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Single point agenda: Marriage!

Today’s singles have everything going for them: great jobs, friends, even healthy sex lives. They don’t need to marry. But they seem to want to. Why? Colleen Braganza finds out more...

india Updated: Mar 28, 2009 18:14 IST
Colleen Braganza

Two for the road

The motorcar was invented as was the aeroplane. Britain acquired a massive empire and lost it, the world survived two world wars, women got the vote, India its independence, man walked on the moon and the decades of sexual liberation began. But two hundred years after Jane Austen wrote that memorable opening line to her well loved novel Pride and Prejudice – “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife” – something hasn’t changed.

That single person (let’s be politically correct now) in possession of a good fortune is still in want of a spouse.
A couple of decades ago, urban India was a different place. People married for various reasons. Some married for love, others to unite two families, some for social security (‘who will take care of Sunita in our old age?), others for convenience (‘who will cook and wash for Pappu when he goes to Amrika?’) or children (having children out of wedlock was inconceivable then) or sex (err… pre-marital ‘relations’ were frowned upon more then than they are now).

But in 21st century India, urban singles seemingly have everything. They have social security in the form of well paying jobs, hectic social lives, plentiful friends. Many have invested in homes and are in loving relationships.
Think of it like a corruption of that Hindi movie dialogue: ‘Mere paas gaadi hai, bangla hai, bank balance hai, sex life hai… ma bhi hai.’ Then why are they still looking at marriage?

Security blanket
The answer, as it turns out, is pretty simple: emotional security that translates into a need for companionship. No matter how successful, how social, how independent, or how much you enjoy your single status, at the end of the day, you want to return to someone at home. And no, that someone isn’t a goldfish or a cat.

“I’ve always firmly held that 95 per cent of people in the world would like to share their life with someone. Very few would like to live alone,” says Anita Jain, author of the book Marrying Anita. Anita, an Indian American, grew up in California and worked as a journalist in New York. When she grew tired of the dating scene in the city of singles, she decided to give herself a year in India, the home of her parents, to look for a husband. Marrying Anita is about that search.

According to psychologist Seema Hingorraney, the need for marriage stems from our deep-seated and instinctive need for emotional security.

“Yes, youngsters today have everything. It has come on a platter but not without a cost. With their success has come stress and insecurities. You may have a sex life but what people want is security and emotional intimacy. And though there is no guarantee that marriage will last forever, it creates a bond where you assume that the person will be with you forever. That is why people look for it,” she says.

Echoing the thoughts of most single young professionals we talked to, 30-year-old corporate lawyer Joebin Devassy says: “No matter how exciting your social life is, you do tend to get lonely and you want to come back home to someone.”

Adds Kayanush Dadachandjee, 26, who works with a financial institution in New York, “Having kids is a huge part of marriage, companionship is the other thing – not wanting to be alone when you’re 60. Marriage adds another dimension to a relationship – it stops it from being boring. I guess a part of me also wants to wear the wedding ring because it’s a physical manifestation of the relationship.”

At a very practical level, having a partner for life is like having someone to do things with all the time since that person’s top priority is you – at least in an ideal situation. “It’s nice to have someone who will automatically buy feta cheese for me in a mall without me even asking for it,” laughs 28-year-old newlywed Gayatri Khanna, who works in the hospitality industry.

And though sometimes the focus on building careers means that many of us delay the decision to marry, that in no way obviates the need for companionship. “Eventually people feel that something is missing,” says Anita Jain.

Thirty-something advertising professional Priti Singh agrees that people busy with their careers have little time to invest in a relationship and this delays marriage. “You don’t have that kind of time when you are busy building your career so you don’t miss it either. But inevitably, after you grow to a certain level, you will want to share your life with someone,” says Priti.

The case for marriage
Now this is the point that those who don’t believe in the institution of marriage will say: you can get a dog or a cat if you want companionship. Friends can provide you companionship. You can have a live-in relationship for companionship. Why does it have to be marriage?

Maria Zachariah, who lived it up as a single woman in Mumbai till she married two years ago, argues that friends cannot make up for this loneliness. “At the end of the day, no matter how close you are to them, you are not their topmost priority. They have family too,” says Maria.

Marriage also gives a kind of assurance a live-in relationship simply cannot match. “To put it briefly: You look for someone who will agree to put your needs ahead of his / her own. It is part of the marriage contract. Whether that eventually happens or not, isn’t the point. The point is that it gives you a certain kind of reassurance,” says Maria.

Hingorraney agrees, saying that a live-in relationship looks attractive but is usually conditional while marriage gives you absolute rights over a person, even if it is perceived, and that gives you a certain kind of security.

Investment banker Shwetanjali Raj feels live-in relationships often work perfectly only for men because they tend to be the ones wary of commitment. “A woman in a live-in relationship gets what she wants but expects it to take her further towards marriage. A man gets what he wants and it starts with the letter S. And mostly, that’s all he wants,” laughs the 31-year-old singleton, who lived in New York and London before relocating to Mumbai.

She says a live-in relationship is certainly not an option for her because at the end of two years, “I don’t want him to turn around and say I am good enough to live with, not to marry.”

