My latest book is The One Who Swam With The Fishes.

"A mesmerizing account of the well-known story of Matsyagandha ... and her transformation from fisherman’s daughter to Satyavati, Santanu’s royal consort and the Mother/Progenitor of the Kuru clan." - Hindustan Times

"Themes of fate, morality and power overlay a subtle and essential feminism to make this lyrical book a must-read. If this is Madhavan’s first book in the Girls from the Mahabharata series, there is much to look forward to in the months to come." - Open Magazine

"A gleeful dollop of Blytonian magic ... Reddy Madhavan is also able to tackle some fairly sensitive subjects such as identity, the love of and karmic ties with parents, adoption, the first sexual encounter, loneliness, and my favourite, feminist rage." - Scroll

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20 February 2014

The Right To Not Get Married

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a couple who have been dating for over a year must think of marriage.

Every few months, a friend will send me a single line email or Facebook message: “Can I have your mailing address?” And you know that’s shorthand for an announcement of a wedding invitation.

You know that soon enough a gilded envelope will lie at your doorstep, three cards will fall out, and usually, in the movies, this is where there’d be a close-up of your face looking bitterly disappointed, and/or wistful, another one biting the dust, and you still there, still right where they left you.


It’s going on two and a half years now since the Good Thing and I first got together. It’s like The Cure song for the most part:

Whenever I am alone with you,
You make me feel like I am home again.

We don’t want to get married. We don’t want to get married right this moment, and we may never feel the need to. We’re happy existing in the sphere we’re in—two happy people in a happy relationship.

But from the outside, I suppose our relationship looks vague and undefined to most people. Technically, we don’t live together. Technically, my flat is here, in Delhi, and his flat is there, in Mumbai. We’re discussing changing this: to make it one flat, but that is less of a commitment thing and more of a “shall we save some money?” thing. Our relationship is driven by practicality.

Why change anything?


This past month has been a whirlwind of weddings; I have literally been for two in a row, with overlapping dates, and have a third one coming up tomorrow.

In my experience, weddings are largely when two people who have been in a steady relationship for a while begin to get The Question: So, when are you guys getting married? Sometimes it’s not even a question, it’s more like, “When you guys get married, we’ll do so-and-so.”

At a dinner party on Monday my friend Mohit, freshly back in the city from a round of family weddings, said he’d been asked The Question so often that he’d decided to get married.

Mohit doesn’t have a lady friend, as far as I know, but he said the next nice girl he met, he’d just ask, straight out. 

“Tell me something,” I said, “Have you ever met a married couple who said, ‘Oh my god, you must get married’?”

“I know lots of happy couples,” he said.

“Yes, happy couples, sure, but does anyone advocate getting married?” And he thought about it and said no.

Even some of the coolest people I know, happily married, would balk a bit at offering you this advice. It’s getting easier around married couples to say you don’t want to marry; they accept this as a truth and move on.

It’s the single people who want you to commit, commit, commit, just to add another happy myth to the walls of an institution that is increasingly crumbling.


At one of the best weddings I’ve ever been to—a three day drunk fest in Goa—I caught a quiet moment with the bride.

“Don’t get married,” she said, tilting her head back and gazing at the party surrounding us, “Trust me. Just don’t.”

If you ask most couples in India why they decided to legally bind to each other, there’s usually just one main answer: our parents wanted us to.

Your parents, though loving and kind, still belong to a generation before, where marriage equaled security, where a man you might love, and who might love you, could still scamper off without a word of warning unless you married him.


I am definitely not inured to the manufactured longing, I realised, after another friend recently announced her engagement leaving me a bit misty eyed.

I do want the pomp and circumstance, picking pretty clothes and people making much of you, I do want the parties where everyone gets together and wishes you well, I do want the big old engagement story.

But do I want a marriage?

I’d like to be able to make up my own mind on that last point. My mother is, for the most part, managing to be quite cool, but she really really wants us to get married.

Why? I don’t know. I guess she thinks it’ll add some security, but marriages aren’t always secure. Some stability? But what would change in our lives if we were to tie the knot? I can’t see anything being any different except for a piece of paper.

Sometimes I feel like one of my characters, Ladli, from my recent novel Cold Feet, who ponders:

One by one, over the years, my friends have been getting married. It started with a trickle and grew to a tide. Now, people call me months in advance to warn me about their weddings in the winter—the most popular time—and usually, I have to juggle between three or four weddings every season. It’s one of the things that make me think I’m getting older, like marriage is part of a checklist I should be crossing off, this is my role as an adult woman. I make my own family, having risen from my parents’ family, and so on and so forth. Sometimes I think there’s something wrong with me for not wanting marriage enough, for not making it a priority. How do I know marriage isn’t my priority? I’ve seen people who’ve made it theirs, and their goals and their focus are so different from mine. I drift and they aim; I am a piece of wood, they are arrows. I am of the school of thought that I’ll get there eventually, refusing to believe in the existence of mortality or ageing. I’ve looked the same age since I was in my early 20s, and this makes me think my womb too is youthful-looking.

