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Marriage: Assisted Is the New Arranged

Nowadays more than ever, Eritreans in the Diaspora are coming to the homeland to look for and/or meet their significant other. Raising the subject in last week’s edition, Mellu wondered if that could really work. In today’s issue, Mahta Tewolde, also from the Diaspora, takes a step back and tries to delve into the whole affair of the “arranged marriage” and how it could become a way out…


Could the new form of arranged marriages be the way forward for Eritreans in the Diaspora who complain that there are no decent Eritrean guys or girls around?


We are not talking about arranged marriages in the traditional sense where the couple’s respective parents choose their spouse for them and the individuals do not have a say in who they marry. The form of arranged marriage discussed here is the modern version, where family or friends will suggest someone they think will be a good match for their loved one and initiate some contact between them. This new form of arranged marriage, which in recent years has seen a rise in western countries such as the USA and the UK, has been labelled “assisted marriage”, as it involves family/ friends giving a helping hand, rather than arranging the whole thing.

In the past, arranged marriages were commonplace in Eritrea. Young girls were betrothed to the son of a family thought to be suitable and were often married as teenagers. They rarely had a say in choosing their partner, and often did not get a chance to get to know their husband until after the wedding day. The idea being that the couple would fall in love after they begin their life together (often after having children).

This is what springs to mind when a lot of people think of arranged marriages. Many argue that the practice is oppressive, as it involves too much input from others and too clinical, as it takes away the magic of finding someone special. In the modern world, people have the “privilege” of looking for their own partner – but, as we know, this method does not always work.

“Assisted marriage” differs from traditional arranged marriage in that those who find the potential partner merely initiate an introduction; the rest is up to the two individuals. This means less pressure on the individuals, as the introduction does not necessarily have to lead to marriage (this method could also be called “assisted relationships”). The people who know your likes/ dislikes, interests and lifestyle simply act as matchmakers.

For people who miss out on talking to people they like due to shyness the usual apprehension of “how will she/he react if I approach them?” can be put aside. Both people know what the situation is and can just concentrate on getting to know each other.
From the point of view of the Eritrean Diaspora, this approach could be especially useful for Eritreans looking for an Eritrean partner who just don’t meet each other in everyday life due to a busy lifestyle, demanding career or lack of a social network. As you get  older, there are fewer opportunities to “bump into” the love of your life (for those of you who believe in “love at first sight”) or your future partner. How many of your friends complain about the lack of decent guys or girls around?

Where do you meet Eritreans? Most people say ‘Bahlis’/Parties. Are these even places where it’s realistic to meet a potential partner? Loud music, dancing and crowds are distractions and you don’t usually get the chance to talk for long enough to get to know the object of your affections (if indeed, you find one!).

Eritreans in the Diaspora agree that there are very few occasions/ events where you can mix and get to know each other in a more relaxed and natural way. So, the idea of “assisted marriages” seems to be even more appealing in this context.
Arguments against these types of introductions tend to centre on the involvement of others and the idea that it’s better to “just let things happen”. The reality is that it doesn’t usually just happen; there is already a degree of arrangement taking place. If you are ready to find a partner, you will usually try to go to places where you might find someone eligible, you will dress a certain way and try to make yourself available to making new contacts and encountering someone special.

There is really little difference with assisted marriages; the main difference being that the encounter, which may lead to a relationship, is pre-arranged in some way.
There is an even greater degree of arrangement involved if you are an Eritrean looking for an Eritrean (given that the probability of finding a single Eritrean in your local area is probably less than you becoming a nuclear scientist overnight – ok, that is an exaggeration, but it can appear that way!).

The process of “assisted marriages” can be a short cut to creating encounters with potential partners. Put another way, they provide a way of creating more opportunities to make what you want happen. Sounds like common sense so far. So what could be wrong with it?
When we are ready to settle down, we are all looking, but don’t want to appear desperate. The prevailing idea in the west is that love just happens. Popular culture tells us that your eyes meet, there is a spark and you fall in love. There is a tendency for Eritreans in the Diaspora to want to appear as though they are not trying too hard to find someone and to be embarrassed by people thinking that they are in fact looking, or (even worse) need help!
A friend of mine (who would like to remain nameless) told me that she was recently approached by an older family member with the ‘stats’ of a suitable young man, and asked whether she’d like to meet him. Her reaction? She was horrified. She wasn’t THAT desperate – she didn’t need help.

She CERTAINLY didn’t need help from her family; having them involved was far too embarrassing. Upon reflection, however, she thought that she was perhaps too caught up in the idea of traditional arranged marriage, and had possibly overreacted.
Her situation illustrates a stigma that is felt by a lot of young Eritreans in the Diaspora. Attempting to detach ourselves from our parents appears to continue beyond our teenage years, and is perhaps complicated by the conflict of how we feel we are supposed to meet our future life-partner. Our peers may meet their husbands/wives in the supermarket, at work, school, and clubs and so on. But if you are an Eritrean looking for an Eritrean partner, things, as we know, are not that simple…

Those Eritreans living in the Diaspora, who have decided that they want an Eritrean partner, are effectively placing limits on themselves. You will often have heard both non-Eritreans and Eritreans saying, “You come from a small country, with an even smaller population abroad, what are your chances of finding someone? You’re wasting your time” or “What if you miss the love of your life in London/ San Diego/Stockholm/Frankfurt because you’re holding out for an Eritrean?” I’ve heard several young Eritrean women in their twenties and thirties saying that they can’t hold out forever as they would like to settle down at a certain time and are worried that they won’t find an Eritrean partner.

For those who say they would like an Eritrean partner and say, “I can’t find anyone!” have you really tried?

I know a young woman who constantly complains of not being able to find a suitable Eritrean man. The truth is that she doesn’t meet any in her everyday life and she doesn’t really make an effort to go out of her way to meet them.

This is where “Assisted Marriages” could play a part. If you haven’t tried EVERYTHING, and that includes the possibility of an assisted marriage, can you really say that you have? You may have tried bars, parties, “bahlis”, perhaps even Internet dating, so why not give this a go?

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