[Bella’s intro: In India, as in the U.S., writings about single life are overwhelmingly written for, by, and about women. Recently, I wrote here about a book of essays by women in India who are staying single. I was so grateful that the women were willing to share their experiences. But almost every time I write only about women, I wish I could include men, too. Happy, Bhaumik Shah, a single man in India, offered to share his experiences with us, and I thank him for that. His essay strengthens my belief that we need to hear more from single men.]
I’m a 33-Year-Old Man in India, and I’ve Been Single All My Life
By Bhaumik Shah
If you are living in India, then the suggestions and advice of getting married and finding a life partner seems to be a never-ending saga. No matter at which age you are in or wherever you are. The ecosystem around us always pushes the urgency and importance of living your life with a partner and not alone. The institution of marriage is hardly questioned. The concept of “marriage is a choice but not a compulsion” doesn’t exist in the Indian society. We get married by default. Our personal choice of getting married and having kids is not our “personal” choice but in fact it’s everyone’s business.
Being 33 years of age, male, living single in India I have been asked several times if I am a gay or if I had a painful heart break which is keeping me away from the marriage. (Both are incorrect). My mother even took me to a psychiatrist to understand if there is something wrong with me. It’s so hard for her to understand that someone can decide not to get married out of a personal choice. She often fears what the society will think of her unmarried son. I think she also feels guilty thinking she has failed as a mother. If you decide to remain unmarried for life, you get labelled as commitment-phobic and self-centred or people assume there is something terribly wrong with you – physically or psychologically. Even your career selection is tied with marriage. If you are not an engineer or a doctor, then it is hard to establish yourself as marriage material. I sometimes wonder if parents in India can even die in peace if their children are not married.
The most common question I face from people around is “Who would take care of you when you are old?” It seems that the most important reason I should get married is to have someone to take care of me at old age. Well, I am comfortable and confident of looking after myself and I will also have people around. It’s not that I am going to live in isolation in some deserted Iceland. If needed I am also confident to find a community of old people living together when I reach 60. I strongly believe there will be a lot of professionally run old age homes in India in next 30 years and I will find a suitable one! Not that I won’t be able to live on my own but just out of the personal choice I may decide to stay within a community helping each other. On the other side, I am yet to find a person who can sign a letter saying, “if I get married, my partner will always stay with me and my children will take care of me no matter what”.
Sometimes people wonder if I get depressed and really feel alone on the weekends. Surprisingly that has never been the case so far! I love reading books for hours which is very natural and easy for me. In India watching movies in a theatre alone is also a taboo and contrary to which I just love watching movies on big screens with a single ticket. There are times where I’ve seen back to back 3 movies in theatre in single day – not because I was getting bored but simply because that’s what I love doing!
Another taboo in India is solo travelling. Wandering without a partner, spending time with yourself, taking a vacation and travelling alone are still not considered ‘normal’ activities in India. When you travel solo many a times people pity you and feel sorry for you not having someone to accompany, without realizing solo travel is out of a choice and not circumstances. I have travelled to multiple countries on my own and I have had some fantastic interactions with people and myself that usually are difficult to happen when you are not alone.
I am not sure if the situation is better or worse in western world. In India at least we don’t have peer pressure of dating over weekends. However, I can see existence of different communities and groups for singles (who don’t want to be mingle) in western world which are very rare to find in India. One more thing which often surprises me is when I google “being single in India” I find tons of women centric articles about how hard it is for a “woman” to live single in this country. There are many debates on not making marriage a defined pathway for women in India and I wonder why the debates are mostly women centric and men are ignored. I agree, it’s very tough for a woman not to get married and remain single in India, but I also feel it’s not easy for men either. Single men in India often attracts suspicion from the society.
By any means this post is not against marriage. If someone wants to get married and fits into the institution, there is no harm. In fact, my own profile was once up and running on an Indian matrimonial site. However, I do have reservations against making it inevitable for everyone. I do think the society needs to be more open and accept individual choices of way of living life – with a romantic partner or without.
Bhaumik Shah, 33, lives in India. He enjoys deep conversations on love and life. Books, movies and travel satisfy his soul. He is a strong believer that “marriage is not a mandate, but an option”. He usually notes his thoughts down on his blog, Love life Live life.