I have always thought of my mom as a fairly liberal minded person. But recently she has begun mouthing some quite traditional views.
For example, she has taken to asking me whether my single friends are “not thinking about getting married?” And of those who are married: “Don’t they want to have children?”
To which I generally point out with some exasperation that not everyone wants/needs to get married and have babies to be happy and that it is quite possible to live a perfectly fulfilling life without going down either route.
To which she unfailingly replies: “But you did. And now you’re having a baby.”
To which I patiently point out (again) that a) even if I did, does not mean this is the best route for everyone b) I did because it seemed the right thing to do at the time and not because it was some goal that I aspired to as necessary for happiness. Had I not been married, I could have lived with it (I think).
The last time this came up, I kind of lost it. I was disappointed that she was spouting the same schtuff as every other aunty on the block. I was afraid that she was saying this sort of thing to other people, becoming one of the tormentors of the unmarried and the unbabied.
She assured me that she was not and that whenever people told her they were worried about their daughters getting married, she would tell them not to fret and that she would never ask someone why they were not married or not having a baby. I believed her but I still worried about the disjunct between what she voiced to outsiders (blessedly sane) and what she actually thought (weird). While she might not be so insensitive as to ask the persons concerned directly, what she might discuss in her friends circle was different. And I felt that these views were perpetuating the same oppressive system of expectations for women.
But recently I have begun to examine my own belief system also.
It’s well and dandy to say “Ok I did it, but I don’t think it’s for everybody”. And I do believe that.
But what do I really think?
I am essentially following the traditional pathway to happiness. I got married – fairly early by modern (and my own) standards – and am having a baby after a decent interval. Admittedly, in my marriage I am pretty much non-traditional in that I refuse to conform to the niceties of wifely or daughter-in-law behaviour.
But I do enjoy marriage – in the warm cozy sense that movies make out marriage to be. I enjoy always having a guaranteed someone to come home to, to stand with at parties if all else fails, to talk to (also if all else fails), to hang out with, to go on holidays with, to stick to in bed, to be on the same team with (though this is not always the case). I wouldn’t say V is my best friend – he really needs to up his ante on the heart-to-hearts – but we do have fun together.
I know I was incredibly lucky to just stumble upon this person who was a good fit with me and that he continues to remain a good fit.
I have never been able to countenance the arranged route but I wonder, had I not “found anyone” when I was say 35, would I have caved?
When V was first sounding me out on how serious I was about our relationship, he asked me my thoughts on marriage. I rolled my eyes and said: “I used to think it was unnecessary. Now I think it is inevitable. Eventually.” I was 23 then.
So while I say it is perfectly possible not to get married and be happy, do I really believe it?
First, do I believe that it is possible for me to not to be married and be happy? One thing moving out of my parents home and marriage has taught me is that I do not do well living alone. I need another living breathing person in the house, and preferably I need that person to be V. So, despite everything I have since I was 7 years old, marriage is probably the best fit for me, and I will not do well as a widow.
But what of other people who are not such wimps?
The fact is that most single people I know do want to get married (or if not necessarily formally married, find a long-term partner). They do seem to be on the lookout and marriage is something that is factored into their long-term plans. It is generally me, ironically the happily married one, shouting from the rooftops that marriage is not the only way. Why am I encouraging people away from a path that has made me happy?
Let me qualify. Although I don’t know any Indians who seem perfectly happy to remain unmarried forever, I have met a couple of Chinese women who seem genuinely content in the unmarried state. They are not on the prowl at all. They are career-oriented, have plenty of friends, a host of extracurricular activities and a close family circle. They are both devoted aunts, so they get the baby fix too.
And of course, Hong Kong has plenty of single men. They live a life of the perma-20s: spending heady evenings in the pubs, moving from one relationship to another when things get complicated or simply eschewing relationships and just buying sex.
But it’s when it comes to old age that I falter. Although the trend is for people to save for their retirement and hopefully not be dependent on their children, having children does provide you with something of a cushion just as having a partner does. Not just financially but also in terms of care in case of deteriorating help.
Is it possible for siblings, nieces and nephews to really fill this gap? Will friends come through in the end? Is it possible to have enough money to buy professional care?
This is the real reason marriage is encouraged by society. I do believe it is possible, though incredibly hard, to raise happy children without two parents. But marriage and children also provides social security. Is this – the fear of being alone with noone to care for one in old age – a good enough reason to marry and stay married even if one’s prospective partner is far less than perfect?