As a 22-year-old university student, the pressure of my final year was looming but I had one other huge burden to carry – the expectation of marriage.
‘This family is very well educated,’ my mother told me one day, ‘both of the parents are doctors!’ Her eyes lit up. Apathetic, I asked: ‘What’s his name?’
After a short pause, she simply replied: ‘I don’t know.’
It’s been over four years since this incident, but little has changed. I’ve had countless marriage proposals from ‘good families’, but most encounters end up exactly the same – with me feeling irritable and tired, and my parents feeling antsy and impatient.
My mother has been a part of a rishta group for the past few years. It’s a place where eager parents can post a brief summary of their children and what they’re seeking in a spouse. Based on the limited information available, parents then liaise with one another and organise their first meeting.
The groups are essentially used to streamline the process of arranged marriages. And each meeting I have follows the same pattern.
First, the families greet each other and the men and women sit in separate rooms. After the generic chit-chat between parents, myself and my potential spouse are unsubtly ushered into another room where we proceed to delve into trivial conversation.
‘What’s your name?’ ‘How old are you?’ ‘What do you do?’
Of course, topics of conversation vary. My personal favourite was probably from the naive engineer who opened with: ‘So how many kids do you want?’
Amid feigned smiles and insincere discussion, I often wonder whether the peculiar singletons feel just as uncomfortable as I do. The demure façade I am made to uphold, the futile and shallow comments – surely, I’m not the only one?
Don’t get me wrong – I have seen countless couples who have had arranged marriages and have spent the rest of their lives in bliss. I don’t see anything wrong with arranged marriages. After all, having a parent introduce you to a potential partner is no different from a friend doing the same.
But what I do see as wrong are the false pretenses; moulding me to become someone I am not for the sake of another’s approval, or having to ‘tone down’ my usual outspoken self so as not to appear dominating.
Overbearing parents make the entire ordeal even more exhausting. After each and every meeting with a boy, my mother is quick to interrogate me and then immediately relay all comments back to his parents.
‘What is he like?’ ‘Shall we arrange a second meeting?’ ‘Is he nice?’
Maybe if we had more than 30 minutes alone together, I’d be able to offer a practical response. Fearful of causing a ruckus, I begrudgingly responded: ‘He seems alright.’
Many parents are fearful of their daughters marrying too late, but few are concerned about them marrying too early
Following this, the parents discuss how they and their children feel. If it’s positive; they’ll arrange a second meeting. If not, they’ll reject the proposal in the most patronising way possible – something like: ‘Sorry, I think your daughter is very different to our son, I don’t think this would work.’
And so, the cycle continues.
Of course, some of the men I have been coerced into meeting have shared my core values. But due to their parents’ pompous attitudes, I am seldom seen as a worthy match for their sons.
Any attempt made to speak with my mother about the rishta culture has proven futile. ‘If you don’t get married now, it’ll be too late,’ appears to be the crux of her argument. Many parents are fearful of their daughters marrying too late, but few are concerned about them marrying too early.
Growing up, my parents never allowed us to make compromises on our education.
We were always told to aim high. To attain the highest grades possible. To be admitted into highly reputable universities on the best courses (namely; medicine, dentistry or law). Settling for less was never an option.
So why then am I being coaxed into settling for less in a life partner? The dozens of times my parents told me I was being too ‘picky,’ or that I was ‘asking for too much’ in a husband completely contradicts everything they’ve ever stood for.
My objection towards meeting pretentious strangers in my home has led my mother to believe that I simply don’t want to get married at all – which is far from the truth. I want to get married. I want to start a family. But at my own pace. In my own way and without anyone else’s intervention.
I’m happy to meet people with the intention of marriage; even if these meetings are orchestrated by my parents. What I will never be happy to do is paint myself as someone I am not for the sake of upholding family ‘honour.’
What I actually seek in a partner is mutual understanding and a shared faith – and I shouldn’t have to compromise my fundamental values.
I can’t blame my parents for pestering me about marriage. After all, they’re lumbered with snide remarks from the community and perpetually bombarded with the dreaded question: ‘So why aren’t the girls married yet?’ I cannot marry simply because community elders are telling me that it’s time.
I know of countless couples – especially of my parents’ generation – who marry at early ages, mainly at the behest of their parents. In turn, they’re completely unprepared – emotionally and financially – to raise their own families, which has repercussions for both the parents and the children.
I’d hate to be forced to settle for the rest of my years and unwittingly destroy several other lives in the process. That wouldn’t be fair. Not for me, nor for my husband and least of all for my future children.
When the time comes, I’d prefer to find my own partner. I’d still be open to seeking help from my parents – just so long as we can agree to have complete transparency between potential partners; no cover ups, no keeping up appearances and no external pressure.
Marriage is a decision that will affect not only your life, but someone else’s too. Make sure you choose wisely.
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