Recently a friend explained why he doesn’t believe in the institution of marriage. He can’t stand the political dynamics that are natural to any family, the complication of multiple opinions and agendas and the excessive rituals. I can’t say I agree. I know there is a common notion (further popularized by pop culture) that women are programmed to love the idea of marriage, due to the paraphernalia of weddings. But those aren’t my reasons for believing in marriage.
First of all, I distinguish the wedding from the marriage. The wedding is the formalization, the ceremony that symbolizes that two people are henceforth bound together, socially and legally. Customs may vary but this is the fundamental purpose of every single wedding ceremony conducted over the world. It is a ritual and like all other rituals, it only has as much significance as the people carrying it out, attach to it. It is true that no paper or custom can ensure or create a fulfilling union between two people. That has to be built by the two people in question, bit by agonizing, confusing, wearying bit.
Let’s look at marriage itself, beyond the rituals, beyond the superficialities of sindoor and rings. It is the meeting and combining of two people’s lives. It is the merging of assets, of tangible ones like money & possessions and of intangibles like career, eating habits, lifestyle choices etc.
Take the most basic human action of eating. Everyone does it. It’s difficult enough to decide on one meal to be shared by two people (eating place, seating, cuisine, taste, spice, vegetarian/non-vegetarian etc). How much more complicated it would be to repeat this for the rest of the two people’s lives? Multiply that several thousandfold for every other aspect of life above food.
This alone tells me that the only sensible way to start is to do it in an organized manner. Marriage signifies just that, with several of the supposedly meaningless rituals providing a framework for two people to undertake this arduous venture. I’d say that’s a template at best and can (and should) be customized to the couple’s requirements.
Considering what a massive undertaking this is, it’s only prudent to account for issues and breakdowns. I think it’s a fool’s errand to go starry-eyed into something as big as a lifelong relationship and assume blithely that everything will work out in a ‘happily ever after’ way. Marriages are not always happy. Unions are not guaranteed to work. Compatibility may not last. While a relationship should only be undertaken with the hopes of it working, the possibility that it may not should also be borne in mind.
What then of two lives that were joint together (or at least attempted to)? The division of those aforementioned assets is yet another complicated exercise, one that often consumes the people involved, completely and leaves everyone dissatisfied. There’s no easy way to unite or to end emotional involvement; that bit is always going to be bloody. It seems wise to at least sort of the relatively easier things like possessions and even that’s not easy. A formal ritual strikes me as the process that can be closed most cleanly. If at this juncture, the law must be brought in as an impartial third party, it is only fair to have it be a party to the union right at the start, which is the legal wedding ritual.
Personally, I may have the temerity to go against society and the strength to survive a messy breakdown, outside the structure of marriage. However, I cannot guarantee the same for my children. It doesn’t feel fair for me to thrust my life’s choices and their consequences onto my children, even before they choose it for themselves. Society still isn’t easy on the children of a single parent, especially an unmarried one, never mind an unmarried mother. Whether I ever have children or not is immaterial. This is far too important for me to overlook what might be even a remote possibility.
I won’t (and haven’t) run around desperately in search of a partner to sucker him into the grand party of a wedding. I’ve lived a reasonably happy single life for many years. However, if I decide to build a lifelong relationship with a man, marriage is the only way I’d consider going about it.
A version of this article is posted at Yahoo! Real Beauty.
I’ve had the privilege of being the straight voice of Gaysi for a year and a half now. I’ve listened to coming-out conversations. I’ve met openly gay people. I’ve attended the launch of a book about gays in India. I’ve faced my own conflicted confusion and resolved it. I’ve even been hit upon by a gay person. This is all me and how homosexuality fits into my head.
With Section 377 and Indian Gay Prides, my world mirrors the world around. People are talking now, yes. Some agree, some don’t but at least it is being acknowledged. Ordinarily, I should have been an indifferent observer since I’m not gay myself. But I’ve been drawn into the world of these questions, first by friends closetted-suspected-gay, then the blog and finally all the other people and associations that happened as a result. It’s changing my life.
Being a straight and gay-friendly person is not as easy as it looks. Having sorted out (mostly, I hope!) where I myself stand on the issue, I find there’s a whole new can of surprises (and now, let’s not call them all worms) opening up. Some I resolve, some I rationalise and on some, I’m still ambivalent. The list has the four most important areas of my life, which is a good indication of just how big the question has become even for a supposedly uninvolved bystander.
