He was an amazing boyfriend; they had a great relationship; things were going swimmingly; until all of a sudden, he broke up and married a girl he had never met. I cannot tell you how often I’ve seen this scenario happen. A man enjoys his youth with his numerous girlfriends and relationships, but once he wants to settle down, he consults his mother and she will introduce him to a girl she deems worthy of marrying his son. They ask to go to the girl’s place and talk to the parents. The groom has a brief talk with the bride, and if the bride and the bride’s father agree, they will get married. Easy as that.
The reverse of this scenario also happens, albeit less often. A man is hopelessly in love with his girlfriend but he can’t get married now because he’s not financially stable. Then one day, the girl says she has a rich suitor and even though she loves her boyfriend, she has to be wise and marry the man her family prefers and that’s the end of it.
Iranian girls tell this bitter joke: “an Iranian man is someone who doesn’t marry his girlfriend but he marries someone else’s girlfriend”. The truth is, when it comes to marriage, an Iranian man never marries a girl who would be so bold as to have a boyfriend! He trusts his mother and gets married the old-fashioned way. Of course, the woman he marries has had boyfriends in the past too, but it’s wiser to lie about it and appear as a pure, untouched damsel. They get married but unfortunately, they don’t usually live happily ever after. These marriages used to work in the past but they don’t seem to work now. These couples often end up getting divorced due to the fact that they didn’t really know each other before they got married. Or the woman stays in a bitter marriage where the man cheats and lies while she cooks, cleans and raises the children.
I would be lying if I said all marriages in Iran were like that. Many people actually meet, fall in love, and then decide to get married. This happens much less often and only in big cities. When the man thinks he’s ready to get married, he will ask his girlfriend if he and his family could meet her parents so that they can talk and decide if they are good for each other. They discuss Mahr ; Mahr is the money that the groom agrees to give to the bride whenever she asks for it, but it is often asked for when the couple divorce. Many men have gone to jail because they couldn’t pay their wives’ enormous Mahr, which is usually something along the lines of 500 gold coins. Talking Mahr usually causes a lot of dispute and many couples break up because of it. They also talk dowry. A dowry in Iran usually consists of household items including furniture, refrigerator, kitchen utensils, TV set, and so forth.
Sex before marriage is almost always out of the question. Sometimes they ask the bride to go to a doctor who would inform the groom’s family of the girl’s virginity.
According to Islamic law, the bride’s father’s permission is necessary in order to get married. Many times I have seen a girl in love with a man who is willing to marry her but she can’t get married because her father doesn’t approve. The reverse also happens, when a girl doesn’t love a man but she is forced to say yes.
The families usually “research” the other family. They ask the acquaintances of the family about them and in smaller towns, where everyone knows one another, they ask the most respectable family in the town about the groom/bride’s family. If the respectable families approve, they also approve.
People in Iran get married without really knowing what they are getting into. I cannot comment on whether or not this kind of marriage works. The success rate doesn’t seem to be different from marriages where two people meet by locking their eyes at a bar. But I’d still prefer to fall in love before I get married.