It’s been a while since I’ve brought the topic of marriage onto this blog. Some of you might remember my post about rishta aunties. I wrote that post three years ago, easily quipping about how twenty-somethings in Pakistan are always fretting about the all-seeing potential mothers-in-law hunting them down. Well, guess who’s a twenty-something know? (I think this is what they call karma.)
So what better way to deal with this than take it head on? Let’s talk marriage, ladies and gentlemen, specifically marriage for young women in the middle to upper middle class in urban Pakistan. First thing’s first – just about everyone has had a boyfriend. Oh, I’m sorry, do you not like to call him that? Even though you text non-stop from your secret phone? Even though you’re “best friends” who make eyes at each other across the quad? Let’s get real. Every girl who has gone to university has bound to have had one or two (mis)adventures of the heart. (And if she hasn’t, she’s a gem, aunties, snap her up for young Javaid now!)
We’re all familiar with the horrors of formalized arranged marriages, where the girl often feels like a show pony, and the boy is presented as an investment portfolio more than a human. We know about the dreaded serving tea on a trolley ritual, and keeping your legs crossed and your eyes down. We know of how the term semi-arranged (we like each other but we got our parents’ approval) has become a thing now, and how parents have become more open to the idea of their children having love marriages. (I wonder how they would react to I’m in love but I don’t want to marry him.)
So what is it like? The actual marriage part? Supposing you find a fellow that puts up with you (bonus points if he actually appreciates you, ladies!) and start looking to shack up (ahem, I mean, begin your lives together) there’s several other obstacles you find yourself facing. These are some stories I’ve heard over the last three years.
Best Behavior – for how long?
Mom and Dad found a nice/decent/friendly/kind guy, I got to know him, and we are married/engaged/baat-pakki’ed now. He’s great, but we’re still learning our way around each other. Do I tell him about my ex-boyfriends? I am committed to him, but they were a central part of shaping my personality, and many of my views about the world. How long do I keep pretending they never existed?
His Parents Don’t Like Me
We’re perfect for each other. We’ve been happy together for such a long time, and have overcome difficulties together. We want to marry each other, but his parents don’t approve of me. Words that felt like praise my entire life are now reasons for my rejection – working woman, strong, capable, ambitious, good grades, career-oriented. I knew I had to marry his family, but what if they don’t want to marry me?
I Know I Have to Stop Working – for my Family
I have a career and I love it. I am from a wealthy family, and have no need to work. I am well educated and I want to use all those hard-earned degrees, but I know that when I get married, I have to balance my personal obligations with my professional ones. And I know I will have to give up my career – it’s the right thing to do.
Women Can’t Have It All – “Having It All” Just Means Being a Bad Mother
Because I don’t cook for my kids, I’m a bad mom. Because I don’t make it to “pot luck luncheons”, I am a bad mother. I’m killing it in the boardroom, and providing for them just as much as my husband is, but because I am not doing my “womanly” duties, I am a bad mother. It doesn’t matter that I pay the cook and that I buy their school supplies. What matters is that I don’t attend the kitty parties the other mothers throw, and I carry a briefcase. My kids and happy, living fulfilled lives, and they know that their mother loves them and is always there for them – but society doesn’t.
I Make More Money Than He Does & This Is A Problem
I don’t care about him enough. I am not attentive enough. I am always busy with my work. That’s what I hear. The clothes aren’t freshly laundered and the tables are dusty – I am a bad wife. The funny thing is, I am also paying the rent.
This post has one simple purpose: to get us to think about the imposed social structure and societal norms we’ve built. Each of these stories has multiple perspectives. I’ve kept them short and simple, because I invite you to explore them in your minds. Think about your experiences, your friends, and your ideas. And if we can all accept one new idea today, I think that’s a smashing success.