“Was it a love marriage or arranged?”
Growing up, this is a question I’ve always heard being asked whenever an Asian couple announced their engagement. As a teen, I think it was this very question that steered me away from wanting an arranged marriage like my parents had and their parents before them.
It made me feel like there was a choice to be made. Do I want a marriage based on love? or without?
I know this topic is not as cut and dry as that as I know many couples who were arranged and have fallen in love but since that pivotal moment where I questioned the system, I have always been dead set on getting myself a so-called “love marriage”.
Just like in all the cliche RomComs I’d watched, I’d imagined bumping into the man of dreams in a scenario where I accidentally spill my coffee on him and mid-way through profusely apologising, he asks me out on a date. I don’t think Bollywood helped either because I’d daydream about my potential Rahul Khanna running down the street with wind blowing in his hair KKHH and KKKG style.
Don’t get me wrong, I can see how arranged marriage can, in fact, be likened to Tinder. You are judged on your age, job title, hobbies and whether you look good in your profile picture. Instead of having to go through the rigmarole of swiping through all the weirdos yourself you can arrange for your family to do it for you.
I don’t know about you but my mind is worlds apart from my parents or my extended family’s. The kind of husband they would want for me is probably the direct opposite of what I would want for myself. They would ask me questions like: “So what kind of guy do you want” to which I couldn’t really honestly answer. How do you tell your traditional conventional parents that you want a partner who is completely miles apart from them?
What used to frustrate me was that I did want to find a partner and get married eventually, I just didn’t want to be pressured into focussing on it. I wanted it to happen organically. I knew if I made a huge life decision based on what other people thought of me, it wouldn’t just end there. There would be further pressures like ‘when are you getting a new house?’ or ‘When are you having a baby?’ and the list goes on.
I think while I’m here it’s important to highlight that the amount of pressure I’m talking about is related to the social pressure I have felt and not forced marriage.
I don’t know if any of you can relate, but most of my conversations with a lot of my family are all related to finding someone to marry. I can’t get through even a minute of small talk before the subject pops up. It’s like no one knows what to speak about with me and it goes zero-sixty from hows work? to have you found anyone yet? I used to think this concern came from a place of love and care. Every parent wants to make sure their children are safe and looked after but I’m now beginning to think otherwise.
I’ve had people say to me:
‘Why do you have to be so fussy’
‘You just have to marry anyone no matter how they are and then they will change later’
‘If you don’t get married soon all the good ones will be taken and you’ll have to marry someone who’s divorced with kids’
These comments don’t say love or care to me, in fact, they are screaming the opposite.
If someone asks you “why you aren’t married yet” it sends a message to you that you are not enough. That there is something wrong with you. Even if you love yourself and respect yourself, these kinds of statements can easily create unnecessary doubts in your mind, just because you feel all the pressure coming in at you at all sides.
I feel the scary thing is that even when parents take a backseat, the ideology is so ingrained within the children that it doesn’t even need to be enforced. Its an invisible pressure from society which nags at you and forces you to make rash decision out of fear and to please others. Age plays a pivotal part in this because the older you get the closer you are to being branded as old fruit; like in the discount section when the products are past their sell-by date. But the key thing to take note of is “The pain of marrying the wrong person is worse than your present fear of not getting married before 30”.
Growing up as an Asian girl I think its sometimes easy to forget that your feelings are valid. You are constantly worrying about how your actions will impact the family and thereafter the community as a whole. You don’t want to hurt anyone but at the same time, you want to live your own life. I think it’s unfair to put the burden of a full community on a young woman who is still learning about herself. It teaches her that being selfish and doing what’s best for her is a “bad decision”.
There are lots of memes nowadays which tell us Log kya kehenge? (what would people think?) and that the “log” (people) don’t pay the bills so why should we listen to them? But how exactly do you free yourself from these social pressures?
‘Don’t you feel alone? Do you not want to start your life?’
I was always told my life would start when I got married. I could be independent and move out when I’m married. I could go on holiday with my friends when I’m married. Until then, I couldn’t do these things because I didn’t have a chaperone. So much importance is put on marriage because I feel it is being sold as a fake ticket to so-called freedom. I don’t actually NEED looking after and I don’t need to be with someone to have a happy life. I’m independent, I pay my own bills and I try to live my best life.
However, the word ‘selfish’ is constantly thrown about to stop you from making your own decisions. After all, what is so wrong with wanting to make yourself happy? You could spin this on its head and say if people are wanting you to make life decisions and compromise your happiness for them then they are in fact the selfish ones. Mental health is also an issue that is hardly ever acknowledged and the fear of how certain things will be seen in the community take precedence over a person’s genuine happiness.
However, change doesn’t happen overnight and I’ve learnt that creating real lasting change takes guts, patience and a very thick skin.
Personally, moving to a new city was the best and hardest thing I ever did. Moving out before marriage is generally frowned upon and simply wasn’t the “done-thing” within my immediate family, especially if it wasn’t for university. It really helped me get distance and perspective from a community which still EXPECTS women to be married before a certain age and helped me to find myself. Something I wasn’t really able to do until that point because I didn’t know if my thoughts were my own or if they were manufactured by others and my surroundings. Standing up for myself and speaking about how I felt, even when it wasn’t the popular decision, has now meant that I have my family’s support even though to start with they were hesitant to agree.
The good news is I feel the stigma around having a “love” marriage as opposed to an arranged marriage has greatly decreased compared to when I was a teen. This was demonstrated to me last week when my grandma, who has just arrived from India, asked me to go and find my own husband because that’s what everyone does nowadays. What needs to change is the attitude towards seeing an older woman / or a girl in her mid-late twenties and thinking that her biological clock is ticking and that she NEEDS to find someone to survive. If I had a daughter I’d want to teach her that she doesn’t need a partner to get by in life. I’d want to be able to give her all the tools and supports she needs to live her life and flourish so when she does meet someone they will be a much-welcomed addition to an already-pretty-great life.