Living: Singled out for being single

My brother is getting married next year. In my head, he is still the little baby. As a child, I would carry him around, when he complained that he couldn’t walk too long. But, he is just four years younger than me — I am the eldest in the family — and as fate would have it, he met the love of his life last year, and is all set to seal the deal. Yes, I am happy for him, really. Sometimes, I need to remind everyone in the house, how happy I am with this impending wedding. The day my brother decided to break the ‘wedding news’ to our parents, he first approached me.

“Are you sure, you’d be fine with me tying the knot before you?” he asked. I was embarrassed. Until then, I had never thought there was an order in which we siblings were to be married. The only order I knew was how we emerged out of our mum’s womb. And, it should have ended at that, because, honestly, our professional achievements and successes weren’t being measured on the scale of who arrived first.

“That’s a silly question. Why wouldn’t I be fine?” I asked my brother.

“Why would you not?” he asked, very matter-of-fact. “You are my elder sister. It’s odd that I should be married, while you are still single and unmarried.”

“And, who told you that?”

“I just think you should settle down before me,” he said, trying to deflect the question.

“I am happy for you, and that’s all that should matter,” I said, and ended the conversation when honestly, I wanted to tell him: “I can’t put my life at stake so that you can be married without worrying about all the log-kya-kahenge talk.”

Norms & exceptions

But, that’s the fate of most single women my age. At 30, with my professional career going places, there’s so much to feel proud and grateful for. Yet, time and again, I am reminded of how my relationship status is what defines me. And, thanks to that, people only look at me with pity.

I am the kind of girl, who stands out as an anomaly — inconsistent with what people, even my age, would think to be normal. I have never been in a relationship, forget bothering with a fling. I have also never gone out on a date because it’s something I am yet to wrap my head around.

Many people, who know me, are still unable to fathom that I could have denied myself the experience of enjoying the company of a partner. “What about sex? Don’t you crave physical intimacy?” a friend asked.

Honestly, right now, I am single because I am just happy this way. And, there’s no other explanation for this. On most days, I love being on my own. Be it, shopping, early morning jogs, or even watching a movie — I have mostly gone alone. If and when I crave company, male or female, I reach out to a select few people, whose conversations I find most sincere. Of course, I wouldn’t mind a lover. But, I would know when and for whom my priorities might change. And, mind you, I have made exceptions in the past. Yes, I am picky. So what?

The world, however, doesn’t seem to think it’s okay.

“Oh, poor you! But, so strange, you have to be single. You are such a lovely woman,” another person told me, recently. I was raging inside; all I wanted to ask is what that even meant? How is being beautiful or lovely, etc, got anything to do with one being single.

Judgemental stares

Every now and then, an aunt or a friend of the family comes home with a proposal. If I say, “I am not ready,” they either label me as “stubborn or difficult” or fret about my sexual orientation.

That the plight of being single in India is so overwhelming is reflected in Sreemoyee Piu Kundu’s new book Status Single. Kundu, who is 39, speaks of how, when she had been admitted to a hospital in Delhi following three respiratory attacks, the nurses there suggested she “consult a good astrologer at the earliest, alarmed at how at a critical time like this, I land up all by myself in a hospital. Muttering how I require a husband —and that it’s unfair to have my greying father fly down to firefight a looming health crisis”.

Kundu’s book is meant to examine the lives and motivations of India’s 73 million single adult women — according to the 2011 census data — through the personal accounts of around 3,000 women, who she interviewed for the book. Almost all the single women — divorced, married or separated — echo similar sentiments of having to defend their life choices. It’s as if their life is not their own, at least not until they have found a prospective partner for themselves.

Yes, everyone is worried about us, single women. It seems like it’s no longer our problem alone.

A close friend of mine, now in her mid-30s and a writer of worth, has managed to rebel against these nagging relatives, who at one point in her life, forced her to go through the grind of seeing a man every month. She patiently endured and kept a count. “I saw 25 men,” she told me, “Until, one day my dam burst. Now, they worry my parents, telling them there’d be nobody to look after me, once they had died.”

Anxious parents

My mum keeps receiving WhatsApp messages from the marriage bureaus she has signed up with, asking to share her daughter’s weight, height, skin colour, professional qualifications and a photo. I’m dark skinned, 30 going on 31, and though I feel healthy, I am obese on the weighing scale. One woman running her independent bureau told my mum, “Your daughter actually looks so pretty in the photographs. Doesn’t fit those details you sent me.”

I should have lost my cool. This wasn’t about trampling over my ego or self-esteem — my sense of worth isn’t determined by what others think of me — but, I hated how my mum was made to feel miserable when she should actually feel proud of raising a fiercely-independent, and confident, young woman.

I have also been put through the grind of meeting prospective husbands, all against my will, only to make parents happy. “Give it a thought, please,” they told me. “Go with an open mind.”

I remember meeting one such man, and among the volley of questions I had to answer were “If I had any guy friends?” and “Whether I intended to support my parents financially after marriage?” My responses to both these questions were a defiant, “yes”, and it didn’t go down well with him. He, however, insisted that we meet again so that we get to know each other and find common ground. I’d like to, however, know if it would have seemed all-so-normal to ask these same questions to the man and whether I would have the right to decide “our fate together” on these grounds.

Freedom at a price

It takes a lot of courage to say no to people at the risk of being judged all the time. But, the truth is, people never stop judging us, women. They judge you for not being
married. Then if you are married, they judge you for not having kids. When you have kids, they judge you for being a working mother, who can’t take leave when your kid needs you. It is a vicious cycle.

For us, women in our 30s and 40s, being single has now become synonymous to carrying baggage, which threatens to grow heavier with each passing year, but many of us are definitely not giving in. Yes, it’s not easy. Every day, I deal with anxious parents, who either feel or are made to feel terrible about not having found me a groom yet; then, there are those lecherous men, and we know there isn’t a dearth of those, who feel entitled to prey on single women. Not to mention, our own insecurity of having to deal with a future, which everyone reminds us is uncertain and bleak without a partner. Meanwhile, I have been saving up money — to travel the world, and buy a house of my own. If love or marriage happens, it will not be because the script demanded that.

 

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