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First the marriage, then the courtship

Arranged marriages have moved beyond their traditional base and are becoming a small but growing trend in the US.

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One of the cornerstones of traditional arranged marriages is the participation of family members. In the case of Huriya Manzar, a 30-something computer programmer from Staten Island, N.Y., her parents and brothers arranged her marriage when she was 18. "For us, marriage is not so much about two people being in love," says Ms. Manzar. "It is about a relationship to a larger community, our family, our friends, and our neighbors."

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She says her marriage to a man with whom she had spoken only briefly before they wed has been about "two human beings compromising and realizing that the other is only human, not some perfect being." Now pregnant with their second child, she adds that she loves her husband, although she does not feel she was ever "in love" with him.

This notion of romantic love and fulfillment through a soul mate is the cornerstone of much dissatisfaction, says psychologist Stan Tatkin. He's not surprised at singles investigating arranged marriage because it fits into one of the basic definitions of happiness. "People generally find they are more able to find happiness from the things to which they commit themselves," he says.

Lisa Clampitt, cofounder of the Matchmaking Institute, and her husband of five years barely knew one another when they wed. "He proposed within 20 minutes of meeting me, I said yes, and a week later we sent out 'evites' to our friends," says the former social worker with a laugh, recalling that many of her buddies didn't respond because they considered it a joke. "But, within two months we'd gone to Las Vegas and married and begun our life together. We just found things out after committing to each other, rather than before."

Still, not all stories have such a happy ending. Sophia McDonald, a university-educated Russian immigrant, says that she met a suitor from Seattle through an international matchmaker. He and Ms. McDonald dated for a year before they married and began living in the US. After the marriage didn’t work out, they divorced, and eventually she became a matchmaker for people in the Washington area. [Editor's note: Sophia McDonald says that she dated her future husband for a year before they married and that they divorced because the marriage didn’t work out, not because there were any misrepresentations or financial failings on her husband’s part. She does not deal in international matchmaking.]

Arranged marriage, as it's practiced traditionally, will never take deep root in the West, says Robert Epstein, visiting scholar at the University of California, San Diego. "We don't have the ... most important ingredients" – a strong community support system, either religious or social, and shared values or beliefs.

But, says the author of the upcoming book, "Making Love," a study of the potential lessons from traditional matrimonial customs, Westerners can absorb the deeper principles, such as that love doesn't have to rely on the click of Cupid's wand; it can be "made."

He points to a story about an arranged marriage in a novel by Salman Rushdie. Day by day, the wife contemplates a small aspect of her husband and resolves to love that single quality. Bit by bit, she comes to love the whole man.

Just as mainstream culture has absorbed the notion that we can work to improve our physiques and our careers, says Dr. Epstein, we'll come to accept that we can "work" on marriage and love.