We, the Matrimony-phobic Millennial Women
When we were kids, our teachers and mothers – women who most often went home to abusiveand/aloof husbands – read to us fairy tales about Prince Charmings and happily-ever-afters. We were bought dolls with blue eyes to mother, and miniature utensils to ‘cook’ for our make-believe husbands and children.
In teenage, we secretly exchanged ‘adult’ books that told us to lust after the bad boys, to fantasise about being taken against our will. We watched, mouths half-open and eyes googly, Bollywood and American rom-coms that sang and danced to us about 50 shades of sachcha pyaar... the one true love.
Then, we grew up and became tax-paying, vote-casting, going-out-on-real-and-meeting-real-people adults. And at some point, we stopped fantasising about marriage.
Hello, I’m a twenty-something-year-old woman. I’m unmarried and currently single. And I'm happy about it.
Well, most of the time.
There are days when I curl up on my bed and ponder about my life choices after the sighting of yet another happy couple on Instagram, when I don’t truly feel happy for the friend posting her 10,068th wedding photo on Facebook. There are days when I flirt with someone and hope it leads somewhere; when bad judgment and four shots of tequila makes texting an ex seem like a good idea. And then, there are days I run from the possibility of commitment like Scooby-Doo at the sight of a ghost.
I’m at that age when even my mostly progressive parents occasionally drop hints about my ticking biological clock, when random aunties and uncles interrogate me about “settling down”. The same village that came together to raise me with stories of Cinderella and DDLJ now tells me to not hold such high standards for a life partner.
High standards? Really?
My juvenile fantasy of a guitar-playing Shah Rukh Khan with Keanu Reeves' face has reduced to the bare minimum hope of not ending up with a misogynist or sexual predator. How much lower do you want me to take it?
I can't say I'm speaking for all, but most of us millennials still don't loathe the concept of marriage in its entirety (we still have political opponents holding that fort). What disappoints me, and most women, is all that's expected of me as a married woman. And it starts with the wedding.
Let's be honest about it, shall we? Be it a million dollar Karan Johar-level shenanigan or a pauper's samuhik party, weddings are where our fight for equality and feminism come to die.
Let me explain. I, as a bride, am expected to be ‘given away’ by my father, wear white as a sign of my virginity, wear churas/sankha-pola as a sign of my wedded status, be marked with sindoor – a historical mark of being ‘taken’ – throw rice over my shoulder to pay back my ‘debt’ to my parents, ‘leave’ my family home at vidaai, and, the cherry on top of the cake, I am supposed to accept a token of bhaat-kapor from my husband as a gesture of him ‘taking over the responsibility’ of my food and clothing. Phew!
But to make our parents happy, to satisfy our future family, women often just bite the bullet and sign up of social weddings. We wear the churas, bow the heads and bend over backwards for the approval of extended family members who will judge us anyway in exchange of a gift-wrapped pressure cooker. That can all still be skirted around with a supportive family and a cool fiance (and a courthouse!). But a discriminatory wedding is just the tip of the iceberg.
I come from one of those typical Indian families where sex education never happened. I was expected to learn on my own that babies are not actually doled out at hospitals for free, but gestated inside women’s bodies and birthed either through a very tiny hole or a very large incision. And ever since I learned that from a fellow classmate (in very gruesome details) in Class 7 during a lunch break, I haven’t been quite a fan. But that gory and amateur description of childbirth did not tick me off as much as what I learned later in life did.
I, as a woman, am automatically expected to be a mother when I get married. Not just a mother — a biological mother.
But what if I don’t to?
Here’s what the society tells me: to have a child before marriage is bad, to be married and not birth a child within a given period of time is bad; to have a child in old age, or after a certain number of children, is also bad. And sometimes, to not have a child of a certain gender is, well, not good enough.
Remind me again why I, under the conditions of marriage, am expected to give up the agency of my own body?
Let’s say I cut my losses and participate in this miracle of life that's childbirth. The kid will systematically be regarded as my husband’s heir — who, by general norm, is expected to take his last name, his religion and his lineage forward.
From official forms to ID cards to introductions at birthday parties, my kid is identified by only one of his/her parents by patriarchal default.
