| March 11th, 2007

Say "No" to Marriage-of-Convenience

Leena is the favorite daughter of her affluent parents. She is good looking, she is a brilliant student, and she just got her Bachelors degree from one of the top schools in Dhaka. To pursue her career further she wants to go to a graduate school in the US. But her parents want her to get married before she goes abroad because they think that way the husband will be there to take care of her. Leena is not too sure about getting married but at the same time she haven’t seen any girl like her going abroad all by herself. So when there comes a proposal from a guy working in a reputed company in the US, Leena thinks,  since she has to get married anyway this might be a good option for her since this way she can easily go to the US and then pursue her studies there. When Leena finally gets married and comes to the US, she realizes she doesn’t really like this guy, apparently her husband has no bad habits but Leena can’t really get along with him. Now what? She is trying to decide whether she should stay with the guy until she get her studies completed or should she just break up the marriage and go back home to her parents.

Dear readers, in my opinion, Leena wouldn’t have to put herself in this dilemma if she were brave and honest enough to clearly state her wishes even before getting married. She shouldn’t have agreed to marry a person just because it might be easier for her to come to the US. Many people will disagree here with me saying, “Well, girls don’t have a choice” — I say yes, in many cases but not as always as we think. It’s your life so if you are not going to take action, you have to take responsibility for that. If you already got a bachelors degree then you should be capable enough to figure out what you really want and what you can do for it. I would like to share my own experience in this context.

Today it may be very common in some society in Dhaka where a single girl goes abroad for studies, but the mainstream Bangladeshis are still very much hung up with the concept, “It is a No-No to send a single girl abroad”, even when the family can afford it. When I was preparing to pursue my post graduate degree in the US, I had a very difficult time to explain to my family that I find it very unethical to marry a complete stranger just because it will help me to go to the US, people thought it was unheard of (why I thought it was “unethical” getting married this way). I don’t know where I got the courage but seeing my determination my parents finally gave me a reluctant “okay” though all other people kept saying to them — “You are making a big mistake”.

Anyway I who never even went to another city by myself finally came to the US all by myself after 30+ hours long plane ride. Fortunately I had a good network of friends and their friends who arranged a student apartment for me near my university. During the initial days I got all kinds of guidance from them. I didn’t have too much money and neither had a scholarship or assistantship, so I started working in the campus after my class. My weeks revolved around, class, work, homework, cooking and grocery shopping. In my whole life I never worked this hard.

In summer I got an internship in a big company close to New York city. This was my first time to be in such a big city, many people warned me about NY that I got really scared but I didn’t have any choice. In the subway I took the wrong route, an elderly African American lady helps me find my route, in the station I had my backpack zipper open showing my wallet, a street vendor warns me about it. The Limo service which was supposed to pick me from the  airport didn’t show-up, some police officer gives me his phone card to make a phone call, all these random act of kindness finally helped me reach my destination.

During my internship days I discovered a wonderful thing, no one is telling me that I am a girl, no one is asking me why on earth I came to the US all by myself, no one is even curious if I am married or  single, all I got is how good I was at my work and If I will be willing to work for them after my graduation. It gave me a whole new meaning of my life… my confidence level went high… I always knew I could do it and I did.

From then on I always tell my little sisters, don’t stop believing in yourself, if you believe in something, go for it, you are the only one who would knows your strength best. And yes when you decide to get married make sure you are getting married because of the person and not for his job or just because your parents thought it would sound good (without knowing the person). A marriage itself is a very serious business; it is not a good idea to begin it solely from a material perspective.


13 Responses to “Say "No" to Marriage-of-Convenience”

  1. Samiha Esha says:

    Excellent article Sharmin Apu and thank you very much for such a nice post. Well You are absolutely correct. This trend of Marrying American Guy just bombing in Dhaka. Girls of my age thinks that if they marry a citizen guy from US, UK, Canada, Australia then life will be very easy for them. Nowadays I felt marriage become mathematics for girls. They think they have to calculate everything before their marriage which is really very sad. Anyways I simply love your article. Many many congrats that you bring such a nice topic in Adhunika. Well Done and Keep it up.

    Samiha Esha 🙂

  2. Shakila says:

    This is a very important issue and I’m so glad Sharmin Apa has brought it up.

