Exhausted from dating and being single, I was ready to fall in love with a picture, résumé or family tree rather than go on another date. I began to fantasize about what it would be like having other people find me a man. Although I’m a 26-year-old Chinese-American who was born, raised and liberally educated in New York, I seriously began to consider an arranged marriage.
Like many women, I have the dangerous tendency of falling in love with men after first and second dates, but by the third or fourth, I’d find enough flaws to know that any long-term relationship would be doomed. Maybe the only way my dream of a storybook wedding could happen would be if someone agreed to marry me without knowing me. If I tied the knot quickly enough—before any doubts could sink in—it just might happen.
My mom called me one afternoon in January and told me to meet her at a Chinatown restaurant for a brainstorm dinner for her business. She had also invited her lawyer friend, and the son of her new business partner.
“You haven’t met my daughter, Victoria, have you?” my mom asked Alvin.
“No, I haven’t. I’ve met your other daughter…”
“This is Victoria…the pretty one,” she added impishly.
In my entire life, my mother had never described me—or any of my sisters—as being pretty. Rebellious was the adjective that usually came up. It crossed my mind that my mother might have been trying to solidify a merger with her business partner through marriage and a family bond.
I rolled my eyes while my mother and her friend talked endlessly, yet Alvin graciously complimented their every remark and continually refilled our cups with tea. When I rebutted vehemently against what I thought were bad ideas, he looked at me reverently.
“You’re so passionate,” he said. “You care so much.”
“You live in Battery Park City?” asked my mother. “That’s where Victoria lives.”
So he walked me home. I asked him if he thought our parents’ partnership and business could really take flight. He had his doubts too, but was going to back his father 150 percent because “That’s what it means to be family.”
Alvin radiated the confidence, humility and filial piety that epitomize the classic Confucian gentleman. How did this man know how to make everyone feel so good? Was it maturity? Was it a corporate trick he’d learned? In other contexts, I’d have considered him a vacuous panderer, but somehow, at that moment, it suddenly all made sense.
My mother told me Alvin’s father knew of a superb receptionist to hire. The only problem was that this woman was in a mess with immigration and wasn’t pretty, so it wouldn’t be easy for her to marry and win a green card. Alvin’s father had asked his son to help.
“I really just can’t, Dad. She’s really just too unattractive. I’m sorry.”
That Alvin even considered doing this favor for his father awed me. This sacrificial willingness, which I could never bring myself to perform, made me respect him more. Would he, if I were with him, be just as devoted to me?
After two official dates with Alvin, I told a friend that I was going to try to get him to marry me before we found reasons to fight and hate each other and remain unmarried for the rest of our lives.
I rather liked my mom trying to set me up. I decided I wouldn’t mind an arranged marriage infused with modern-day sensibilities. It’d be a perfect postmodern Chinese-American remedy for my singleness. In the spirit of Ashton Kutcher’s social experiment with “Beauty & the Geek,” my improved system in “Arranged Marriages Reconsidered” would involve parental selection and introduction, two dates, followed by an immediate marriage—before doubts prevented commitment.
Yes, there would be the preliminary letdown after we realized whom we really married, but that would happen after we were already married. General laziness and additional paperwork required for divorce would serve as a detractors and guide us to attempt to understand each other and make the best of what we have—which is how marriages have worked for centuries.
In May, I received a Facebook friend request from my Bengali high school friend who was engaged and about to marry a woman in Bangladesh he had yet to meet in person. Their fathers, who had been schoolmates, had introduced them. They fell in love over the course of a year, communicating on webcam, phone and email. It was inspiring to hear that someone my age was following through with an arranged marriage.
On my next date with Alvin, he gave me a wonderful hug. Before I could say anything, he looked at me and said, “Victoria, I’m not ready for a relationship. I just came out of two consecutive five-year relationships.”
Thank you for playing my game, I wanted to say. We must now find the next contestant. The only question was, who would do the choosing?