You know, five years ago, my mother threw a fit when she found out I was seeing that loser what's-hisname," says a thin 28-year-old girl with floppy hair. "And now, it's, 'koi to dhoond lo, aren't you interested in anybody? Aren't there any nice boys at work?'"
Three friends, two young women (aged 26 and 28) and a young man (aged 26) - your typical fun, urban professionals - are huddled around a small table in a posh pub in south Delhi.
"I read this article online about how even though we have a skewed sex ratio, most of the men are un-marriage-able," says the 26-year-old whose parents have recently begun pestering her about her (shaadi) "plans". "While we were slogging in school, most men, these constantly distracted fools decided not to work on their career or personality and so we are doomed to be alone - so tell your mother, the only men qualified to work with you have wives and children or are just fat."
Read: All you single people
The lone boy tries to dispute the 'there are no single men' theory. He has been single for more than two years - all the interesting single women he meets are fickle, just out of a serious relationship (and hence not looking for anything substantial) or are planning children before you can say "hello". But he gives up on the argument midway. This lot is happier single anyway.
Case in point
We hate to generalise but your relationship status tends to define more conversations than you may like. And if you are a day older than 22, your parents begin to obsess about it - so subtly at first, you may not even notice. But as you ease out of your 20s, that obsession turns into fervent desperation. Or so we hear. (And in some cases, experience.)
And so, the second edition of the Floh-HT Brunch Single In The City Study (the first was in February last year), which surveyed 420 single men and women (between the ages 22 and 35) and 302 parents of singles in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, attempts to analyse how they think and what they want from life, love and everything in between.
My choice v/s your choice
74% parents surveyed think that finding a partner for their children is a joint decision - for 14%, it is solely the parents' prerogative, 12% leave it to their children. Having said that, only four% of all 302 parents surveyed have relinquished complete control and asked their son/daughter to look for a partner for themselves.
The rest are keeping their eyes and ears open - scrutinising prospective partners for their single kids in their social circle, asking friends and family to keep a watch out for other singles - or they have signed their single children up on matrimonial websites and the like.
Channel [V] video jockey Juhi Pande recently wrote a book, Things Your Mother Never Told You About Love. It's part memoir and part gyaan. She is also engaged to be married. So we asked her if she thought it was okay for parents to be so intrusive. Pande feels it isn't fair to judge parents for wanting their children married.
"Nowadays people are getting divorced and separated at the drop of a hat, living together is not a big deal - we have various versions of having a partner. And marriage is not as sacred as it was. But our parents come from a generation where marriage worked nine times out of 10."
Survey: All about single people
Interestingly, 75% singles are resistant to the idea of meeting someone their parents want them to. Finding someone is something they want to do themselves (and would like to get by with help from their friends).
A number of singles use dating apps (and it turns out, there are plenty of normal, fun, interesting people out there on these apps). But when a marriage is arranged, they're a bit puzzled. How do you decide who to spend the rest of your life with, after just a few meetings? What are the right questions, and more importantly what are the right answers? And can you really seal the deal based on a few dates?
Also, for some of them, it's a bit of a joke. Nobody wants to be the "50 rishta girl", the one who insists everybody wants to marry her but she's looking for love - but within weeks, voila! Honeymoon photos with the boy of mummy's choice.
Arranged v/s love
There are several reasons why singles are wary of 'arranged' marriages. Leon Lu is a 25-year-old employee at a creative agency in Delhi. He recently joined the dating app Tinder and says meeting someone through family is awkward. "If you meet someone through friends, it may work out, it may not and that's just fine. But if it's through family, you have to give an elaborate explanation on why you didn't like them," says Lu. Another 25-year-old lawyer, Gauri Puri, believes in the concept of arranged marriage but admits it's not for her: "I don't doubt my parents' choice. But even if I have to wait till 35, I'd like to find someone myself. If it's a mistake, it would be my mistake."
And for some singles, the aversion is because their parents (although they want the best for them) have no clue about who their kids really are. It doesn't mean they're bad parents. Bollywood actor Arunoday Singh (last seen in Jism 2) says it fails because parents try to play Cupid based on cultural and social factors. "So if my father tried to set me up, I'd be very, very dodgy about it," he says. "He's sweet but this is not really his area. If my mother would try and set me up, I'd actually think about it… she has excellent taste."
Although 63% parents think arranged marriage is a great idea, they do realise it is not appreciated. For 80% of parents polled, the parents' role is "to guide and not force". But parents take their guiding pretty seriously. Consultant Renu Gupta, 58, mother of two single 20-somethings, a girl and a boy, says, it's better to talk them into marriage early on because eventually they'll thank you for it. "Nobody wants to be alone. You can't let your children be lazy about important decisions and watch them grow old and lonely when all their friends get married. You don't get good matches after 29 - maybe early 30s now - but it's very difficult!"
