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Deranged ‘Arranged’ Love

Deranged ‘Arranged’ Love

7pm, Delhi, India. Conversation between Mother of ‘Marriageable’ Son and Father of ‘Marriageable’ Daughter: “So… your daughter is beautiful?” “Errr….yes, she is beautiful.” “How beautiful?” “Errr….what??” “I mean, beautiful or very beautiful?” “Errr…I haven’t thought about that really, she is pretty beautiful.” “Oh but is she very beautiful? You see, our son is very handsome!”

Father of ‘Marriageable’ Daughter muttering to self: “Why couldn’t she just fall in love and marry against our wishes!”

Meanwhile, two houses away, father of another marriageable daughter is asking mother of another marriageable son exactly what his current salary is and exactly what his future financial prospects are!

The world of Arranged Marriage

Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the world of arranged love. If you are looking for a soul mate, go no further, we have one…in fact thousands for you! Just sign up to the arranged marriage mart and get your parents crackin’ (yes you heard it right, parents please; who do you think will negotiate beauty and financial prospects?)

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The age old tradition of arranged marriage has been followed since 200 BC in India (yeah that old!). Families decide a suitable match, boy and girl meet briefly and the ‘happily ever after’ is fixed.  As times have changed people have modernized in all aspects of life, but, this system remains very much relevant. Of course people can and do find their own partners, but they are a minority. Even today, 7 out of 10 Indian marriages are arranged. Just log onto any matrimonial website (designed specifically for arranged marriages) and you will see multiple descriptions of the ‘perfect partner’

“Beautiful and slim, ambitious yet homely, modern yet traditional, fitness freak yet foodie, loves to travel, loves to cook, loves to dance, loves to read and of course a great sense of humor. Employed in a job which is high paying but not too high paying, with hours that are not too long but not too short and enough travel that makes her well travelled but not too well travelled. Hails from a cultured family with liberal values but traditional outlook.”

While the description might conjure the image of a 10 headed, 50 armed wonder woman, this is just a regular custom made ‘Marriage Material Indian Girl’ for the Confused Indian Boy. He wants a wife who can drink beer with his friends while also making regular religious trips to the temple with his mother. A wife who can have an intelligent intellectual conversation with him but go demurely quiet in front of his family’s elders.

No no no, this is not another male bashing session on women’s emancipation. For every girl trying to figure out what the hell is ‘liberal values but traditional outlook’, there is a boy dealing with the Confused Indian Girl who is independent and seeks equal partnership (A.K.A I ain’t doing your laundry buddy!), but just the same wants a man who pays for dinner, drives her home and never ever needs her money (A.K.A you better be paying for the maid doing our laundry buddy!)

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Arranged Marriages are changing

Gone are the days where needs were simple. Pretty girl who does household chores + Decent boy who earns well + One Meeting = ‘Happy Arranged Marriage’ to you. (Well, thank god those days are gone or I would be compelled to commit suicide!)

At the same time we have not exactly entered the era of ‘society who that’ where marriage itself is optional and sometimes an obsolete concept.

Caught in the midst of an evolving society are a hoard of ‘Marriageables’. We have flown out of our nests and experienced a global way of life, at the same time the conditioning of early years and family bonds stay strong. This results in a happy array of choices in certain aspects of life – chicken curry one day, fillet mignon the next. Religious pilgrimage with family, Thailand with friends. A rainbow life indeed!

But what do you do when it comes to arranged marriage? Years are spent looking for love, but a few break ups and many tears later if you are still single, BOOM, it hits you right between your eyes – time is up!

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The realization dawns either with the help of a nagging mother or by friends’ wedding pictures splashed across Facebook (which ideally should be illegal, just saying!). The decreasing supply of single friends and the increasing blood pressure of parents ultimately leads you down the alien path of ‘arranged marriage’ which sticks out like a sore thumb in our no compromise rainbow lives.

It doesn’t have to be perfect

It goes against all our evolved belief systems – people who pride themselves on making independent career choices have to now enter a parent dependent process, there is no ‘falling in love’, no heartfelt romance, only practical calculations.

The idea of making a choice itself is difficult because we want everything – we want our chicken curry and we want our fillet mignon, we want a partner we can connect with and we want a partner our parents can connect with. We want independence and space but also want the security of boundaries. We are caught in rationalizing everything. If he doesn’t drink he is boring, if he drinks too much he is unstable. If she doesn’t work she is not an intellectual match, if she works too much she will never have time for family. The magic balance eludes us, not to mention this is the most life defining choice you will ever make, no pressure!

As I grapple with the conundrum, I can’t help but feel that we need to stop looking for ‘Mr./Ms. Right’ who fits accurately into our carefully planned lives. There is no ‘all-in-one’ someone that will appear one day like a super saver all flavor combo pack of biscuits. There is no one soulmate made for you who will guarantee a happily ever after. It’s about finding a person who ‘feels somewhat right’ and building a life together. No guarantees, brace up!

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So of course a lot of your plans will go to hell, of course she will fight with your mom, of course he will need your financial support and of course you will attempt to pull out your hair every once in a while (or every day).

The beauty is in telling yourself ‘That’s OK’. It’s OK if your partner is not your perfect fit  ‘soul mate’ on your wedding day, you will get there one day and the ride would have been worth it!

Featured photo credit: Eudaimonia Recovery Homes Blog via google.co.in

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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