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|