Sometimes I’m sure I’ve heard it all from my parents when it comes to the disappointment that is marriage—or lack thereof.
“You obviously do not care about us or what we think.” “We raised you so preciously and look how you treat us.” “My children have ruined my life; I wish I never came to this country.”
In their cries, they make sure to add injury to insult: “You are paving the path to our graves”,“We have nothing to live for”, “You don’t love us; if you did, you would get married”.
If I shared these words with my non-Indian friends they would give me looks of shock, followed by sincere feelings of pity for having such ‘inconsiderate’ parents. “I’m so sorry. They must be very traditional.” They would use ‘traditional’ as if it were a bad word.
If I shared this with my cousins born and raised in India, they would tell me to stop being so inconsiderate and heed my parents’ words. “If you don’t get married, what is the point of everything they have done for you?” More importantly, they would remind me, “If you don’t get married, what will your parents have to live for?”
My dear friends who know how our South Asian culture works would sympathise and reassure me it will eventually pass—once I get married.
So here I am—stuck in the twists and turns of a bicultural upbringing. What if I don’t get married and something horrible does happen to my mother or father? I will surely blame myself. Yet, even if I do get married sooner than later, I will be continuously reminded of how I should have been wed a long time ago.
They will sadly recall all those years ‘lost’ in which they could have been happy and content knowing their daughter was married and spending time with their grandchildren. When we argue I beg them to see my version of ‘reason’. I ask my parents to remember how some of our relatives fared when their marriages did not follow the expected Bollywood script.
My aunt didn’t have a choice when her husband turned out to be an alcoholic, nor does my cousin now with a husband who is anything but gentle in his aggression towards her and their children. I remind my parents they will sadly not be in my life forever and when they leave me, I will be left with the man I marry. So, if I have a chance to avoid the heartache of a loveless marriage, shouldn’t I be allowed as much time as I need to choose a suitable life partner?
To my parents however, these words are irrational. They are blinded by the expectation in our South Asian community that children be married as soon as possible. “Is it too much to ask our children to get married?!?!” they cry. The rationale for my parents’ behavior is complex and deeply rooted in a family and societal obligation that is almost genetic in nature and perpetuated by everyone they love and hold dear.
Because my brother and I are not married, aunties and uncles question their parenting, our relatives ‘who never made it to the US’ laugh at how my parents came to the US only ‘to suffer’, and my grandparents scold them saying their life has no meaning. Even the media does not spare my parents the pain. When Indian films serially end with a marriage based on looks and lust, and ignore the trials and tribulations that come with discovering how to live, love and compromise as life partners (married or not) I understand my parents a little better.
My parents often question my values when they are reminded of how I am still not engaged—let alone wed. However, it is with the utmost regard for my family that I share my experience for others to read. Though there are customs I can no longer perpetuate, there are many more I am grateful to honor.
It is not as if I want to avoid marriage. Instead, I stand between a rock and a hard place. I am eager to start a family, but cannot bear a life of unhappiness that may result if I force a marriage to happen when it is not meant to be.
So I ask you, after all is said and done, whether you believe marriage is truly the same as happiness, or that your child’s worth is based on her tying the knot. If you can see past these misguided notions, you may find that patience and trust in your child to decide when she is ready for marriage may prevent an unsuitable match and keep her from a lifetime of unhappiness.
Akka is a first-generation Indian American woman in a clinical doctorate program for nurse-midwifery. She is a licensed RN, certified family planning and HIV counselor, and has an MPH in International & Maternal-Child Health.