Hey IHM, I love your blog. But all the horrible news is making me a misanthrope…

Sharing an email from a nineteen year old, Cautiously Optimistic. What would you say to reassure her? My response in italics.

Hey IHM,

I love your blog. But all the horrible news is making me a misanthrope. I feel like even though my parents are wonderful, some day, it’ll come time for me to get married, and I’ll wind up in a family that won’t care for me, my dreams, and my aspirations.

IHM: The ‘time to get married’ is when one meets the right person. If somebody does not respect a partner’s dreams and aspirations, then are they the right partner? 

What do you think should a girl be willing to give up to get married and stay married?

Cautiously OptimisticI feel like the good men are few and far apart, and the scary part is that it looks like it’s true. 

IHM: Finding ‘the good men’ is made easier if one does not exclude those who make lesser money, are younger or are from a different caste/community/religion etc; basically when one is not looking for a Protector and Provider but for a life partner who has his own dreams and aspirations, and who wants a life partner, and not a mother of his male heirs or a daughter in law and care giver for his parents and extended family. Such a person would also see himself as a responsible adult, not as a Shravan Kumar.

Cautiously Optimistic: I’m afraid that when the time comes, I won’t have the courage to stand up for myself, for what I want, and I’ll wind up being a doormat.

IHM: An awareness of one’s rights and responsibilities, and what is non-negotiable, understanding personal boundaries and understanding how abuse begins [How Abuse Begins] is empowering.  

Also, relationships that don’t work out are an indication that one was empowered enough to walk out (please note our grand mothers did not have this option). It’s okay to make ‘wrong’ choices and it’s okay to try again. There are no guarantees, but knowing there are other options is reassuring. 

Cautiously Optimistic: My parents share my fears. That’s the even more depressing part. I know I should be happy that me and my sister have such a wonderful safety net, should something in the future go wrong, but even so, I’m scared. I’m scared that because of misogyny and sexism, I’ll never find love. I turn 19 today. I have a loooong way to go. But even so, I’m scared. All I can do right now is concentrate on my studies and work hard. I know it seems a bit demanding, but a little bit of reassurance would be nice every once in a while that my life won’t turn out that way. Well, at the end of the day, my life is what I make of it, but what can I make of it when I’m a coward? How can I find it in me to be brave? I know it’s not what people conventionally ask, but I figured I’d ask it anyway. I can’t be alone.

– Cautiously Optimistic

IHM: Being honest and facing the fact that misogyny exists and refusing to be a foot soldier of Patriarchy, and watching other men and women do the same can be reassuring I think.

Having a voice is empowering. We have come a long way from being too afraid to raise such questions.

Related Posts:

So what could make even the average, selfish, money-minded Indian family welcome baby girls?

A detailed check list of conditions from modern young women of marriageable age.
An email: “The relatives seemed to be offering ‘condolences’ for me to my mother, having the misfortune of having an ‘unmarried’ daughter…”

What good is being liberal or modern if your daughter gets divorced in the first year of the marriage?

What worries me is, will we be able to find guys who have a similar thinking process?

How Abuse Begins. – Desi Girl

Does loving someone mean we should ‘improve’ them?

Is your relationship healthy?

35 thoughts on “Hey IHM, I love your blog. But all the horrible news is making me a misanthrope…

  1. “I feel like the good men are few and far apart, and the scary part is that it looks like it’s true.”

    Hey there Cautiously Optimistic (cool moniker)! The good news is: you live in a country with more than a billion people, so there’re literally millions of dudes out there who will be ‘exceptions to the rule.’

    “I’m scared that because of misogyny and sexism, I’ll never find love.”

    When I met my husband, I was a bit cautious because he was Indian. However, the more we dated and the more I got to know him, I realized that he didn’t fit into any stereotype whatsoever. Point being, I gave it a shot. If I’d thought ‘oh he’s an Indian guy so he’s definitely going to be a misogynistic sexist jerk so I’m not going to go out with him’ then I’d have missed out big time.

    “All I can do right now is concentrate on my studies and work hard. I know it seems a bit demanding, but a little bit of reassurance would be nice every once in a while that my life won’t turn out that way.”

    Therein lies the problem. While concentrating on your studies is smart, shutting out other experiences is not. I think, from what I’ve seen in India, people get really blind sighted with making marriage the sole purpose of a romantic relationship. You bring up marriage in this advice letter, and you’re only 19 years old!

    I broke up with my high school boyfriend when I went to university (we went to different colleges in different countries and I didn’t want to do the whole long distance thing), and I obsessed about it as most 18 year olds would have. I learned a lot about myself—I think break ups are an essential part of growing up. Besides, you also have to know what qualities you’re looking for in a relationship partner and not just qualities you do not want.

