"We've never been close--my husband and I. I didn't even know him before we were married."
Before she was 20, my friend received her first marriage proposal—from a distant cousin, through her parents. My friend lived on another island at the time. The man was from Tarakan, where I live.
My friend had never met him, never been to Tarakan. But her friends and relatives told her it was a good match. He’s wealthy, from a good family. Besides, they cautioned, to turn down a marriage—even an arranged one—would tempt fate to make her old maid.
So, she said yes—to her parents, who then told their relatives in Tarakan, who told their son.
Arranged marriage, though still existant in Indonesia, seems more and more rare, my friends tell me. Sometimes, they say, it’s a good option—a filter through family to find a good man with good intentions from a good background with a good income.
“I didn’t know my husband until right before we married. And I definitely had a choice in the matter. But the guys I was meeting were young, immature with no good job. This man—who my parents had offered—was 10 years older, a kind person, and had a good job. We talked on the phone, then met, then married. I’m glad I married him.”
Other issues play into marriage in Indonesia. In both Christian and Muslim cultures, husbands and wives often live far apart—on a different island or maybe even a different country—so that men can take a decent job and the woman can live in a suitable place for her children. Oftentimes, they see each other just once or twice a year.
Female circumcision—a controversial issue—still happens in many parts of Indonesia. Sometimes the baby girl is barely pricked. Other times, the mutilation can later make marital bed pleasure for a woman nearly impossible, my friend tells me. It’s tradition, though, one that seems to have roots in a mixture of Islamic and traditional tribal beliefs.
“I’m so angry that my parents had me circumcised. It has caused problems in my marriage,” one friend said.
Sometimes, though the problems in love and marriage are ones not special to just Indonesia.
“My main struggle is that I’m tired. I have a young child. My husband works a lot. It’s hard to get out of the house with my daughter. But at least I know that as a struggling mom, I have more chance for greater pahala (good works that can get you into heaven).”