Why marriage is not for everyone

Published: February 15, 2017
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We are conditioned to be afraid of ‘dying alone’ – an obvious hyperbole, as marriage is never the sum total of one’s social universe. PHOTO: FILE.

There are more routes to happiness than those identified by the social majority. It is time we acknowledge that not all of these routes transit through the terminal of marriage.

Any discussion on whether a certain custom is right for you, must begin with an honest recognition of your primary goal. The goal is your happiness and prosperity, and nothing that any parent, uncle, aunty, friend has to say about it has any agency over your own awareness of what brings you contentment. Their counsel may be wise and worthy, but they have the disadvantage of not knowing you the way you might know yourself.

Kneeling at the dual-altars of culture and tradition is not our primary goal. The sociocultural norms regarding relationships were created to serve you and to optimise your chances of finding joy in life. You were not created to serve the cultural order.

Consider an elderly couple who, either by choice or biological circumstance, doesn’t have children. We’re conditioned to believe that the path to a happy life is singular, and distinctly laid out through trial-and-error over hundreds of years. This path invariably involves a house booming with the sweet noises of children – undoubtedly a potent source of joy for many. Society flashes a sympathetic half-smile at a childless couple every day, and implies that it has fewer reasons to laugh than the rest of us. What is happiness without children?

Yet, that childless couple discovers a mutant strain of happiness that flies in the face of society’s expectation of what “life” is supposed to look like.

Why decline marriage?

To begin with, the institution of marriage is outright inconducive to the welfare of sexual minorities. Medical science has recognised a series of parallel states of human sexuality that are beyond our ability to change. And unlike infertility, these states are not regarded in the concerned scientific manual – the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) – as ‘pathological’.

Most controversial of such conditions is homosexuality. But we are also recognising states like ‘asexuality’, in which a person simply harbours no interest in a romantic relationship. An emotional and sexual bond is imperative to a healthy spousal relationship. A marriage where such bonding is not possible, either terminates in a painful divorce, or chugs on lovelessly as a stone-faced relationship of practical convenience.

For a long time, prominent feminists have been voicing their concerns about marriage as an inherently patriarchal institution. This subject merits a longer discussion than what can be summed up in a paragraph or two. It is hardly surprising though, that marriages are commonly associated with sexist customs like dowry trading, and other traditions that objectify the bride as a passive entity being claimed by the groom.

The aforementioned political reasons and unchangeable states make no comment on a vast field of idiosyncrasies. Each one of us has a unique set of needs and aspirations, based on our varying circumstances. An explanation or apology is not owed for matters strictly concerning oneself.

If not marriage, what then?

We are conditioned to be afraid of ‘dying alone’ – an obvious hyperbole, as marriage is never the sum total of one’s social universe. We are besieged by fears about how our personal decisions may affect the feelings of our parents, or our family’s social standing. Why do you tell your parents?

We retreat to the basics. What is the primary objective? If that goal is to shoe-horn you into a ready-made social structure that exists for its own sake, then marriage is clearly the answer. But if the main goal is your happiness and prosperity, then that is a different matter altogether.

What happens if we don’t marry? We dare to be happy in our own way, in the face of society’s ignorant disbelief. We sing, read and write, focus on our careers, hang out with friends, try out new restaurants, and travel the world. We carve out an alternative ‘normal’ for ourselves.

There is no deadline for finding love, and no need to force oneself into a relationship because “it’s time”. Let yourself be the one to decide when “it’s time”. Pay no heed to ageist scaremongering, because older people are not incapable of love and bonding.

Congratulate friends and siblings who choose to marry without a social gun to their heads, and dance spiritedly at their weddings. But refuse to let them repay us with their pity.

Refuse to let them take false pride in having discovered some greater meaning in life, which we have failed to experience.

Our lives are not your lives, and that’s okay.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat

A medical doctor and bubble-wrap enthusiast from Rawalpindi, who writes mostly about science and social politics (and bubble-wrap). He tweets @FarazTalat (twitter.com/FarazTalat)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.