    “How can I find it in me to be brave?”

    All of us are scared of certain things. What’s working for me is challenging myself with small things every day. I stopped driving when I was 16, after I got into a terrible accident. I didn’t have to worry about driving in Canada as I lived in major cities with good public transportation systems. Then I moved to India, where we had a driver. A month and a half ago, I finally got tired of not being able to move myself from point A to B, and took driving classes. I’m now taking on other small challenges. So I’d say live your life one day at a time, be open to experiences, and take on small challenges!

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  2. I think the most important statement here is “having a voice”,the fear of this young lady are not wrong,this is how patriarchy operates on a more subtle level where confirming to the norm and fitting the ideal puts so much of pressure on young minds even before they have reached the actual stage of major decisions like career and marriage.

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    • Some have unlimited hunger for negativity… they read crime news and draw conclusions and that makes them assertive… some get nauseated by all these and focus on the positive.
      “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury,pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.”

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      • reason for down vote:
        I doubt this is “hunger for negativity”. IMO 19 is still too young to be completely sure of everything but too old to be completely trusting. I’m sure a lot of us have felt this way after at some scale or the other recently. I personally found myself feeling blessed to have made the right choice in marriage. it’s easier to deal with a lot of things when you have a partner you trust. but I don’t see myself making the decision so easily in today’s environment because there’s too much to think about.

        also, not everyone believes in a benevolent god (lack of capitalization intentional) some are atheist, agnostic, pantheist. I personally don’t take any comfort in the hymns I learned in (convent) school at all.

        I sympathize with this letter writer. she reminds me how hard it is to raise a daughter in our country. no matter what parents do, society tries its best to pull it all down. to the OP I only say this: you’re not alone. things seem dismal at times but your generation is going to be part of the biggest battle indian women have ever fought. stay strong. and thank you for being brave enough to articulate what so many feel…

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  3. I have been emotionally abused in my marriage.. And As i read through your posts on signs of abuse i seem to be tick-marking every sign in my relationship with my husband and in laws. If separation is not my chosen path at the moment, how do i change my quality of life and bring back love and take the abusing nature out off my husband? They are all well educated, but male egos ride high and dil in their dictionary is a door mat

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    • You cannot change your husband and in-laws.
      If you feel they are emotionally abusing you, you have only one option- change the way YOU respond to it. Hopefully, that should give them something to think about.

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    • You have achieved the first step that is you have realized you are in abusive relationship. Second step is to know that you cannot change his/their attitude, not by love, not by having children with him, not by avoiding arguments. Its not fault and do not blame yourself but be realistic that you cannot change his abuse into love. From my own experience education has little to do with broadmindedness. Some people are highly educated but misogynists to the core. So dear DIL do not set yourself up for further disappointments by having unrealistic expectations for him to transform into a loving husband. Sorry to be so blunt but i speak from experience.

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  4. All I can say is: you’re 19🙂 I was (still am) as frightened as you. I’ve had several very serious relationships but now I’ve finally reached that stage where I’ve found the perfect partner, and I need to tell my father about it. It’s going to be a long road ahead, since things like caste are important to my family. However, let me tell you one thing. I have been a coward for a long time; I get nervous and alarmed and panicky. But when it came to this, possibly one of the biggest things I’ll ever do, I feel strength that I never thought I’d have.

    I suppose my point is this: you can’t predict how strong or weak the human mind and heart and body can be. The world is alarmingly misogynistic but that doesn’t mean we should fear that all people will be misogynistic. It’s a happy unpredictable sort of life anyway, so you be careful, you make mistakes but you learn from them, you pick out the brighter happier things, and you don’t devote your life to trying to please other people. Please other people but please yourself as well.

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  5. Love your answers IHM.

    Option one is to bury your head in the sand and go along with the flow. Millions of folks do that – in which case you may not have a right to crib/complain. Take what you get and keep your mouth shut.

    Option two is to recognise the realities of the world, figure out what your non-negotiables are and then be prepared to accept some tweaks in your perfect picture.

    Which option to take is completely your choice. You might also figure out a third option. Good Luck, it may not look easy but hey life does work out fine!

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  6. Cautiously Optimistic, An important point we should all understand is things are getting better and better for Women in India and also in most parts of the World. Ask your grand mother. She should be able to tell you the level of misogyny in our Feudal past.
    Women, especially in the towns are thinking and acting more independently as never before. That is why so many issues come up openly for discussion in this blog. So be happy and optimistic that you are living in
    this era.
    Very few get a perfect partner, but quest for it can be as enjoyable as getting one.

