Busting the ‘late’ marriage myth: Why I didn’t marry early
We are well into the 21st century, hurtling towards a new era of science and technology, but Indian women still face a basic struggle. As soon as they step into their mid-20s, Indian women have to deal with the pressure of getting married to a ‘suitable’ man. There are many things wrong with that thought.
First, it assumes that every woman is sexually interested in men. Second, it assumes that every woman wants to get married. The pressure on men to be ‘suitable’ is another story. Troubles for women don’t end with ‘choosing’ the right sexuality, or the conventional desire to get married and have children, like a good girl.
There is a small, hopefully growing, section of women in India who have it better than the others – the lucky few whose parents don’t bother them with such pressure. Even then, there are relatives and acquaintances who will persist with their inappropriately personal questions about your life. I didn’t face any pressure from my parents, but I did face intrusive questions from relatives and, sadly enough, from friends, people my own age, who I thought shared the same mind-set about marriage and the somewhat downgraded importance of it. Perhaps it was the clichéd ‘misery loves company’ syndrome, or maybe it was genuine concern, but the number of times I was told that I should get married in my early 20s was scary.
The friends (women and men) who did get married early didn’t present a shining example either. Responsibilities came earlier for them than the rest of us. Even if they didn’t have children in the first year of marriage, their lives were no longer their own. Sacrifices and compromises had become a part of their daily routines. Plans to meet generally involved them leaving much earlier than the rest of us, only because their spouses wanted them back home and they couldn’t refuse a whiny request like,
“But I’m not going anywhere because I want to spend time with you.”
In most of these marriages, individual social lives are separated by a very blurry line which fades with time. But that’s only what I’ve seen and it’s not to say that all early marriages are like that. I suppose they’re not.
Apart from these seemingly shallow but important scenarios, I had several more reasons to marry ‘late’.
I had time to build and enhance my career
Throughout my 20s, I was told repeatedly that priorities change with time. I thought I had it all figured out when I was 22 and the rebel in me wanted to disregard everyone who told me otherwise. But good sense prevailed soon enough, and I was so glad it did when it did. With a radical career change at the age of 22, I realised that life and the future can look completely different within a very short span of time. After two years of living life like a free bird, I came back home to live with my parents again.
Many doubted my decision, considering I had lived without any restrictions and much more money in a different country. Phoren (foreign) and all, you know. Instead of recognising it as the career shift and life makeover that it was, most of my friends presumed that I came back to get married. The question became so frequent, that the answer “not for a few years” was automated.
Friends, if I may call them that, also said that I may be getting too old to find a good man and will have to make a painful compromise eventually.
Why did I need a ‘good man’ again? No one answered that beyond implying that a ‘good man’ is a good retirement plan. A woman is still expected to give up her career or adjust her life to suit her husband. The pressure on a young woman is intense and she doesn’t have the professional arsenal at the age of 22-23 to fight that. But since I gave myself time till the late 20s to get married, I had a more stable career and an argument for everyone who expected me to give it up.
The longer I would have waited to get married, the stronger this argument would have become. Getting married when I did gave me enough years to focus solely on my career, without any added battles. It also gave me enough time to build a financial base of my own. I decide what to do with my money, which is unheard of among my friends who got married in their early 20s.
I had the time to take care of myself; No, it’s not selfish
I was a volatile early 20-something, like most early 20-somethings. Moods and choices were all over the place and life was travelling at breakneck speed in several directions. Stability didn’t seem important and it wasn’t. I spent more time on myself, growing into the person I wanted to be, rather than the person everyone else wanted me to be.
Looking back, I realise how important those years were, to clear the self-doubt and boost my self-esteem. I didn’t know it in my early 20s, but I know now that no one can make me doubt my self-worth. I’ve done plenty to substantiate that claim. To be in a truly happy relationship, you need to be two truly happy individuals first.
Many argue that the “right one” can come along at any age and it’s a waste of time to not “settle down” with them. Even if you’ve found them at 21, why be in a hurry to get married? Living together, though ideal, is still difficult in India. We wish that would change sooner rather than later, but dating your partner for a few years and getting to know them better isn’t such a bad option. If he’s the right one, don’t you think he’ll wait while both of you build your individual lives first and have done enough to want the permanence that comes with marriage?
I did more than most in their 20s and made an informed decision
I didn’t choose the man I married out of any compulsion. We chose each other and got married because we wanted to, not because we were told. I did a lot of crazy stuff while I was single; I still continue to do them. But when I wanted to do them alone, I did. Now that I want someone to share these experiences with me, I have him and don’t regret it, which I might have done if I had married him earlier.
I lived away from the country and travelled as much as I could. I met the people and saw the places I couldn’t have if I had gotten married in my early 20s. There were several sleepless nights, some spent partying and some working. I loved some, hated some, and will probably never do them again, but I’m so glad they happened.
I know my family as individuals now, rather than one unit
I also spent more time as an adult with my family. I spent more time with my father talking current affairs or family history rather than staring at the TV, which was routine during the awkward teen years, when it’s “uncool” to be seen around your parents.
I spent more time with my mother chatting about everything under the sun rather than discussing academic results. I spent more time being friends with my sister rather than the sworn enemies we were throughout childhood.
I had the time to make up my mind about kids
All through my 20s, I didn’t know whether I wanted kids of my own or not. After all the time I took to oscillate on the decision, I decided firmly that I want to have children. I thought long and hard, met children who were vile, to say the least, and waited to see if it would affect my decision. It didn’t. But instead of being a slave to biology, I will have them only when I want to. I may need to take more precautions with a pregnancy in my mid to late 30s, or I may adopt a child if I don’t want to, or can’t put my body through the process.
Marrying early may not have given me that choice. Marrying at a young age leaves a woman overwhelmed and overridden most of the times. A painful phrase heard too often is,
“She’s too young, what does she know?”
She’s old enough to be married, but not old enough to make a decision about her own body. Despite the logic laid bare, this is the reality in many Indian households even today. Although the families on either side are fairly liberal, I didn’t want to take the risk of ever being told that I’m “too young” to decide against having children.
I have friends who are in their 30s and not married yet. They don’t want it and probably never will. I don’t envy them, I don’t pity them. They don’t envy me, they don’t pity me. We coexist happily in a world moving towards tolerance. Or so we hope.
This post originally appeared here.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.