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

My mother called me thrice at 8 in the night. Editing an article, I 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 always worried about me and often cried 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 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 similar conversations on the monolith of marriage, I knew better than getting angry or irritated and rebelling. My mother would have cried profusely, would have blamed me for not listening, and would have hung up. Then my father and other family members would have called to instruct me to handle the situation better. They would have asked me 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 first origins, the marriage dinosaur started popping up whenever they saw someone else getting married in reality 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 my married siblings or I 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 careers and jobs. Having said that the topic should be out in the open, 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 entered the corporate army, parents decided to fight the devil-against-marriage in me.

My live-in ex-boyfriend and I 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,” “I am too young,” “you can’t force me,” and “you decide what you want to do” were regular dinner conversations. We shouldn’t blame him. 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 want to get married. And that boy was what I had the closest to make myself believe that I wanted to get married and 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. Marriage wasn’t the problem; the relationship had wider gaps. Rather than bridging 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 many 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.

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.

 

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While enjoying island life in ChileI fake-approved some of the matrimonial men to peace-out my parents. My father insisted on talking to some Agarwal men whose biodata I had rejected because 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 nagging, weeping, blaming, and shouting suffocated me so much that I thought of getting married to end the drama; I didn’t care 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 spent all his money by the middle 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 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 version of South-American trips and writing dreams.

The concepts of arranged marriages and “getting-married-at-an-appropriate-age” and that “there-is-no-life-without-marriage” have 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. The cherry on the ice cream is that we have to marry in the same caste and the same sub-caste and keep in mind the states we hail from and the educational, economic, and age differences and even physical features, sometimes.

So, even though we are 1.2 billion people, we always struggle to find someone who could be approved by our parents. 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 plan to break up as we have to get married soon but we can’t get married to the boyfriend or the girlfriend. Then why do we go out with those people in the first place? No, we are not idiots. In India, only an immortal god such as Thor can wait for an “appropriate” match and find one in his lifetime.

Many men and women acquaintances acknowledged their mutual romantic interests but backed off due to the expected family drama. A lot of Indian men, aka mama’s boy, told their many-year girlfriends that they could not go against the wishes of their parents. Maybe, there are such women too; luckily, I 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. 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 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 obstacle-removing taweej (amulet) that our family pundit has suggested. I laugh.

While she peeks into my Whatsapp, I hide away my love life as the pressure to get married would over-boil 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.

20 Comments

  1. AV July 8, 2018 at 8:33 pm

    I can see the male perspective after reading this. The way a male gets pressurized in to marrying even when he does not want to do it this way, by giving advertisements, by giving all the details except what kind of a person he truly is, what is he exactly looking for etc. The ads are mostly for what the parents in the seeking families. Basically they are buying people. That is something that I could never digest. A guy told before about the reason of having this sort of a marriage and why parents in India think that this is how it should be done and why it should be done because the thought of dying alone when we are old. The fact of the matter is that no one wants to die alone and asking for time and trying to do this on our own seldom mean that we are going to spend our lives alone.t is merely a humble plea to all parents to just let their kids live their life rather than guilt tripping them in to a corner and making them think that they are the most baddest sons and daughters ever to walk on this planet if they don’t do as they are told. Parents have a way in this country to make everything a little too personal and marriage is also not immune to this. They say that they are doing it for the good of their children. There might be folks who do not know what is good for them. They will be willing to do this but there are folks like me who are not willing to do this because there is more than just me involved in this and the girl coming in to my life will suffer equally if I do this in a way that I can’t digest. It is not justifiable to that person and on top of that, it is in no way justifiable to myself as well. I. Trying to adapt this age old process in to this sort of a world is just asking for trouble since someone who even has a little bit of common sense can see what lies behind this process. It is just buying and selling. Forget the fact that this is just a business but the horrible life that these people who gets hitched this way go through when they are not compatible with each other, is just pure cruelty. Parents call this suffering by the most misunderstood word in Indian marriage industry: “Adjustment”. People who are compatible adjust automatically without actually realizing that it is adjustment. People who are incompatible adjust or rather suffer through it because they are either scared about the consequences of breaking a marriage up or because they so badly want the relationship to work. It could be due to any number of reasons. It is horrible to go through this no matter you are a boy or a girl. The author really brings forward some unique aspects of this struggle from her own life. It is good that an article like that exists. I landed on this article because of the same reasons that prompted the author to write this article. Good to know that I have company. Kudos!

