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Arranged marriage gets high-tech twist

  • Story Highlights
  • Technology is transforming the way marriages are arranged
  • Web sites allow parents to create profiles for their children
  • Technology helps couples assert independence while keeping parents involved
  • The rise of cell phones has made long-distance courtships easier
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By Jocelyn Voo
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(LifeWire) -- When it was time for Sabiha Ansari to get married, her parents flew her to India. She met her husband-to-be for less than 20 minutes, with family, then was asked whether she liked him.

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Sabiha Ansari and her husband Faisal Masood, shown here at a friend's wedding, were married just five days after meeting.

"That was really hard for me," she says. "I kind of wanted to have some time alone with him to talk to him, or even on the phone."

But she said yes, and they were married five days later. That was in 1991.

Things were different for Sabiha's younger sister, Huma Ansari, in 2005.

"Sometimes it feels weird for me to even call it an arranged marriage because I feel like I got to know my husband pretty well," says the 27-year-old Richmond, Virginia, optometrist.

She and her husband, Saud Rahman, 29, a medical resident, were introduced through family friends at a casual dinner, then e-mailed and called each other for several months. They married a year later.

Nowadays, classically arranged marriages for immigrant families in America are much less common, and rejecting the potential partners is an increasingly easy option. The changes have been dramatic in the past decade or two, says Stephanie Coontz, professor of family studies at the Evergreen State College and author of books on the history of marriage. One of the major factors in the transformation: technology.

Can I call you?

The rise of cell phones has made long-distance courtships easier. A small 2006 study from a University of Washington researcher found that young Indians living in Bangalore used cell phones to get to know partners introduced to them by their parents.

The Internet also has made an impact, not only through e-mail but also through sites like Shaadi.com ("shaadi" means "wedding" in Hindi) and BharatMatrimony.com. There, parents can create a profile for their child (the site usually indicates who posted the profile).

Tali Kapadia's mother surfed Shaadi.com for Gujarati Hindu men in the New York area, creating a profile for Tali, 28, who is pursuing a master's degree at Columbia University, and fielding responses from prospective suitors -- all without telling Tali. Only when she'd found a guy she liked did she fill Tali in on her online search.

"I think they're pretty popular," says Tali's sister, Kavita, a graduate student at Michigan State University. "If your parents are really pressuring you to marry someone who's the same background as you and it's important to you, if you can't find them in the community, you might just look online."

Shaadi.com offers video profiles, and BharatMatrimony.com provides marriage loans in which banks compete to finance the couple's expenses.

In some ways, technology has helped couples assert independence while keeping parents involved.

"We chatted for months and decided to go ahead before his parents spoke to my father," said one woman who gave a testimonial on Shaadi.com. "By then we felt like we've known each other for ages."

For better and worse

While technology has helped transform arranged marriages, some things haven't changed. The definition of an arranged marriage has always been fluid. Some are akin to "forced marriages," where the bride and groom have no choice and don't meet before the wedding. Some have courtships that last mere days. Others look more modern. Arranged marriages are most common among families from India, the Middle East and Japan.

Although some may argue that such marriages are destined for disaster, there are upsides.

"Arranged marriages have going for them the fact that the in-laws have an active interest in the marriage lasting," Coontz says. A strong parent-child support system will benefit children even if they have flown the family coop.

And in close families, parents are likely to find someone who is compatible.

"Your parents know you very well, and they will not do anything for you that will be detrimental," says Sabiha, 37, a North Brunswick, New Jersey, life coach who is married to Faisal Masood, 41, a vice president of management at JP Morgan Chase.

But if parents don't know their child well, they are unlikely to find a good match. And participants in arranged marriages tend to be younger, Coontz says.

"One thing we know for sure is that the older the age of the couple at first marriage, the more likely their marriage is going to last," she says.

Traditional role

But if young adults are now more financially stable, spend more time independent of their parents and can find their own suitors, why do they still accept arranged marriages?

With or without the help of technology, "I think most of it is the weight of cultural tradition," Coontz says.

But Huma appreciated her parents doing the tough work of screening potential suitors.

"[My parents] always told me, 'If you find someone, let us know,'" says Huma, who was in graduate school when she met her husband. "But, honestly, I didn't find anyone. I was like, 'I'll take all the help I can get!'" E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to Web publishers. Jocelyn Voo is a freelance writer and former relationships editor at the New York Post.

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