Dealing with Annoying Questions When You’re Single

Photo by Karolina Grabowska

It’s not easy being a single woman in India.

Everyone is out to advise you on how you should live your life. One hot topic is marriage. The marriage “advisors” (could range from your parents to your friendly neighborhood milk delivery guy) might fight every day with their partners but will not skip a beat to lecture the singles about the benefits of holy matrimony and how much happiness it brings. Outside of their public rants and frustrations involving their better half, there might be a peaceful paradise that they guard secretly, so I would give them the benefit of the doubt and take their word for it. But marriage is not for everyone. I had to get in one to realize it was not for me.

Many in India succumb to arranged marriages because of pressure from family, friends, neighbors, colleagues – almost everyone. I had once faced it. I couldn’t take the pressure and ended up getting married. The relationship suffered from incompatibility issues, and divorce was the best option.

It is a hopeless place – being the epicenter of parental pressure. It can break even those with nerves of steel. It’s not wrong to say that not every Indian gets the chance to experience intimate love because they are forced into marriage before they are ready. It becomes a compromise of sorts where each partner partakes in responsibilities and demands that society expects them to fulfill in the name of love. In between all the cacophony of the daily routine, intimacy loses its way. Life in itself becomes time-tabled because you have things to do and mouths to feed. Where is the time for love in an Indian household?

So how can someone get past this pressure and live peacefully in India as a single person? How to say no to marriage?

Here are some ways you can deal with insufferable questions:

  1. Whenever someone starts with their unsolicited advice, don’t take it with a smile. It is imperative to make your point clear – that you are not looking for unwanted advice.
  2. If no one understands you, move out and reduce contact. This is a harsh step, but if your freedom is important to you, unfortunately, it is the only way. Not everyone can step away as it requires some emotional and financial stability.
  3. Make peace with the idea that you will be emotionally blackmailed by everyone around you. It will never stop, even if you relocate because you can still be contacted via phone calls or WhatsApp. You can only hope they will get used to your way of life one day. In my case, people got fed up with talking to me about topics I am not interested in – like marriage. No one irritates me anymore with the “when are you getting married?” questions. However, it took a divorce for people to leave me alone.

In India, regrettably, most people give in to pressure. They do not wish to offend or disappoint their loved ones. This is understandable, but it also means giving away your freedom of choice to someone. You cannot have it all in India. You’ll have to choose one – your freedom or keeping your loved ones happy.

As a single woman, it was not easy to reach the “other side.” It was like a bumpy adventure with its own blocks and complications. It takes mental strength to go against the norm and stick with it. It is not easy but definitely not impossible.

An Ode to Being Unmarried and Childless

Yellow flower
Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n

I am in my late 30s, unmarried, and might never have a child.

My biological clock is past its prime, which means that if I ever get married, it might be too late to conceive naturally. Right now, I am in a complicated relationship that I am okay with since my ultimate goal is, anyway, not marriage. I had been tempted a few times to get married to partners in the past, but it never materialized. In a way, I am thankful that the mother universe did not grant me those wishes. If she did, I would have landed in some serious trouble. I wasn’t right for them, and they weren’t for me either. It was a two-way street of disappointment and incompatibility that new love often tends to cover up and sideline.

When love is new and all-things-dreamy, it overrides potential issues. Everything seems solvable, including toxicity. Over time, when you are “used” to this feeling of love, you start paying attention to the issues you had conveniently ignored the first time around. This is where the real test begins – when the honeymoon phase ends. For some, the dreaminess and butterflies linger on for life. For others, the relationship becomes a compromise. Some others, like myself, realize it is best to move on. I often wonder what my life would have been if I had succumbed to marriage in my honeymoon phase, only to realize later that we are incompatible. So, yes, I am thankful things did not work out the way I desperately wanted at that point in time.

Talking about universal manifestations reminds me of this profound poetry from Blythe Baird’s If My Body Could Speak. I found it very relatable.

Poem on theories of the universe by Blythe Baird
Theories About The Universe – Blythe Baird

So here I am in a world that is the polar opposite of my peers, taking it one day at a time, living on my own terms, dealing with my own demons, and at peace with my courteous angels. Frankly, you tend to become less flexible and stuck to your patterns at this age. Probably, this is why they tell you to marry early – so you can adjust to differences better.

Presently, I find it unbearable to let go of this freedom of choice and, mainly, the freedom from compromises of any kind. I don’t have to entertain people I don’t like just because they are my partner’s family. I don’t have to sweet-talk anyone because they are my child’s BFF’s parents. It’s the kind of freedom I have become attached to. It is, without a doubt, I am where I am for purely selfish (or self-love; there are many ways of looking at this) reasons and not for the “world” and “climate control” as is the norm nowadays. I believe you should only have children because you want to experience what it is like to raise a child. Not because you think you might end up lonely and definitely not because it’s what society demands.

When someone tells me I should get married and have children, I ask them why. Most often, the answer would be immediate, “So you don’t end up alone when you are old.” This answer is quite tricky. All around, I see partners who are “not there” entirely, caught up in their own busy worlds. I see senior citizens living alone, their children comfortably settled abroad or outside their native place. Marriage becomes a gamble when you get into it expecting “help.” You may or may not receive what you seek. The help we get from our children might mostly be financial. Then again, the senior citizens I see are well-off and are not entirely dependent on their children. I often wonder why we have to burden our kids with our expectations. Is that why we give birth to new beings – so that they can fulfill our demands? I consider myself selfish for not wanting to give up my freedom. But isn’t it equally selfish to burden someone with our expectations?

Returning to the question of “Who will take care of you?” It is a concern, yes. But what is the guarantee that a partner or child will provide us with the best care?

