“Ek din toh shaadi karni hi hai.” (One day you will have to get married)
If you get to hear this (or similar phrases) early on in life, then they shape your ideas about singlehood and married life in such a way that these so-called ‘statuses’ become parts of life which are chosen for you by someone else, where nobody really teaches you how to be either but at the same time labels you if you happen to choose the “wrong status” at the “wrong time”. In simpler words, the expectation is that you stay single till you get married, with marriage being the inevitable destination of life.
During my school and college days, I had decided (read, was conditioned) not to date, after all, as per my learnings (at thetime) only “bigadi hui ladkiya” (“bad girls”) dated. And I, being a child who invested all her childhood in impressing her parents, wanted to be an “achha baccha” (the obedient child): one who is not sexual, who does not desire, and who does not desire to be desired.
A little later in life, when I decided to date, I realised that a sense of guilt always followed me in my dating experiences. I consistently felt a sense of shame while dating and at the time, it was hard to tell whether I felt shameful about myself or for my parents, or both. When I learnt that my peers, as young girls and later as grown women, also felt a sense of guilt about their dating experiences, I realised that it was a shared experience and perhaps, the result of direct/indirect messaging we all received about dating. Seemingly, dating has connotations of being “sexual” and being sexual is inversely proportional to the respect a woman/girl receives (or perhaps ‘should receive’) and her (and her family’s) reputation. Maybe that is why we all felt we were doing something which made us ‘unworthy’ of respect (hence, the shame). Alas! This is what happens when you are conditioned to stay single till the time you are married: you don’t know how to steer through desire and love. Maybe because you think you don’t have any agency over yourself, over your own body.
Since dating is frowned upon and apparently brings down your reputation (more so if you are a woman) amongst family and in society, my friends and I learnt to pretend to be single. If you want to balance a dating life with the pressure ofmaintaining a “no dating life”, this pretence is the only way to manage both, and to keep the reputation of your family and yourself intact. No, nobody told me directly not to date but I got these messages pretty early on in life that dating is something “bad” or done only by people with a bad reputation. Slut-shaming girls who hung out with boy(s), blaming their family for “bad upbringing”, these were common reactions I observed while growing up. Apparently, respect is directly proportional to your single status before marriage.
I am 27 now and marriage is the most brought-up topic of conversation by my parents and relatives. Now, choosing or wanting to stay single is inversely proportional to my reputation, respect, and worthiness. Maybe men are sometimes forgiven for not wanting to “settle down” but for women, people find it almost unsettling that marriage, family, home are not on their priority list.
I have had a long relationship with my singlehood and I am still learning to steer through it. Just as we have (and we are allowed to have) all kinds of feelings in all our relationships, singlehood is also about feeling all kinds of feelings with yourself. Some days I feel left out from all the fun I could have had if I had been in a relationship, some days I look forward to spending the day by myself when my parents go out of town. Singlehood comes with labels – loner, difficult, troublemaker, heartbreaker, etc. It is sometimes lonely to be single, but I think people can still feel lonely despite being in a relationship if they do not feel heard or seen. Singlehood has made me aware of my own agency, that I can take my own decisions and that they matter. Singlehood has given me the space to learn to differentiate between what I want and what is wanted of me.
Cover Image: Unsplash