    Reply
  2. Ash Murthy June 19, 2018 at 6:54 pm

    Like every other post that disagrees with Indian parent’s obsession with marriages, this article doesn’t address the reasons behind the obsession of being married –the challenges of living by yourself during late middle and old ages. The mere thought of lying in a hospital bed with no family whatsoever is scary!

    To be fair, Millennials are at least partly responsible for their marriages. As financially independent adults, they could have very well walked out of a marriage they are not comfortable with — at least to be single, if not marry someone against the wishes of their parents.

    Sure, we all make mistakes. Even if we don’t hold it against those who were naive enough to fall for their parent’s short-sighted advise or emotional pleas, what prevents them –again we are talking of financially independent adults– from walking out of bad marriages, or confronting their parents?

    Reply
  3. Vihar May 21, 2018 at 7:25 am

    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
    1. Shruti May 24, 2018 at 4:15 pm

      I think this might be the best thing I read on the internet today. I agree 100%. It’s so god damn annoying that no matter what you achieve in India, somehow you’re a failure if you didnt get married and feed 300 random people that you’ll never see again in the process. I think we, as the new generation need to hold our ground and make our own decisions on our own terms. Whether this happens at 30, 40, 50 or never, it needs to be OUR decision and our parents just need to deal with it.

      Reply
      1. Priyanka Gupta May 26, 2018 at 12:27 pm

        Thanks for stopping by and for the generous comment Shruti. I think this tug of war between parents and children should be fought harder by the current generation so the coming ones can enjoy less stringent social constructs. Stay connected 🙂

        Reply
    2. Priyanka Gupta May 26, 2018 at 12:34 pm

      Thanks for stopping by and for the genuine comment Vihar.

      I think you misunderstood because never did I say that I or someone like me is searching for a perfect partner. These debates are out of question. The topic is bigger. And responsibilities could be anything, they need not be of parents and children, both parts of the couple do have two lives to manage so I guess that’s a lot of responsibility already.

      Age could definitely affect in some way but I have seen enough marriages to understand that even when people got married early that didn’t help their relationship. They just stuck on. Like most of the Indian couples do. I didn’t see any love flowing. So sad.

      Of course, parents want the best for the children. But sadly, more often than not, they don’t know what is the best for them. Because the world changes fast. Parents force their children to do what they think is the best for them. If only, rather than forcing, they suggested.

      Reply
  4. orange wayfarer May 18, 2018 at 11:52 pm

    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
    1. Priyanka Gupta May 19, 2018 at 2:20 pm

      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
  5. Thea at Forward Steps May 16, 2018 at 9:29 am

    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
    1. Priyanka Gupta May 19, 2018 at 2:21 pm

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

      Reply
  6. Mrinalini Sardar May 15, 2018 at 7:20 pm

    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
    1. Priyanka Gupta May 19, 2018 at 2:22 pm

      To live and let live. Amen 🙂 Thanks Mrinalini.

      Reply
  7. Pragati Saxena May 11, 2018 at 6:55 pm

    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
    1. Priyanka Gupta May 12, 2018 at 4:58 pm

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

      Reply
  8. Alison May 11, 2018 at 4:40 am

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

    Reply
    1. Priyanka Gupta May 12, 2018 at 4:57 pm

      Thanks for reading and for the comment Alison. 🙂

      Reply
  9. Alpha Female May 10, 2018 at 12:22 am

    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
    1. Priyanka Gupta May 10, 2018 at 11:02 am

      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
  10. Ritika Gupta May 9, 2018 at 9:56 pm

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

    Reply
    1. Priyanka Gupta May 10, 2018 at 11:01 am

      Thanks Ritika. Wish you the best too.

      Reply

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