I have spoken about marriage pressures in my previous post and I can definitely say that not having the freedom I wanted at home added to the stress of wanting my own independence.
I was always told my life would ‘start’ when I got married.
I could stay out late – when I’m married.
I could move out – when I’m married.
Until then, I couldn’t do these things because I didn’t have a chaperone.
Once, I had asked if I could go to Italy with my friends for four nights and I’m sure you can guess what the response was: “When you’re married”.
Sleepovers had always been a big NO and my curfew remained at 10pm, even up till the age of 25.
Anytime I tried to question the reasons for all of this I was told I was being ungrateful, as I had more freedom than my mother ever had. I knew if I ever wanted to gain independence, with my parents’ blessing, I would have to get married first. There was no other way around it.
My mum had always told me that she got married way earlier than she would have liked. She was 16 when she got engaged and 18 when she married my dad. Part of her reasoning for rushing this decision was in fact that she wanted ‘more freedom’. Because of this, even as a teenager, I knew I was being sold false dreams. Marriage wouldn’t solve all my problems. It wouldn’t be my fast- track ticket to freedom and independence. I would have other restrictions and other responsibilities which wouldn’t allow me to be the free-spirited, independent woman I craved to be. I had learnt first-hand that the wrong man can be just as controlling. I had agreed to being set up by parents with a man (or should I say boy) and although we never met in person and only ever spoke on the phone for a week, he was very clear about what he would ‘allow’ his wife to do and what he wouldn’t. Safe to say, I didn’t request a meeting and it put me off ever wanting to try an arranged marriage again.
MEN VS WOMEN
A lot of the time, the males within Asian families aren’t living under the same scrutiny. It was a recurring joke in my household that my dad would never have to justify or tell us where he was going or who he was going out with, yet me and my mother would have to outline a detailed report before we could leave.
It is only now, after many years, that I’ve realised I didn’t hate the men in my family – I hated the privilege. I had been taken over by bitterness and jealousy and when I heard traditional mindsets and opinions about how I should live my life, it sent me under.
” You’re a girl – its different” kept propping up whenever I demanded an answer to why my siblings were trusted to go away to London for the weekend with no questions asked.
When my youngest brother, who is more liberal and has similar beliefs to mine, announced that he would be moving out for university – nobody even blinked an eye. It was something to be proud of. I feel like where men are encouraged to pursue career, women are encouraged to get married after university. I know it sounds bizarre but I actually know girls who have gone to university just because all the best potential suitors now require their wives to also have degrees.
Questioning why we weren’t treated equal always resulted in me being made out to be immature and naive. I was also told that a woman going out without a chaperone is going against religion. I remember feeling very frustrated because there were plenty of other things that people did that were deemed sinful but still, they were overlooked. Not everybody lives by the book but people seemed to be attributing value to different ‘sins’. I felt like it was unfair that people were deciding what rules were okay to break and which ones weren’t.
I think this feeds nicely into the whole ‘What would people think?’ problem. I mentioned Log Kya Kehenge in my previous post so it seems to be a recurring theme on my blog but it is true. A lot of the time parents and family will be accepting of certain things but because of the culture and what other people would think and the fear of being judged they don’t allow it. What’s funny is that they don’t want to be judged in the way they judge others. All this sounds ridiculous and so simple to break out of but it is a structure that has been deeply-rooted within our culture and is clearly hard to shake.
WHAT I DID
The reason I took so long to move out was because of a few reasons, mainly because in my community a lot of people thought the worst of girls who moved out before they were married. I never really understood why. Maybe they have this perception where if a young woman was given all the freedom she wanted she might stay out late, sleep around, have no moral compass – but in reality, all you are doing is spending your evenings cooking, washing clothes and watching Netflix. But out of all the reasons I have been given about why I couldn’t do certain things, I think safety is probably the only one where I could see where they were coming from. I was told that anyone could do anything to a girl staying on her own and she wouldn’t be able to protect herself. I completely get this point. As a parent, I would be worried about this too, but you can’t live your whole life based on fear. If that were the case you would never cross the road or drive because of the chance of getting into an accident and dying. My first night at my flat was scary because I kept visualising someone bursting through my door in the middle of the night and murdering me in my sleep – anxiety much?
When my friends who had relaxed parents would say to me “why don’t you just sit them down and speak to them” my mind would wonder to the last time I tried to do that. It was when I wanted to go to Italy. I had spent a week psyching myself up to speak to them, listing all the reasons why it would be okay to let me go. That I was trustworthy, that it was an all girls trip, that we wouldn’t stay out late. When I finally plucked up the courage to speak to my mum, I got laughed at and told to “sit back down”. So, when it was time to move out, after I got my journalism job in Manchester, I thought speaking to them wasn’t an option. I had planned out my getaway and decided it was the best way. I would call them when I get to my flat and explain everything on the phone because the thought of doing it in person terrified me. I didn’t go through with my plan because I didn’t want to hurt my family and I ended up speaking to my mum about it. The difference was, instead of asking how I normally had done in the past, I basically told her I was doing it. I can’t say the conversation went very well but after a day or two they had learnt to accept it and supported my decision. The deal was, I would move out. Live at my flat during the week and come home for the weekends. I was also not to speak about this to anyone so other people wouldn’t think badly of me.
I toyed with the idea of naming this post How to move out of an Asian household before marriage but the topic is way too subjective. I know I’ve learnt so much from moving out. Things I could never have learnt if I lived at home. It has made me comfortable with silence and with my thoughts, it has made me more confident to make decisions and has taught me the importance of self-care. What’s ironic is that moving out has actually made me value my parents more than I ever did living under the same roof.
However, there are also many benefits of living at home including financial freedom and having the support of your family every single day. In an interview with Oprah, Ashwariya Rai once said:“In India its more about the family, about living together and remaining connected and that’s probably the most beautiful special thing”.
I don’t want to tell you to move out of your parents’ home, I just want to start a dialogue to explain that there should be choice for those who don’t have it as an option because “girls who aren’t married don’t move out”.
Hope you enjoyed reading this post. I can only speak from my own experiences so I would love to hear if any of you agree / disagree or if you would add to anything I have talked about in this post.
Thanks for reading!