Last week, I joined Shaadi.com, India’s oldest and most popular matrimonial website.
Call it anthropological curiosity; call it a metric of my own narcissism. Call it acclimating to the Indian single life after coming of age in the West, where India is often seen as a country of arranged marriages and impenetrable glass ceilings. If there’s truth to caricature, then call my joining the online matrimony network a modern-day leap onto a bandwagon of millennia-old social custom.
“Shaadi” is the Hindi word for wedding; Shaadi.com is, intuitively, a wedding arranged via the Internet. It’s one of more than 100 Indian websites that comprise the country’s thriving online matrimonial market, where an individual can browse for his or her ideal spouse among a catalog of potential candidates organized by the personal information that apparently matters most: religion, caste, income, fairness of skin, family background, and so on.
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An acquaintance gave a few of us a ride after the annual post-Yom Kippur feast. Stuffed with bagels, lox, kugel, and every kind of pound cake imaginable, the four of us chatted happily about life in D.C., past trips to Israel, and guilt over skipping religious services earlier that day.
And then the conversation turned to dating.
“Would you ever marry a non-Jew?” Sharon asked from the backseat. Answers varied; one person said she wasn’t sure, while another said she might consider marrying someone who was willing to convert. Debates about intermarriage, or marriage outside of the faith, are common in the Jewish community, but her question still struck me as remarkable. Here were four twentysomething women who hardly knew each other, already talking about the eventuality of marriage and apparently radical possibility that we would ever commit our lives to someone unlike us. This conversation seemed very “un-Millennial”–as a whole, our generation is marrying later, becoming more secular, and embracing different cultures more than any of our predecessors. If the same question had been asked about any other aspect of our shared identities–being white, being educated, coming from middle or upper-middle class backgrounds—it would have seemed impolite, if not offensive.
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The first time I heard Nona Willis Aronowitz talk about getting divorced to save money on health insurance I thought she couldn’t really be serious. We were at Monte’s, an old Italian place in South Brooklyn, having dinner with a group of New York women writers in late July.
"Don’t do it!" I urged her, certain, having watched my friends over the years, that no matter how casually she or her husband might treat the piece of paper that says they are married, getting unhitched would inevitably change their relationship as profoundly as getting hitched in the first place.
But with the arrival of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges, the question for Nona and her husband Aaron Cassara moved from the realm of casual conversation to a real financial conundrum. Aged 29 and 32, respectively, they were facing tough times for their professions, a wildly expensive city, and the scary prospect that both of them could shortly be uninsured. Right now Nona only has a COBRA plan—”which I can barely afford”—that ends January 1, she tells me. Her last staff job ended when the media outlet she was working for laid off its whole editorial team; she’s been a full-time freelancer since. Aaron, a filmmaker who works part-time and also freelances, has been uninsured since her layoff, because it would be too expensive to have him on COBRA too.
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This video of kids watching same-sex marriage proposals has already been viewed 2 million times in the 48 hours since its publication. What does that say?
Earlier today, my colleague Derek Thompson argued that, occasional trend to stories aside, it’s misleading to the think of marriage as a “luxury good.” Why? Because luxury goods are something the rich buy and the poor can’t afford. But in the case of marriage the trend is more complex. The vast majority of Americans tie the knot at some point at some point in their lives, he argues. It’s just that those without a college education are far, far more likely to get divorced. Marriage is for everyone; failed marriages are for the poor.
Bleak stuff. But it’s getting bleaker.
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For college graduates, marriage is a promise you make late—and tend to keep. For non-college-graduates, it’s a promise you make early—and tend to break.
That is the very simplest I can break down this massive, and massively interesting, survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, on marriage trends by education and race. There have been a lot of articles this year comparing marriage to a "luxury good"—something the rich do and the poor avoid. It’s not that simple.
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The United States’ reputation as “the land of opportunity” is a cruel bit of false advertising. Americans are less likely to exceed our parents’ income than our peers in countries like Canada, Denmark, and Sweden. Children born to poor and working-class parents are considerably less likely to reach the highest rungs of the economic ladder than their richer classmates.
But why? One of the most promising new groups working to answer this question is Opportunity Nation, a group committed to working across partisan and ideological lines “to expand economic opportunity and close the opportunity gap in America.” Their newly released Opportunity Index includes 16 indicators, from high-school graduation to income inequality. But not one indicator relates to the family.
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Mary Margaret Fletcher had a flutter of worry recently. She’s getting married next spring, and plans to change her last name to her husband’s. But one day it dawned on her: “I was like, ‘wait,’” she said. “My last name is in my email address.’“
Fletcher, an archivist who lives in Vermont, is one of the roughly 80 percent of brides expected to drop her maiden name upon marriage. That decision has always been a mix of the personal and the practical. It requires a lot of legwork, including interaction with multiple federal agencies and a trip to the dreaded DMV. But it also forces women to think about how they’ll be perceived with a new name and, at some level, a new identity.
The proliferation of online profiles and the growing demand for digital presence has managed to complicate both aspects.
Read more. [Image: A screenshot of The Atlantic’s very own Eleanor Britton nee Barkhorn’s Facebook profile]
The rich and educated are more likely to marry, to marry each other, and to produce rich and educated children. But this virtual cycle turns vicious for the poor.
“Before I came out and was still on a path of planning to marry a man,” says Victoria, “I was pretty radical and said I’ll never change my name.” But when Victoria Cunningham married Lita Grossman, in Washington D.C. in 2006, three years before same-sex marriage was legally recognized in the District, she was forced to reconsider. Finally, both wound up changing to a third surname.
Personal and professional considerations aside, for women entering heterosexual marriages, the last name decision often comes down to ideology. But for newlywed same-sex couples navigating their way through the thorny question of family nomenclature, there’s no tradition in place to buck or to follow. With the overturn of DOMA and an expanding geography of states legalizing same-sex marriage (nine plus the District of Columbia), it remains to be seen what naming trends will emerge as same sex-couples decide whether or not to use shared names to formally identify as units, and why.
Read more. [Image: Artur Bainozarov/Reuters]