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Happily Unmarried

We are culturally so conditioned to associate happiness with pairs that even when we hear the word single, it brings forth images of loneliness, aloofness, sadness, etc. But it need not necessarily be so. Today, Unmarried Professionals in their Thirties (UPTs) are living it up sans a spouse. However, pressures and concerns remain, says Gitanjali Sharma

Meet this growing tribe of young professionals.

Gender: Majority of them are women

Age: Thirties

Educational qualification: Professionally qualified

Present job: Most are doing well in their careers, some exceptionally so

Economic status: Upper middle class.

Appearance: Smart and well turned out.

Personality: Appear to be a confident and cheerful bunch.

Marital status: Unmarried. They are finding it difficult to find suitable life partners.

Personal life: Have a good friend circle, comforting family support, but most of them have no girlfriends or boyfriends to speak of

PRESS reverse and reach the early nineties. This tribe existed then too but its members stood out as isolated cases. You barely came across one-odd member in your inner circle and may be double this figure in your outer circle of acquaintances. Now, however, you are likely to need another set of fingertips to keep count of the UPTs (Unmarried Professionals in their Thirties) around you. Besides a change in their numerical strength, their attitudes have altered as well. The nineties’ UPTs were not only apologetic about their single status but had also more or less resigned to their solitary existence on kissing the twenties goodbye. The UPTs of today, in contrast, are more comfortable about their unattached condition and certainly show more optimism and spirit as their determined search for a partner continues.

Though the pressure that comes with entering the thirties is undoubtedly felt by them as much as they are haunted by the realisation that the biological clock is ticking away and that every passing year they are being driven out of the loop yet they prefer to wait. They continue to bide time and refuse to settle for anything less than what they think fits into their definition of a right partner! Till then, they assert, they are content being merrily unmarried.

With everything going for these promising young men and women, why do you think they have been unable to strike a deal in the marriage market, which in India more or less puts up its shutters for those crossing their twenties? Were they concentrating more on their career when others their age were scanning the matrimonial pages or were they simply plain unlucky or may be more choosy, ambitious and unrealistic about their expectations? And, are they genuinely happy with their choice in life and how best are they coping with their single status, which is still frowned upon, if not considered an aberration in our society?

The reasons for delay

If one could pinpoint just one cause, it would probably be easy to weed it out. The delay, however, usually occurs as a result of multiple causes — both voluntary and involuntary — which are difficult to dislodge, says Chandigarh–based psychologist J.N. Jerath. While a few of the dozen-odd unmarried professionals who were interviewed attributed the delay in their marriage to their career, which they felt required their attention in the initial years, many nonchalantly laid the blame on mere chance or certain other circumstances. Ironically, it was found that while most women postpone marriages to establish themselves in their career so that they are able to support themselves without a husband, most men push away thoughts of marriage to concentrate on their career so that they are able to earn enough to support a wife and family. Again, ironically, the educational qualifications that many women acquire to increase their value in the marriage market come in the way of their getting an equally, if not more, qualified suitor. Sociologist Rajesh Gill, Reader at Panjab University, says many girls simply go on studying for it is taken as a negative in the marriage market to have a girl idling her time at home. They end up doing MA, M Phil and even PhD while waiting to get married. And with each additional degree they acquire and the years they add, their expectations increase and adjustment level goes down.

Many unmarried career women too get caught in this vicious circle. Since they feel that the only alternative left for them is to do well in their work, they channelise all their energies into it. As a result, they could climb the success ladder only to find that the pool of eligible men at the top gets smaller and smaller.

Rohini, a 33-year-old Chief Judicial Magistrate posted in Haryana, blames her job for her single status. Most men are not ready to accept women in high positions, she rues. Moreover, the frequent transfers in her job were another put-off-factor.

Restricting the choice by insisting on finding a spouse from the same caste or city can lead to delays as well. These conditions, say most UPTs, are removed once you hear the missed-the-bus warning ringing in your ears.

