Growing up I knew only two kinds of people, those who were married and those who were waiting to get married. People in Pakistan believe that a person’s life is incomplete until they are married and have children. We have become a nation, generally speaking, totally obsessed with marriage and one’s ability to procreate.
While the restrictions and expectations do not fall upon the male side, the females have been constricted with the idea of marriage for far too long. Women are coerced into getting married because the biological clock ticks faster in them than men. Therefore, most young women aspire to one thing, which is marriage. Girls are raised with the notion of marriage as the only ultimate event in their lives. From our drama serials, movies and television morning shows, the entire plot revolves around either marriage or divorce. In short, ‘shaadi’ is the name of the game. The million dollar question to be asked from the bride and groom is if they want to marry or simply to have a wedding ceremony for good optics.
For many people in Pakistan, marriage is a one-time event which is celebrated and glorified for societal approval. As for women like me who do not get married by choice, our society is only too keen to correct us. They fail to comprehend that marriage is not for everyone and does not open a gateway to a lifetime of happiness. Besides, if people marry with the intention of starting a new life with their better halves, what is the point of that marriage if it does not contribute to the happiness of those two individuals? However, the likes of me are often subjected to a series of rather intrusive and obnoxious questions by the married brigade. The logic presented is that everyone should get married at least once in his or her lifetime. What is even more infuriating is when married couples patronizingly laugh off our choice to remain single and say, “Oh, shall happen to you like it happens to everyone else, and you will have to go along with it.” This behavior makes one wonder as to why marriage is so necessary. This reminds me of a distant relative of mine who did not fetch a husband and was referred to as ‘bichari‘ or ‘poor thing’ because that is how people referred to her. Society is not sensitized to realize that someone may be unable to find the right person or have personal obligations that need to be fulfilled before they can move onto the next chapter in their lives.
Are people getting married for the sake of it or because the institution of marriage adds to a person’s individuality? Let us give this question a serious thought. Are the bride and groom prepared for what is to come after marriage, are compatible with one another and what it actually takes to make a marriage work? What I have observed is that marriage in our part of the world is not a coming together of two individuals but is in fact a union of two families. Enough time is not spent together to make the effort to get to know one another. If the families get along, that is considered an added bonus but not considered as the only reason to tie the knot. The two individuals are more often than not seen to ‘make the marriage work’. We cannot say for sure if they are blossoming in one another’s company. Meanwhile, unplanned children are born thereby expanding the family network where the life partners are expected to remain together for the sake of the children even if the husband and wife cannot stand one another. Pregnancy is thought to fix everything, from a discontent spouse to abusive in-laws. The true facts of a man and wife are only revealed after the marriage as whether in a love or an arranged marriage, both parties are on their best behavior. In Pakistan, marrying for love is still not considered a decent indulgence. The adults who are getting married are blamed if or when the marriage falls apart and people take pleasure in saying, “We told you so.”
I was told that marriage was never about love, it was about commitment and respectability. In my humble opinion, people should mind their own P’s and Q’s and try not to intervene in decisions like marrying someone or having kids. It is a matter solely between two people. The sooner we realize this fact, the better it would be for healthy, positive and thriving marital relationships. Society is thrilled that they remain Mr. and Mrs. but do not give a second thought if they are happy together. Exceptions are certainly there but this is sadly the case for far too many families. What is happening among the modern elite of our country as a consequence is adopting the western world’s version of dating where people are getting married and divorced and then remarried again. Female divorcees are stamped as being a failure at life generally. It does not matter how educated a female is or how well she is doing in her professional career. The benchmark of a successful life is whether you made your marriage work. Generally, divorce is frowned upon as marriage is considered a sacrament whereby the couples have made wedding vows in front of God to stay together for life. Similar to global trends, divorce rate is increasing gradually in Pakistan too. This increase in divorce rate can be attributed to people getting together because they have reached a certain ‘should be married by this age’ age and later on cannot cope with each other.
Am I implying that we should get rid of marriage as an institution? Definitely not! However, we need to focus on whether marriage is adding to a person’s life or taking away from it. Right now, Pakistani marriages work for the benefit of everybody except the people married to each other. That is nonsensical for sure and needs to change. Let us not make our young population, especially women, feel as if getting married, popping out kids, keeping their spouses happy and raising them is their only purpose. Let both genders lead their respective lives and make their own decisions with regards to marriage as a sacred institution. At the end of the day, it is the man and the woman who say, “I do!”. They both need to marry for the right reasons and not out of parental or societal pressure. We need to understand that companionship; understanding and emotional compatibility is of critical importance than carrying the tag of a marriage. Elaborate and fancy wedding ceremonies are not the determinants of a successful and happy marriage. There is no neat conclusion to be offered here and it would be careless to advocate being single as an anecdote to marriage. Many people do lead deeply satisfying lives without ever marrying. That though does not take away from marriage as a sacred bond where lifelong love and romance are possible too, only if both parties undertake the commitment to shoulder all responsibilities and consequent compromises that are required for a ‘happily ever after’ scenario.