As many as 54% parents believe that their children are single because the parents want to (but so far have not yet been able to) decide on a suitable partner for them. When we asked singles why they were single, most said they hadn't met the right one (57%) but many said it was because they value their independence too much (36%) and some just have no time (29%).
Your 20s and 30s are also, after all, important for you to become the person you want to be, get the job you dream of, travel to that island nobody's heard of and mingle with several people just because it's fun. "If you're single, you give more importance to yourself - your friends, family, things you want to do, your career," says Puri. And, adds her mother, homemaker Anita Puri, "You know how Indian society is. Too much attention is given to 'shaadi ki umar nikal rahi hai'. They say things like 'if she hasn't found a partner, there must be something wrong with the girl'. But it's better to be single than to marry people who think like this."
Men v/s women
The survey also found that while 79% parents think that the ideal age for a woman to be married is 22-25, half the parents surveyed think that men must be older than 26 to be married.
Most parents of 30-something women we spoke to say it is especially harder for women to find someone as they grow older. 'Men in their 30s want younger wives,' goes the adage. But it's not as simple as that. It is perhaps harder to get married when you're older because by the time you're in your 30s, you know precisely what you want and are not willing to settle for less. "And why must you?" asks Yamini Chandra, a 32-year-old graphic designer. "In your 30s, you're doing well at work, you're used to living a certain way and wouldn't want too many people to interfere with that."
Traditional v/s modern
The deal-breaker for 90% of parents looking for partners for their children is someone who doesn't want children. Proliferation of the species is, after all, our primary biological impulse. And the origins of the institution of marriage can be traced back to caring for the young 'uns. So, of course, the pressure to get married comes from your parents' desire to have grandkids, says Arunoday Singh. "It started for me when I got close to 30, that's when Mum said, 'Ab boss, bohot ho gaya. Ab mujhe naate-pote chahiye.'"
For 89% singles and 76% parents, a meeting of minds is far more important than caste and religion. Sociologist Janaki Abraham, associate professor at the Delhi School of Economics, says, "It's because parents and singles both know that lack of compatibility can wreck marriages. And the big fear (especially for parents) is not that 'chhod ke chali jaayegi' but that the couple will continue to live in the same house and be miserable. They've seen that happen, more than divorces they've seen so many households where the husband and wife lived in the same house but in separate bedrooms."
So parents are cautious about who their children marry, besides cross-over weddings are a wonderful affair. Vishal Punjabi director of The Wedding Filmer, a Mumbai film production company that makes documentary films of real weddings, has noticed that different cultures are mixing with more ease and it's no longer taboo to marry someone outside of the community, caste, religion or country. "Before the wedding, there is still that stress. They sound like '80s stories but it still happens - parents eventually come around and spend crores on the wedding," he says.
Parents, according to our survey, like to see their children sticking to traditional roles - women should know how to cook, men should have the higher salary. Although 81% parents said they felt proud to see women going out to work, they were also proud to see them managing homes at the same time.
Sometimes, parents can be downright ridiculous. Says Punjabi, "Right now, we're doing a very sweet story. The parents wanted to introduce this boy and girl but they were hesitant and said, 'No, no we don't want to get married'. But they met and fell in love. They WhatsApped, FaceTimed and went on dates... and went to the fathers and said, 'We love each other and want to get married to each other.' But the parents went to the pandit and found out that it was a big apshagun if they got married and told them they couldn't. So now these two are running away and getting married!"
And just a tip: most objections in terms of caste and religion usually fall apart if you give it time. Delhi-based actor Abhinav Tyagi, 28, says his parents did have problems with some girls he dated. "Now, they're just like, 'We don't care. Get married to whoever you want to - but just get married.'"
Both parents (76%) and singles (90%) also acknowledge that serious dating is important before getting married.
"I'm surprised so many parents said that," says sociologist Janaki Abraham. "But for a lot of parents, serious dating is important only if it leads to a wedding. It's like a long engagement. They still don't seem to be comfortable with a lot of boyfriends and girlfriends." She is right. Just over one-third [34%] of parents surveyed think their kids have not been in a relationship in the last two years. And 38% fathers think their daughters have never been in a serious relationship!
Then v/s now
Of course there's a big change. There was a time when people dated but married only someone chosen by the parents. There were myths about love marriages and divorce. This generation of parents has seen arranged matches fail and are more accommodating. Says Mumbai-based entrepreneur Arun Kapoor who has a 30-year-old daughter, "In our time, you had to listen to your parents. If you didn't, it was war that sometimes lasted decades. We are evolving more than our kids realise."
But think about this, even if your parents didn't nag you about your single status, and you absolutely loved being on your own - which is a great thing - there will still be that monkey on your back. As Arunoday Singh says, "Society thinks being in a relationship seems to make you a better person. Or at least signify you're worthwhile enough for somebody to want to spend time with you. It isn't fair but it takes a toll on a lot of people."
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From HT Brunch, March 30
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