I got married at 22.
For my grandparents, that was late. For my friends and colleagues, that was way too early. Everyone seemed to have an opinion.
“But you’re so young, why would you?”
“You have so much time, you could have a career!”
“Oh, parents are pressurising you?”
“All the good rishtey will dry up after 27.″
Even the lady at the parlour before the wedding said to me, “Now is when your problems will start”
There was so much noise, it was hard to hear my own thoughts. As a ‘liberal, urban, Indian female’, I had been bombarded with anecdotes and pop culture references urging me to fight for my freedom and put off being married. I had heard horror stories from cousins and extended family of how difficult marriage was. I read books and watched viral YouTube videos mocking the institution of arranged marriage and I had had opportunities, an education and a privileged upbringing to fall back on. I didn’t have to settle down, by any account until ‘I am ready’ someone said to me one day. But I was ready.
India’s relationship with marriage is complicated. It is at once a status symbol and the liberal Indian’s nightmare. We seem to have divided people into two types: annoying aunty who urges her opinions on you and the angsty liberal young person who is so ‘over’ the idea of marriage. And things are rarely that simple.
Don’t get me wrong, marriage in India is a landmine of social niceties and a complicated pyramid of social orders, often used to keep women in servitude. Fighting for a break from those cultural norms is important. But what isn’t being talked about enough is a young person wanting to get married. Choosing to be married to someone they chose at a time that feels right to them. Respecting those choices isn’t just a good to have, it is crucial to the argument of allowing young people the agency to resist marriage as well if they choose.
Marrying young has shown me a slanted side to feminism, one that rips women apart for choosing to do things that matter to them outside of careers. Tomorrow, if I take a break from my career to have children, raise a family or tend to a loved one, that doesn’t mean I’m giving up the fight for women to have careers, it means I’m saluting it in the multitude of ways women can and should be able to make choices that work for them.
As a young married person, the argument to stay out at parties later, stay over at friends houses, travel on my own, and dress how I wanted was so much simpler than it had been as a teenager. It let me subvert life as a grown Indian teenager, who on the one hand lives at home and eats amma’s home cooked food and on the other hand, complains about the social rules they hold me to. In some ways, it allowed me to draw the metaphorical line under my childhood, building a new and respectful relationship with my parents, as equals.
Of course, it would be foolish to not recognise the immense privilege with which I say this, but marriage is awesome. It’s like having an endless sleepover with my best friend, and it has made me more confident and secure in ways I couldn’t have imagined. In an article by the Atlantic, the author argues that marrying young can make financial sense and can contribute to better satisfaction levels in life. By using marriage as a cornerstone and not a capstone to youth, we may find all kinds of discussions that fuel our Indian-context specific debate on marriage forward. But we need to start by having those conversations.
Marriage is not and will not ever be for everyone at the same time. But it is for some people, sometimes. And learning to respect that and the choices people make ,makes us far better feminists than fighting the institutions of marriage in itself.