For many teenagers in the United States, the age of 16 is a milestone on the life chart. Sixteen was important for Rina Mehta too.
But instead of worrying about driver’s licenses and blossoming into adolescence, Mehta for the first time was forced to deal with the Indian custom of arranged marriage.
Growing up in Kansas City all her life, Mehta was accustomed to the American lifestyle. Her parents, however, had emigrated from India, and her father had his own ideas about Mehta's future. He began stressing the importance of marriage and started evaluating potential suitors.
“Well he had always talked about it (arranged marriage), but when I was 16, that’s when he really started pursuing it,” Mehta says.
Mehta's father was investigating suitors for what Mehta calls, “bio data,” which included everything from family background information to blood types. Mehta began receiving photos from men in India she had never met before.
It was a struggle for Mehta to comprehend possibly being sent away to India to be married. Mehta's mother felt that education was too important, and she decided that it was in the best interest for Mehta to stay in the United States.
“Your kids are not raised India,” Mehta recalls her mother saying to her father. “We have to treat them differently from how our parents treated us growing up.”
Rather than head back to India, Mehta became comfortable in her own skin in Kansas City. She was a tomboy, sporting Massimo shirts and baggy Jnco jeans. Her mother got Mehta into modeling, sending her to modeling training sessions in New York. Mehta says that from that experience, she became a much more confident person and was comfortable with who she was.
A symbolic moment of Mehta's newfound confidence came when she revealed to her father that she had found love on her own. He was a blue-eyed classmate named Tyler, and Mehta's mother was already keen to the relationship.
“She always knew something about him,” Mehta says.
Mehta's father was not happy at first, but accepted the relationship upon learning of Tyler’s family and background. The acceptance helped Mehta flourish. She competed in the Miss Teen Missouri Pageant in 2004.
“For the first time in my life, my dad actually came there and watched me perform and do all that, and that’s the first time he ever said, ‘if this is what you want to do, here’s my blessing.’”
Two weeks later Mehta's father passed away from a heart attack.
Mehta took her father’s blessing to heart. She is still with Tyler, and after 11 years of dating they became engaged. Mehta continued her career in acting and modeling. She landed spots on shows such as NBC’s sitcom “Outsourced.”
Though they weren’t for her, Mehta says she does see the value in some arranged marriages.
“I think they work for people who want them and accept them,” Mehta says. “I think they worked so far for all of my family; they look happy.”
Rina is also happy—with who she is.
“I live my life freely. I am who I am. I love who I am.”
This story is part two of a two-part series on arranged marriages. To see part one, click here.