Happy to be single

LIFESTYLE CHOICE

Happy to be single

A number of young women today, choose to remain single despite the disapproval of society

A young woman’s decision to remain unmarried is enough to create chaos within her natal family. She is warned about the disrepute of remaining unmarried in society. Playing the roles of wife, mother, good homemaker are recognised as inevitable even in the present day.

But at the same time, the image conceived of a modern woman, is not of someone who is barely educated, meek, economically dependent. Her family is proud of her because she is qualified and successful. Yet that does not imply that she can compromise with her domestic commitments.

 During a conversation with K S Vaishali, a Hindustani vocalist, music critic, professor of English, chairperson of the Department of English, Bangalore University, a young woman who is single by choice, conflicting ideas that surround this construct called ‘woman’ becomes clear. She says: “Men need to realise that the role of women needs to be more than a bearer. When men have their aspirations, women are expected to provide a congenial environment but vice-versa is not true. Moreover, there are formidable images of the idea of a wife and mother. There is rigidity about roles and responsibilities of a wife and mother. There appears to be no choice with these roles to a woman in the marital space.”

Interestingly, there has been an increase in the number of women who prefer to remain single. Most women view it as a lifestyle choice because they do not relish the romanticised idea of marriage and family. But myths tend to get woven around an unmarried woman. She is perceived as a man-hater, hysteric, selfish, arrogant, carefree, one who lacks morals.  Further, many assume that a single, unmarried woman leads a miserable and lonely life.

Much to the contrary, she enjoys as much of a social life as a married man/woman does. Nevertheless, she is regarded as a threatening figure, infringing on the margins of society. It would be apt to recall the thoughts of a celebrated feminist thinker Germaine Greer, in this context. In her seminal work, The Female Eunuch, she argues: “The woman who remains unmarried must have missed her chance, lost her boy in the war or hesitated and was lost; the man somehow never found the right girl.  . . .  In the common imagination nuns are all women disappointed in love, and career-women are compensating for their failure to find the deepest happiness afforded to mankind in this vale of tears.”   

Rashmi, a young research scholar at a prestigious research institution in Bangalore, who prefers to remain single explains that she finds the institution of marriage and family unequal and unethical. “A woman is implicated in the institution of marriage. It is always the woman who is supposed to reconcile herself to her husband and other family member’s idiosyncrasies. Moreover I am against the idea of begetting children because it will make a woman more responsible towards the children. She will be stigmatised and not the father if the child errs or behaves badly. Why is this role of caregiver historically associated with women?” she asks. It seems apt to cite a few lines from Kamala Das’ poem “An Introduction” in this context. “Dress in sarees, be girl/ Be wife, they said. Be embroiderer, be cook/ Be a quarreller with servants. Fit in. Oh, / Belong, cried the categorizers.”

Singledom is a lifestyle choice and society needs to accept the presence of single, unmarried woman as normal and learn to be tolerant towards her, says Vaishali. “This unapologetic choice (to be single) is recent and unique to women of our times. Probably economic independence could be a crucial factor”, she opines.

Not easy but that’s alright

It can be quite exasperating for a single woman to be observed by a pair or several pairs of eyes. Everyone displays curiosity about her life. Where does she go? Why does she reach home late? Who visits her and why do they visit her? Neighbours, friends, relatives, acquaintances, everyone is curious about her life. Rashmi explains that a woman who decides to stay alone needs to equip herself to face everything that comes her way. She says that it is better to remain unmarried than get trapped in a marriage that re-enforces stereotypes.

The general assumption is that family and marriage ensure security in old age. If that is the case, why are old couples living without any of their children around them? Moreover, either of the spouses could outlive the other. So where do we place this myth of security that is tagged with marriage and family? Defenders of this system may claim that such ideologies will disappear gradually as age advances. There could be exceptions to every case and some may end up feeling lonely and pine for companionship when old. But there are also those who have stepped onto this path, knowing the road well.  

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