    To me, there is something absolutely sacred about marriage that prevents me from ever thinking of it in terms of convenience. Sure, my life would be much easier right now if I had a green card – but even in my dire situation, I never, ever consider marrying someone just because they are a citizen. I know my family gets exasperated and they wish I would just settle down already so they can stop worrying. But I’m sorry – this is the one compromise I am not willing to make, come what may.

    To marry for convenience is unfair to the person you are marrying, and unfair to yourself. To do so is giving up on life, giving up on your own possibilities. What’s more, it continues a cycle of repressed anger and frustration that carries on to future generations. Little kids pick up very quickly when their parents are unhappy. And the scars stay with them through their adolescence and adulthood.

    Having said all that, it certainly isn’t easy being an unmarried Bangladeshi woman. It frustrates me that the first question on the minds of aunties and uncles is “when are you getting married?” Why is it so necessary for a woman to be married in order for her identity to be established? I’ve seen it over and over – no matter how high-powered a career she may have, if she’s not married, there’s supposedly something wrong with her.

    These are not times when women are willing to silently suffer through a bad marriage for life. Nor are these times when men are okay with the submissive wife who never speaks up. Marriages need to be entered with much thought and proper intention. Relationships are difficult, and marriages even more so. After all, we don’t want to end up with the divorce rates of the West.

    I would say to all women – know who you are first. Achieve your goals on your own terms. And when you marry, marry because you’ve found the person who is your complete and true partner in every sense of the word – someone to make the journey with even though you don’t need him to hold your hand.

  3. Bina says:

    Very timely article. Thank you for writing this. I know quite a few women who have done exactly this. All of them went through a divorce, which were sometimes messy too. I find this is ridiculous. If someone has the strength and courage to break a relationship so easily, why can’t she stand up to her parents or the family in the first place? Why can’t she say ‘No’? What does it say about our family ties and responsibilities?
    This is probably a challenge for highly educated and capable women in Bangladesh. What you mentioned about having a choice and being a responsible person are really important.

    But I think the situation is different for these women than the others who are married off by their families to Bangladeshi expats living in the West. These men are obviously lucrative ‘Patro’ for the parents. They are in such demand that many families do not even check their backgrounds properly and they are more than happy to marry their daughters off in a few days time. What kind of a mentality is this?

  4. Labiba says:

    Shakila – I loved your last paragraph. Thank you for putting your thoughts down in such an eloquent manner.


  5. Faika says:

    Very interesting article Sharmin and one that is quite timely as well!

    On Bina’s comment about the mentality of parents-part of it unfortunately comes from the valuation that girls have in the Bangladeshi, South Asian or even developing country societies. Even today, a mentality still persists that a girl needs to be married off and as soon as possible and yes with the most “eligible” patro available. Given the fact that many people still believe that there are limited opportunities in Bangladesh, the most eligible patro is usually the one living abroad and with a green card or a foreign passport! It is a very shameful fact that in many developing countries including Bangladesh a daughter is still valued less than a son- so by marrying a good patro, the daughter’s valuation goes up, the girl’s family’s worth also goes up- or so some might believe.

    On Shakila’s comment, I would absolutely agree with everything Shakila said. There have been too many times when I have gone back home or even in Bangladeshi gatherings here in the States that I have been faced by the question of “so when are you getting married?” And this is not just a question that I have heard from aunties and uncles but also from my own friends. Thankfully my parents have been quite understanding about my wishes to focus on my career but I am sure they are faced with some level of pressure from other older relatives about how they are “not fulfilling their duties as parents.”

    As Shakila rightly emphasised we as women need to learn who are first. Marriage is a very big step, making such a level of commitment to a person requires confidence in oneself and conviction about one’s decision. We need to have respect for ourselves, for our self worth and enter a relationship where we are valued for who we are and what we have achieved. Getting married just for the sake of convenience I think is the biggest mistake that anyone can make.

  6. Emma says:

    Forget getting married- I need a date first!!! LOL! 😉

    On serious note, how come more men than women go back to marry those in “old desh”?

  7. Mezba says:

    I agree with your last paragraph and conclusion. However I would not allow a female relative to go alone to the US for studies. It depends on individual to individual (some are street smart others are not) but also – you got lucky. You could’ve been lost in Harlem and then things would not have looked so rosy.

    Anyways, nice post.