A promising career may not only be the cause of postponing marriage but may also serve as a crutch for a lonely single, thus further cutting the need for matrimony. Earlier marriage was considered the only road to happiness. But now satisfying careers are emerging as alternate options contributing to the overall happiness quotient. Rajat, a 34-year-old NRI management consultant, who is keen to have a bride from India but wary of taking a snappy decision during his brief annual visits here, says with the private sector prospering, there are fantastic career options. So, the size of the cake has grown bigger now — besides marital bliss, material happiness counts too. Though at the end of the day, the UPTs may want it all but even if they manage to have half the cake, they are happy.

The peer pressure too is decreasing, with the growing number of single, divorced or unhappily married persons around you, says Sumanjit Kaur, an SP in her early thirties, who is waiting to marry someone who will touch her heart and with whom she can have real understanding.

While the pressure to marry may be there, most of the UPTs spoken to expressed no urgency to take the plunge. Undoubtedly, they say, their parents are concerned about them but are not pushing them into matrimony. The mother of a 32-year-old unmarried professional confides that she fears for the well-being of her daughter when she and her husband are no longer there to provide her the emotional blanket. With general compromise and tolerance levels going down as a result of economic independence enjoyed by both the prospective partners, parents are loosening their hold on the decision-making process.

Though the UPTs denied harbouring high expectations, they readily accused the other gender of placing unreasonable demands. Ritu Nehra, psychologist at the PGI, who too is unmarried, sums up the high expectations of men in four words. They want in their wives a " Sita, Lakshmi, Durga and Rambha (an apsara)." Though men are at an advantage when it comes to the choice available, they never fail to contain their surprise and dismay at the filmi ideas the girls nurture of their prospective husbands.

Single and happy?

Culturally, we are so conditioned to associate happiness with pairs that even when we hear the word single, it brings forth images of loneliness, aloofness, sadness, etc.

Looking at the bleak side of it all you would say only a single would know what it feels like to be alone. Only they would have experienced the sinking feeling on returning to an empty home, the unending evenings that stretch into lonely nights. Only they can tell how miserable it feels to see others moving in pairs, and to watch squealing children bounce off their parents’ laps. And only they know how hard they try to camouflage their listlessness and aimless drifting when all the time they are searching for an anchor and seeking companionship.

Rohini, who finds it difficult to come to terms with the forlorn side of being single, maintains that all those who say they are happy being single are not being true to themselves. "I fervently miss companionship that only a husband can provide. Beyond a point, it is difficult to tag along with married friends, and with colleagues you can’t open out your heart. Without marriage, I feel emotionally deprived," she laments.

Frustration and loneliness can set in, agree most UPTs, but only if you get obsessive about your need to get married and wait for a partner to walk into your life and change it for the better. But the trick here is not to feel belittled but to accept your position with equanimity and see the positive side of life.

Thirtyseven-year-old Yojna Rawat, Reader in Department of Hindi, Correspondence Studies, PU, who likes to call herself happily unmarried, candidly remarks that you cannot remain unhappy only because you are unmarried. Fond of travelling—recently she under took a trip to Europe—reading and writing poetry and travelogues, she likes to remain busy with creative outlets that help her grow. Rajat, too, makes the most of his freedom by pursuing photography as a hobby, while sociologist Sherry Sabharwal, also a single, says she is into animal care.

Agreed that people may react oddly to your single status, but that is not reason enough to stop living, say most singles. "Let people say whatever they have to. I am a normal person with normal needs. Just because I’m not married I cannot stop enjoying life and having fun," Nandini, working in a private bank in Chandigarh, voices the sentiment of the majority in her tribe. Expressing similar thoughts, Amarjeet, a 33-year-old Excise and Taxation Officer, who wanted to settle his sisters before tying the knot himself, confidently declares, "I am thoroughly enjoying life. I don’t feel awkward going to social gatherings alone. In fact, nowadays you see a lot of married people coming to parties alone. One should not bother about people, they will talk even if you are happily married."

