Single, no hurry to mingle
A recent research indicates a drop in female matrimonial profiles in Kerala. TNIE speaks to a few women who have chosen to remain unmarried
Maya, 27, is a tad frustrated. For the past seven years, her family has been discussing her sister’s marriage. Her sister, a school teacher in Kottayam, is 30 and remains single. The marriage discussions drag on even now and mostly end up acrimonious. “We are a close-knit family. It was not that my sister didn’t want to get married. After completing her graduation, she introduced her long-time boyfriend to my parents,” says Maya, who works as an accountant in Kochi.
“They wanted to get married but needed a bit more time. Both were fresh out of college and weren’t financially settled.” The parents opposed the relationship, as the guy was from a different caste. “After a lot of arguments, my parents said they would give them two years to make a final decision. However, they continued looking for men from the same caste, hoping that my sister would yield. She did not.
Now, my sister and her boyfriend are unmarried. She detests the word marriage, just wants peace.”
Maya’s sister now plans to focus on her career and get married if and when she wishes to. “Now what she wants from life is different. She has become more aware of herself. Till now, she was staying with my parents, helping our family financially. She plans to move to a different city or maybe abroad for a better job.”
Maya says her sister’s experiences have left her ambivalent about marriage. “I won’t say I will never get married. I will only do so if my partner will see me as an equal person,” she adds. “As far as I have seen, it is a rare thing within a marriage. First, I need to be financially independent.”
According to her, every woman’s priority should be financial independence and freedom. “I have only one life, and I should get to spend it on my terms. The thing is my parents worked hard for us. And I want to take care of them now, take them on a trip, have my own flat and live with them. However, for them, the only thing that matters is our marriage,” says Maya.
‘Natural for women to be reluctant’
It is not just Maya and her sister. Many women in Kerala are either preferring to get married late or not at all. A recent informal study by Nithin A F, a consultant psychologist at SUT Hospital, Pattom in Thiruvananthapuram, collected data from matrimonial sites, bureaus and wedding brokers and said there is a drop in the number of matrimonial profiles of women (see box).
“I am not surprised,” says Punya, 23, who works with an NGO based in Kozhikode. “I think it is natural for women to be reluctant for an arranged marriage.”
Marriage, for Punya, is an archaic tradition. “I am not against it. Those who want to get married should do so. For me, marriage traditionally comes with shackles, especially for women,” she says.
She adds that there is a paradigm shift, as many young women are now educated and employed. “They have tasted freedom. They make decisions for themselves, travel to places, and take care of their families. Why would they go for a marriage, especially an arranged one, where this freedom may get curbed?” wonders Punya.
Other put-offs, according to her, include demands for dowry, the public spectacle of a wedding and the ‘pennu kaanal chadangu’ (where the suitor visits the prospective bride’s house for assessment).
“I prefer a live-in relationship to marriage. Because as you enter something which has traditionally been a patriarchal system, you become a wife, and a wife, however evolved we are, is considered lesser than the husband in families and society,” she reasons.
“Hence, I would choose a relationship without the pressure and expectations of a marriage. If it’s just two people, it will be easier to handle.” Punya’s friend, Soyarani P, a software engineer, is gearing up to attend a wedding. “I am going to face a barrage of questions on when I would tie the knot and serve a feast!” she chuckles.
“I am 28. Till now, I have enjoyed my life. I want to financially settle down first. That’s a priority, not marriage or relationship. Fortunately, my parents have given me that space. If I ever feel like it, I may get married. It is the last thing on my mind now.”
Soya adds she is not anti-marriage. And she does have some expectations of her future partner. “Nothing much, he should be a calm, understanding person, who is an equal in the marriage.”
She, however, has a tailored answer for nosey relatives: “What’s the hurry?!”
‘I cannot be subservient’
There was a time when Anu, 41, was okay with marriage. She was in her mid-20s then. It was the norm, all her friends were getting married. Her family eagerly looked for an ‘ideal’ groom. However, none of the alliances they brought ever worked out. “I was strongly against the dowry system and large weddings.”
“I agreed to a few pennu kanal rituals. But for one reason or the other, they didn’t go beyond that.”
Subsequently, work took her abroad for some years. Currently, though back in Kerala, marriage is not her priority. Having worked and led an independent life for so many years, she doesn’t feel the conventional pressure anymore.
