culture

Indian Marriage Conundrum – How I Hold My Ground as an Unmarried 30–Year–Old Woman.

indian marriage

My mother called me thrice at 8 in the night. I was editing an article and thought something had happened and picked up the third call. And then after some small talk about my writing and if I was ever going to take up a job, she said she wanted to talk about something.

As a thirty-year-old unmarried woman in India, I recognize this something, like dogs can sense tsunamis, for at least five years now. This something — without any exception — is marriage.

To humor her, I asked what did she want to talk about. She said she constantly worried about me and cried often. Because she cannot do anything else. That she didn’t know what my life plans were. That nothing made sense. That I must have been really lonely. Didn’t I like having a family? Was there anybody? That why couldn’t we, mother and daughter, share everything with each other.

These sentences stumbled out of her mouth as she choked.

Now having had many such and similarly-styled conversations on the monolith of marriage, I knew better than getting angry or irritated or rebelling. She would have cried profusely. Would have blamed me for not listening. Would have hung up. Then my father and other family members would have called to instruct me to handle the situation better and that why did I make her cry and that how would I feel if something happened to her.

So, I hopelessly explained and justified my choices and my rough plans for the future, like millions of other times.

 

indian marriage

 

To help you zoom in my story, let me turn the wheel of time eight years back to 2010.

When I graduated, my parents didn’t attend my graduation ceremony with an expensive, red bridal lehenga clutched under their armpits like most of the other Indian parents. But the peace wasn’t too stretched out. In a few years, though I don’t remember the primitive origins, the marriage dinosaur started popping up whenever they saw someone else getting married, in real or on TV. Or when the number of my age flashed in front of their eyes via something completely unrelated. Or when we hadn’t talked about marriage for a few days. Or when I or my married siblings went home.

The silence of a stark Thar-like night which was intensified with the tick-tock of the peacock wall clock, creased eyebrows, two pairs of wide eyes zoomed in on me, and not a smile to be seen until far-far away were the backdrop of the impending “when-will-you-marry” and “how-will-this-happen” conversation.

The first year, maybe 2012 or 2013, I said that I was too young and that we would talk about marriage the next year. I was twenty-five and switching career and jobs. My parents said that the topic should be out in the open and they obliged to my request. Though the conversation still sprouted up a few times. But then they focused more on stopping me from opening a rustic pizza place or going to Italy for a culinary course and pushing me towards a corporate job.

I accepted a high-end job in an investment bank and settled in Bengaluru until I figured the rest. I turned twenty-seven after a couple of months of joining the formally dressed, number-crunching workforce. Also, I started to fall in love with a three-year-younger guy. As soon as I joined the corporate army, parents decided to fight the devil-against-marriage in me.

I and my live-in ex-boyfriend would be watching the Avengers on a bright Saturday afternoon when a distressed call from papa and mummy would throw us off-balance. Soon, instead of enjoying Robert Downey’s Elon-Musk-like style, I would think about the seven rounds around the raging fire. Now what we all are forgetting in this hunky-dory picture is the consensus of the boy.

The “right marriageable age” in Indian society for women is — 22 to 28 and for men is 24 to 30. He still had a marriageable window of about five years, which he treated as a privilege, like many other Indian men. He said he didn’t want to get married. “I can’t think about marriage”, “am too young”, “you can’t force me”, and “you decide what you want to do” was regular dinner conversation. He shouldn’t be blamed. You cannot force someone if he or she is not ready.

I wasn’t prepared myself. But amidst all the emotional over-hype about marriage at home, it seemed wrong to not wanting to get married. And that boy was what I had the closest to make myself believe that I wanted to get married and that I could get married soon.

Being an over-optimistic person, I maintained hope in the relationship, haggled with my parents for more time, dreaded visiting home, and bantered with the corporate-ness of life.

The haggling tightened; the relationship stifled. In my mind, my life was staged with the backdrop of a spacious independent house with pink bougainvilleas hanging off the balcony, a vegetable garden, a husband who loved chicken, my innovative, flavorful kitchen, and frequent road trips. But real life never plays out like the movie on-screen. My ex still wasn’t sure. My parents and brother had filled my bio-data on a matrimonial website.

