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Society expects a young Indian woman to be ‘settled’ by a certain age, by which they mean married, and with kids, so I get asked all sorts of very intrusive questions.
“Where is your husband?” the elderly uncle asked me as I settled into the chair next to him. It was November 2015, and I was at a wedding function.
“Oh, I don’t have a husband,” I said as pleasantly as I could.
“How old are you?”
I sighed. At this point I had two options, I could take the easy way out and lie, or I could refuse to be cowed down by societal expectations.
“34,” I said choosing the latter.
“34!” He exclaimed looking me up and down, looking for signs of obvious defect.
What could I tell him? Could I tell him that when I was of the ‘appropriate’ age I was dating (and head over heels for) a functioning alcoholic with emotional stability issues? Or that, introvert and creative person that I was, I couldn’t click with most people and definitely could not fake it with someone I couldn’t connect with?
But did it really matter? Why was I coming up with excuses?
Even if there was no alcoholic, would I have necessarily been married? Why did I still feel, somewhere inside, that being married would make me ‘normal’? Why did these questions bother me? What was I getting defensive about? That I was alone?
I don’t remember what he said in response, but you can imagine it was along the lines of urging me to realize my womanly duty and attach myself to a man at the earliest opportunity.
This was not the first time I’ve been “encouraged” in this way. Here is a partial list of others who have done the same in the recent past:
You get the picture.
But in spite of the fact that I’ve been very clear: that I am neither for or against marriage, I’ll only do it if it makes sense, there is always a part of the shaming that succeeds in getting under my skin.
India is a tough place for us who live on the fringes of social norm. The society leaders in my building ask me why my mother hadn’t moved with me. Although, at 35, I’d be in big trouble if I was incapable of leaving my mother’s side, it still got to me – that because I was alone, I somehow needed an alternative care system.
We all know these stories, because any woman (and some men) that is or has been single in her thirties, (and some men too) in India has had this happen to them more than once. If you don’t follow the path society has set, then you perplex people; suddenly from ordinary human you morph into something to be coaxed back to normalcy, or even feared.
Although I’ve lived most of the last ten years or so, largely on my own terms, without regard for the rules that restricted me for most of my twenties and my teenage years, I still felt myself unconsciously waiting to settle down.
My yoga classes and my very amateur attempts at meditation teach me about being present. Yet, though it killed me to admit it to myself, though I’ve always prided myself on being alright on my own, by constantly looking forward or waiting for someone, I was doing the exact opposite.
But we are conditioned to expect a happily ever after that involves another person. I do think it is part of the human condition to crave companionship, and certainly there is nothing wrong in having it, if it fulfils you. But having been alone for many years, I sometimes find myself teetering on the line between insecurity and genuine desire for meaningful togetherness.
I have not completely let that go, but I’m working on it. When I moved to Mumbai, though it took some blood, sweat and tears, I furnished my apartment as if I were decorating a home I owned (disclaimer: I’m no interior designer), and I did it as if I were going to be here forever, and alone.
I did eventually meet someone that makes me happy. But the reality of meeting someone in your late thirties is that your biological clock does not wait. While I have spent much of my adult life ambivalent about marriage, I had always wanted to be a mother.
When I talked about freezing my eggs, my mother was very concerned – “don’t you want to have them the natural way?” she asked, concerned that I hadn’t made this decision in conjunction with my partner.
The truth is, that there is a point in a relationship where you can discuss having children together, and we weren’t at that point yet. While he knows I’m doing it, and is supportive, I didn’t make him participate in the decision – at this point, it is mine, and mine alone. It’s too much pressure, and it ties the fortune of me going ahead with an IVF procedure, to him.
My body at 37, however, is at the cut-off age for egg freezing and cannot afford to wait till my relationship is sorted. The thing is, regardless of what happens, I’d like to think I have a chance to be a mom – either naturally or through adoption, whichever works out.
I cannot force those dreams down someone else’s throat, if they are not ready. It’s not fair to him, and it’s not fair to our relationship.
For me, it was also a small step towards being free of these insecurities that lie at the back of my mind, and the pit of my belly. That I am not waiting, and that I’m living my life the way I want to, without being dependent on someone else being there or not being there.
If I want something to happen, or to have the option to do something later on, I have to do it myself. Because if I cannot be whole by myself, how can I be there for somebody else?
Image source: shutterstock
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Mira Saraf was born in Canada, grew up in New Delhi, and went to a
Great article Mira. very clear and succint. regrettably society (whether Indian or Western) treats outliers with suspicion and concern. It is hard to live your own life without interference. Well done. Hope all works out for you. God bless!
Thank you 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the article. It is true, society does treat outliers with suspicion. I think the best thing we can do for ourselves is not allow it to be internalised. We have been socialised with these expectations, and we should really know better. I hope to, going forward.
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