Being 34 and single, the last 10 years have been a time of a lot of emotional stress for me. I had been a very successful student in my younger days. So I used to take praise for granted. In the extended family I was touted as someone that the children should emulate. However, as I grew into my late twenties and remained unmarried, the dynamics with family and friends changed completely.
My father got increasingly negative about my future and fights all my choices now. My mother escaped into the fantasy world of religious rites. My extended family has asked me to grow up, advised me to get married immediately and told me about the sorrows I cause my parents. Some keep the news of marriage and children in their family a secret from me as they are sure I will be hurt. My mother’s sister was the most frightening as she threatened over phone to burn down my house.
Society was no kinder. I had a neighbor send me an email a few years ago which talked about how children born to women in their thirties are more likely to be genetically defective.
Without my volition, I became an outcast in the conservative subcontinent. Shaming, threats, secrecy and negativity were attitudes I almost got used to receiving as the normal part of life.
It is the usual story, probably retold in the Indian subcontinent a million times. The experience is still shocking to be a part of. Being an unmarried man is also likely to be difficult. Maybe in the patriarchy some things are easier for single men.
There is suspicion and fear when a woman lives alone. There is more than usual gossip and curiosity. There is also sexual greed or covetousness. My father of course put it best when he said “ If you are single that means you are available.” In reaction to this we are forced to dress more conservatively as well as restrict our movement and social interactions.
Also, the stigma works on us from the inside. After a few incidents of being put down and lectured to, I internalized a feeling of shame and persecution. I saw almost all the people I met afterwards through these glasses.
The toughest part of living alone is the isolation. In a society where in your thirties socializing is centered around families, where is one to go if one is single and wants some warmth? There is no socializing in pubs or coffee shops. There are not many hobby places to meet people.
If we have a corporate job, then some social needs can be met at the work place. However it is likely that most of the colleagues are married and occupied with their spouses and kids in their free time. There are just too few single people. Often in their own burrows.
It does seem at times that online dating via the matrimonial sites is the only option to meet singles in India. Beware, this is a risky option for a lonely heart. I think that our emotional needs must be met by a supportive family or friends first to take a healthy attitude to online dating. But then the vicious circle, where does one meet potential friends?
I wish some of us unmarried people in the thirties decided to live together. We could create a society for singles and live in the same building. In this way we can meet people socially as well as support each other during crises. While the traditional society outside would take a few decades to become more tolerant to us, we could in the meantime get busy living healthy lives.
Recently I read an article where a movie actress had to sue a building society. They would not let her rent an apartment in the building because of her divorced status. If this happens to famous actresses then the rest of us don’t have a chance, unless we organize ourselves into a community.
I have not even touched upon the sexual needs of an unmarried woman in India. I meet some older women, alone and often dried from the inside. It is sad. We all need healthy sex, certainly in our late twenties. Hopefully with affectionate men interested in the emotional aspects of a relationship.
Lately I have given some thought to being a mother. I wonder what the system would do if I decide to have my baby on my own. What would my parents and society say? Have any of the harsh and fear filled voices gone softer over time? Have they recognized the pain they have caused me over the last decade and would they repeat it? More importantly, will I repeat the mistake of looking for approval from a narrow minded society?