I was in love. But I was not blind. The problem wasn’t marriage. The relationship had wider holes. And rather than filling them or concluding that they might not be fixable, I tried to whirl that relationship in the direction of marriage or at least a joint future.

I now know that I never wanted to marry the guy. He was just my scapegoat. Else I would have had to find a new groom soon. The more I was pressured by my parents, the more I tried to construct the walls of a home around that guy, and thus pushed him away even further. He moved out. After what seemed like an era and multiple fall-offs, we broke up. I focused on my passion for writing and traveling and decided to go to South America.

Hell broke loose. The tears of my mother could have filled the Indian ocean. My father strongly expressed his disappointment with my decision and asked how would I get married if I go to South America.

And that’s when they advertised in the matrimony newspaper — a groom wanted for a Hindu Agarwal girl, IIT Delhi CS, 28, 5.6.

While I waited at the Mumbai airport browsing through the biodata of half-bald investment bankers that I had received, my mother lectured that I was running away from the family, that I was making a mistake, and asked me why I didn’t like any of the homely-valued Agarwal boys residing in joint families in Delhi and NCR.

I flew.

 

indian marriage

 

While enjoying island life in Chile, I fake-approved some of the matrimonial men just to peace-out my parents. My father insisted on talking to some Agarwal men whose biodata I had rejected on the basis of their receding hairline. He said that all men lose their hair by thirty; he has been ready to marry me to anyone for a few years now.

I gaped. I cried. I dream of a man who has Malinga-like hair. I have nothing against the Shane Warne’s but it is just my choice in men.

While this tug-of-war went on for six months, the teach-English volunteer program that I had gone for ended. As I informed my parents that I had decided to stay in South America, even the inactive Latin-American volcanoes erupted.

My mother’s constant nagging, weeping, blaming, and shouting suffocated me so much that I thought of getting married to end the drama. Didn’t matter if I had to divorce the guy later. As I backpacked through the driest desert Atacama, I paid and registered on a matrimonial website while I sought suitable men around me. But even that train-of-thought derailed when an Indian-American “suitor” told me over the phone that he didn’t want to change though he spends all his money by the mid of the month. There were more like him.

My South-American friends promised that they would find me a Latino and make me stay there. But I was forced to return to India otherwise the emotional abuse by my parents would have given me a brain tumor. And as per my sister, I was to blame if something happened to our high-blood-pressured mother. A Latino son-in-law was definitely pushing it to limits.

 

indian marriage

 

If you think that this is just my story and that I have been selectively unlucky, you are a little bit right. But as Indians know, this is what our youth goes through. With everyone’s own version of South-American trips and writing dreams.

This arranged and “getting-married-at-an-appropriate-age” and “there-is-no-life-without-marriage” concept has flourished within the Indian culture for thousands of years. In earlier times, girls and boys stayed at home and were kept away from each other. We didn’t have a dating culture, and parents were the only way to find a life partner.

But no one understands that in this social-media world where we all go out, work, and socialize, we don’t need our parents to ask around for a life partner. That marriage is a part of life and not vice-versa. That love doesn’t have to be approved legally or by society. That if you have to break-off, you would, even after getting married. That age is only a number. And you are as old as you think you are.

We don’t have the option to stay single or live-in. We cannot take our relationships slow. Because until they don’t materialize into marriage, they don’t hold any value to Indian parents. Getting married should be our ultimate and only goal. And the cherry on the ice cream is, that we have to marry in the same caste and the sub-caste and keep in mind the states we hail from and the educational, economic, and age differences and even physical features, sometimes.

So naturally, even though we are 1.2 billion people, we always struggle to find someone who our parents would approve of. So some of us ignore these checklist items and go out with anyone we like. While couples of the world look forward to moving-in or traveling together, we Indians then plan to break up as we can’t get married to the boyfriend or the girlfriend but we have to get married soon, to someone. So why do we go out with those people in the first place? No, we are not idiots. But in India, only an immortal god such as Thor can wait for an “appropriate” match and find one in his lifetime.

