For many people, the words "arranged marriage" stir visions of oppression, cruelty or domination. It is a sensitive topic because many people find it hard to explain and others hard to accept. Polite acknowledgment and a quick change of subject usually end the conversation.
Selecting the perfect partner is extremely personal in countries where arranged marriages are not practised. Years are spent searching for a soulmate. The very idea of allowing your family to choose the person you intend to spend the rest of your life with is downright unacceptable in many cultures.
Then there is the subject of love. It is incomprehensible for many that getting married to an absolute stranger can ever lead to the feelings found in "love marriages". From an outsider's point of view, arranged marriages seem like a partnership of convenience that can end in mutual respect but has no basis in love.
But for most Emiratis, and many other Arabs, the idea of arranged marriage is quite the opposite. It is seen as not only a reliable union but also as a means to find love everlasting. To understand these ideas, it is important to understand the process right from the start.
It begins, as most marriages do, with a man and a woman. Once a candidate is chosen, the mothers begin by meeting to discuss matters that Emirati men can only theorise about. It is an ancient, perfected conversation that is filled with the knowledge of centuries of experience and the natural wisdom of mothers and wives to discover if the bride and groom are truly matched in all aspects of life including family background, personalities and much more.
If both mothers give the green light to move forward, this is when the men are permitted to take part. A date is set for the fathers to meet to officially start the process. If the meeting goes as planned and the father of the bride accepts the son as a good match for his daughter, he may ask for some time to consider.
Contrary to what many may believe, the decision falls, in the end, to the bride. Her father will share his opinion with her about the groom and she will be left to decide.
The process of involving the family not only allows many opinions to be shared, but also involves relatives in the decision of the marriage, which later can prove to be extremely helpful if the couple needs assistance in difficult times.
The marriage begins with a clean slate with no expectations or misconceptions. But it cannot be denied that the first few months can prove to be quite difficult. Getting to know a person while you are already married needs a period of adjustment. During this period, the bride and groom begin to learn each other's weaknesses and flaws. Yet, in these difficult and sensitive times, the family offers full support, helping the couple to learn patience and to understand one another.
Once the initial period is passed, the magic of arranged marriages begins. Since the union began in complexity, every moment of harmony proves to be more rewarding than the one before it. What began as a complicated task becomes an effortless pleasure. The couple begins to work together to mould their personalities to complement each other's wants, needs and dreams.
Unlike many love marriages, which begin with a roaring bonfire that dies down over time, arranged marriages ignite a small flame of love and understanding that is fuelled over time with the respect and admiration the couple learn to have for one another. As years pass, the flame grows with the understanding and acceptance they each have for each other.
Many believe a person's true soulmate can only be found in love at first sight. For most Emiratis, a true soulmate is found when two people put their hearts and souls together to build love. This is then filtered to their children who are raised in a loving, peaceful home with parents who have built a foundation for the family to grow on.
This is not to say that love marriages in the UAE are doomed for failure. For every type of marriage, there are successful unions and others that do not make it. Yet for arranged marriages, the success rate in the UAE is higher than the norm. Against the powerful force of modernisation and globalisation, it is for this reason that arranged marriages not only continue to be practised but are encouraged by many in the UAE.
Taryam al Subaihi is a freelance writer from Abu Dhabi who specialises in corporate communications