Who would know it better than them, say the singles, that life is a matter of choices. And if you want you can choose to remain happy and cheerful or sink into gloominess and despair.

Handling single status

Psychologist Ritu Nehra says at the start it is important to enlist one’s priorities in life. Once the choices have been made, one should be confident about them. It must be understood that marriages too cannot always be satisfying but friendships are. It is imperative to have a good network of relationships, which can act as a buffer to ward of loneliness. One, however, has to invest in relationships, says J.N. Jerath. They don’t come on a platter.

Your work can also keep you insulated from loneliness. In order not to let it become monotonous, alter it, modify it, and find different set of goals.

Sherry Sabharwal advocates going out and cultivating a support group. "Meet other singles. Identify what problems can arise by remaining unmarried and solve them but stop dwelling on the issue. Find something creative to keep yourself occupied, even something as simple as knitting helps."

Comfort yourself with the thought that studies have shown that unmarried persons are better off than those who are unhappily married.

But, the UPTs should be prepared for a long road ahead, as we are not yet totally modern in our outlook and the transition period is always painful. According to Sherry Sabharwal, societal acceptance will come but the trailblazers will have to be more daring. It goes to the credit of our UPTs that they have made their choices, carving a life on their terms. They have made a laudable start by declaring that marriage is welcome but not necessary. And if along the road, they happen to meet the right partner, they wouldn’t be averse to taking their hand and completing the rest of the journey. But till that happens, they don’t intend wallowing in self-pity or breaking their journey to reach newer and wider horizons.

Pressures and concerns

IN spite of our modern upbringing and education, the pressure of being single is felt primarily because, culturally, we still care about what the others say, remarks Chandigarh-based sociologist Sherry Sabharwal. Even though single status is gaining acceptance in bigger cities and metros, most UPTs admitted to facing social pressures of all kinds and from various quarters. It could come in a subtle or indirect manner, like for instance the pain which Rohini describes she sees in her mother’s eyes whenever she returns home from work. Or else, as commonly experienced, it comes more pronounced and explicit, in the shape of sermons on the advantages of matrimony, awkward questions, out-of-pity advice, sympathy talk and looks that search for some drawback or abnormality.

Twentynine-year-old Sunita, executive in a private organisation, believes that whatever stress she experiences because of her single status is self-created. Seeing her peers getting married before her, gives her cause to worry about her unattached status. On the other hand, 33-year-old Rita, who is heading the branch of a multinational bank, says she has started avoiding weddings in the neighbourhood to escape uncomfortable and hurtful queries.

Since most of our festivals and traditional social dos reinforce the ‘couple image’ by eulogising matrimony and highlighting ceremonies to be done by couples, it should not be incomprehensible to find singles avoiding such events. Rahul Shah (44), a journalist-cum-photographer who dearly values his freedom which comes with his bachelorhood, says: "Even now people, sooner or later, veer the topic to my marriage. It is irritable to say the least and if one is not strong enough or wavering in one’s beliefs, the constant reminder of your so-called deviant status can leave you depressed."

Though the cultural and social victimisation may not be very visible and blatant but it nevertheless exists. The physiological pressures, too, are difficult to deny. Fatima, working in a call centre in Delhi, puts across brazenly, "Marriage is a compulsion in India. It is the only way of legalising a sexual relationship. To go for a live-in relationship is still unthinkable."

Studies have found that both single men and women tend to have a less healthy lifestyle, including sleep, diet and work habits, and are more prone to loneliness and depression. To add to this quota of stress is the anxiety-inducing knowledge that time is running out and fertility won’t last forever.

Rita admits that she misses having a child but the very next second she comforts herself with the argument that probably even if she were married, she would not have had the time to have a child with her hectic schedule at the bank. — G. S.

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