Breaking free of arranged marriages

Arranged marriages are not common in the US where women and men have many opportunities to meet one another in co-educational schools, workplaces, and social settings. This creates, from the point of view of highly traditional families, a ‘problem’ in that when allowed to mix freely in cosmopolitan settings, people might well fall in love with those who do not share their own ethnic or racial or religious backgrounds.

So when arranged marriages do occur in the US, it is usually in very strict religious households that are a tiny minority and where the parents want to make sure that their children do not marry outside their small an close-knit communities, such as exist in Muslim and Orthodox Jewish families. Very often, the women have almost no say in the marriage and are married off when they are very young to men they do not know and who may be much older. The women are often deprived of higher educational opportunities and thus dependent of their husbands, and men who agree to arranged marriages tend to have reactionary views about the role of women, expecting them to be submissive and not have much of a life outside of the home. Some can and do assert their authority in abusive ways.

However the outside world cannot be completely avoided and it is inevitable that some women will find this life too much to take and seek to escape from it, or at least loosen its bonds. This is very difficult for them because their lives have given them little means of being able to live independently, and even their own families and community may abandon them, seeing allegiance and conformity to traditional community norms to be more important than the women’s wishes or happiness.

Fraidy Reiss was one such woman. She grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York and had an arranged marriage at age 19 to a man that quickly turned abusive. Her family and her rabbis refused to support her so she finally broke away on her own and, after considerable struggle, managed to become independent. Realizing that there must be many like her, she started a group called Unchained At Last that helps women break free of terrible arranged marriages by providing them with shelter and giving them a new supportive community that they can belong to when their family and religious groups turn against them. The group consists of mostly Orthodox Jewish and Muslim women and has helped 90 women so far.

Reiss and Syeda (a Muslim woman) shared their stories with the host of the program The World.

You can read the stories of such women on the website. They are heartwarming tales of resilience and courage in the face of tremendous odds.


  1. busterggi says

    Sssshhhh! Arranged marriages were the norm for Christians until very recently -- don’t let the anti-gay folks find out.

  2. Seeker2 says

    The Duggars and other fellow cultists do arranged marriages, as do the Mormons; there have been several news stories and documentaries about Mormon teenagers who have fled from abusive husbands 3x their age.

  3. Vespillio Neithlal says

    As an Ultra-Orthodox woman and hardcore feminist I take issue with this. (No, that is not a paradox, no matter what the media would like you to believe)

    I have never heard of a forced marriage within my community but am not stupid enough to deny their existence just because of that. There are crazy people and radicals within every community. However, this is not the norm and would be something roundly condemnable.

    Couples meet at “arranged meetings” — meaning blind dates, often by introduction by mutual friends (sound familiar?). Matchmakers are simply the middleman helping you find what you’re looking for (college-educated, etc, like an algorithm on a dating site). The super-Ultra-Orthodox (usually hassidim) don’t go out on date-dates but even they meet alone (usually in a mutual family friend’s house) to see if they like each other. If they don’t, then they simply don’t see each other again. Marital rape is a grave sin, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

    My heart bleeds for those women who have had the terrible misfortune to fall in among people who represent the extremists.

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