In India, there’s Marriage and there’s Love Marriage

Netflix and the beloved Sima Aunty from Mumbai got there before me but I always had a thing or two to say about this marriage and love marriage dichotomy that my Indian culture lives in.

I recently turned 27 and in single Indian girl years, that’s like 34. My parents initially started going on a frenzy about finding me a suitable husband when I turned 25. When setting me up with my parents’ friends didn’t work out, they took to putting up my profile on an online matrimonial portal. Tinder and Bumble may be the rage for online dating, but Indian marriage brokers have been breaking the internet (or ‘broking’ the internet, if you will- I feel like that’s a terrible joke but somehow I can’t stop laughing as I write this. Apologies) for ages with online matrimonial platforms.

The way they work is you upload a ‘biodata’ of yourself (because apparently you are ‘hiring’ for the position of a husband), fill in some key info about your age, height, complexion (we are the country that brought ‘Fair & Lovely’ to the world, so if you’re thinking this is weird, you are right in thinking so), and what you are looking for. The website will then match you with someone who fulfills your criteria and then you take it from there.

Obviously, the key to this being a success is having a criteria- which I did not have when I was 25. Or 27. I was a proper kid when I was 25. I had seen my friend holding hands with her partner at the beach and I had rolled my eyes at them, very directly and very pointedly. I had never held hands with anybody before. My romantic encounters had been limited to first dates with people who had found me attractive, one of whom had taken to stalking me for two years. I had been in love twice by that point but I had done nothing about it because I knew squat about romance (when I say ‘nothing’, I mean I had engaged in drunken mistakes and then refused to clarify whatever that was because my emotional intelligence was at an all time low). My longest relationship had been a two week run- and I only use the word ‘relationship’ to dignify what we had. In other words, romance was at the bottom of my to-do list and I wasn’t prepared to have my parents get involved.

But they did- and an arranged marriage set up was established. There I was, sitting in an Italian restaurant, opposite the man that my parents had decided was ‘the one’ for me. Had I seen the man on an online dating platform I would probably have swiped left, based solely on his looks, in that he just wasn’t the type of guy I would have gone for. When we started conversing, there was no chemistry. The number of awkward silences was embarrassing- for both of us. There was nothing wrong with the guy, and yet I wasn’t attracted to him, or the idea of a serious relationship. We should not have been set up in the first place. When I had said ‘I am not ready for this’, my parents should have taken me seriously. They had asked me for an explanation of why I wasn’t ‘ready for this’, and I had been unable to articulate it. Because I didn’t have an argument against getting into a serious relationship, they had gone ahead and set it up anyway.

This wouldn’t happen anywhere else in the world. Well, it would happen in the Indian subcontinent, maybe in other Asian cultures, but for a lot of other cultures, this is an alien concept. In other cultures, it’s ‘marriage’. In the Indian culture, it’s ‘marriage’ and ‘love marriage’.

Marriage in the Indian culture is a covenent between two families. The amount of involvement of the families in the relationship is unheard of in other cultures. The amount of money that is spent on the wedding, the number of guests, the number of ceremonies and the amount of pomp- it’s like a whole other world. Of course, I grew up in that culture and I knew about it as I became an adult, but the reality of it hit me when I turned 25 and the stress that Indian parents go through in relation to their kids’ marriage became clear as day to me. And it was disturbing.

My generation’s Indian parents are a generation of planners. They plan for their child’s education in a good school, followed by a good university, maybe a second degree (preferably an MBA), working for a big Multinational company, earning big bucks, finding someone by the age of 25–27, settling down with a husband/wife, having two kids, and then retiring at the age of 60–65. The logic in this plan is sound. If you want to retire at 65, you want to make sure your kids can earn for themselves at least by the time you are 60- which means, you need to have had your kids by the age of 30. Which means, you should have been married before then. Which means you should start looking for a spouse in your early-mid twenties.

And then there’s my generation. In our early-mid twenties we are not thinking about marriage. The last time someone asked me what I was looking to get out of my online dating profile, I had said, ‘Um…I don’t know. Nothing super serious. Just good conversation. Maybe we go out on a few dates. If we hit it off, maybe we…do some other stuff, you know?’

‘But you aren’t looking for a relationship?’

‘I’m not actively looking for it, but if something comes up then I wouldn’t run away from it.’

This is in stark contradiction to what my parents said to me not two moons ago.

‘You are not a child anymore, you need to get serious about what you want. Here, look at this picture of a man who lives in Canada and who is around your age, he seems great.’

They had then continued to say-

‘Listen, if you like someone and want to marry them, we’d be open to that, too.’

“We’d be open to that, too”- my parents would be open to the idea of me marrying the man I am in love with. Gee, thanks guys.

So, there’s marriage, where the parents get highly involved. And then there’s love marriage, that, apparently, my parents are open to.

That I am 27 and super single (there’s single, and there’s super single) is a source of great distress to my parents, and other parents in the local Indian community. Everytime my mother speaks to her friends on the phone, she gets questioned, ‘so, what’s going on with your daughter, has she found somebody yet?’

‘No, not yet’, my mother says nonchalantly, pretending that she doesn’t care. I stand in the corner rolling my eyes.

‘Oh, don’t worry, I’m sure she will find someone nice when the time is right.’

Don’t be fooled- while the words sound nice and reasonable, the tone of these women is catty. It’s almost like a competition amongst the women, “whose kid gets married first?” And the winner gets… I don’t know, I’d say “pride and dignity” but it just doesn’t feel like pride and dignity are worth getting married for.

And where do I stand with all this? There’s no one way to find happiness, so all we can do is ensure that we are in the best state of mind to make these decisions that will stay with us for the rest of time.