By Punya Srivastava
With an increasing number of women choosing to remain single, Punya Srivastava explores the phenomena and comes up with eye-opening insight.
I was 23 at the time it started. Yes, the inevitable ‘when are you getting married?’ phase. It was amusing at first, even laughable. But soon every tea-time conversation revolved around prospective matches brought forward by a well-meaning lady, whom I had, otherwise, started to like quite a bit; suddenly, there was nothing else to talk about. Three years down the line, things have just got worse because my extended family has now got into the act. They don’t understand that being financially sound is as important for me as it would be for my prospective husband. Or that wanting a successful career doesn’t make me selfish or narrowly ambitious. The thought of leading a life of one’s own choice is as foreign to them as ulu knives from Alaska.
However, this is not just my story. A number of women I know are delaying marriage or have chosen to remain single for a host of reasons. Many are passionately driven by their dreams, or the desire to make a career. Besides, live-in relationships are now mainstream enough to enable many women to put off the idea of marriage. Divorcees often recoil from remarriage for the sake of their children. Then there are some who do not want children, which makes it hard for them to agree to a traditional marriage. The majority, though, are unmarried simply because they have not yet found the right person. This is a luxury available to urban women today.
Increasingly, girls are getting educated and becoming financially independent. While urban girls graduate from premium institutions and foreign universities, and aspire to high-profile careers, even girls hailing from tier-two towns of India manage to get jobs and contribute to the family income. This not only empowers them, but also emboldens them to make their own decisions. They are no longer fragile commodities waiting to be shifted from one household to another in a bid to get lifelong protection.
Indeed, women are in a particularly advantageous position just now. They no longer, for any reason whatsoever, need to get married. Yes, they may choose to, but that is coming from a very different space altogether.
Kalki Mahi, a 24-year-old working professional from Mumbai, doesn’t want to get married as she cherishes her independence. “Why would I give up my independence? I have financial stability backed by education. This would not have been possible 20 years ago. Today, almost every woman can find a job,” she says. Women want to be in charge of their lives instead of submitting to the family diktat.
Forty four-year-old Harini Parthiban from Mumbai, who has been married for 18 years, says that marriage interfered with her individuality and career. “I was an advertising professional but had to give up my career because my doctor husband perceived it differently. I tried getting back to work but was fraught with guilt time and again. The struggle to maintain the work-home balance put paid to my career,” she says. According to her, it is humiliating for a career woman to forgo her financial independence and depend completely upon her husband. “Today, women are smarter. I wish this had been the trend when I got married,” she sighs.
According to Dr Sadia Saeed Raval, founder and Clinical Psychologist at Inner Space Therapy, Mumbai, people of marriageable ages may not have seen happy relationships between their parents or between their mothers’ and fathers’ family. This might be one of the reasons behind their decision to remain single.
Anupama S Joshi, a Mumbai-based energy healer, in her mid-40’s, says the choice to remain single is often influenced by what they have seen in the name of relationships, love and marriage, in their parents’ lives. If they have seen restrictions, abuse and lack of expansion, then they choose to be alone.
Perhaps it has to be acknowledged that by and large, traditional notions of marriage were built on the woman’s willingness to submit herself to the dictates of the family she has married into. As a caregiver, it was taken for granted that she would sacrifice her own needs and wants to maintain the larger harmony. Traditionally too, women have been expected to submit to the authority of their husbands.
More and more women are challenging these tacit expectations. Why, they question, should harmony be based on the suppression of one partner? Surely that is not true harmony? Increasingly too, women have started to love and respect themselves. Their self-worth does not depend on someone else’s approval. Today’s woman knows her worth and looks for a man who can complement her. She dreams of a man with whom she can form a perfect team, even with individual imperfections. She has started expecting more from a marriage and a husband.
Ketan, 45, a Mumbai-based on entrepreneur, shares his views on this aspect. “Till a few decades back, women were dependant on men for financial and physical safet. Hence, they used to get married and stay married. But today, women are increasingly getting self-dependent and do not need men for support. Their needs have changed. Now if they do not find a man who loves and respects them as an equal human being, then they choose to remain unmarried.” According to him, ‘women not marrying’ has more to do with the irresponsible behaviour of men in the first place.
