“Marriage is a complete gamble”

One of the most exciting dimensions of data analysis is when you start to find patterns in your data. This summer, with the support of CASI Summer Research Funds, I have been analyzing data from 45 interviews I conducted in 2018 and 2019 with unmarried and recently married young Indians in New Delhi. As I have been re-reading the interview transcripts and coding passages for themes, I uncovered several interesting patterns that I plan to unpack in my dissertation chapters. One of these patterns was in how my respondents described the uncertainty of marriage. Interview respondents often spoke about marriage as a “gamble,” emphasizing the fact that they have little control over their marital fate. While coding the data, I discovered that the idea that marriage was a “gamble” came up in almost a dozen interviews. Here are a few quotes from different interviews which illustrate the way that respondents describe the gamble of marriage:

“Marriage is complete gamble…in arranged and love marriage… either you win or lose, there is no mid-way. If it’s a hit, it’s a hit. If it’s a flop, it’s a flop.”

“The arranged marriage set-up is such a dubious thing, I tell you. It’s a total gamble…the first three or four times you meet someone, you show them your best, you will never show your flaws.”

“I think both types of marriage are a gamble…whether it is love or arranged. With arranged, it is more of a gamble, it’s just that you have the backing of your families if something goes wrong”

Some respondents felt that both love and arranged marriage were a gamble, whereas others saw only arranged marriage as clouded in uncertainty. To the interview respondents, what made arranged marriage a gamble was the fact that you could not really know about the compatibility of the couple until after the wedding. As a result, emotional compatibility in arranged marriage was described by one respondent as “big dice.” Those in love marriages (where the marriage was preceded by a romantic relationship) often described love marriage as less uncertain because their pre-marital relationship reduced the uncertainty of married life.

Those who said that both love and arranged marriage were a gamble pointed to the fact that married life is quite different from dating. They explained that it was impossible to know your spouse’s “real nature” until you were living with them. As a result, love marriage is also a gamble. One woman summed up her views on the uncertainty of marriage by saying, “It’s luck. I have seen people who have been dating for seven or eight years, but after getting married they have problems because they cannot work together.”

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About Megan Reed

Megan is a PhD student in Sociology and Demography at the University of Pennsylvania. She researches gender, family, and social inequality in India. Read more about her research here: https://sites.google.com/view/meganreed.