  8. KJ says:

    Sharmin apa,
    Small synopsis”

    I go to my meeting where there are bunch of support team and personal, work for us and give us project status update. The meeting start and almost get finish with all the rosy and cozy tidbits about how good everything is going,which very less talk about the problem”

    I changed that meeting with my own ideas and aspect of leadership. I go in greet my people and than say few hi and hellos and I start with
    ” So tell me what is not doing good or having trouble to make it work” so to me whats going good and glorious, they are suppose to produce results thats why company hire them, so I don’t need to know all the small thing,I would like to know what went wrong.
    So Sharmin apa in your nice story, you told us all the good thing that went good but didn’t tell us about anything that didn’t go the way you thought or may be went wrong ( god forbid) but just saying.
    We are family of 7 blood brothers out of which 6 of us are in USA and went through all the good and bad experience in life during our college life as you mentioned in USA. My brothers were from the first Batch of Siddiques who started to create the craze of leaving for higher studies to USA ( wathching Paperchess to inspire them followed by Dallas) including students from Maple Leaf, Wills Little flower and few others and we followed the trend. My only loving sister didn’t come because she didn’t want to leave my mom and dad and my only brother in Bangladesh. We used to force her to come but she would only come to visit and get our credit card to go to zero ( women shopping) but would not stay or go to college. So girls are not bound they very well know what they are getting in to in most of the case. She did her MBA from Dhaka and married to doctor and have two kids now.
    What you went through here, went through in real nine 9 lifes in my family but all of them were not greeted with garlands and flowers but yes due to our determination and hard work we could, so anybody could, but just because you could don’t think everyone could.But I am a positive and optimistic person I think any one could do it, just need some determination and stability and to deal with difficult situation.
    If the person know she can do it, she should do it. Now it’s easy. But 10-20 years ago it was hard. IT and communicatio are making it easier now.
    Please if you don’t mind, I would like to know if you would share what didn’t go right with you? not that you have to from personal level but you can say from general perspective.If you ask us, we need publish in book format.

    Kawser Jamal

  9. Nazia says:

    I feel compelled to put in my thoughts on this marriage of convenience issue as some one who fought to get higher studies done abroad as a single women. I left Dhaka to complete my undergrad when I was 19+ and returned last year after my graduation. I consider myself one of the lucky groups of Bangladeshi women, who is fortunate to have very understanding parents and relatives supporting her wishes all around.

    I wouldn’t say my stay abroad was rosy. Although I have heard of terrible experiences from some women, I was fortunate to be going to a country & a university where racial discrimination and cultural shocks were not severe.

    Saying that, the topic here is not one’s experience abroad as a single woman, rather one’s choice of marriage. I can say that most girls in Dhaka have stopped looking for Mr. Right all together & instead are in the look out for Mr. Convenient! Even if the groom to be lives in Dhaka, material achievements of the groom has always been the number one desired quality in a man, by both girls and their parents. In case of arrange marriages, unfortunately the Bengali social setting does not allow girls to know their groom to be too well before marriage and thus basing one’s decision on the grooms achievements and future potential is left to be the only option.

    It would be wonderful, if we the independent single women could be provided with a little more flexibility in knowing the person we are to marry. If I am to socialize with some one for a few months to know the guy better, and then decide he is not my Mr. Right, I will only be spoiling my reputation as a pompous, too fast woman who is being picky! So, I think the marriage of convenience has become so widespread because there are no other alternatives offered to Bangladeshi single women when it comes to arrange marriages.

  10. Shaila says:

    An important topic raised here. Thanks for bringing it up.

    I agree with the fact that no one should get married for convenience. Parents might not understand this as mentioned above, but young educated girls (specially the one’s who thinks getting married and coming to US will change their lives) should try to stand up for their rights and realize that it is not all that easy. Marriage is just a beginning of a new life with your partner and you will have to go through all the ‘inconveniences’ of your life with him (Real life problems, financial troubles, building careers, kids, health etc. etc.). So, why not go through some inconvenience before getting married like getting to know the person, spending a little more time to establish your own identity etc. If you get married for convenience, it is temporarily convenient, but in the long run it might not be the best decision.

    In my own experience, me and my husband had a long distance relationship before getting married. I met him in March and was about to start my Master’s that Fall. It would have been very convenient for us to get married sooner (as some extended family suggested not immediate family thank god!) and move in with him and start my married life. But we took the inconvenient way which included, lots of phone calls, six hours drive each way between states, many flights and trying to plan a wedding, a move and keeping up with school and work. I tried to finish fast, but I did not give up my studies. This was not easy, but for us, it was the most memorable two years of our lives. We got to know each other better, built a stronger relationship which led to a stronger marriage.

