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The Marriage Market Told Me That I Was An ‘Unsuitable Girl’ For Any ‘Good Match’ — But, Was I?

I have been accused of having academic arrogance, being naïve, and too 'modern' in my thinking. That I need to see if the basics are right, and the guy and the family are not abusive and financially secure. The rest is secondary.

I had never asserted my allegiance with feminism by design. It seemed redundant to me. I suppose for most of my life, as an urban middle class, educated woman in the 21st century, I had the privilege of assuming that men and women in our generation operated equally in society. I was wrong.

From an early age I had the benefit of the best education in the country and the opportunity to pursue higher studies abroad, and in that I acknowledge my good fortune. In school days my parents encouraged me to study and be ambitious, and at the risk of sounding vain, I had the right aptitude and attitude to excel. I landed a satisfying job in the developmental sector and set reasonable expectations for myself – a steady career growth and freedom in decision making. And then I turned 28.

An entry into the arranged marriage market

So far in life, serious relationships had evaded me, or me them. Perhaps I was complacent in solitude, or maybe there lays a deeper reason that requires years of expensive therapy to surface. Regardless, with time I was confronted with the pressure of marriage.

In all honesty, I was not entirely averse to the idea, for in my imaginary perfect world, solitude was not the antithesis to companionship. Somehow I could cherish the idea of silent company – enjoying the mundane together. And therefore, I conceded to begin the whole arranged marriage process.

From the very start I was told that in marriage, as a woman, you have to compromise in terms of your expectations. Surprisingly, the sentiment was echoed by both men and women in my life, sometimes more vehemently by the latter. This includes both near and distant family members and friends.

In fact, the mantra for a successful match was said to be finding a boy who would not dominate you and who belonged to a family that allowed you breathing space – ‘It is desirable if you are the smarter and the better looking of the two, for you can be certain that his faithfulness would not waiver.’ ‘Remember, our finances only allow for so much, therefore a modest family is the ideal for we may be able to meet their demands.’ With enough reiteration, slowly I began to internalise these lessons. Worst still, the practical wisdom in these teachings appeared to be undeniable.

Back in 12th grade, one day, my sociology teacher walked us through the matrimonial classifieds to demonstrate a point. ‘Seeking a fair, English-speaking, convent educated girl with family values and belonging to xxxx caste’ – more or less the common requirement.

At the time we had ridiculed the irony in that text, noting how educated women were appreciated provided they satisfied the classic normative standards of beauty, morality and social standing. About a decade later, I realised that in many communities and parts of the country, education for a woman continues to be symbolic – a trophy bride.

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The many unsuitable boys I ‘saw’

And just like that, the stage was set to find that exclusive match-made-in-heaven that fit the societal mould. My parents and I met a few potential candidates, and no one has yet put a ring on it, mostly because I would not let them.

At the outset, it must be stated for record that these were good men. They were educated and presumably above being wife-beaters. Sure sometimes some questionable ideas were presented, for example, ‘I want a partner who is religious, health-conscious, earns well but will spawn 4 kids, so that she can push me to be better and continue my bloodline,’ but then again, compromise is key.

Yet I could not find it in my heart to accept their hand in marriage. The stark differences in our journeys and visions held me back.

The men I met received their education and entered their line of work more as a natural choice and less out of interest or motivation – be it working in an MNC or running the family business. Society expected them to gain a basic degree, often engineering, and earn a respectable amount, and they had delivered. Now all they needed were wives to accompany them in their travels, food expeditions and house parties. Single men in possession of good fortune – Mrs. Bennet and my parents’ dream matches and to be fair most women would agree. Then why did I not?

But was I asking for too much? I think not, yet…

Somehow a hedonistic lifestyle did not seem enough for me. I was seeking intellectual compatibility. By that I do not mean I hoped for a CEO, a scholar or even someone from the same field or academic background. I simply hoped for someone with whom I could share a conversation without holding back or fearing that I would intimidate them, or be intimidated. Beyond the banal. If I dare to be greedier, I sought a person who shared my appreciation for self-improvement, be it professional or personal, a curious mind with a kind heart. Also, I should mention, I want to pursue PhD in a couple of years after marriage, which is a hard to digest dream in my immediate community.

The Mrs. Bennets in my family of course do not approve of my decisions. I have been accused of having academic arrogance, being naïve, and too modern in my thinking. They argue that I am too impulsive and judgemental, and I do not understand how the world works. That I need to see if the basics are right, and the guy and the family are not abusive and financially secure. The rest is secondary. Men change after marriage. With time I can shape them according to my preferences, make them more mature, and customise them for my needs. I, however, fail to see why this onus is on me, and in that who knows maybe indeed I am being juvenile.

But hearing a loved one express regret that they raised you wrong and education was a mistake, forced me to question myself. Perhaps I had indeed grown to be an asshole.

Then again, why tell a child that they can be who they want, when really their fate is sealed? And while men are expected to occupy the best jobs, does it mean that all that I was expected to do was only learn enough to be a token but not enough to have actual goals, opinions and preferences? Weeks of frustration and self-doubt ensued as I scrutinised the very foundations of my belief system. Absolute agony.

Apparently my dilemma is more common than I realised

But if some people had pulled me down, others lifted me up. I shared my conundrum with every willing and unwilling ear, and while some fed into my doubts, others re-instilled my faith. They reminded me that in every stage in my life I had pushed myself to do my best, achieved most of my targets and had a bright future ahead even if I stayed single. Even if it makes me an arrogant asshole, I must unapologetically assert myself and sing my praises at the top of my voice if I have to, especially if no one around will. And I will have you know that this support came from different age groups and gender identities.

What is most interesting and inspiring to me is that a number of women that I have met in the past year are going through a similar situation. In fact, most of the women from the sub-continent whom I met during my master’s course, confirmed that they faced resistance from the family and were pursuing higher education while evading immediate marriage. They too knew that their slightest failure would give room to claims that they need to settle down.

At work too, I have accomplished colleagues who struggle to establish the importance of their career within their family circles. These are some of the most incredible women I have met in life and I have the deepest respect for them. They have invested years of hard-work in themselves and are fuelled by a determination to move forward. Following their journeys gives me faith that I am doing fine.

By all means I must say that I have not lost faith in marriage. I am just waiting for a man who is as commendable as these women. I refuse to believe that marriage is about compromise. Instead, I dare to hope that it is about mutual respect, the kind that is earned.

Image source: a still from the series Yaad Piya ki Aane Lagi

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