When I first started writing for Gaysi, I worried about what my parents would think. They could be tempted to associate my still single status, my fiery (often anti-male) behaviour with possible queerdom. It took a lot of self-examination before I could stand by my belief without righteous indignation and only a rational stating of facts. I’m happy to say it went through quite smoothly. It’s possible that they may be thankful that I’m only writing about homosexuality and not practicing it but I’m willing to live with that.
The average Indian male seems to be homophobic, this is true. At some point of time, the question of homosexuality comes up (it has been in the news after all). I’m in a dilemma when I come up against homophobia. I have friends who are gay and to be involved with someone who may not treat them right, doesn’t feel right. On the other hand, I also wonder if this topic is like politics and religion, where differing viewpoints can be respected and need not interfere in the relationship.
That doesn’t sound fair to me.
Before introducing a straight friend to a gay friend, I make sure to mention the gay orientation. It’s not part of the general description to make a person interesting (“She’s a film-maker. He speaks 5 foreign languages”). It’s a veiled safety-clause that says, I’m telling you this beforehand so if you have a problem with it, say so now or forever hold your peace. I hate having to state that since in an ideal world it shouldn’t matter. I know it smacks of underhanded discrimination but I’m rationalizing it as a practical solution.
But even this is complicated by the fact that a lot of straight people are not homophobic as much as homo-apathetic. That’s until they’re faced with a situation and then their reactions could go anyway.
Recently, I introduced a gay friend to my companion at a party. It turned out they stayed close to each other and my gay friend offered my companion a lift. Later that night, he called me in a huff. It transpired that in conversation during the ride, my straight friend had asked,
“Are you hitting on me?”
Now it could be that my companion was just joking. Or he may have been serious whereupon it might have been a deep-seated phobia or just an innocent misreading of signals. My gay friend on the other hand, prides himself on being able to discern the gay strain in others, even through confusion or outright denial. He might have been on track there or he might have been mistaken.
It’s an awkward situation for me in the end, even though I wasn’t even a part of the conversation. They’re both friends and I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to think about who is closer and who I may have to, eventually, let go.
This hasn’t actually posed a problem but I’ll add a ‘yet’ to that. I had a coming-out experience of my own kind recently when I dropped my five-year long anonymity and revealed my identity to my readers. The worlds of social media, writing and work are merging and I’m finding it more practical to consolidate than to compartmentalize. My blogging activities are now ennumerated in my resume. No organisation will openly admit to being gay-unfriendly. But I’ve been a woman in the corporate world and I know all about biases and prejudices that are never acknowledged but hinder you anyway. I wonder whether I’m setting myself up for yet another one of those and I’ve been tempted (several times) to take Gaysi off my list. It’s the easy option but each time I hit delete, I also get that bad feeling in my head that feels like cowardice.
In each of these situations, I’m faced with the question of how important this issue is to me. I’m not gay, I’m not a close relation of anyone who is (that’s to say, I’m not living with or supporting anyone who is). Why then should I bother? Because it’s the right thing to do, this is true.
But there’s just this much I can do. And while I will never endorse discrimination, I often wonder if I can just pipe down instead of crusading for a quest I’m not even a part of. In this world of so many sins, I must pick my battles. Homosexuality is on the list but I can’t honestly say I’ll always have the courage to keep it there.
I’ve just returned from an old-fashioned family vacation at the ‘native place’, complete with grand-parents, cousins and mangoes. It was nice to not have to be a boss, a sparkling wit, a responsible citizen, a busy commuter or any of those multitudinous other roles I seem to keep juggling. On the other hand, it has been over five years since I visited the mother-state, even longer since I went on a family vacation of this sort. People have changed; and perhaps so have I.
My delightful aunt organised a games evening for the family. Sitting out in the open courtyard, listening to nothing more than the barely-there breeze and watching the sky darken without having to glance at a clock, watch, computer clock or mobile phone every few seconds…we talked. The game went thus: Pairs of people were asked questions about each other and graded according to how accurate their answers were.
Grand-uncle and grand-aunt correctly answered which school each of them passed out from and their favorite colours. Sure, you’d think a couple that has been together for so long would know that about each other. It just is an oddly heart-warming thing to see romance suddenly in the lives of people you’ve known all of yours, a couple that in the traditional Indian manner never openly express affection for each other. Grand-aunt to my surprise, even named grand-uncle’s boss (though she thought of his last boss, not his first). Grand-uncle charmed his way out of ‘her favorite sweet’ question with a,
She likes everything!
