Well in that case, it gives the couple a lot of time to discuss and debate and make sure they know what kind of personalities they are and move beyond the characteristics described by their respective zodiac signs, moving from ‘summary’ to ‘details’. Both the partners would like to know not just their likes and dislikes but also want to look out for indicators both spoken and unspoken which reveal the true love and depth of feelings for each other. Every personality has its own set of idiosyncrasies but they have to play out in relation to their future partners and check if they stand out as weird or funny in the eyes of their beholders. Because what’s normal and boring in the eyes of one maybe idyllic and romantic to the other. On the down side since the time period of companionship is longer there is a grave danger that the couple might learn about each other much more than they would like to know. There are many ugly truths which are easier to forgive and forget within the framework of a marriage than outside of it, and definitely not within the confines of engagement.
The maxim — “familiarity breeds contempt” would also hold true for the couple in question and they will have to watch out for any casual, off the-cuff utterances that might come back to haunt and even destroy the delicate act of building a relationship. If everything that is there to a person is discovered during courtship not many engagements might end up in marriages! On a lighter side, there is always the lurking fear of what if she (or he) finds the Mr. Right in the midst of this endearment. This fear might be too far-fetched but blame it all on gulping too many bollywood movies and especially those starring a certain Mr. Shah Rukh Khan. And these movies have always used the time interval between engagement and marriage to flush out a fairy tale of a dreamy eyed women falling in love at the most inopportune time with this charismatic hero. This provides the formulaic love story the much needed conflict and the post interval resolution drama wherein our hero Shah Rukh Khan manages to woo not just the damsel in distress but the entire family and make them realize of what a waste it was to organize an engagement in the first place!
Transforming a stranger into a familiar face might not be the only reason for carrying forward the tradition of engagement. There are many instances when the couple is already in love and they let their parents know that they have found their life partner and would like to have their blessings by officially calling for a wedding. Even in situations like these engagement ceremonies do take place. So what happens to the premise of familiarity that we talked of? Well, here I believe the engagement is for the familiarity of families involved. The parents want to make sure this ceremony buys them enough time to make sure they will find more than one reason to tell their son/daughter why the choice they made is not right for them rather than proving that they made the right choice. It might turn out good if they like the guy or gal selected by their offspring. Either way it provides the families involved a breathing space to get acquainted and make in the necessary changes to accommodate and accept their new in-laws.
Coming back to arranged marriages, the gap between engagement and marriage is the only ‘falling-in-love’ phase that is available to the couples. Since both the partners are interested in forging a meaningful relationship the spirits are very high. Every bit of information exchanged is stored in memory and the same is then retrieved and relived in solitude. There is a strong urge and desire to inquire and know about the other person. Not to forget in addition to the adrenaline rush there is also the pressure of societal expectations which keeps a subtle tap on the proceedings. Tradition follows the couple like a shadow wherever they go trying to ensure that they do not go overboard with their passions. Any kind of remote interaction is permitted but every act involving physical intimacy is closely monitored and strictly prohibited if there is a danger of passions spilling over. Undoubtedly it is the female partner that is subjected to this intense scrutiny.
When interregnums are longer there seems to be a controlled pace to all the underpinnings, excitements and joyous outbursts of affection. They smell spring in the air but they are also aware of the impending summer and hence they wait to explore the uncharted territories one at a time. In here the landscape is laced with flowers which can afford the leisure of giving the blossom enough time to bloom at its own languid pace. The seedling is sown when the couple starts to invest in the relationship, seedling sprouts into a bud when they start to know each other and this bud grows into a flower when the couple yearns to be with each other. As much they would like this flower to be fresh forever bristling with fragrance, beauty and hope, reality strikes when they least expect it. Flower starts to fade as is its nature and the couple start to take each other for granted and with that ensues a power struggle to try to be themselves and not be forced to change their habits, friends and their like.
What starts with a request for minor hairstyle change quickly moves on to a demand for far-reaching changes in lifestyle! The need of the hour is to make adjustments to adapt their natural selves to the needs of the new person in their life at the same time not to give in their personal turf. This definitely calls for a delicate balancing act. Some couples survive and even move onto a more mature state of understanding while some simply crumble. All along while the couple and their respective families are making arrangements for marriage there are multiple opportunities where there is extra need for cooperation and minor give and take involved in satisfying the traditional, societal and individual expectations of both the families. Any slip-up during these negotiations has the potential of transforming marrying families into warring ones.
When looking at longer engagement timelines there are also issues of remote engagements wherein the couple get engaged based on interactions arranged purely with the intention of marriage. And the couple would have hardly interacted but had to generate a monosyllable ‘yes’ or ‘no’ after few official ‘marriage sittings’ orchestrated under the watchful eyes of respective families and friends. And the real interactions would actually start after the official engagement. This is very typical for most of the cross continental marriages that have been on the upswing from the early nineties owing to the software boom. In most of the marriages of this nature there are hardly any physical one-to-one exchanges and hence there is less restraint and checks in place to share, care and also bear!
Over engagements work perfectly for these distant alliances as the ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ maxim is not stretched to its limit as is possible in not so far-off couples. This premise is open to debate but definitely physical contact can adversely affect this equation to a longer degree when compared to a far-flung couple. Physical proximity can alter the equation to a far greater extent for a couple just starting to know each other as there are many minor personal habits that can turn into major irritants and can make a lasting impression on a relationship in the throes of infancy. This also explains why many wonderful couples before marriage turn out to be total disasters when they start to live under a single shared roof. Most of us have an outer ‘public’ personality and an inner ‘private’ one and for many they are not always in tune. As we often hear — ‘You do not know a person until you live with them!’
