As a typical American woman, when my boyfriend of ten months proposed we get married within the next few weeks, my reaction was "whoa, no way, this is way too soon." To me, the natural progression of a relationship was dating for a year or more, engagement for a year or more, and finally getting married. However, this typical American woman moved to India and fell in love with an Indian. Here, dating is unheard of, engagement is a brief period of a few weeks, and marriage means you're actually in a commited relationship. So, we compromised our cultures and had a Hindu wedding a few days later to be followed by an American wedding in a few years. While I knew our personal views on marriage were strongly influenced by culture, I didn't realize how much so until we started to tell others of the news.
My American friends' reactions came as no surprise to me. "Whoa, this is a big decision, are you sure you're ready for this?" "Isn't this a bit fast." And of course the undertone of "Have you gone off your rocker." I understood these reactions, they're what mine would've been. Had I not been the one discussing and debating the decision for the previous few weeks, I would've been equally shocked and probably quite judgmental. As a result, I've been hesitant to tell people about the wedding and am still having a hard time with the words "married" and "husband." Since this is the first of our weddings, I kinda feel like we're half-married; we're somewhere beyond engagement but until I have my traditional American ceremony, I just won't be able to feel like I'm really truly married.
In theory, I understood Umes's push for us to have a Hindu wedding. I know that anything besides marriage isn't really respected here and that it was important to him to have our commitment to each other respected as real and true by his community. However, I still thought people would be a bit shocked since it happened after only 10 months and some of my work friends didn't even know I was dating anyone. Oh how wrong I was. The other day he came to my office with me and I introduced him as my husband. Nobody batted an eye. They simply said "oh, that's nice" and "nice to meet you." There was no surprise at us being married and people who did know of us dating seemed genuinely relieved that we had (finally) gotten married. Here, marriage is just a fact a life. It's what you do. It's not a "big decision" the way it is in the U.S. When you get to a certain age you get married. You commit to someone (who you may or may not know) and build a life as a family.
The dichotomy of reactions and the different perspectives they represent was truly eye opening. I don't think anything in my year of living here could've prepared me for the realization of the vast cultural divide between India and the U.S.