…and had to endure much ribbing as she smiled and said,
That’s why he never got me any!
They knew more about each other than the other couples in the group, all parent-child ones, did. Isn’t that odd, now? The person who is closest to you, who knows you nearly inside-out may be someone who doesn’t share your DNA, never lived through your first tears and early landmarks. Your best friend may just be someone you’ve shared more history with.
Hmm, now I understand ‘someone to grow old with’ much better. I just wish I had someone who’d know all those answers about me.
A long while back, when love and such ideas were new to us and family was ‘those folks’, I had a discussion with a friend. He had decided that most women were cowards because they would not stand up to their families, not stand up for the men they wanted to be with.
For a fact, I’ve seen a good number of relationships end because of familial opposition – on the basis of religious, caste, linguistic and economic differences. It is truly sad for a relationship to end, not because of the couple’s differences but because of other people’s views.
However, I must also say that I have always had great regard for women who take their family’s desires into consideration while choosing a life partner. This isn’t quite the same as the Mama’s boy syndrome wherin they unquestioningly gulp down whatever is shoved down their proverbial throats. They make their own choices and these choices definitely factor in their family’s ideas too. I so much stand by that.
The fact is that few people will ever care as much as your own blood family, misunderstandings and irritants notwithstanding. That said, they are no more than human and have a right to their own foibles and prejudices. My greatest admiration in this regard is reserved for two women, one a neighbor and one a friend. Both women met the men they wanted to spend their lives with and had to contend with parental opposition – due to differences in religion and in caste respectively.
The families of both women (the fathers most particularly) ran the entire hullaballoo from tearful melodrama to icy coldness. Both women stood firm and held that they would not marry anyone else. And in addition, would not get married without their families’ complete blessings either. Persistance won out in both cases. The first couple has two children, both the darlings of their doting grandfather’s eyes. The second couple celebrates their second wedding anniversary this year, blissfully in love..and peacefully so too. All was certainly well that ended well in these two cases.
I guess not everyone is that lucky or even that tenacious. If it really came down to having to choose, I can’t imagine a man would be ‘right’ for me unless my family was aligned to my choice as well. Family is one’s own after all, and their well-intended perspective could be very useful in such an important choice. Does that necessarily mean that I am a coward, unable to go against them? Or does it make me any less independent – or feminist? You tell me.
I kept a diary for 4 years till I transitioned into blogging all my thoughts.
I have still kept those diaries though and once in a while I look through to see what life was like then.
Some exerpts from my last diary that I called ‘A walk back into reality’:
5 September 2004
1. I think my boss hates me.
2. Dad is back and in a foul mood.
3. Spoke to J, today and yesterday
No. 3 is the least important or urgent but it is the only positive one, though P won’t agree! He…oh well…is yet another confused, scared of emotions, mooning-over-the-ex guy…so typical of the sort of man I always fall for. Of course he jolly well MAY hurt me and of course I WILL put up with it…but really what can I do?????
Hmph….so much for ‘a walk back into reality’.
I was right in more ways than one.
8 September 2004
Got a call from Delhi. Mama needs surgery for an ‘aggressive ulcer’ in his stomach.
Yesterday X said, “People never know what you’ll change into.
If you were to tell me that you were in love with two guys, I’d argue and say you could date 2 guys but only be in love with one.
But deep down, I’d wonder if you weren’t capable of that too.”
Am I that good an actress? Am I that transparent?
Mama died on 20 August 2005. The ‘aggressive ulcer’ turned out to be malignant cancer that escaped his stomach and eventually killed him. If he hadn’t had the surgery we would never have known and without the chemotherapy, he would have spent his last days doing yoga each morning, teaching his daughter history, travelling to work and back with samosas in the evening, watching TV, eating his fill and sleeping soundly. Just like every other day of his life. The treatment extended his life by eight months, spent in and out of hospitals, insurance offices, support groups and finally the crematorium.‘X’ is the ex-boyfriend, ex-love-of-my-life, ex-best friend. If being let down was bad, these words were the final cut. I’ve never been unfaithful or disloyal. Someone who doesn’t realise that after 10 years, doesn’t deserve any part of my life or me.
It was a walk back into reality after all.