The rules of the game

For many years now, I have stringently maintained that there is nothing wrong with arranged marriages, as they have evolved nowadays, with arranged ‘dates’ and Skype calls and other stuff the parents honestly have no clue about. Let me now tell you why I’ve changed my stance.

I grew up in one of those stereotypically middle-class, conservative-liberal mixes of families, with an equally stereotypical set of relatives. My lovely family is constantly nudged by my even more concerned extended family to ‘find me a groom’ soon, because:

  1. I am almost 27 years old (which according to my family means I should not only have been married by now but also have popped out at least one baby) and I weigh a 100 kg (which means I’m ugly and no groom’s side will want me as part of their family).
  2. What that means, is that all of them sincerely believe I can never find a guy to marry unless my extended family helps out my family in finding me a guy who is overweight enough that he cannot find a ‘beautiful’ (read: skinny) girl to marry him, so he will be ‘willing to settle for someone like me’ (I refer to this as the ‘fat filter’), and I should take any such alliance as a God-send and not dare to say no, because I’m supposed to ‘adjust’ to anybody even mildly okay with marrying me.

Why do I have a problem with all of this?

  1. Because I am a self-respecting human with a fair sense of knowledge as to know when I am being put to shame.
  2. Because I sincerely do not believe there is an age limit to marriage. “There is no right age to marry the wrong person and no wrong age to marry the right one.”
  3. While I decidedly struggle with my self-worth because of my excess body weight, it should never be a factor for others to judge my worth as a human being.
  4. Because I can never decide whether or not to marry someone solely based on their body weight. (And neither should anyone. But, if you do – I’m willing to give you a second chance because I know how messed up societal expectations are.)
  5. Because being a certain body weight does not mean I am ‘less than’ or ‘more than’ any other person of any other body weight.
  6. Because I want to marry someone who consciously makes a choice to be my partner throughout life and its experiences, and not just because his family told him he wasn’t going to find a skinny girl to marry him so he better say yes to me.
  7. And because when I decide to marry someone, it will quite possibly be the most important decision of my life and I want to be asking a lot more meaningful questions than, “Is he fat enough that my weight will be a non-issue?”

And, imagine, when after I (at least try to) bring up most of these issues with my parents for discussion, I meet my shrivelled old grandmother, and she asks me about a recent alliance and I tell her the guy decided not to go ahead and that I agreed with him, and she asks, “But I heard he was also fat. Then why did he say no?” And then, on top of that, you have your extended family calling your mother and giving her advice that she should convince me to talk to the same guy again, and try to convince both of us to marry each other, simply because we both are fat and the family thinks I will never get a chance like this again. (Like, seriously? Such confidence in me, you folks! Way to go!)

In addition, my parents are also concerned about how much it would cost them to get me married. Because tradition! Tradition dictates that the bride’s family bear all costs of the wedding ceremony, in addition to being treated like doormats by the groom’s side for the entire duration – from the initial contact between the families till until after the wedding, and often, even during later visits between the families. All because they ‘gave away’ their daughter to this family. (Okay, I know I’m going to hear a lot of criticism for this one. But folks, let’s be honest – this is not even the worst case scenario. Though, I admit, it is also usually a lot better these days. But trust me when I say I’ve seen enough weddings where this has happened – and it hasn’t changed depending on whether I’ve been on the groom’s side or the bride’s.)

My parents shout down every attempt I make at trying to talk them out of this mindset. They tell me it is their ‘responsibility’ to find me a groom (before I’m too old and fat) and to pay for my wedding (even if it is a huge financial burden as they grow older and, instead, could save that money for a rainy day or to travel and relax). In fact, they often quote this as another reason for why I should get married as soon as possible – so that they can pay off any loans they may need to take to cover the cost of my wedding before they retire.

And then, of course, there’s the ever-present needling for grandchildren. “When will you have kids if you marry so late? When will we have the pleasure of holding them and playing with them? You will be busy with your career, so if we need to help you take care of your children, you better get on with it soon, so that we are still young enough, healthy enough, and energetic enough to take care of your children.”

Firstly, you are not allowed to presume that I want to have kids (biological or not). Besides, you already have grandchildren (in my parents’ case)! Hold them, love them, play with them. Secondly, I’m tired of listening to your arguments about how it is not only easier to have kids when we’re younger but also more convenient financially – because our ‘responsibilities’ as parents will be done by the time we retire, so our ‘burdens’ will be lighter. Guess what? My body, my rules. Lastly, you’re not my children’s nannies. You’re their grandparents. I know you want to help – and you can. But I am not so selfish as to assume that you will drop everything to come be a nanny to my kids at my beck and call. You will have lives of your own, and I want you to have that – to be happy and to find meaning however you can. Because people and their priorities change. I will not begrudge you your freedom nor will I encroach upon your happiness.

When none of this works, there’s the ‘inevitable’ approach. “You should visit us more often – anyway, you’re soon going to be married and you’ll leave us and we don’t know where you’ll live or how often you and your family will visit us. You’ll be busy loving your husband and his family and taking care of them, you won’t have time for us then, so why don’t you show us more love and come visit us more often now while you have the chance?”

It has now reached a point where every phone call, every conservation is either about who I’m currently seeing, when I will decide who to marry, when I will actually get married, or about how I’m avoiding all of those topics of conversation.

You are not allowed to make every conversation about my marriage or my resistance to it. “But we’re your parents, we’re worried you will end up alone! Are we not allowed to ask you even once if you’ve found someone?”

Ending up alone is not a very bad idea. But I will not end up alone because I don’t intend to. No, you are not allowed to ask – you are to trust that I will tell you when something worth sharing comes up.

After evading all this, there’s the ‘divine’ intervention route. My grandmother had consulted some astrologists who have told her that I absolutely ‘have to’ shell out money for this one puja that I ‘have to’ get done ‘for my own good’, in addition to listening to the Hanuman Chalisa every day.

I am a religious person in general and have a love for the qualities embodied by some mythological characters and would probably listen to the Hanuman Chalisa every day anyway, but this ‘have to’ business is annoying as shit.

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To all of this, my answer once and for all is that I am enough just the way I am.

I owe it to no one to get married and/ or have kids – unless I voluntarily choose to do so with my partner. If and when I choose to do that, it shall be on my own terms and with my own resources.

I will not stop being a part of this family when I get married – we just become a larger family. Nothing will change the fact that you are my parents and for heaven’s sake, stop talking like you’re sending me away on a lifetime mission to Mars. (I’m pretty sure SpaceX will be able to get me back from Mars, too.) I will not stop visiting you once I get married and nobody gets to tell me how often I can or cannot visit you.

You do not own me and you don’t get to give me away. You do not get to make choices for my body – who I should raise my kids with or when. You may or may not like it this way. But this is how things are. Get comfortable.

The reaction that caused me the most pain and hurt, surprisingly, came from my sister. When I tried to explain to my father that he and my mother did not really know the person that I’ve grown into ever since I left home, he listened. My hope is that he also understood. When I told my sister that she didn’t understand what my views on marriage were, she spat out in an alarmingly condescending tone, “Your views on marriage are bullshit.”

The hardest thing about learning to grow as a person and learning to live whole-heartedly is when the people that you love, the ones that you so desperately want to bring along resist it. When they refuse not only to make the journey with you but are adamant in their self-righteous disdain, it almost feels as if they are tantalisingly inviting you to give them an ultimatum. And I’ll be honest, I’m tempted to. But that is not how whole-heartedness works.

Watch the Q and A below (starts at 1:14:14) that addresses this very question.

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