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|Volume 11 |Issue 18 | May 04, 2012 ||
Nadia Kabir Barb
A chance meeting and a dinner conversation a few weeks ago prompted me to write this article. I was chatting to a man in his late thirties and a young woman most likely a little younger maybe in her early to mid-thirties. We went through the usual introductions and the young woman noticed my wedding ring and asked me which one of the other guests my husband was and I pointed him out to her. I had up until this point assumed that the couple I was chatting to were a 'couple' but after a few subtle questions established they were work colleagues/friends and both were single. As the evening progressed the discussion centred around marriage and at this point I became slightly more bold and asked them how their families felt about their single status and whether they been under any pressure to get married.
Man: Every time I go back to India I get the usual interrogation by my family. Why am I still single? Why don't I settle down and get married? So and so knows someone I should meet. It's enough for me not to want to go back!
Woman: I know how you feel, at least you're a man. Just try being in my shoes. People don't understand that I like being independent and I'm quite capable of looking after myself. Whether I'm single or not should really be my choice. I'm actually fed up of people telling me how much happier I would be if I were married. It's not that I don't want to get married but I'd like to do it within my own time frame.
Man: It seems to be an alien concept to my family that getting married is not my ultimate goal in life. If and when I feel like it, I'll get married, emphasis on the 'if'!
Me: I suppose it's different for different people. There are people who just haven't found the right person and find themselves single almost by default and there are others like yourselves who are single by choice. I do understand that it must be stressful and probably rather irritating to constantly be under scrutiny!
Woman: You have no idea!
The following day I found myself still mulling over the evenings conversation and thinking that no matter what strata of society you talk about or belong to, in many cultures being single especially after a certain age is not looked upon favourably.
We are acutely aware that in villages in most parts of the sub-continent, it is viewed negatively for women to remain unmarried beyond a particular age. In some cases the financial burden of having another mouth to feed accelerates the desire for parents to marry off their daughters, in other instances it is fear of the malicious whispers of society that drives their decision. There are other factors that come into play as well such as religious and cultural beliefs and views. However, this kind of preconception extends to the urban and educated sections of society as well. There seems to be a feeling that marriage is the be all end all of every relationship problem — a sort of universal solution especially when it comes to being single as if singledom is an illness that requires a cure!
There are individuals who are actively looking for the right person but it can be frustrating when there is always external pressure be it from family or friends to hurry this process along. A friend once said that there is a misconception where society only seems to acknowledge success by one’s marital status. One can be single, have a successful career, maintain an active social life and be satisfied with their situation but the fact that there is no one to share this with them seems to give people the right to judge and come to the conclusion that their lives must in some way be unfulfilled. We decided to name this the "aharey bechara" (poor thing) syndrome where people throw you looks of pity and shake their heads when they discover someone has passed their so called sell by date and are still single.
Interestingly an article I read in the Guardian stated that the UK has recently seen the lowest marriage rates on record and there were far more single people living by themselves especially 'freemales' or manless women living alone than in previous years. According to the Office for National Statistics (2008), 'it showed that the number of women living alone aged between 25 and 44 - the age when traditionally they would be married and having families - doubled in the past two decades. The same report states that more than two-thirds of people questioned in a recent survey believed they did not need a partner to enjoy a happy and fulfilled life.'
In the West, the decision for men and women to get married later in life or stay single and live alone has become part of the norm and accepted by society in general. In Bangladesh, however, it is very rare to find a single woman setting up her own establishment or running her own household as it is not looked upon favourably. Children are expected to live with their parents until they are married and then leave home or in some cases continue living together as a joint or extended family. Although more and more women are working after completing their education and financial dependency is not a driving factor, it is still hard for women to remain single after a certain age as sadly there is a social stigma associated with being unmarried.
Marriage is about companionship and should consist of a partnership where you get to share life's trials and tribulations with someone. It should offer support and comfort and love although from the growing divorce rates this does not always appear to be the case and can make staying single a far more desirable option. Objectively speaking it is understandable that parents want their children to be happy and feel that marriage brings with it stability and security but it is also something that cannot be forced or entered into just to satisfy the whims of society. Being single is a choice that an individual should be able to take without feeling pressurised or to be made to feel like a social pariah.
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