Love and Marriage in Outsourced

I’m always excited to make room in my TV calendar for the hot new show. This season it’s NBC’s Outsourced, a half-hour comedy about an average American guy named Todd managing a call center in India. The majority of the humor comes from cultural misunderstandings about human interaction, religion, and national holidays as the staff learn about American culture.


(Photo: NBC Universal)

Despite a fun script, Outsourced has a pervasive undercurrent proclaiming American ideals about love as inherently superior to the Indian tradition of arranged marriages.  Todd balks after hearing that beautiful employee Asha will be in an arranged marriage, never mind that she is fine with letting her parents pick out potential suitors.  His reaction? “What about making your own decisions? What about love, man?  It’s your life – don’t let anyone take that away from you!”

In Marriage & the Great Recession, Institute for American Values scholar Alex Roberts writes Americans see marriage as a soul mate relationship with sexual chemistry, emotional intimacy and happiness as the most important components, especially young adults.  It is no wonder tear-jerkers like The Notebook and Titanic have a generation of women just yearning for a dashing young man to ignite a raging passion defying all odds.  But many scholars today are questioning the very validity of our choices as a product of our American obsession with choice.

Columbia Professor of Business, and author of “The Art of Choosing”, Sheena Iyengar tells Salon, “The arranged marriage will lead in theory to less quarrels because you know, for example, what religion you’re going raise your child in. In the case of a love marriage, love is supposed to conquer all, but what do you do when you have different opinions about how to feed your child or save money? What we can learn from the arranged marriage is the importance and value of compatibility.”

Am I saying romance is a farce? It could be. Romance without substance is impetuous and shortsighted, as is made clear by Shakespeare’s tragic love tale.

(Photo: IMDB)
Tara Parker-Pope, author of For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage, explains why it’s so hard for Americans to find value in arranged nuptials: “…Because some cultures that favor arranged marriages are also those that devalue women’s rights. When marriages are arranged for women, they are often done so at the expense of a girl’s education and opportunities, with little regard for her wishes.”  While I do not advocate the subjugation of women, in the choosing of a mate or anywhere else, there is great wisdom to be found in tradition of arranging marriages where values, goals, long-term compatibility are the foundation for a relationship – not heart palpitations and smoldering gazes.

New York writer Anita Jain gave up on the American single scene and went about brokering a shaadi (arranged marriage) with surprising results, as documented in her book Marrying Anita: A Quest for Love in New India. Her thoughts about love take Iyengar’s arguments to another plane as she writes, “In the West, people are so resolutely convinced that they alone are equipped to choose their own mates that they readily give up their right to happiness in favor of self-determination. For a decidedly unmystical society that seems to have the answer for everything else — the best medical care, cutting-edge technology, superhighways, and space shuttles — it seems odd that people are left to their own resources, casting around for another lonely soul, for what is arguably the most important decision of their lives.”

Dr. Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia says it best: “…Marriage is more than an emotional relationship; marriage is also an economic partnership and social safety net.” # Thankfully, in the show Asha realizes that and rebuffs Todd entirely. It’s rare to see that type of wisdom on primetime television. Romance does have its place in a relationship but choosing it over reality leads to trouble in the long run.

Cited

Roberts, Alex. Marriage & the Great Recession. State of Our Unions. Institute for American Values

“’The Art of Choosing’: The Hidden Science of Choice.” Interview by Thomas Rogers. Salon.com. Salon Media Group, 2 Mar. 2010.

Wilcox, W. Bradford., and Elizabeth Marquardt, eds. The State of Our Union – Marriage in America 2009. Rep. The National Marriage Project, Dec. 2009.