Sharing an email.
Reading the last couple of e-mails posted on your blog is a bittersweet experience. Bitter – because of the sheer amount of crap that, we as Unmarried Independent Women of Indian Origin have to face. Sweet (well a little bit) – because at least there is hope for the future as we are (hopefully) a growing breed.
I want to share my story, both as a warning to not succumb to the immense pressure that is put on us and also because I truly believe it is worth forging our own path. I in no way speak for every Indian woman who has faced the insane pressure that is put on us, and I also recognise the many privileges that I enjoy – financial independence, physical distance from India, and parents who though living in India and under constant pressure are genuinely supportive for the most part.
I was born in India, and moved overseas in my late teens for university. I am now 29 years, and have lived overseas and independently for over 11 years now. When I was 24 years my parents began talking to me about my marriage (I do not say “getting me married off” as I do have wonderful parents and not once was it about them doing their duty alone). They asked me if I had anyone in mind and I did not at that point in time (they were open to the idea of “love marriage” – though I do think they were glad to note there was no one). Thus began the arranged marriage “meet-cute”. Looking back (hind-sight is 20/20), even though I knew instinctually that this was not the right path for me there were two reasons for my acquiescence – a) even though my parents never gave me the “our duty” speech it was there – a looming spectre over why my marriage was being though about in the first place, b) I had been single for a few years by then and wanted to meet someone and had very halcyon views on “happy ever after”.
To cut a long, familiar and much laboured over story short. I got married, there was abuse and I got divorced. Now through all of this my parents (especially my dad) have been my rock of support. Looking back at the scared 24 year old I was I can honestly say I don’t think I would have been able to walk away from my abuser if it wasn’t for my parent’s unflinching support. This I belabour only because the most depressing period each month for 2 years (yes that is how long the Indian system takes!) was the visit to the civil courts in India for my divorce hearing. My stomach turns even today two years after my last visit when I think about that place, and the many young women I saw there, (many on their own with no support) each month hoping for the justice that for many never came.
Today two years after my divorce has been finalised (I moved back overseas after my divorce was finalised) I am again hearing the marriage drum beat. This time around though the difference is that my parents have much thicker skins and are much more likely to tell people to F#$! Off! Don’t get me wrong they are not immune to the pressure that “Indian Society” places on parents of unmarried daughters. They are looking at proposals that they receive, but that all-encompassing fear that I will NEVER get married is not present. Today they can acknowledge (albeit not happily) that even if I NEVER get married it is NOT the end of my life and a happy, satisfied and full life can still be mine. Today they are very comfortable telling people that their son is NOT good enough for me. Today they let people know that any consideration for marriage will only happen after a minimum of a year of me knowing the guy. Today they acknowledge that my no is a NO (not that I could not say no before but I better have had a damn good reason), and I don’t have to have a reason for it. Today lack of “connection” is not derided as a silly sentiment. I don’t say the above as some sort of “right way” to do the arranged marriage thing, I just state them to highlight that they now have no compunction STATING THEIR CONDITIONS.
However the most important differences I can see have been in me.
Over the last four years (over the course of my divorce proceedings and post it) I have dated a few guys, had sex with some of them and am currently single and “playing the field”. This I say because you know what, now I know what I want in/from a guy/relationship/sexually. I don’t have the idealised notion of coupledom in my head that I had at 24. I know the areas in which I am open to negotiation/adjustment/understanding, and more importantly I am absolutely sure about the areas in which I.will.not.budge.
I define my boundaries now, and I have met people who respect them. I have met/gone on dates with guys that have proven to me that there are some wonderful men out there and that just because they are wonderful does not mean they are right for me. And no I don’t have to have a reason as to why I will not date them. I have realised that I don’t need to provide a reason for my singledom to anyone. I don’t see any couples (and here I refer to heterosexual/cis-gender couples) having to provide a reason for why they are together, so why the hell should I!!
