'After my elder sister takes her pheras next month, I know I will be the next target'
Confessions of a 20-something about being on the marriage market
The minute desi children blow out the candles on their 25th birthday cake, distinct ringing floats among the sea of birthday wishes. It’s the dreaded ‘let’s get you married’ chant. Wherever you go, whoever you meet, you’ll be hounded to reveal if you’re seeing someone. A list of questions follows – what is their family background, age, profession, complexion, caste, and financial situation? Are they marriage material? And just like that marriage anxiety arrives like a queen on the scene.
Buas and chachas will sit in anticipation of being called upon to assist with kundali matching, and your parents will channel their inner talent and start singing ‘Navrai majhi laadachi, laadachi ga, aawad tila chandraachi chandraachi ga‘ (My new bride has been brought up with a lot of love, she has a liking for the moon.) But no matter how much you resist, the ghosts of marriage will begin their haunting, and you’ll find yourself trapped like a fly between the contemplations of going solo and the anxiety of being a dulhan (and what comes next). The ghosts have come knocking on my door.
At age 26, I’m the youngest of three siblings. My elder brother got married two years ago, and the moment my elder sister takes her pheras next month, I will be the next target for my parents and mohalle wali aunties. I recently discovered that my cousin and best friend are both getting married, making me the last one standing atop the mountain of singledom in our circle. To say that I’m anxious about being alone forever is an understatement (you don’t always have to be happy about being single.) Everyone around me has a significant other, someone they can rely on, and I’m at the age where I also want my person. Someone I can truly connect with, who’s standing with me at Nikhil’s house party, downing G&Ts and laughing at my deadpan jokes, knowing I don’t intend to be mean. I don’t want to be lonely.
But ask me if I’m ready to be married, and I’ll beat Rudolph in the race back to the North Pole. For me, getting married before 30 is incomprehensible. And that’s the furthest I can push my parents to postpone the thought of getting my haath coloured peele.
But the universe has a way of manifesting the wrong things first. While I’ve been focusing on cementing a strong position in my professional field conversations around my marriage have been ongoing happening in my family. Why? Because marriage in my siblings’ life transpired when they were around 30, and that’s ‘late’. I should tie the knot early. In 2022, when my parents were facing difficulties finding rishtas for my sister, relatives suggested that they should look for boys for me in the interim. Ever since then, my mother, who previously never mentioned marriage-related comments by relatives to me, began to pester me about getting married every day. One of the reasons I moved to Mumbai was to get away from these constant discussions and escape the marriage anxiety. Even if it’s for a little bit.
I’m not opposed to the institution of marriage, but both love and arranged come with their own baggage, which I’m not ready to handle at the moment.
Love marriages are accepted in my family only if the person fits the caste and community requirements. Arranged marriages are the norm. Dating is already a tough sea to navigate (this dating philosophy will reset your love life). On top of finding a genuine connection, worrying about caste and whether or not my parents would like the person doesn’t make it any easy.
Where is the space for love when you’re busy trying to check off items from your parents’ list for an ideal partner? To me, love is sacred. If you have all these filters of caste and community in your mind, you’re not falling in love but calculating love. What if I fall in love with someone who doesn’t meet their standards? I don’t want to be in a situation where I have to choose between them and my family – it’s not a fight I’m ready for right now.
The thought of someone else choosing a life partner for me, which is such an important decision, scares me. The arranged marriages in my family have all had a similar trajectory – struggle for a year to the point of considering divorce and then compromise to stay together. Some couples are still struggling. They don’t share a bond and fill that void with children and other family responsibilities. These examples haven’t helped my marriage anxiety in any way.
If I were to agree to an arranged marriage, I wouldn’t be allowed to ‘date’ that person long enough to sense compatibility. If the grah-taare and rokda (planets, stars and budgets) are a match, the families will move forward with the wedding no matter how much I protest. Where I come from, wedding budgets can make or break alliances. The size of the mandap and the ability to feed a 100-page guest list (front and back) take priority over the feelings of the potential couple. It just makes the whole process seem like a business transaction.
And then, after all this, what if I get stuck with someone who is as compatible with me as a scorpion would be with a frog crossing a river? When you’re in a relationship, you can exit it easily if things start to go downhill. But when you’re married, the only way to leave is through divorce, which is so stigmatised in our traditional society that the thought of it gives me marriage anxiety.
My parents have been the only exception. Married for 34 years, they started off living in a joint family home where there’s little privacy or time for these teething problems to crop up. They became accustomed to each other. They understand each other’s personalities – for example, my mother holds grudges, and my father lets them go quickly. They know when to talk things out and when someone needs to set their ego aside and come to the table with an open mind for the sake of their relationship.
I’m still going to look for love. But I will only think about marriage when I turn 30. If I find that person, I will try to convince my parents, and we’ll take it from there. But for now, my marriage fears persist, and I resist.
The identity of the contributor has been concealed upon their request for anonymity.