In about a month’s time with, hopefully, a Master’s degree in hand, I’ll be embarking on a 28-hour long journey back home to my beloved Pakistan. I’m anxious and that’s not just because of the 28 hours of airplane and airport torture I’ll endure. I’m anxious about finding a job, having a curfew in place once again because I still live with my parents, and the notorious reverse culture shock which, I’m pretty sure, will hit me harder than my culture shock. But my biggest fear is marriage.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no aspirations of staying single for the rest of my life and knitting by the fireplace with my 20 cats at age 50. I have nothing against marriages in general. In fact I think it’s a beautiful concept. Two people falling in love, and deciding to spend the rest of their lives together, in matrimonial harmony. However, the idea of getting married just because it’s “time” and you’re bound to conform to the norms of society in which you live in, makes it somewhat a forced endeavor, rather than a natural process of life. And the aftermath can get ugly.
At 26, I’m already past the average age of 22, when Pakistani girls usually get married. In
fact just in the past one year, four of my closest school friends, whom I last met as single women, tied the knot. While I couldn’t be happier for my friends, there’s a trend in
Pakistan that, as soon as a girl reaches that defined “marriageable” age in her early 20s, or a guy is economically stable enough to support a family, society and those typical South Asian nosy relatives expect wedding bells. It’s considered an anomaly for a career oriented, single Pakistani woman to be independent, to put off marriage till late and not marry if she chooses not to.
It is every Pakistani mother’s purpose in life to hunt for an eligible son or daughter-in-law. Over the past 15 months, I can’t quite recall a single Skype call with my mom, where she didn’t sneak in that inevitable question mid-conversation, with her maternal instinct on point: “So, did you find someone?”.“No, mom!” I repeatedly told her, shaking my head. For someone who got married at 22, had a baby a couple years later and was planning a second one at my age, I can only imagine what a disappointment I must be.
However, one thing I can’t complain about is my folks who, unlike most typical Pakistani parents, are okay with the idea of my brothers and I finding someone on our own. I should thank my eldest brother for setting that precedent when he married his long-time girlfriend in 2007, with the consent of my parents, of course. Others are not so lucky.
Arranged marriages are very common in Pakistan, as they are in most South Asian countries. Outside referrals by relatives, family friends or third-party matchmakers, facilitate the matchmaking process. Depending on the families, the couple may or may not have the final say. Because of the family-oriented culture, it’s deemed more important for the two families to get along and be compatible than the couple tying the knot.
While we have come a long way from the days when the first time the groom saw his bride was on the wedding night (that still happens in the rural areas, though) to allowing couples to get familiar with each other prior to the wedding, there’s still a risk factor involved with arranged marriages. For one, it is not realistic to form an accurate assessment of a prospective assistant let alone a life-partner in one or two sittings. And even if you give the couple a trial period of getting a feel for each other, with meets and greets and phone calls, there will be a tendency to put on one’s best behavior, which can be misleading.
In other words, it’s a gamble. It might work beautifully for some, but go horribly wrong for others. After 36 years of being happily married, I can safely say it most definitely worked for my parents. But times have changed and the way people think, especially women, has changed.
With the amount of progress Pakistani women have made over the years, in all walks of life, they are becoming more independent, educated, well-aware of their rights, and also less willing to compromise, just because of their gender. Which is why they’re quick to walk out the door the first opportunity they get.
In 2011, Pakistan Today reported an increasing divorce rate in the past decade, with more
than 100 divorces registered in a day in family courts in Lahore alone. This is not to say that love marriages are infrangible, but at least in that case, you were a couple to begin with, as opposed to two people tied in a marital bond, figuring out how to become one.
As for me, as much as I love my parents and want to make them happy, I’ll marry because I want to and not because I have to.