Dreaded blissHow society’s pressure for women to marry has more to do with cruelty than culture
“Women are shouldered to continue the lineage and status of the husband’s family- reproduce as a good mother, daughter-in-law and wife.” Jyotsna Maskay, Founder of Loom Nepal
In December 2020, I was at the hospital with my mother when I ran into an old acquaintance, a very modern and well-travelled doctor and the first thing he asked me was: “You don’t have kids yet? Are you planning on getting married any time soon?”
Just another example of how some Nepalis have no sense of boundaries when it comes to others, it does not matter how modern they are. The problem is not that they do not know how what they are saying is affecting others, the problem is that they do not care to think how it is potentially hurting others.
Ironically, those people are extremely private when it comes to their own families. This is more than a cultural issue. This is a matter of lacking compassion and being blatantly cruel to those that they do not care about.
At first glance it may seem societal but when you look deeper, you will notice that it has more to do with intentions and lack of empathy. People need to keep in mind that this is an extremely sensitive issue where boundaries need to be respected, and unfortunately, most of the time they are not.
What most people do not realise is the amount of stress and pressure it puts on the women and their families especially when they are already dealing with many other stressors caused by the pandemic.
Maya, 29, is a smart and accomplished professional who is financially stable and is giving back to her community. When asked what frustrates her about Nepali family gatherings, she said: “My extended family tell my mother that someone is looking to get married so they assume I should be interested. अब त बेला भयो. The whole concept of marriage drains me. Thankfully, my parents don’t pester me.”
I remember one uncle always asking me: “भोज कहिले खुवउने? When is the party?”
I always responded with an uncomfortable smile and would walk away, trying to avoid being disrespectful to him. In reality, respect goes both ways, and we learn from our elders how to respect others.
Another friend of mine, who is also 29, said that her parents nudge her about her plans to get married because of her age, and how it makes her feel like a failure for not having found someone already.
When it comes to most parents, it comes from a place of concern and love, but they don’t always understand how it makes their children feel. Perhaps, the parents forget how the idea of marriage made them feel in the past or it is possible, they did not feel the same pressure as their children today. I do know that people in our parents’ generation were more patient and more tolerant than us.
Assuming the pressure to settle down and get married was more in the past. I wonder if some women, who experienced the same scrutiny in their youth, became more jaded and continued the ‘tradition’ of treating other young women the way they were treated. It is sad. Experiences either make you wounded or wise.
Some ‘aunties’ can be kinder because they understand as they experienced the same frustration. They learned and know that it is not okay to make others feel the same discomfort and pain someone in the past had made them feel. That is the kind of aunty, I want to be.
One of my friends in the US told me that it must be easy for Indian women to find husbands because they can go to their mothers and say, “Hi mom, I am a loser, find me a husband.”
I am at a loss for words when some Americans tell me about their perception of South Asian matrimony. The societal and cultural pressure to get married has made marriage quite repulsive to many people. Honestly, the idea of marriage is beautiful because it is a union between two people and their families to provide support and companionship.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is the importance of emotional support and genuine connections that help keep our sanity during these difficult times. We know that having a caring partner is more helpful than having no one during challenging times, but having no partner is better than being in a bad relationship.
I used to feel a lot of frustration and resentment towards those who asked me such questions and made those comments but maybe because I am much older now, I want to give them the benefit of the doubt that maybe they do not know how their words are affecting others. However, it is time for them to be aware.
It is important, irrespective of age, to acknowledge the consequences of what we say to others. It is important for children and adults to know and remember that you cannot take words back after they have been spoken, and that it is important to be mindful and aware of what we say and to whom.
Think before you speak is a useful advice for everyone, not just children and young people. Can we also request and expect that from the older generation? Before you say the first thing that comes to your mind to other people’s children, try to imagine how it would feel if someone said that to your children.
We all grew up in a society where people stare, gossip, and make up stories about us. Let’s try to stop that and try to give the next generation the life we wish we had.
Let women choose their freedom and the way they want to live their lives. Let women choose their own happiness, whatever it may be. Let’s let women be happy if they want to get married and let them be happy if they don’t.
*Names have been changed.
Anjana Rajbhandary writes this fortnightly Nepali Times column Life Time about socio-cultural issues, mental health and physical health.