Cosmopolitan (UK)

All the way with… a wife who had an arranged marriage

Sarah, 41, met her husband five times before their wedding. But can you fall in love after you marry?

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I was 25 years old when my mum first put the word out that I was available for marriage. My dad had worked all over the UK as a doctor, so they had family friends everywhere. Those family friends knew other Asian Muslim families. That’s mostly how arranged marriages work: friends of friends of friends.

Part of me expected to have an arranged marriage, even though my parents would have preferred me to meet somebody suitable myself, because it would have meant less work for them! In my early twenties I did meet boys I liked, but none of them were Muslim and marrying outside of my religion wouldn’t have been an option.

Knowing my parents would choose somebody for me meant I didn’t feel pressured to find a partner myself. Arranged marriages come with uncertaint­y, but there’s a lot of certainty, too. For example: you both want to marry each other. Of course, some couples feel more pressured into arranged marriages because it’s what their family wants.

I gave my parents some criteria: I didn’t want a husband who was very religious, because I’m not, and I wanted to continue working and to have children. It’s practical, but not particular­ly romantic. The process starts with both sets of parents “negotiatin­g” together. The man and his parents would come to my parents’ house and we’d all sit down for an awkward meal. Then the parents would leave the room, and the man and I would be left to talk.

I wasn’t afraid of staying single; being in a bad marriage would be far worse than being on my own. And I never felt forced into marrying somebody – if I didn’t like them I’d just be honest. But age was on my mind when it came to children, and my parents didn’t want me to miss out on having kids or a partner.

We’d been through the process with five or six men before I met my husband when I was 30. He was quiet the first time we met, but once I saw him more relaxed around his family I could tell that his sense of humour was very similar to mine. All the other men had obvious red flags, like being completely disengaged or speaking constantly about themselves, but it felt natural to progress things with him.

My husband’s parents “proposed” to mine over the phone, then my mum called me to let me know. We only met three times before our engagement party, and twice more before our wedding. There wasn’t any proper dating, but we spoke on the phone every week. When we finally married, after a year of being engaged, I felt so relieved.

I hadn’t had sex before I got married, but when we moved in together, after the wedding, intimacy built up naturally.

Three weeks after our wedding, my parents threw a barbecue for all our friends and family, and my husband fitted in perfectly. My friend asked, “So, do you love him?” and I realised I did. We’ve been married for 10 years now and have a four-year-old. I haven’t looked back.

“If I didn’t like him I’d be honest”

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