The first time I saw my husband, I was 27. He was tall, dark and handsome – the truth, not just a cliché – and wearing tan trousers and a blazer. My first impression? He was hot!
Then our eyes locked across a restaurant table bathed in flickering candlelight, or was our first meeting perhaps over coffee and a walk in the countryside, just the two of us?
No. You might be surprised that the passion burned so strongly when you hear that Jugtar arrived at my parents’ house in Glasgow with his entire family in tow, with all my family – including my Nana – also present.
We were allowed to escape to the dining room to chat in private, but only after we had all – 12 of us in all – shared tea together.
You see, I had an arranged marriage. Jugtar has been chosen as a future suitor by my parents. In these days of dating apps, fleeting relationships and declining marriage statistics, the concept of an arranged marriage seems like something from the Dark Ages, an outdated convention that must inevitably be oppressive to women.
Raj and Jugtar on their wedding day. She said: ‘I had an arranged marriage. Jugtar has been chosen as a future suitor by my parents
And immediately I had to distinguish between an arranged marriage and a forced marriage. Forced is, as it says, doing something against your will.
To be sure, in previous generations there was little sense of choice, even with an arranged marriage. For my grandparents and parents, the first time husband met wife was on their wedding day.
But these days – as it was for me – it’s more like a blind date. My family had chosen someone they thought would be a good fit and brought us together, but they were clear that ultimately it was our decision whether it progressed to marriage.
‘Intromarriage’ is the modern way to describe this scenario and it certainly worked for us. While we have our ups and downs, like any other couple, Jugtar, a 49-year-old businessman, and I celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary last month, and we have two beautiful teenagers.
Recently, our 19-year-old daughter Karam, who is currently studying psychology at university, said that when the time is right, she would also consider an arranged marriage – something that is entirely her choice.
It’s a decision that many girls her age will instinctively shy away from. Shock is certainly the first reaction of the character played by Lily James in an upcoming movie called What’s Love Got To Do With It?
She plays a documentary filmmaker and dating app addict who has a disastrous romantic history. But when she decides to make a film about her friend Kaz’s path to his arranged marriage in Pakistan, she realizes she has lessons to learn from a different way of finding a meaningful relationship.
It’s bound to spark a debate about the best way to find lasting love, but I truly believe the lessons you can learn from an arranged marriage go beyond fluffy romcom fantasy. These relationships are built on the ideas of respect and compatibility—key qualities that seem sorely lacking in today’s dating app culture. Here, young people contact – often only for sex – on the basis of an image and perceived sexual attraction.
Raj Gill: ‘Recently, our 19-year-old daughter Karam, who is currently studying psychology at university, said that when the time is right, she would also consider an arranged marriage – something that is entirely her choice.’ Raj with his daughter Karam (pictured)
From listening to my friends’ travails, it’s clear that dating apps can be a toxic place, especially if you’re a woman; an environment where women are treated as sex toys, discarded when a man gets bored.
And while a study by the Marriage Foundation revealed that online dating has become the most common way to meet a husband or wife, with a third of those getting married now having met online, it also found that such couples are six times more likely to divorce in the first three years of marriage than those who meet at university or through family and friends.
I am not surprised. When I was introduced to Jugtar, while I found him undeniably attractive, the focus was on compatibility.
We not only had similar backgrounds, but shared interests—we’re both avid readers, for example—and wanted the same things out of life, including children. Our different personalities complemented each other: I am extroverted and he is more introverted. I’m always on the go; Jugtar is much more laid back.
My family is Punjabi Sikh, as are the Jugtars, and our parents are first-generation immigrants from India.
At first they worked for foundries and in mills and I was eight when we – my parents, two brothers, sister and I – moved to Glasgow and they started their own business.
Like most young women today, I was raised to be educated, financially independent and to embrace the opportunities I was given. While the age of marriage in the culture I grew up in is from 18, I wasn’t pressured to do it until I was ready.
My parents’ world was one of traditional Indian values—daughters going straight from their father’s home to a man’s—but they let me carve my own path, often against the advice of family members.
After school I got a place on a media studies course at Glasgow Caledonian University. At the end of my second year on the course, in 1995, I took a job as a journalist on a national newspaper and moved to London for three years before returning to Glasgow to finish my degree.
Then I was on the next plane out to start a new adventure in Barcelona where I taught English as a foreign language for a year.