A lot of girls and boys acquaintances acknowledged their mutual romantic interest but backed-off due to the expected family drama. A lot of Indian men aka mama’s boy, I personally know, told their many-year girlfriends that they can’t go against the wishes of their parents. Maybe, there are such women too; Luckily, I just don’t know any. If they hadn’t backed-off and had fought for their “inappropriate would-be partner”, their emotionally blackmailing parents would have threatened to disown them. And they do. They don’t attend their children’s marriage. A funeral-like aura envelopes the happy moments of the couple. Let us not dig the deep dirty holes of honor killings.

If you do find someone “appropriate”, you are not given enough time to enjoy or understand the relationship before the wedding drums beat up.

To delay all of this for a few years, many of us persuade ourselves to do an expensive MBA, an MS, or join a multinational firm and go to the US. These fake education-enthusiasts then find love on matrimonial websites or back in the bay-area or while attending semantics lectures in Berkeley. And tie the knot as soon as they complete graduation.

In the end — willingly or unwillingly — almost all of us get married.

As most of the married Indian people never even thought of an alternate life, how do they know if marriage was what they wanted? Click To Tweet

 

indian marriage

 

I told my parents that I would get married, would find someone on my own, and asked for some more time. No newspaper advertisement has been given since then. I am not against meeting men on matrimonial websites but after the limited exposure I have had on them — I know they aren’t my cup of tea. The conversations on these sites start with your views on marriage and if you are a teetotaler. I still prefer the old style of meeting someone naturally and falling in love and then making it work.

But this personal choice comes at its own cost.

At the end of every few long days of writing and editing, I have prolonged agonizing conversations with my parents. My mother asks if I would wear the taweej(amulet) our family pundit has suggested which would remove the hindrances in my marriage. I laugh.

While she peaks into my Whatsapp, I hide away my love life as the pressure to get married would overboil any still-simmering relationship. To fulfill this eternal, forced need to find a husband, I tell every guy I date that marriage is an integral pass-over if we take our relationship forward. That if I never marry, my parents wouldn’t be happy. And that might be the only reason for me to get married.

The bright skyline of the years of my struggle is that I have started doing what I feel right — even if I have to defy the whole world and my closest people. I allow myself to love. I stand up for it. I bend the rules. I break hearts to do the right thing.

And nothing has taken my faith away. Nothing has taken my faith away.

 

indian marriage

 

Do you also face something similar at your home? How do you deal with it? Let me know in the comments.

Don’t forget to subscribe to get my best ideas and an exclusive newsletter right in your inbox every Saturday. It is free and easy to unsubscribe.

Hi, this is me. I am a thinker, an observer, and a writer.

I stand by the belief that if we really want something, the whole universe conspires to help us achieve it. But hurdles are always on the way. I write to help myself and others to jump over those hurdles; of controlling our mind, of practicing a routine, of maintaining focus and motivation, of the imposing culture.

Whatever the problem is — it could be solved. I am here to find the solution — to untangle the jumbled up threads of life. To block the extra noise. To live better.

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15 Comments

  • Reply

    Vihar

    May 21, 2018

    Too common a story in the highly educated metro dwelling Indians. Whether this stories would have a happy ending – only time will tell.

    You can trump up love for all you want, but what keeps a couple together is a shared responsibility of a household, of children, of parents in their twilight years.

    Anyone who you choose to be with – will have goods and bads. You will love him at times, hate him at times, tolerate him most of the times. There is no one perfect person and searching for one such is futile.

    A marriage, with anyone who is not an actively evil person, becomes great when you consciously attempt to make it a virtuous cycle marriage – you do good for him, he does good for you, you feel inspired to do even more good for him even at some personal cost, he is motivated to do the same and soon enough the marriage is on a beautiful trajectory with occasional hiccups. And this is possible with anyone, provided you have the virtue of “kindness”. Love will flow from it. Older one marries, more difficult it is to sacrifice ones own interest for another adult to whom you are not related by blood and more difficult it is therefore to have a virtuous cycle marriage. Such marriages are more likely to become, what I call, vicious cycle marriages where each side is focused on what they want and hence begins a self-centered marriage full of friction. That’s why the 25-28 is a sweet spot – not too immature, not too rigid due to years of focusing only on self. Below 25 is too little independence and above 28-30 is too much. Both harm a marriage. Be it a woman or a man.

