'You're too smart,' and other jibes about being single
In a recent Magazine article, Suruchi Sharma wrote about the pressure on women in India to marry by their mid-20s.
Her story provoked numerous responses from around the globe from both men and women about the social stigma they face for remaining unmarried.
Harshika Amin, Bangalore, India: I am a 27-year-old architect. Given the social and cultural context, it is an unwritten, unspoken fact to get married in your mid-20s. Indian society finds it hard to accept that you could want to be unmarried by choice. I do want to get married but only when I want to, not when I ought to. The when and the who will be my choice. I have very supportive and understanding parents, but it's not easy for them, given that the society we live in plagues them with their conceptions of what is right and wrong. It's not the single part that is hard, it's the "unmarried" part.
Mahjbeen Taki, Nairobi, Kenya: As a single 28-year-old Asian girl living in Nairobi, I face the exact trauma as Suruchi every single day. The perception among the Asian community in my country is very similar to that of those in India, and I usually avoid social outings and gatherings within my community to avoid the questioning and judgement.
Dhanya, Bangalore, India: Born and brought up in a relatively conservative small town in Kerala, I left home at the age of 21 to pursue my career in Bangalore. I was quite happy except for the same old question from everyone, which I have written about on my blog. Living alone was never easy. Things became worse when I lost my parents at the age of 30. I have had experiences where close family members (cousins who I grew up with) shut me out of their life completely as soon as I lost both my parents. Anyway, I did get married at 34 and my husband and I have been together for a year. Although he is very supportive, I still miss my care-free days.
Aruna, Bangalore: I am 28, with an MBA from a tier-1 business school in India. I am busy figuring out many things in life. What do I want? Where do I want to live? What kind of man do I want to share my life with? I have been in three relationships before and am currently with a fourth gentleman. I have no regrets that I didn't marry the three previous boyfriends because I am convinced they were not right for me. Because I happen to be the wrong gender for living life on my own terms, I am a source of constant worry and often embarrassment to the family. Recently, I decided to stop trying to make everybody else happy, when it's at the cost of my own happiness. I will live my life, as I like it, and take my own time to figure things out.
Pratik, India/Hungary: I am a 27-year-old male from India, studying in Budapest, Hungary. This situation is just not limited to girls, but boys also face similar situations. When I turned 26, my parents and other relatives started talking about my marriage. Instead, I applied for a two-year course in Hungary to study more, but the other reason was to delay marriage. At the moment I feel like I do not want to go back to India because they will immediately start insisting that I get married. However, I do not want to return unless I have a well-paid job with stability of mind. For my family, 28, would be the limit to get married, I would not get decent girls and my value in the "market" will go down. I resent this. Whatever I have achieved, I have done so with my hard work and commitment. I do not want someone who just wants me in terms of salary, my looks or my height. Marriage cannot be the ultimate destinations of all human lives. It is an important part but is it mandatory?
Jane Bhandari, Mumbai, India: I came to India almost 50 years ago as a married woman. Then my husband died. I was 53. I was dropped from all the dinner parties, friends diminished to a handful and I found myself being targeted as being "available" because I had the "experience". "Surely you miss sex?" said one man. No, I missed the company and the feeling that someone was there for me. In all official dealings I was told my husband's signature should be on all my documents. My son had to give permission otherwise. Why? The requirement may not be legal, in fact I know it isn't once you are an adult, but every official will try to convince you it is. Eventually you give a bribe or wear yourself out. After 10 years I remarried. I had finally met somebody who did not view me as a sex object and whom I genuinely liked. My neighbours decided we must have married secretly - they were so surprised.
Jenna Burns, Gulf Breeze, Florida, US: As a 28-year-old woman living in a small town in the south of the US, I have run into similar treatment. Most women here married young and began having families. I've walked away from two engagements because I knew they weren't right for me and I'd rather focus on making a life for myself rather than rush into marriage and babies. I recently had an experience that epitomized the sentiments Suruchi shared. My younger brother was expecting his first child and my mother was bragging to a customer at her shop that she was about to be a grandmother. The man turned to me (assuming I was the expectant mother) and congratulated me. When I politely responded that I was not the one expecting, he put his hand on my shoulder and told me, "Don't worry hon, it'll happen for you one day. You'll meet somebody." I had to bite my tongue and managed to respond with a polite, "Oh, I didn't realise it was still the 1950s." Even here in America, women face the stereotype that there must be something wrong with us if we choose to stay single and focus on ourselves. I admire Suruchi for sticking to her guns and I'm very happy to hear her family supports her decision.
