“Are you married?” is a question that I am constantly asked when I am in India. When I reply in the negative, I often sense the other person wants to pry into my life and discuss the matter further. My being successful and unmarried generates a lot of interest in most men and an intense scrutiny by most women.
There seems to be an expectation that marriage completes a woman and is the ultimate goal one needs to aspire to. It is unthinkable that one can have a full life without the trappings of marriage. Some months ago, a “gender activist” from the United States, called me out of curiosity to ask why I wasn’t married and whether I was not interested in marriage? Momentarily, I was taken aback as I initially thought the call had been work related, and I was not really close enough with the person to share intimate details of my life.
But in reality what I suspect she and most people want to know is whether I have a sex life.
After all, a ‘good woman’ does not have sex outside of marriage.
It is assumed that a successful woman who is reasonably good looking must have some flaw if she is not married.
It is assumed that everyone has similar sexual desires and orientations.
It is assumed that the only way to satisfy a sexual desire is within the confines of a marriage.
This narrow view of the world manifests itself in denouncing women who are bold and courageous enough to live a life that does not fit a mould. They find excuses for her success – she has no children or responsibilities to attend to. Most men believe she is ‘available’ to hit on and harass. Most women are wary because they think you are going to steal their beloved husbands.
A wise woman once told me, “There is nothing more powerful than a successful woman who is single.”
Many young women I mentor, worry about giving up their dreams because of getting stuck in a relationship with a partner who is not supportive enough. They want to invest in their careers, in exploring options in both their personal and professional lives and not waiting to compromise by settling down into a steady relationship. I can understand their stress and worry about biological clocks ticking and the pressure to conform to societal norms. I cite my own example to them where I explain I have not deprived myself of anything – be it love, career, opportunities or even experiences. One does not have to compromise or to fit a certain typeset.
I have learned to love myself and my body as I have aged. This is certainly related and linked to my success in my professional life. As I look back at my life, I realise that when in my teens and early twenties, I was in my physical prime but didn’t necessarily have the confidence to accompany it. As a result, I was naive and vulnerable. But as I have grown older, my confidence has soared, though I am no longer as physically in my prime as I was. My confidence is definitely linked to my financial independence and knowing what I want from life.
I am confident in my sexuality and know what I want from life. I definitely do not want to be joined at the hip with a man to feel fulfilled. But I do know what I want from a man and I can enter a relationship from a point of equality rather than subservience.