  11. Sharmin says:

    Thanks Nazia to clarify that the main focus is Not “How to” come to the US.

    KJ, just FYI, It is not rosy at all(I already mentioned, “I never worked this hard in my whole life”). But in fact I had to stretch my capabilities, that helped me shape the person who I am today. One key thing that worked for me was to have a good network of family and friends. I always did enough research before going to a new place, I just didn’t jump on a boat and assumed everything will be okay automatically. Even for a guy the same thing is true.


  12. LKN says:

    *Leena is beautiful and brainy
    *Leena wants to pursue graduate studies away from home.
    *Leena wants to spread her wings and soar as high as an eagle.
    *Leena wants to pursue her God-gifted potentials.

    What are the issues:
    1) Society sees a young, beautiful, intelligent woman.
    2) Society thinks such a woman need not broaden her horizons any further.
    3) Society things such a woman should not be independent.
    4) Society thinks such a woman should not have emotional maturity and guts.
    5) Society expects that such a woman will be swept off her feet by Prince Charming and will live happily ever after.

    Even if Leena has Bachelor’s degree, it is not easy for her to say “NO”. She risks being ostracised by her own closest family members and subject to psychological and emotional bullying by her family members. Even if her family members don’t disown her,
    her relatives will make fun of her father and mother. She has dishonored her family’s name.

    I have personally witnessed this first hand with a very good friend of mine. She is very bright, beautiful, polite, a highly-paid engineer who is
    being sponsored for a Green Card. She was 28 and her family members threw a fit that she was not married. She literally went thru a period of depression. Just to try and get her married, her own father even pushed that she date this ‘psycho’ from the South Asian. Just a week before the marriage took place, the girl’s father could not eat and sleep and finally called the marriage off. She was so elated, before the break-off, she said that she felt like she was going into a funeral instead of a wedding.

    Let’s face it, girls and women are trained to be people pleasers. If Leena says “NO”, then her family will be very dissapointed and label her a “BAD GIRL”.

    Women/Girls who don’t obey and appear meek and brainless are labeled “BAD”.

    Any society, (east or west) are not really satisfied with the existence of an intelligent and independent woman. Even American-Caucasion girls are trained to be beautiful and “dumb”.

    What is the moral of the story.

    1) It is not easy to say “NO” depending on the environment you are in.
    2) However, sometimes one will need to say “NO”. Otherwise someone like Leena risks killling her own soul. Her soul will stop shining God’s light to humanity.


  13. Phantom says:

    Hats off to you for choosing the topic most important for future generations.Another Topic thats complimentary to yours is say “NO” to Dowry:- the root cause of insecurity for married women.
    You write:”It gave me a whole new meaning of my life… my confidence level went high… I always knew I could do it and I did.”- this feelngs you achieved from your success abroad -but I think additionally the role of your good parents, a good life,education and training- also had a hidden role too –n thats the reason why you were able to offer an honest feeling to your parents before being sent off to USA. The development of “belief in oneself”-also comes from the same positive role of parents and environment.Appreciate very much that you teach yr sister and others in here through yr writeup.Hopefully many will follow yr advise.
    IMO Leena’s case was different-besides education she had the opposite of your life-therefore the difference in personalities and ofcourse decisions of life.Hope no one needs to follow her foot-steps.
    This point that I make here to show the difference between Sharmin and Leena is a fact of life. Most affluent/commercial minded parents offers wrong interpretation of religion and dominate their children on grounds that they owe their life to them for rearing them up from childhood to adults therefore not obeying them is not only indisciple but a grave sin.
    Samiha#1 says”Girls of my age thinks that if they marry a citizen guy from US, UK, Canada, Australia then life will be very easy for them.”-Most affluent parents brainwash their girls into these sorts of ideas and do not follow the proper steps leading to marriage.Later they wonders why there is problems in marriage that leads to Divorce. Girls cannot get these ideas unless they are taught to them.
    So we see that attitude of parents if not correct plays the catalyst role to destruction of Marriage.
    In reality Marriage is void only on the consent of both the Girl and the Boy-the consent must be given freely, by both, without any reservation or due pressure.Another most important point to note is that status of both(exceptions are there) should be at par level which allows healthy thoughts,living conditions and following moral values-(specially in respect to Dowry and Mehr)- that contributes to Good Mariage and NOT to a Marriage of Convenience.

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