Breaking cliches
There is also this perception in Western popular culture – in Hollywood films and TV shows – that we all have been subject to and influenced by, that women are more desperate to marry than men. The common image is of a commitment phobic man running from a group of frenzied women dressed as brides brandishing bridal bouquets.

Advaita Kala, author of chick-lit novel Almost Single, that chronicles the lives of hip, young girls on the lookout for Mr Right, firmly disagrees with this cliché. “I have male friends who are just as keen to get married. Their concerns, of course, are different. Women are worried about their biological clocks ticking. Men are worried about losing hair,” laughs Advaita.

And if you don’t believe her, hear it from a man himself. “Men are as keen on getting married but while women show it, men don’t,” reveals 31-year-old software solutions consultant Arpan Goswami, who married last year because he wanted someone he could grow old with.

Shwetanjali who says she is open to getting married if and when it happens, has an explanation for a woman’s seeming desperation. That, she says, probably stems from the ticking of her biological clock. “You can ignore society, your nagging parents and relatives and concerned friends. But you can’t ignore your own body. Women have a limited time to marry and have kids. A man can have kids even at 60. Our options are limited. So that is why women think of marriage more than men,” she says.

She has a ready answer to the next question too. Can’t you have children out of wedlock? “You have to be realistic. This is India. I don’t mind having a child now. That’s easy. But I don’t want to bring up my child alone. It’s not fair on the child. And it is so difficult to bring up a child alone. If you are a career woman, how do you do it? What is your support system?”

Desperation backfires
Whatever it is, Indian women face a lot more pressure than men about getting married. So while it may be all right for a man to turn 30 and be unmarried, it’s sacrilege if you are a woman. And the questions never stop.

“Indian parents put a lot of pressure on their kids. It’s very unnecessary and makes them very neurotic. What happens is that it doesn’t change their desire to have companionship, but their anxiety levels increase,” says Anita Jain, whose parents could be classified as typical Indian parents as far as their obsession to see her married went.

Even if your parents spare you, any man or woman over the age of 30 will tell you how utterly infuriating it is to answer the ‘when are you getting married’ question from complete strangers and distant relatives (see box, Witty
Answers To A Stupid Question).

Thirty one-year-old investment banker-turned entrepreneur Dipti Singh says she finds it difficult to comprehend why her status as a single woman is anyone’s business. “It does bother me that the world is bothered that I’m 30 and unmarried. They don’t care that I can exercise my freedom to backpack across the world at the drop of a hat. That I can hold my alcohol almost as well as I can a conversation. That I take care of myself and don’t run out of stories or people to laugh with. Why am I expected to feel bad about not being married? Is the government running out of marriage certificates? Or is the world running out of men? Has life become a race? If so, I’ll happily take my time to reach the end, and do it on my terms.”

That said, family pressure does seem to ease off by the time you are 35, whether you are a man or woman. That’s because by then your family and friends have either written you off or have realised that by now, you are too set in your ways to tolerate someone else crumpling your morning paper.

Male dilemma
It’s not as if men don’t face any pressure. Often, by the time a man turns 30, if his parents don’t start hinting at the possibility of marriage, relatives start wondering if there is something wrong with him. Then there is the tension of coping with women, who are intelligent, achievers and very, very choosy.

“Men do feel a lot of pressure too. They are increasingly realising that women are leading lives without them quite well and nothing is scarier than that,” says Advaita.

Adds Seema Hingorraney, “I’ve had men breaking down and admitting that they want a wife. They want someone at home with them.”

However, family pressure, especially on women, sometimes results in a desperation to get married. And that usually backfires. That explains why so many women who are anxious – even obsessed – with getting married can never seem to find the right partner.

Marriage counselor Dr Minnu R Bhonsle has a simple explanation for this. “A woman who goes shopping for a husband usually tries too hard. Often what happens is that the man is not coming with the agenda of marriage but the woman has already gone several steps ahead and tries too hard to impress him. The man usually picks up these non-verbal cues, gets overwhelmed and even if the relationship could work out, he backs out.”

Anita Jain admits that this has probably happened to her too. “I think I’ve made that mistake in my life. Men are especially attuned to that.”

Dr Bhonsle explains the male reluctance to settle down as part of his genetic make up. “At a very subliminal level, man is a polygamist while women always seek a monogamous relationship. That is why though most men are very happy in a live-in relationship, women seek the security of marriage.”

In the end, Dr Bhonsle says, the point is not about whether marriage is better than a live-in relationship. It is a matter of choice and what one believes in. “What is important is that the individual should have the maturity to know why he / she is opting for a long term relationship. Don’t marry because you have to, but because you want to. Don’t marry because you feel incomplete. Marry because you want to spend the rest of your life with that person and that person feels the same way.”

Terminally single
All this doesn’t mean that all single people in India are eagerly waiting for that someone special to greet them at the door every evening. Some are very happy to come back home to the calmness of an empty house, thank you very much.

“I’m a solitary person. I can’t imagine sharing my house or life with someone. The thought of having someone around me 24 hours is beyond comprehension,” says 30-something media professional Priya Thakur, who describes herself as terminally single. “If I came home to someone every day, I would freak out.”

But Priya will always be a minority. There’s no getting away from the majority of rocking singles who want marriage!