Kadie Yale, Jersey City, US: I was caught off guard by this article because it's not an issue only in India. As a 28-year-old woman in America, I get insensitive and horrific comments constantly. Many times, people assume it's just from older family members who are "old-fashioned," but that can't be further from the truth. From jokes of when I'm going to "become a lesbian" to friends insisting on setting me up on blind dates and comments such as "If you start wearing more make-up and sexier clothes, someone will like you". It's hard not to blame the media. Shows like The Bachelor praise the ring rather than the relationship. The paragraph where she wrote that people tell her parents that if she weren't as educated, she'd be married happens here, too. I have a Master's degree from a prestigious school, yet people here advise that I shouldn't tell guys in case I "intimidate" them. In general, I feel incredibly invalidated by my career and educational ambitions because this is still a society where a woman's worth are more based on whose elbow she clings to. I've had a friend tell me that she doesn't get it: I'm pretty, smart and funny... have I tried just acting dumber? Maybe I would find someone if I just didn't act like me. Like I've said before: It's all about chasing the ring for some, instead of a healthy relationship.
Karthik, Bangalore, India: I'm 31, male, live in Bangalore with a little above-average salary of 35,000 rupees per month and am working in a major newspaper. I have been searching for a bride for the past five years. Every matrimonial website I've been through shows that the majority of the women expect a man to be in the engineering or a banking profession with a salary above 50,000 rupees a month. And also in reference to the person featured in this story, the majority of women present in these matrimonial websites are above 27. These women are well educated, working in the IT and non-IT sector, earning a good salary and expect their dream Mr Right to be better educated and earn more than them. The majority of men with these features don't marry women of their equal out of fear they lose respect and it can in the worst case, lead to divorce. I still don't understand why women want better than themselves, this makes men run away from them and they (woman) lose a guy.
Preeti Singh, Germany: In the past two years I have moved to Germany to pursue my career aspirations. I would be lying if I say the judgemental Indian society didn't play any role when I decided to move out of India and come to work here. My parents have always been extremely supportive. I can relate to Suruchi's story and it is very much what I had faced every single day. There have been multiple times when people told my parents that educating me and letting me move away to a city had been a grave mistake. I have become career-oriented and started to lose/forget the basics traits of a so-called homely Indian girl. But when I lost my father in Oct 2012 due to a heart attack, I flew out of Germany to see my father for the last time and be with my family. Just after the funeral, I overheard my paternal family members mentioning that "Me being so career-oriented and not getting married at the 'right' age may have been a strong factor for his heart attack". Often these bitter words come to my mind and cause me to think that maybe I was one of the reasons for my father's death. It is hard for me to understand how people can be so insensitive. The struggle doesn't end there though. Even after you get married, a new set of expectation from society start to crop up and you are bombarded with another set of questions - "When are you going to have kids?"
Stephanie C, New York, US: I was born in the US and I still face the same issue with being a single, independent woman. My family is Chinese but specifically we're Fuzhounese or Fujianese. My mom had me when she was 19, and now I'm 26, I'm already facing the "you're too old now" lines thrown at me. They still follow the lunar calendar, so I'm actually considered 28. Recently I was forced to go on a "date", which means dinner with both families in an awkward environment. When my aunt asked me later why I didn't like him, she said, "You said you wanted a guy that lives in Manhattan and he lives in Manhattan". I tried to explain that just because someone lives in Manhattan, doesn't mean I'll marry him. "But he likes to eat and travel like you." "Oh really, you mean like all of my friends and maybe the rest of the planet?" I rather be single than be with someone I'm not compatible with. My family knows this and they'll keep asking me to go on dates. I go but when I say no, it means no and they understand that.