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  7. Dear cautiously optimistic,
    I am glad you are thinking about it. I am really proud that you are well aware of what is going in the society and you care. I see many teenagers who show serious apathy.
    About your fears: How about living without a fear? How about making a goal other than about finding a partner? I am not saying that your hormones and your young age is all in the other direction.
    Read Lean In (Sheryl Sandberg). Be motivated to become something, to be a leader. Since you are already aware of misogyny and sexism, you just need to build your strategies to come up within the system.
    Sounding too mature? Have fun, go out, be safe, but still have fun….

    When you free yourself from the burden of finding the perfect partner, your eyes will open up. Meanwhile, open your heart to find that some one who will be all what you want in a life partner. The one who shares your dreams and aspirations..
    Good luck !

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    • Highly recommend Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” book here, lots of good advice. She is obviously incredibly lucky with lots of privileges in life that most of us will never see but it was so refreshing to read about advising women to whole heartedly pursue career goals if they want and none of the half-assed “work/life” balance stuff that is somehow only pointed at women (so sick of it). I loved her book, nuggets of wisdom that I will never get from other real life women (or men) in my life who have always suggested I temper down my ambitions for a happy content family life (those well wishers can go to hell). Loved her book, I was super pumped and motivated all week when reading it.

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      • Hi,
        Yes indeed. I think young women(late teens and early twenties) should read this book. Not because it has all the solutions, but because it will help you to understand that there are other women who went through the same issues( may be at different levels). There is immense moral support for ambitious women in this book.

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  8. your letter made me think about the time I was 19….🙂

    What I want to tell you, is what I wish I had known then.
    1. Don’t be scared to fall in love., into relationships. and to walk away from them when its not right. Like Kay says above you learn a lot about yourself from breakups. Nobody is going to hold a tally of your past relationships and judge you for it.

    2. Studies and all is just fine, but you need to mostly focus on becoming an independent, happy and complete individual. As IHM says , you don’t need to marry to get money, a home, a status , something to do, attention, fulfilling your parents duty , going to the US etc. You can do all of the above without being married.

    And to make you feel better, I will be marrying my boyfriend of 3 years next month.
    I was so apprehensive in the beginning, because like you I thought that sooner or later the misogyny in him and his family will show. This was more so for me since I come from a terribly conservative family, with misogynistic attitudes so deeply entrenched, it was all I had seen growing up.
    I told him repeatedly from the start about things I will do and things I will not do. But as I got to know them better , I realized that not every family was like mine , and his parents really just liked me for who I was , as opposed to all the food i could make or the cleaning I could do.🙂
    The fact that he is younger than me , and earning less then me, or than I am a divorcee is completely immaterial to us.

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  9. Loved this post. The self-awareness and awareness of realities shown by Cautiously Optimistic, and IHM’s answers. Wish this was me at 19. Life would have been so different. IHM, bookmarking this post to show my tween when she is a bit older.

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  10. Dear Cautiously Optimistic,
    I understand what you are worried about. The fact that you’re actively trying to avoid misogyny is heartening- at least it shows that you are aware of what to avoid in a relationship! I’m not sure I was so enlightened when I was 19.
    That being said, a lot of misogynists in the world still doesn’t make everyone a misogynist. And contrary to what you read and see, there are many nice guys out there. As far as ‘finding someone’ goes- here is my 2 cents worth of advice-
    – Don’t be afraid of relationships. Guys are not another species. They often have the same fears, goals and aspirations that you do. Don’t see them as the ‘other’.
    – Try and make friends of both genders, it will be an enriching experience. This is the time for friendship and self-exploration. Postpone thinking about marriage for now.
    -If at all possible, keep your siblings and friends in the loop regarding your relationships. They can spot red flags way before you can.

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  11. Dear Cautiously optimistic,

    People here have reassuring words for you and I am sure they are doing it with the best of intentions. But, I also know that mere reassuring words are not enough.

    All this terrible news can make you paranoid in general. This is only because the media puts a massive spotlight only on female victims, while male victims are largely ignored.

    I suggest you start reading about Nisha Sharma dowry case, where a woman achieved worldwide fame by filing a false dowry case. The court found the groom innocent. The greatest irony is that Nisha Sharma herself is now accused of demanding dowry from her brother’s wife.

