Guest Post by wordssetmefreee
My niece has often shared with me the troubles of being single in India. A couple of her friends are now almost turning 30 and pressure from their families is mounting. This they’ve chosen to ignore, but everyday life is not easy. The way neighbors and random strangers seem to treat them is reprehensible.
What are some challenges single Indians (both men and women) face?
Based on my niece’s experiences, and the comments from My Era, Neha, Cosettez, Simta, and Fem on the recent post on ‘women and friendship’, here are some –
- renting a place to stay
- going out in one’s neighborhood (attracting uncalled for attention, especially single women from ogling men )
- living in an apartment complex where everyone makes it their person business to worry about your future
- for women, mild to moderate to severe harassment from some men in the building (staring, lewd remarks or worse)
- getting mistrustful looks from some married women (being viewed as a potential ‘threat’) and not getting invited to family gatherings, pujas, festivals celebrated in the building
- advice from family, relatives, neighbors and random strangers to get married and settle down and obsessive matchmaking that sometimes borders on abuse
- Questions like, “Why are you not living with your parents?” (or at least with an aunt’s family)
- being judged for dating or being in a relationship or pretending to be married when you are in a live in relationship
- for women, being constantly reminded of your biological clock ticking
- finding your name appearing mysteriously on matrimonial websites, without your permission, with the description, “highly educated, yet traditional, fair, beautiful, makes X amount.”
- difficulty finding and keeping friends as most people get married by 30
- patronizing attitudes from co-workers with families
- workplace discrimination (“if you are single and over 35, there must be something wrong with you”)
- questions on the person’s orientation, which is now everyone’s business
- friends of the opposite gender forbidden from visiting apartment (because God forbid, they may have consensual sex. And we’re okay with marital rape, of course, that’s the poor woman’s problem, but consensual sex is everyone’s problem)
- If you are divorced, you either did something wrong or you are unlucky. You no longer make the cut in terms of group membership.
- Single women wanting to adopt a child face bureaucratic and societal challenges
- Real threat to safety (when I go for my morning run wearing shorts in India, I feel safer if my hubby, brother or older son goes along with me. I’ve tried running alone but felt intimidated by the hostile stares and the lecherous grins. How is this different from the Taliban mindset? The man in your life may not be The Hulk but having one next to you seems to discourage unwanted attention.)
- Feeling of being more visible – being singled out, more negative attention, every behavior/action attributed to one’s single status
- A sense of being more invisible – ignored at or not invited to social gatherings/outings if more people in the group are married
- Displacement from family – younger cousins, married with children are quoted as examples by sad parents, parents don’t understand how someone can want to be single, a feeling of collective rejection from family and extended family – being blamed/made to feel guilty for not making marriage work
- Self-doubt and confusion – rejection and isolation leading to feelings of uncertainty, disorientation, and demoralization.
Some possible ideas to deal with this
- Find other singles to network with. If you are divorced, find other divorcees. Start a support group. Sometimes these groups lead to friendships, sometimes they don’t. Even if this doesn’t lead to friendship, a group can be helpful for advocacy reasons – it is easier to fight for the right to rent without being discriminated against, if many people are involved.
- Remain committed to the few people who are supportive. Keep in touch, make time to keep the friendship going without withering.
- Join online groups and forums to get help/ideas for specific problems as well as to feel connected.
- Start a blog on the topic as a meeting point for ideas and support. If there is a blog that focuses on the issues of single people living in India, please share.
- Divorce needs to be made as un-intimidating as possible, otherwise marriages become prisons. Many women stay in unhappy marriages because there is insufficient legal information and emotional support for taking this simple step – of walking out of an unhappy situation. Therefore, please share resources/websites for divorcees, especially legal resources that explain your rights, procedures, property and custody issues.
Are we better off?
In the past, the only people who remained single were women who “failed to get married”. They remained in their brother’s or uncle’s or male cousin’s house (after parents were gone) and served the families that extracted work and threw scraps at them in return. They were ostracized within the family and held as an example of what happens when we don’t pray, fast, or train for a good husband.
Now, most single people I know (who are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s) got there because they made a choice. They chose to stay single. They chose to walk out of unhappy marriages. They chose to be in a relationship with someone without marrying them. Boy, haven’t we ( a minority perhaps) come a long, long way? Even if their % is small, there are probably now more single men and women in their 30s and 40s than there were a generation ago. What does it mean – the fact that this is the first generation that we have more single people than ever?
- this indicates that a few more people are putting off marriage to a later age (in my generation, many women got married in their early 20s and men by their late 20s).
- this could also mean that a few more people are choosing not to marry
- more people are opting for divorce when faced with unhappy marriages
- at least a few women are no longer worrying about their biological clocks – they can choose to adopt (if they want children later) or choose to be child free
- more women are able to work and hold jobs that allow them to make a living, so being married is no longer the only way to survival
- being single longer and marrying later makes marriages more level playing fields – women who have lived alone and managed finances are less likely to be enslaved, men who’ve lived independently are not mamma’s boys, can take care of themselves and are not looking for someone to cook and clean for them, both women and men know what they want in a relationship)
The fact that a few people are making the decision to remain single or get divorced despite the challenges listed above means that our mindset is changing – that freedom and choices are now more valued – that they are pursued at the cost of society’s approval, acceptance, and the need to belong.
If you are single, please share your experiences and challenges with being single/in a live in relationship/divorced in India, and how you cope with both the practical and emotional aspects, and especially what has helped. It would be great to hear from both women and men on this.
If you are married, would you be comfortable renting out your apartment to a single/divorced person, male or female, if they appear to be honest, reliable people and have proper paperwork? Would you rent to an unmarried couple? Do you have unmarried friends who are over 30 or do you make friends only with married people? Do you invite single/divorced people to gatherings/celebrations in your building? Why or why not? If the answer to any of these questions is no, please elaborate why you are uncomfortable or what’s getting in the way of your friendship/trust.