Recently, while writing about Single's Day, an occasion marked every year on November 11 in China to celebrate singlehood, I texted a friend, "Should we leave for China tomorrow?" Ah, we're not going but I had to take my chances, eh? If I start marking festivals here to celebrate my unmarried status, all hell will break loose. People don't get it. By people, I don't mean my parents, I indicate society - the people you come across every day but can't ignore, the people you respect and are fond of but who get on your nerves because your ideologies around the concept of marriage and singlehood don't match.
Society needs to stop questioning and shaming those parents who adopt a rational and liberal approach when it comes to their daughter's decisions around marriage. Calling out parents because they are not pressuring their daughters into getting married according to social norms is problematic, disrespectful and an invasion of privacy, to say the least.
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But what is the problem?
When the lockdown restrictions were slightly lifted during the pandemic, my parents had gone for an early morning walk after months of being stuck at home owing to the spread of the deadly virus. Five minutes into feeling relaxed in the fresh air outdoors, my mother was interrupted by another couple walking beside her. "Beti ka kuch hua?" the lady asked. I laughed my heart out when my mom got back home and told me this. What is this question at 5:30 am? Was she asking whether I was pregnant or hitched? What sounds vague and hilarious to me, isn't that fun to hear because it gives a deeper account of the thought process that is so woven into the fabric of society that bringing a shift in mindset seems almost impossible. In the middle of a pandemic that destroyed families and made us realise the importance of life above everything else, my mother was asked whether there was any update on when I'll be getting married.
"To be fair, our parents belong to a different generation, so unlearning several social frameworks and patriarchal norms has taken time. To be shamed just because they don’t abide by the social rules is certainly frustrating for them and us, as their daughters."
My parents have never told me the clock was ticking when it came to my age and its relation with marriage. However, it hasn't been easy for them to exist in a society like this and still be very liberal when it came to timelines.
My cousin, who is getting married on her terms next year, faced a similar situation when her parents gave her all the time she needed to decide for herself. Her relatives constantly rebuked her parents for 'allowing' her so much time when she was already on the verge of turning 30. Society doesn't come from another universe, we all form the community and, therefore, we have the power to change the age-old standards set for women because these rules are only pushing the cause of empowerment further down.
"I fail to fathom that most people who boggle down feminist parents do it because they themselves were targets of patriarchal standards or because they believe these benchmarks are above personal choice and everyone must abide by them. In either case, it is none of their business."
My father has a pretty short and decent reply to people who lecture him on how I am left behind when all the women my age in the neighbourhood are married. "It isn't a race where she is running slow and will come last, no one is competing here to get married," he tells them. "But what is the problem?" the society asks. Well, your mindset is, change it, at least your problem will be solved. It's not been a cakewalk for me to live freely and stay single at an age where people take the life out of you for doing so when you're nearing 30. It's not uncomplicated to clarify that the concept of marriage involves the intention of finding the right partner for you and the process of coming together with someone does not only take time but also solely depends on choice. ">Marriage comes much later but exemplifying what you feel, how you feel, to people who disregard the very emotion of feeling and choice is exhausting in the first place. Why explain further?
The complexity of the pressure of marriage
Unfortunately, this is not my plight alone, I have unmarried friends going through a similar situation where their parents are being confronted one way or another on why their daughters' aren't married yet. And as women who have our parents' backing, we might think that we can go on unabashed, but people don't make it easier because we are social beings. Detaching from the world and continuing our way of living is a brave act in a world where people constantly invade your private space and personal decision-making. For our parents, it’s much worse because here they are, being wonderful and supportive parents, but their day-to-day interactions only put them down when they should be deserving accolades for giving their kids the liberty they have the right to.
During a discussion around marriage in most homes, parents are often heard saying, "what will they say? "what will they think?" and it's an underlying problem because parents don't necessarily want to pressure children into making rash decisions around marriage at an agreeable age, they merely start stressing over the notion because of the impending validation they seek in society, a practice that requires unlearning among other things.
Recently, a social media influencer decided to end her six-month-long marriage. In her statement, she revealed how she had been suffering mentally for a couple of months and while she had her parents' undeterred support, she could not decide because she was apprehensive of what people would say and how everyone would react to her marriage failing.
I came across a social media post the other day where a woman, who has been constantly questioned by people about her wedding, celebrated her birthday by hosting a wedding theme party and having the party of her life with her friends. "They said, 'get married, it is time,' so I threw a birthday bash with Shaadi ka theme," she wrote. My unmarried friends and I should probably take a cue from her and throw a lehenga-themed birthday party next. People, shaming our parents for giving us the liberty to act on our own timelines and make decisions around our marriage (like how it should be) you're welcome for this party because you're not getting a wedding to attend anytime soon, certainly not dominated by your deadlines.