    Or here is a link:

    articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-04-05/vadodara/38305822_1_false-complaint-sessions-court-gujarat-high-court

    A woman in Vadodra filed a false case of gang rape against 8 men in 2009. 7 of those men were later acquitted. You know what happened to the 8th man? Soon after being accused, he committed suicide, leaving behind a note that he was innocent. This woman will now be tried for filing a false case.

    I think this is the best way for you to realize that evil people of both genders exist and operate in our society. So, there is no reason to develop a special fear of men. Men are just as human as women, mostly good, hard working and honest people and some of them are absolute evil, just like women are mostly good hard working honest people and some of them are absolute evil.

    If you go through life with your eyes and your heart open, you will be able to avoid evil. Good luck!

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    • Abhishek, at first glance you seem to have a reasonable argument…there are some women who are victimized by men, there are some men who are victimized by women…what’s all the fuss about?

      For me, the flaw in your argument is the fact that you are ignoring and trivializing centuries of institutionalized misogyny and oppression of women that continues till today by equating it to a few isolated false rape / dowry cases. You want to raise awareness about the false rape /dowry cases against innocent men…Great! As a guy, I thank you :)…but surely you can do that without creating a false equivalence with the problems women face which are more deep-rooted and which affects an overwhelming majority of women on a day to day basis in almost all the sections of society across our country.

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  12. Tyranny and abuse end when we start voicing them.

    Do not confuse respect with fear. They are 2 different things and Indians confuse them. Respect does not mean facing tyranny and abuse.

    And above all if you start respecting yourself and belive in yourself and believe in the subconscious and an infiinte mind – NOBODY walks into a hole, they are accidents.

    I never wanted to be married. I never dated ONLY TO get married. I liked the guy, and we went out and marriage seemed to be a good idea.
    And who said that Marriage does not need work every day by both partners ?

    And oh ! We are married but we can fight like cats and dogs , because we both have an opinion and only the most logical ones wins !

    And to err on the side of the caution – We all try to be great human beings every day. Nobody is Christ . He died too !

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  13. I think the biggest mistake many Indian parents make (including mine) when raising a girl is to teach her that finding an ideal life partner is the single most important thing in her life. The truth it, it’s not. The single most important thing in life is to learn to be self-reliant – to have the skills to survive – this is a bare minimum necessity. The next most crucial thing is to develop good values – kindness, honesty, courage, confidence, generosity, compassion – to name a few. Because if you don’t have values, your survival skills will only take you so far. Real fulfillment will elude you.

    People who have these 2 things – the ability to support themselves, and good values – don’t need to get overly focused on finding a life partner. They may find someone they love and who loves them in return. They may not. They may have breakups because things didn’t work out. That is okay – it’s not the end of the world to find out something didn’t work out. Life is not one smooth schedule to be followed to the nanosecond. Life is ups and downs, successes and disappointments. We can’t wish for a trouble free life. What we can wish for and strive for is the courage to face those troubles, the intelligence to find solutions where possible, the wisdom to accept that life is imperfect.

    Focus on your studies – in India, academic excellence is a prerequisite for financial freedom and independence. Once you are working, living on your own or with friends, making it in a different city, being responsible for yourself, managing your finances, you will have so much more confidence. You will know what you want in life. Your dreams may take you somewhere else. Maybe you’ll dream about seeing the Pyramids. Or scaling Mt. Kilamanjaro. Or watching a live performance of Pavarotti. In India, we often forget we have one life to live, and if it’s not an adventure, if we can’t think beyond the job, flat, husband/wife, kids, then what’s the point of being given this gift of life?

    Read a lot. Travel within and outside India. Expand your mind. Go on an adventure. Dream big dreams. If on the way to your dreams, Mr. Right comes along, great. If not, you will still have so much to look forward to in life, because you were wise enough to not make Mr. Right the central and biggest achievement of your life.

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  14. I totally get what you are fearing. i was 19 once and in similar safety net like you ! I am 35 and un married- not out of choice but because i have not found anyone. My fears have worsened because my marital status is a source of worry to my parents and frustrating for me.I have tried all avenues and i am open to outside religion too …things are sometimes only destined. If you want to enjoy life on your own terms study and become competent and stay on your own for studies or job…that will give you great insight about yourself. Sometimes the safety net makes us emotionally too vulnerable to outside world,too sensitive to harshness of life and robs us of that critical quality of making our decisions and then living out the consequences ! At the end of day, you make a decision and live out the consequences and cycle continues !

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  15. hey cautiously optimistic
    dont believe in this type of information which put all males in bad light.women has a inherent soft side which needs a man to complement her. dont get repulse by those females who have sole agenda of hating males. male female relationship is not a mathematical relationship.
    parents are ur well wishers more than any body else. trust them.

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