When my wife and I lived in the United States, we found that when we went out on double dates with other couples, it was almost impossible to get through dinner without the topic of how we both met coming up. It was interesting to tell the story and reminisce on what was a life-changing moment for both of us, but more interesting still was how our story differed to those of many of the Western couples we socialised with.

American and European couples seemed to share a similar story: they met, dated for a while, got engaged, lived together, then he would pop the question in a romantic Hollywood-love-story style. 
My wife would always tilt her head and smile, and I could tell she was imagining the moments we would have had if our roles had been reversed with the Western couple; the dates we could have gone on, the adventures we might have experienced, the photo albums we could have filled with memories, and the grand finale of a wonderful proposal under a full moon over a candlelit dinner.

This wasn’t, however, our experience, because my wife and I had an arranged marriage. Well sort of.

In my experience, people in the West often imagine an arranged marriage to go like this: two sets of parents get together, point at their children, and inform them that they are marrying each other, wishing them a happy life and plenty of babies. True, back in the day this did happen, more often than not. And in some instances it’s still like that today. But, on the whole, times are changing.

Now there are many instances where a couple will meet online, interact at work, or get introduced to each other, the latter being the case of my wife and I. They then get to know each other slowly through various online tools and platforms. Through that they develop a deep understanding of each other’s values, hopes, and dreams for the future. In a sense, they build a foundation of love and respect for the marriage to thrive on. Then they figure out ways to involve their parents in the process (if they weren’t involved from the get go) through mutual family ties and friends. Call it a reverse engineering of the marriage process, it’s a matter of working backwards to make sure all the pieces of the puzzle fit nicely into the story of how they came to know each other, and the more ways to fit parents and elders into that story the better.

Moving forward to the formal meeting. Meeting the parents plays its part in the engagement process of Western marriages. With Arab marriages, however, it is the deal maker or breaker. Mutual friends and other family members will introduce the parents of the couple to each other, giving them the chance to become acquainted, and to check with the hopeful bride and groom that marriage is what they really want. If they are happy with what they find they will give their blessing. And that is how modern arranged marriages work.

Technology has become the tool of introduction in modern marriages across the Arab world. Arabian men and women, exposed to Western influences, aspire to find love first in their relationships, thereby changing the definition and process of arranged marriages.

After seven years of marriage I still learn new things about my wife. When I saw the look in her eyes as she listened to the story of these Western couples’ journeys and proposals, I understood how important romance was to her. In creating our own romantic moments, hopefully, a Western woman will tilt her head and smile when my wife tells our story – not of how we met, but of how we express our love for each other every single day.