As a single woman who would probably prefer to be single all her life, I can’t help think about my future time-to-time. What would I do when I turn old? Right now, my mind is leaning towards a high-quality assisted living facility. This information is not to evoke pity or compassion but to keep an open mind about the practicality of it all. Such high-end centers are extremely senior-citizen-friendly – they have a doctor-on-call, in-house chefs that cater to your dietary restrictions, people who help you with grocery and chores, wheelchair-friendly living quarters, and much more. The paid caregivers would be more interested in helping you than anyone near you. In an assisted living environment, people are trained to deal with elderly issues. Since it’s a job, they will try to give it their best. Moreover, you are surrounded by people your age, and they would be more interested in talking to you than someone younger.

Of course, you need to forego some luxuries in real-time to afford this. I am in half a mind to buy a new property (to show everyone I can). But the sensible half wants to hold that thought so I could pool the money into my “assisted living fund.”

Why can’t I stay with my family, you ask? Though our loved ones adore us, no one can be at our beck and call 24×7 without losing their sanity. Over time, my family might understandably grow bitter (even if they love me) due to exhaustion, frustration, and lack of freedom that comes with taking care of my needs, which could be both mental and physical. Such pressure can ultimately ruin a perfectly healthy relationship.

That’s how I look at it – I rather someone take care of me mindfully than grudgingly out of a false sense of obligation.

An Ode to Feeling Moody, Meh, and All That

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels

It has been a strenuous few weeks at work. At a point where I am just craving to take a break and go somewhere. Or just enjoy the weather and read. Even the usual weekend break is not cutting it.

But a vacation has to wait because of work deadlines.

I have realized something over the years—whenever I am stressed at work, I also tend to overthink a lot about my life in general and become unwelcomely crabby, subjecting myself to mind-numbing questions “Where am I heading? What am I doing? Why are people like this? Why is the world so bad?” And sulk about it even if I have no plans to shift out of the zone I am in because it is quite perfect for me otherwise, outside these moody phases. So I just sit with the feeling and wait for it to pass, like a hermit in search of worldly answers.

When work is more relaxed and I get a breather, life seems calm and harmonious. Professional life does affect your personal life, no matter how much you try to separate the two. I didn’t realize this behavioral pattern till I saw it repeat, time and again. Now, I know, and tell myself, “Yeah, it’s because you are mentally tired. You just want to take a few days off and do what you like best. You will be okay once you get that break.” This self-realization is cathartic in a way and a problem-solver because you know where the issue lies. But here’s the catch—it only comes when you choose to sit with your feelings and introspect, not run away.

So I am in that phase right now where I get moody seeing others’ travel posts on social media. I get moody when an ex’s update pops up somewhere on my social media feed because of a mutual friend. (Yup, social media is bad for your mental health, especially when you are stressed.) I even get moody when there are too many people around. The things that don’t usually affect you with much intensity, start gnawing at your brain and make you overthink.

As you grow up, you become more familiar with your emotions. You start to ask why you feel the way you do, so that the next time you face the emotion again, you know how to handle it better. Self-realization builds with experience. The more you encounter a feeling, the more you get to learn about its dynamic range and complexities. I feel the manner in which each person deals with their emotions is as unique as their fingerprints. All your experiences shape the way in which you handle or feel about things. What one person goes through in an emotion might be different from the next person as each one’s life story is exclusive and uncommon. So how can we say with finality that we should deal with an emotion only in one particular way? What if there are multiple okay ways to deal with things? And being moody is also an okay way contrary to popular belief.

Most people’s advice would be to snap out of being moody. Movies and tv series show loud friends whisking away their moody buddies to a party to dull down their emotions, hoping it would make them feel better. A person like me would have dissociated myself from such friends even if they meant good because the last thing I would need is a party.

Basically, the world wants you to do just about anything other than feeling your emotions. But I would say, just sit with it. Acknowledge its presence and understand it is only human to feel “nothing” or “moody” for a while. It is not a prison that you need to escape from. It is an intricate, delicate, and overlooked part of you that craves your embrace and attention.

An Ode to the Kind Stranger at the Café

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on Pexels

A bitter argument.

A door slam.

An empty apartment. A heavy heart.

Tears. Surplus tears.

Misery spanning the entire morning and half of afternoon.

No breakfast, no lunch; hunger killed by words as sharp as a knife.

Hunger killed by somatic brashness.

Soul crushing, sky falling, world burning.

It feels like death – this beginning of the end.

Death of a person still very much alive.

Death of a marriage.

Death of love.

I push myself up. Wiping away tears.

I head outdoors.

I walk aimlessly, like a lost soul.

I see a small café.

Self-care beckons.

I should eat something.

An order placed with gloom. Face full of despair.

Eyes down. Gaze lowered. No strength to face anyone.

No strength to smile.

A cup of coffee and a sandwich.

The order arrives.

I lift my gaze. It makes me smile.

The coffee has something drawn on top.

A heart.

A beautiful little heart.

Intrigued, I look at other cups around me.

No, this one is just for me.

In a sea of deep, numbing pain, it felt like a wave of comfort.

A compassionate message.

A comforting hug.

I look around for the waiter.

I spot him. At a corner.

Working but eyes fixed on me.

He smiles compassionately.

I smile back.

Warmth.

A sign that the world is not so bad after all.

A sign that I’ll be okay – even if it’s the beginning of the end.

Context: The magic of kindness. A stranger I’ve never met before provided me hope on the most hopeless of days. I never met him after that. The incident happened years ago, but I still think of it fondly. I feel a cocktail of emotions whenever I flashback to that moment in the café. It still makes me teary-eyed. It still makes me smile.