I suppose it might be different if you want children, although having a ‘bastard’ out of wedlock is no longer that much of a social stigma.

I want to not get married but I want the freedom to have a child. I want to not get married but live with my chosen partner and grow old together, and have his name on my insurance and my name on his, and now it’s becoming a matter of principle.

I don’t want to get married just to make my life easier—that’s no reason to get hitched (although if it came down to it, it probably would be the only reason.)

And I do feel bad, I truly do, that the right I'm giving up on, have it, have it please, is the same piece of paper that other couples are trying so hard to win despite loving someone of the same gender or of a different belief or caste.

For many, marriage for love is something they feel they will never have and don't want to give away; but for many, I suspect, marriage too has become more a right that we can’t give away.

Meanwhile divorce rates continue rising, brides and grooms are grouchy in the build-up to their weddings, and the couples I know that are really, truly happy in each other’s company are few and far between.

May we live happily ever after—in whatever way we want to be.

Image via Google/Kelly Kincaid


  1. Nice work.....for me marriage is myth...sometime it looks good and sometime it is bad....once day i will experience..i know the day..No idea what is going to happen....

  2. You know,Em,the hardest bit about getting all the wedding invites,is the feeling that you get of being left behind.Specially, if you are the last among the girls in your circle of friends to get married.Some days you want to be the independent ,spunky girl who steps out alone and does whatever and whenever she wants.Other days,you want that feeling of being taken care of by another person who is not family from the beginning and much more than a friend.Your friends look so shiny and you want to be happy for them on their wedding days.And most often than not,you are.But its hard to crush the wistfulness that starts as a catch in your voice and then sometimes makes your eyes shiny too.I am blabbering now.But can I say that this post has come at an appropriate time for me and therefore is really meaningful. I Bisesa I

  3. As a happily married woman who married her bf after dating for 4 years, I am surprised at all your married friends asking you not to get married. I love living with my best friend, not because it saves money, but because I love waking up next to him everyday, cuddling up to him, sharing a coffee every morning and I could go on and on and on. And I wonder why two people in love wouldn't want that. Of course one needn't be married to live together and I would never ask a couple when they are getting married. But I would never tell anyone to not get married. Weddings are stressful and I might ask a friend to not have a large wedding. I think couples who don't want to get married are for most part worried about divorces. At least that's what a friend who's been dating this lovely lovely woman for the last 2 years tells me. He feels that they are not there yet and he would much rather go through a break up than a divorce.

  4. quoting from your own book...tsk tsk

    bolti reh tu. do saal baad batana. hum ne bhi badi koshish ki thi - we don't want to get married etc - then the parents started throwing tantrums. after 6 months of that, and our relationship going down the toilet as a result we just did it.

    nothing much has changed frankly. parental relations are much better. win win, baby!

  5. Good post! Yes, ultimately marriage is something that should be a personal choice, not something forced down individuals' throats by society. Similarly, denying the right to marriage (in cases like inter-race, inter-religion, inter-caste, same-gender) is wrong. And I really liked the lines by the character from your novel.

  6. its a personal choice, to get married or to just to live with a companion. Just because friends and relatives keep pushing the question, 'when are you guys getting married' one need not forcibly get married. that is not correct.

  7. As someone who'd never made marriage a priority, who hated (and STILL hates) weddings (my own and attending others), and figured that it wasn't really for me, I sometimes still can't believe that I managed to tie the knot at twenty-two and five years down the line, LOVE being married.

  8. Lovely post! And two years already, eh? Seems like just a few months back when you mention the good thing for the first time. (Been reading your blog since more than 6 years now, I think, and caught up on all that you've ever written here... it seems like I've known you that much and grown up along side you.)
    As for everything else in your life: do it if you feel like it, if you want to. It doesn't end with marriage. The next question everyone asks is "when are you having kids?" and "why aren't you admitting them to so and so school?" and "why aren't you enrolling them in activity classes?" and... you get the drift? People will always have opinions about what you should do with your life or your relationships. Let them be just that--opinions. Do what makes you happy. A sincere hug for you to say 'I understand'. Be yourself, be cool :)

  9. I think its a personal choice and differs from person to person. Anyway it was a nice read :)

  10. You said the exact same things that I have wanted to say for a long time. I have been married because I was turning thirty and since I was not getting a divorce, acquired a license to represent myself. For all the people out there who think marriage is wonderful, your blog is a beacon. Hope you rescue more people from this institution where even I don't belong.

  11. I don’t claim to know any great truth about love or life or anything; I just know how it happened to me. And I think maybe the universe, is always out to prove you wrong. I was for anything but marriage but things change and all i had to do from there on out was allow myself to enjoy being happy.