I know, exceptions exist. But I'm talking about the general scenario here. And as per this general scenario, each time I share my plan of adopting my children, I’ve either been interrogated frantically about my fertility, given quizzical looks that question my mental stability or — in case of boyfriends — dropped and run from like Forrest Gump breaking free from his crutches.
But let's say the children bit is worked out one way or another, I will still be expected to be a superhero as a married woman — one who ‘balances’ career and family. Modern as the world may be, I still don’t get cut the same share of slack that my tired-from-work-now-playing-PUBG-to-destress husband does.
Cue, *gasp* from all the woke boys out there, gearing up to 'debate like adults'.
Here's the thing, boys. It's not entirely your fault. Men are not, by default, expected to compromise their career trajectories and other life prospects for marriage and children. Women, as biologically equipped and limited by time to carry children, are. And thanks to our fairly common maternal instincts, we most naturally do.
But when women don’t feel that way or choose not to take on marriage or motherhood, it is not taken well! A mother who doesn’t know about her kid’s latest school project or whereabouts is judged more harshly than a father is. We never question a dad for not knowing how to cook his kid a healthy meal or how to stitch their fancy dress costume. And here's another bitter truth cookie — women are more likely to feel guilty about being a bad parent over these trivial things that men would be.
Long story short, on an average, this is what societal norms tell me as a woman: if I end up having a husband who takes care of the home and children, I’m considered incredibly 'lucky', because we've made peace with that not being common (!). If I have a husband who doesn’t do his part, I’m either expecting too much or not ‘training’ him well enough. If I lean towards my parents after marriage, I’m a conspiring daughter-in-law. If I lean towards my in-laws, I’m an ungrateful daughter. If my husband sides with his parents, I should make compromises. If my husband sides with me, I’m a conniving little bitch taking a son away from his parents.
So what am I left with? A derivation that marriage is a walk down a tightrope; a gamble that could either be a thrill of a ride or a back-breaking down, or at least a journey full of anxiety.
Marriage, to those on the other side, may be a beautiful institution, but this side of the LoC isn't bad either. Why is my life be regarded as less productive than those who have "settled down"? I clear my bills with the money I make, I pay my taxes, cast my vote, clean my own toilet and gladly enjoy perusing through my options in dating life. Why am I not considered “settled” enough unless I sign a societal contract with a man that essentially leaves me vulnerable to a court case if I deny him sex?
I know I will be told that there's nothing wrong with people who choose to get married — I never argued that there is. The key word here, you see is CHOICE.
i will also most likely be told that marriage can be done without all these shenanigans, that there's a happily-ever-after beyond the horizon if the two consenting adults can just hopscotch their way through the minefield of patriarchy. That it’s all worth it for the right guy.
Ah, the right guy!
Over the course of our adolescent and young adult life, society and capitalist filmmakers sell us the dream that there is 'someone' for 'everyone'. We believe in things like 'The One', 'The Happily Ever After' and 'One True Love'. But the older we get and more bad dates we score, the closer we get to ground reality. Realisation strikes — it is not scientifically possible or viable for humans to be sent on earth in pairs. Divorces happen, people die, partners cheat, and love fade. And heterosexual normative is fake news.
By the time we hit thirty, the dream of meeting 'The One' is a roadkill in our rear view mirrors; the ghost of sapno ka rajkumar is one we only invoke in the dead of the night with a glass of wine, a vibrator in hand and Keanu Reeves' image in mind.
And truth be told, we are fine with that.
The ‘right guy’ is not a needle in a haystack, but rather the winning hand in a gamble. It's more productive to accept that he might not happen than live under the constant pressure and day dream of finding him.
So sue me for enjoying perusing my options, for playing fast and loose and not giving into the FOMO on the 'one and only'. Or for not believing in such concepts to begin with!
If the universe shifts and I find a person I'd be willing to take the leap of faith with, maybe, some day, I will grudgingly and most reluctantly call a lawyer for one of those marriage certificates. And who knows, maybe I'll survive a monogamous partnership long enough to spend my sunset years in a balcony with my 80-year-old husband by my side, watching the children of our adoptive children playing in the backyard of our beautiful three-story house that's leased on my name.
But until then, let me, and the many others like me, make the best of the gamble with the cards we've been dealt.