This apart, many spiritual aspirants have recognised that unless they work on themselves, heal their wounds, and transcend their emotional and psychological needs, marriage could well be a risky proposition. Deepti G Gujar, a 30-something Pune-based Past-life Regression trainer, is clear that her present priority is cultivating self-love, “I didn’t want to recreate the relationship I had with my parents with another loved one, so the key is to take ownership of my primary creation, understand and heal it first before I even consider marriage.”
The truth is that marriage today is a highly volatile proposition. Men and women are in a flux when it comes to relating to each other; the final gender equation where each will relate to the other with love and respect and zero need is still a long way off. In the meantime, many risk marriage and emerge singed; while some remain submerged in marital misery because of lack of economic or emotional independence, or for the sake of the children. Under the circumstances, it is inevitable that quite a few will choose to remain single.
No more an emotional need
Besides, financial independence and increasing self-esteem is healing many women of their emotional needs for marriage or a partner, leading some to prioritise career.
Vandana Raval (name changed), a 28-year-old Delhi-based software engineer, observes that marriage does not make her feel complete. After nine years of courtship followed by one-and-a-half years of marriage, she and her husband are going through a divorce. Citing the reasons, Vandana says that even though she and her husband were together for long, it didn’t make them compatible. “We were only 17-18 when we started dating. But over these 10 years we grew in different ways. I think I became a bit more sensitive, demanding and independent,” she says. The last year of their relationship was marred with domestic violence. “He turned into a person who would not even regret or feel guilty about having harmed me. And I turned into a person who could not give anymore to her own marriage,” says she. Strong enough to support herself, she walked out. “Just being a good wife does not make me feel complete; there is more to life. My needs are no more bound to marriage because good relationships can make people happy even outside marriage,” she adds.
Single by choice
According to Sugandh Gupta, a Delh-based psychologist, “After a brief period of conflict with their family and relatives, most single women end up feeling liberated and powerful. Despite being subjected to various pressures since childhood because of being born a female, when they stay firm to their conviction to remain single, it leads to abundant positivity and a healthy control over their own life.”
Purnima Pandey, 32, Associate Editor with Life Positive Hindi magazine, agrees. “The word ‘spinster’ doesn’t bother me because I see it as an opportunity to discover myself; my dreams, my passions, and my desires. There is no rebelliousness against any social norm. There is no urge to prove anything. I am not against marrying or coupling. I’m single because it’s the kind of life that I find most meaningful and productive for myself. I am not sure about the future, but right now being single gives me enough space and time to spend more time with myself, books, friends and family. Being single is actually a privilege for me.”
She further explains, “I love travelling and love the fact that I can just lock the house and leave, without having to worry or feel guilty about husband or children. I love being my own boss, making my own choices, having all the space at home to myself. At times I used to feel a little sad without company, but that was a passing phase. I find that there are always friends you can call, and sometimes it’s just great to do these things alone,” she says.
Waiting for Mr Right
Yet, for most women, the dream of having a wonderful partnership with the right man and starting a family continues to allure. Hoping to meet Mr Right, they decide to wait rather than jump into a hurried marriage with the wrong man, only to regret it later.
But many claim that even an unsuccessful marriage teaches them the lessons they needed to perfect their approach to love and marriage. Talking about the insights afforded to her by her 21-year-old marriage, divorce and subsequent singlehood, Anupama Joshi says, “A lot of lessons are learnt about both love and relationships, and I certainly find being single more liberating; an opportunity to rediscover and reinvent myself.” For her, a suitable partner would be someone who complements and not completes you. Where both grow together in the relationship, with the relationship.
A win-win situation?
Like always in life, no phase in particular is perfect. Singlehood comes with its share of responsibilities and adjustments. Along with the feeling of self-control there is also a pressure on the woman to explain to people, especially parents and friends, that her singlehood is a choice rather than a lack of option, and that she is capable of having a healthy and meaningful life without a partner.
As Dr Raval explains, every position in life has both pleasant and painful factors. Being single is appealing, in that it spells freedom, the right to live, dress, or do exactly what one wants. The painful factors involve coping with loneliness, feeling unsupported and burdened with all the decisions of life. However, single women with a well-established support system involving friends and family cope very well. Commenting on the changing social fabric, she says, “It is sensible to embrace this change and help create a better support system for people who choose to remain single rather than discriminate against them.”
For unlike the ‘happy couples’ in the TV advertisements and roadside billboards, single women too have a happily ever-after, whether or not they are waiting for their Mr Right.
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