I can honestly say that when I was younger I didn’t think there was anything worse that could happen to me than divorce and rape (no I have not been raped). This I believe is largely a function of our “Indian mentality” that equates our worth (women) as human beings with our sexual organs, hymen and fecundity. When I think of the movies I grew up watching (and god knows that Bollywood has a stronghold on our collective Indian psyche), the women who were raped/divorced deserved it (as they were “bad girls”) or it was a sacrifice that they made at the altar of family (brother/husband/son/father) honour. And once said sacrifice was done they had fulfilled their purpose in life and could die (kill themselves). Today I know that I am NOT defined by my marital status or by what some physically stronger than me pervert chooses to do with the organ between his legs. Today I have no words for the craziness of my thinking back then. I can only shake my head in awe of my stupidity.
I have always been frank and honest with my parents and am completely open now with regard to my view (extremely dim) on the arranged marriage system. They realise that I will never marry anyone through that system, because I have told them that bluntly. However I have no control on their choice to not rebuff every proposal that comes their way, I just don’t participate. They are aware that I date men here and are open to the idea of me being with someone who is not Indian.
Most importantly though I have learnt to SET BOUNDARIES with my parents. This I think is an area that I (and I generalise – most Indian kids) fail in abysmally. No, not telling my mother every little thing I am doing is not me being a bad child. It’s being an adult!! I don’t need to tell my parents all the details of my life. They do not need to know if I am kinda sorta dating anyone. They do not need to know about the guy I dated for 3 months and then decided to amicably split with. Why…because if they do the kind of pressure that puts on you to make something work that just isn’t working is immense. Not talking about certain areas of your life that they quite frankly do not get to have an opinion about does not make you an ungrateful child, it make you a fully functioning adult.
I want to state clearly that I do not blame my parents for my marriage or my divorce. I think there is an expiry date on that particular get out of jail free card and it expires when you have the independence (financial/educational) and awareness to make your own choices. I do not even blame that silly 24 year old that I was, I can just look back and go WTF was I thinking! If anything I blame the thought system in which I grew up where a wedding was seen as this ultimate prize to be aimed for and where there was no second place, it was get a ring/mangal-sutra or go home (ideally find a corner to wallow in and never show your face in ‘polite’ company again).
Today I am looking to find love, companionship. Here I don’t talk about marriage/relationship or the nothing dichotomy that exists. I talk about that ephemeral human connection that we all need and hope for. I am never going to give myself permission to cut off that hope. I look for that but I am under no illusion today that I in any way am entitled to it. Yes, I deserve love but no I am NOT entitled to it. All I can do is live my life with all that I have and play the cards I have been given.
I chose to write in to IHM and request (hope) that she publishes my letter, because too often the encouragement we hear are from women who have forged their own path and found love/relationship telling us that there is hope. And while that is very important to hear, I do believe that there is joy, hope and a happy life when we haven’t found love as yet (if that is what you are looking for).
We also hear from single women who are our companions on this journey and they tell us to stay strong but don’t necessarily tell us that we all at some point feel that it would be nice to have someone to share a drink with, someone who gets our silly jokes. There is a deep seated dogma that we need to be constantly on the up to prove that even single people can have happy full life’s. I certainly don’t see couples looking like they stepped out of the centrefold of Home & Garden constantly, so why the hell should I somehow have to prove the worth of my single life!! Yes there will be days when you wonder when it will be your turn to find love (again if that is what you are looking for), but there will also be days that you will look at your life and stare at the sheer wonder of it.
For all the women who have written in before me that prompted me to share my story I say most importantly prioritise yourself…make yourself happy. Meeting people should not be a chore; going on dates should be fun, and if you don’t want to meet anyone you damn well should not have to provide an explanation why!! Go out on dates, don’t go out on dates, make new friends, remove the ones that drag you down, cut people off that have no respect for you, your life and your choices, learn something new, sit at home for the full weekend in your PJ’s looking at cute dog pics, do whatever it takes to make yourself happy. You deserve that!!
I wish all of you love, light and peace.