    Best decision I ever made. :)

  12. Tat was a cool post :) i do agree to the fact that we shouldn't be forced to get married, although i felt like in the part where she talks about her friend asking her not to get married was redundant. here, is is forced not to get married....just like parents pressuring u to get married, ur friends/ already married couples can pressure you not to get married...conflict of ideas. its just wat i feel. :P

  13. I feel very grateful and happy to be married to a man I'm deeply in love with. We've been married four years now, yet never propagate marriage to our friends. In my opinion marriage is a matter of personal choice and at the end of the day it's all about being in love and being together. Marriage is just a social sanction and if you're happy living together so be it. And once you get married the next question will be "So when are you having kids?", a question I've been dodging all these years now.

  14. I have been single for quite some time now and have wondered about the same thing. I have always believed that commitment is a state of mind and cannot be assured through things like a marriage certificate or a ring. Whenever I find The Guy, I'd like him to be with me for life because he *wants* to be with me. Not because he is legally bound to. While divorce is an easy and quick alternative nowadays, I really do believe that living each day with someone as a choice and being aware of that choice everyday, will only make the bond stronger.

  15. When did you start letting others opinions matter eM? I mean get married if you both want to - or not - have that kid if you both want to or not. Tying someone down with a ceremony n then paperwork seems a lil too practical no? So yeap! Happy 2.5 years and more if thats how you prefer it :)

  16. If marriage is just in paper, why dont you get married and leave everything else the same... as how you want it to be...? I am married and I am finding it beautiful (except for cooking food) :-D.

  17. Earlier, in this writeup, you say that your "relationship is driven by practicality". Towards the end you then say that you "do not want to get married to just make life easier". I feel this sends contradictory messages.. If marriage, as an option were to be practical, wouldn't you two go that way? Wouldn't it be more difficult and impractical to resist marriage because you want to make a point to the society, rather than it being something that works for you?

  18. Been married eleven years and I can't imagine living with anyone other than the OA. Can't imagine a better person to spend my life with.

    BUT - I've never suggested to a friend that they should get married. It's not easy. And the reason is that while the two of you stay the same, things around you change. Inlaws enter the picture, people have different expectations from you.

    And the truth is, times have changed since I got married. If I'd been a 20-something today, I might have stayed single or lived in too. The only thing I wouldn't have wanted to do is have a baby out of wedlock. Too messy. And a little unfair on the kid if you do have the option of being married.

    So, more power to you. I'm glad you're not giving in to pressure.

  19. I've missed this blog. Mostly since google reader went away and I can't figure out subscriptions.

    I was talking to 2 girlfriends in bombay who both live with their folks and it seemed (from my point of view) that having sex seems to be the real issue even with super liberal parents. In a flat or apartment its awkward bringing someone home with your parents right there, like giant boner killers. (unless they've been pre-established as a 'boyfriend-slash-future-husband)

    Also moving out is not easy without the halo of a marriage. Its a a kushti deal (no bills, food and laundry sorted for them) even though they both earn enough to rent a nice flat together. Also their parents will kick up a bit of a dust, esp if 2 girls move out and live in a flat in the same city. So I've seen marriage in india as 50% parents pushing and 50% practical solution for sex.

  20. while I agree with you on the right to your choice.. but you sound a little cynical.. believe me there is a state called being happily married that exists!

  21. A lot of people seem to confuse 'marriage' with 'wedding'. What most people want is a wedding, which, imho is by no means less than a social evil. My partner and I have been living together for years without being bound by legal documents or social customs, and I feel more secure than many of my legally-wedded friends. I think if simply being in a committed relationship works for you, you'll do just fine!

  22. I believe those who have landed on this post were sky high contemplating marriage. I liked what you wrote, when two people have found solace in each others company marriage seems nothing more than going through a set of rituals and bagging paper proof. But again there are people who want to go through it as a celebration. It all about what the couple wants and it would be actually nice if people kept their nose out of it. People are mature enough to think what they want and that should be appreciated rather than pressing ideas because of social or any other factors. I am 24, single, loner and going through a phase where "shaadi" rings in my ears every now and then. I dont see myself getting married and neither do I fancy. The only problem I feel is people really start nagging you over this. I am happy and very clear on what I want in my life. It is like an everyday struggle of taking a stand. Hope people will understand as I am not giving up on my freedom and whatever else I love. Glad I read your post. :)

  23. Forget what everyone is saying. Forget the wedding (it always looks more fun from the outside). The only thing I genuinely believe, is that, as a married couple it requires you to work that much harder to keep the relationship. Whatever it takes. If you're not bound IN LAW to someone, its so much easier to walk away - I want to up and leave for a thousand different reasons, but these are objectively trivial. If you are successful, liberated, independent, with family and friends behind you, you will not push yourself to try harder to save the relationship. You tell yourself you don't NEED to put up with this from a man. And until you make those compromises, day in and day out, learn to love someone's faults, you won't end up together. Its not easy to stay together. But the point of getting married is to say to the world, I want to spend the REST OF MY LIFE with this person.
    And so, if you truly love someone and want to be together forever, marry them. Do it alone. do it your way. Because if you can walk out the door, with nothing keeping you there, in fits of temper, in sickness, in disappointment, at some point or the other, you will.


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