The choosing process can work in several different ways:
- In a forced marriage, parents choose their child's future spouse with little or no input from the child and expect them to follow through with it. If the child refuses, she may be punished or even killed. Gets even worse when the groom believes in the custom of Marital Rape License and/or the bride is a child. These are not very common in Western nations today, where an individual's right to happiness outweighs the social and economic interests of the family who might benefit from such a marriage. Historically, though, many marriages were arranged, although in most Western societies the groom, or his parents, arranged the marriage with the bride's parents - and whether the bride had any choice in the matter or not depended on them. Generally the more important the alliance, the less opportunity either of the prospective partners was given to say no.
In some cultures, the marriage could go through without the bride's consent. In others (such as Christian Europe), the marriage required the consent of both parties—but in lands where fathers had near-unlimited power over their children (especially their daughters), it was easy enough to force such "consent".
- In less restrictive traditional arranged marriages, parents may choose their children's respective spouse with input from said children and without the caveat that they have to accept a potential match unconditionally — although the children may be heavily pressured to do so if such a match is especially favorable.
- Voluntarily, one can hire a matchmaker (or sign up for an online matchmaking service), which will pair the prospective bride or groom with a large list of potential suitors with whom they can freely choose to pursue relationships. These kinds of "no-strings" arrangements are far more popular in Western nations, although those who use dating services may not want to freely admit doing so, since the stereotype is that only workaholics or the socially inept would actually have a need to do so.
- In Japan, the ancient custom of omiai is a means by which suitable couples are formally introduced to each other by their parents, who sometimes employ a professional matchmaker. Meetings between potential mates are often stiff, formal affairs conducted in expensive tea shops or hotels with the parents of the couple present. (Needless to say, such meetings can be a source of tremendous tension for all involved participants.) In pre-war Japan, arranged marriages were common, a lot more restrictive as far as choice was concerned, and popular among the Samurai Class as a way of cementing familial alliances. In modern times, the heads of rich, high-class corporation-owning families can choose to bind their children to each other in a similarly restrictive way to form powerful economic alliances. There is little the prospective bride and groom can do to get out of such arrangements without causing considerable embarrassment and social turmoil in their own family. (Needless to say, many anime series will milk this sort of thing for all it's dramatic and/or comic worth.)
- In the Middle East and South Asia, a more relaxed form of omiai is practiced: the parents' expectation that their children marry is more hinted at than stated, as it is generally disguised as simply inviting "a nice family" or "a good young lady/man from a good family" over for tea or lunch/dinner. The hope is that the prospects will like each other anyway, but occasionally the intended courters can feel pressure if circumstances (money, family honor, social standing, in some cases politics, or the embarrassment of having an unmarried child--especially a daughter--that age) get in the way. Also different from omiai is that it is not a formal introduction, since the families are frequently friends, and occasionally even relatives (an old saying in the Middle East to a woman who has been having trouble getting married is, "well, there's always your cousin"). This custom also exists among Ashkenazi Orthodox Jews (non-Ashkenazi ones are generally culturally Middle Eastern in the first place), although going through a matchmaker is more common.
- Sometimes the villain (commonly a Lawful Evil villain) may attempt to "arrange" a marriage between himself and the heroine/the hero's love interest. If it is questionable whether the fiance is actually a hero or a villain, the arranged marriage will often take the shape of payment of a debt from the heroine's family to the fiance or fiance's family. Then part of a plot will be a mystery where the heroine struggles to figure out whether the fiance's motives are at root noble or nefarious; a more stubborn, action-oriented heroine may spend a lot of time trying (and failing) to pay that debt before even noticing that the fiance might actually be worth marrying. In more extreme versions the heroine may be a captive or a slave who becomes the legal property of the 'fiance'; again, plucky heroines may spend a whole plot arc trying to escape or earn their freedom before considering whether they actually want to escape. The hero's trust issues become a lot more noticeable in this variant when he is afraid not just of her choosing a rival or running away, but of actually killing him. Generally the conflict cannot be resolved until the heroine finally gets to a position of freedom or power, then has to use it to support or outright rescue the fiance.
The idea of an arranged marriage is anathema to most modern Westerners. "What happened to freedom," they ask, "and what happened to The Power of Love
, and True Love's Kiss
? People should Marry for Love
!" The answer is that this is one situation where it was better to be poor. It's easy to forget that history is by and large written only about the rich, and that in most countries well over 90% of the population were either peasants, slaves/serfs, or dirt-poor townsmen whose lives have for the most part been unexplored (or, in the past, deliberately ignored) by historians. These people didn't have arranged marriages because they had no reason to: they owned no property, titles, or status to hand down, they didn't need to make alliances, and they had no long-held traditions to uphold. The poor married for love or infatuation or to legitimize children (although often their form of marriage was what we would consider cohabitation), but this all happened well under the radar. (Though in a traditional peasant community- about 200- the pool of potential partners could be as small as that arrived at by arranged marriage anyway.) In fact, the real questioning, and ultimately the disappearance of the arranged marriage in Western culture arose in media, such as opera and the novel, which had its initial flowering at the same time as the rise of the bourgeois class, a third (and ultimately, with the rise of democracy, dominant) social group, striving at this period to define their own codes and values.
For anyone with land, money, wealth, titles or any other inheritance they wanted their children to hold, the Arranged Marriage was the way to go. It was more of a business arrangement: two families would agree to a mutually-beneficial exchange, and seal the pact with grandkids. Compatibility was not
disregarded (after all, an alliance works better if it isn't held together by a Crack Pairing
), and love was held in high esteem... but it was considered a product
of marriage, not a cause, which should be born from long familiarity with one's spouse: Ten Minutes in the Closet
, except over the course of a lifetime. (See The Makioka Sisters
for an example.) Finally, the Perfectly Arranged Marriage
, the love-child of the Arranged Marriage and Love at First Sight
, was developed by ancient tropers in acknowledgement of the fact that love is
a desirable part of a marriage. But the thing about these arranged marriages was that they weren't between a husband and wife: they were between two families
, with the husband and wife simply being the ones who formalize it. Love can be fleeting, but family is eternal and fortune precarious; The Needs of the Many
must take precedence.note