    Children, who due to their education and profession, have diverged too much away from their parents in terms of financial condition or thought process – do struggle to relate to parents and their point of views. But largely, in the long run, they do realise that the parents were mostly saying the right thing.

  • Reply

    orange wayfarer

    May 18, 2018

    This one! This one touched my heart. I shared this with my family hoping they understand a bit of it, but I am sure they would not 🙂 Off late, I do not care either.
    Even though I am in a healthy relationship, I find myself hesitating when it comes to make the long term commitment and the terror is all mine! 🙁 That said, the constant parental and extended family’s pressure and judgement is a huge turn off too!
    I shout at them, end up fighting and having a bitter relation and avoiding a large group of people who keep on praising “docile” girls whenever I am around -_- what exactly is a docile girl?
    Nonetheless, I really think you are doing a great job with this blog. And I hope this lets you wing it as much as you want 🙂

    • Reply

      Priyanka Gupta

      May 19, 2018

      Thanks Orange Wayfarer. We are all in the same boat 🙂
      Don’t worry, you would be fine. We all would be.
      I don’t know what docile girls are. I don’t know what sort of girl we have to become. We can be who we are, else it is all a waste.

      Thanks for stopping by and for your compliments. Wish you good luck. And don’t be scared. 🙂

  • Reply

    Thea at Forward Steps

    May 16, 2018

    There are several points in this article to which I can well relate. I was not married till much later in life and chose also to not have children. I regret nothing. 🙂 You must always do what is right for your life. We each received our own and have the right to live that one life, as we choose.

    • Reply

      Priyanka Gupta

      May 19, 2018

      Thanks for stopping by and for the comment Thea. I am glad you have the kind of life you want 🙂

  • Reply

    Mrinalini Sardar

    May 15, 2018

    This is the truth. All Indian parents must read this. Also to all men and women, marriage is an official commitment but it will break just like a plant dies without water. Life is actually very simple. There is the good and the bad with everyone. Being married is not a big deal. It should always be a Happy deal and never a forced deal. If you are scared to be with someone forever then please don’t marry. If you are scared that people will change then also don’t marry. But if you think that you can be there for another human being through thick and thin, then please live and love the person. Marriage or no marriage. If love fades away and it feels miserable, leave. Marriage should not force anyone to live without their wish or choice. Let us all let other people live because that is the only reason why we were born…To live and let live.

    • Reply

      Priyanka Gupta

      May 19, 2018

      To live and let live. Amen 🙂 Thanks Mrinalini.

  • Reply

    Pragati Saxena

    May 11, 2018

    Good read Priyanka! It’s interesting that such stories are not rare, rather mostly everyone goes through this. Hope is that we get out of this with coming generations as we start making more sense of right and wrong and leave biases behind.

    • Reply

      Priyanka Gupta

      May 12, 2018

      Thanks Pragati, for reading and for the comment. Amen 🙂

  • Reply

    Alison

    May 11, 2018

    Great read! I now understand it more, my friend!!

    • Reply

      Priyanka Gupta

      May 12, 2018

      Thanks for reading and for the comment Alison. 🙂

  • Reply

    Alpha Female

    May 10, 2018

    It doesn’t stop at marriage. Once you get married everyone wants you to have kids. 3 years into the marriage with no kids, they start asking you if “everything is alright in your marriage”. They blame you for not giving them happiness in the form of grandkids. The fact that their friends have grand-children and they don’t seems to be a bigger problem than the fact that a couple that’s not ready for that responsibility will not give the child the parenting he / she deserves. But the most disturbing thing is that couples actually give in to this pressure, and then do a bad job at raising kids. This stupidity will end only when we stand up against it, and only sign up for what we can handle.

    • Reply

      Priyanka Gupta

      May 10, 2018

      I agree. I didn’t go into the children part as the marriage part was already overflowing my pages.
      Thanks for reading Alpha female. Hope you find what you are looking for 🙂

  • Reply

    Ritika Gupta

    May 9, 2018

    Wow. so many parts of it felt so much like you were telling my story! Wish you all the best for the future.

    • Reply

      Priyanka Gupta

      May 10, 2018

      Thanks Ritika. Wish you the best too.

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