Enough of over engaged couples, lets look at under engaged couples. Well, they definitely have differences but they also share some surprising similarities. Under engaged couples have their time cut out and can range from one week to just under a month They are aware of the impending marriage with date and time fixed and they are in a hurry to plan everything according to their tastes and manage to do everything within the limited time available. What time does this leave for the couple to interact? Well, they will make sure to spend as much time as possible together and do all the shopping related to marriage with the other in tow and get to know everything possible as the D-day approaches. Again most of these marriages are typical of the remote, cross-continental alliances that have been on the rise. Owing to status (H1-B, GC, Work Permit, etc), time constraints and similar challenges many marriages after mandatory meetings for the couple agree to a marriage and make it official by calling for an impromptu engagement.
These relationships are in a hurry to reach their designated marriage date with all the necessary arrangements involving venue, dresses, far-off guests, decorations, food and most important of all monetary transactions attended to their utmost satisfaction. In the midst of this hustle and bustle the couples are relegated to the background and have very few options left to interact and explore with each other. A lot can still be deciphered about each other but as we discussed earlier outer personality is what they can look at for the inner truer self will still have to wait till marriage to make its presence felt. They will hold onto whatever information they have and sincerely pray that the person they know is pretty much the sum of all the parts they are aware of. They cannot prey or gather information from third parties or follow up on any suspicions that they might get hold of as there is a deadline they are trying to meet in a hurry, lest they do want their pre-marriage events to turn into a thriller of sort!
Smaller the interregnum longer will be the nights, faster the heart beats and higher the spirits. Since the couple has to treat this as their falling-in-love phase they try not to fret over minor misgivings and present a pleasant demeanor at all times. Continuing with the analogy of love blossoming like a flower the life cycle of flower here still goes through the same phases of seedling, bud and flower but in a much accelerated manner with no clear demarcations of the stages per se. They do not have the luxury of seeing the flower bloom in motion. They hardly realize as to when they fell in love. There are still the agonizing waits but the waiting here is characterized more by desperation than zealous anxiety and of wasted time than frivolous imagination.
But there is a silver lining too for the couple in close proximity here. For there is more to know about a person in constant physical contact in say 20 days’ time than it is to know a person at a far-off place in a span of 6 months. Since there is a possibility that you can hide your inner personality in the absence of physical contact but the same is highly unlikely when you spend major portion of the day doing everything together and learning about each other when you know not just what colors you love to wear on a given day but at the same time how much you would pay for a tip or how you interact with your friends. There is a lot that minor day to day dealings reveal about a person than inordinate hours of chatting and emails.
In terms of similarities both have societal expectations breathing down heavily on them and a strong need to adhere to the needs of their partners, agreeing to conform to the expectations of their spouses to-be even if at times they are in conflict to their truer selves. Too many promises made in the heat of the moment without much thought come back to haunt during post-marriage squabbles. Both again are faced with skepticism whether love is an emotion or a decision? Or is it both? They made a decision and in order to subscribe to that decision and to make it work they need to feel an emotion as sublime as love. It seems to be an exciting adventure to begin with but it does demand deft care and understanding to keep it that way for as long as they stay together which is excruciatingly tough when the destination is unknown.
In the context of arranged marriages love seems to be both a decision and an emotion molded into one. The order of emotion following decision is tough to be convinced about but with proper care and mature understanding can be a workable solution. In essence no time period, longer or smaller is ideal to make this transition period a profitable one for either of the parties. Every couple would ideally prefer a longer acquaintance time, and if it is between engagement and marriage, so be it. But they want to make a meaningful use of it. There are pros and cons to both the situations. In retrospect unfortunately for many couples it turns out that the gap between engagement and marriage is the total duration of the real, ardent love that they ever had for each other. They constantly reminisce that period in a very sacrosanct manner about the most beloved and truest sense of love that they ever experienced.
If every couple is aware that when you an looking for love and want to be loved by someone they need to accept the fact that hurt would accompany love for multiple reasons. If you are ready to fall in love then you should also be ready for pain caused by our partner’s actions either knowingly or unknowingly. There are ups and downs owing to mood swings or other reasons but being able to accept a person with all their deficiencies and insecurities will give your love the much needed space and time to breathe and evolve. If there is extreme incompatibility for reasons related to lack of trust, deception or its like then definitely the couple and its love would not survive. But if there is hurt caused due to ego related hassles, misdirected anger or unable to handle responsibilities that are part of marriage then there is need for wiser counsel to prevail and adjustments that should be made by the partner at fault. But all these take time and need to be arrived at by self-reflection or mutual agreement rather than coercion or force.
Juxtaposing a flower with love might not seem appropriate and might seem to be a lost battle for love even before the two meet. Not to be too pessimistic here, love would only fade when it is not tended with trust, care and respect whereas a flower will fade out eventually as everything associated with it is transient and excessive care might only delay the inevitable. Just be aware that your love also can bloom like flowers with thousand fragrances and colors but do not expect them to happen all at the same time. Look after the plant that produces the flowers and tend to its roots before you look out for the daisies, roses and tulips. Flowers do fade out as also love does turn sour at times but never forget to take care of each other in times of distress. And then old jaded flowers will be replaced by newer and more gorgeous flowers and might last longer than the one before but not forever!