“All my friends are married, and some of them are not in a so-called happy marriage,” says Anu, who works as a copy editor in Kochi. “Some of them are putting up with toxic partners, as they are worried about what people would say if they decide to come out of these marriages. Hearing their stories, I have developed a bit of an aversion to the idea of marriage.”
Anu adds that she has clarity about what she wants in life, and is pretty well-situated. “If I get married, I may have to let go of my freedom,” she says. “Not the necessary adjustments in a relationship, but the curbs that will put on me in a traditional marriage. I cannot digest the idea of being subservient to another person or family.”
‘A room of my own’
It’s the joy of having a room of her own that first made Archana Ravi, an independent writer and illustrator, dismiss the idea of marriage. “I grew up as an overprotected, single child,” she smiles. “Even in my teens, I had to sleep in my parents’ room!”
Archana got a room for herself at 20. “Finally, I could sing songs badly,” laughs the 40-year-old. “I didn’t want to share my bed or room with another person. This might sound frivolous, but, deep down, I was afraid of losing agency.”
Archana adds that she has seen many ‘happily married’ women, who curtail spending time with their parents so as not to annoy their husbands. “Then, there are women who slog from dawn to midnight – inside and outside their houses. But on one Sunday, their loving husbands would lift a spoon in the kitchen, and the whole world would gush about it,” she laughs out, recalling a relative’s married life.
“I didn’t want to be part of this patriarchal industry, which doesn’t even pay for my hard labour,” she quips. “Also, I have been quite sceptical about the ‘companionship’ factor that people dream and talk about. I don’t think that anyone can replace the companionship offered by sisters or female friends.”
She calls herself a “queer person who falls in love very often”. “However, I don’t depend fully on one person for companionship. I can fall back on my sisters,” she says.
Archana believes marriage, as an institution, is prevalent primarily due to notions of continuing lineage and inheritance of ancestral property. “If such social compulsions are breached, pesky relatives at weddings will stop asking “Nee eppozha oru sadya tarunne (When will you give us such a feast?” she smiles.
‘Gamophobia on the rise’
Psychologist Nithin A F, who conducted a study on matrimonial trends among young women, believes “awareness campaigns” are necessary to reduce gamophobia or the fear of commitment and marriage. “Many are scared due to the frequent news about dowry deaths, toxic marriages, etc. However, not everyone’s married life is like that,” he says. “Then as more and more women get educated and become well-employed, they expect their partner to be from a similar background. And today, the number of men in higher education is less than that of women.” Nithin believes the negative mindset toward marriage should be curbed. “The situation could lead to falling birth rates,” he says. “It also can spike cases of depression among people who live alone.”
Is there an ‘ideal’ age?
According to Dr Parasuram Gopinath, senior consultant and scientific director of CIMAR, there is no right age to marry. However, age does matter when it comes to having a child. Generally, women’s eggs become weaker at the age of 33. “Of course, that’s not to mean that this is the cut-off age. Women can even get pregnant later. Even 37 is not too old now. We have many patients who get naturally pregnant then,” he says. Advancements in medical science have made it possible for women can have children without needing to marry at an early age. “Many single women, especially those in our 40s, approach us for IVF treatment to have a baby.
They are all very sure about the decision,” the IVF expert says. “The other option before them is to freeze the egg. This is called social freezing. If a woman is not sure about having a baby now, she can freeze her egg. This way, in the future, say, in the 40s, should she decide to have a baby, there is also that option open to her. It is better to freeze the egg before turning 35,” the doctor says. The advent of these possibilities has had many women reconsidering the need for a male partner.
Last year, one of CIMAR’s patients, a single woman who had a baby through IVF treatment, had gone to court against the requirement to produce the father’s name in the birth registration forms. “Recently, there was a patient who wanted to freeze her eggs because she wasn’t sure whether she wanted a child with her husband. In case she gets a divorce in the future, the option to have a child was always open to her,” he adds. Dr Sherly Mathen, a senior consultant of the obstetrics and gynaecology department at Aster Medcity, however, cautions that complications will increase as one waits too long. “There can be complications even when one is young. This is compounded as you cross 35 years. The best age to have a child is between 27 to 30. After 35, the requirement for external assistance will rise, that is why there are a lot of fertility clinics in every city,” she says.
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