HELLO UV READERS! I’m excited to be writing my first post here. And going by the old feminist slogan, “the personal is political”, my first post is about something that is intensely personal: marriage. My views on marriage have always been ambivalent. Even as a child, I recognized that most marriages I saw around me were unsatisfactory and, almost always, unfair on the woman. But it seemed like the default option. Once you grew up, you got married. Usually by the time you were 25 if you were female. You had a few more years if you were male.
Early on, possibly influenced by books I read, I rejected arranged marriage as an option. I was taken with the idea of marriage as an outcome of romantic love -– you love someone so much you want to spend the rest of your life with him –- but an arranged marriage was something I couldn’t understand (and still can’t but that’s not the subject of this post). Conforming with my own belief, I got married when I was 25. But the fitting into a stereotype ended there. I married a man from a different community who had grown up in the opposite end of the country (his Gujarat to my Assam) and who was as opposed to tradition and rituals as I was. We got married in the quietest way possible: in the registrar’s office, in the presence of only indispensable friends and family.
Before marriage, I had been living on my own in a rented flat while he lived with roommates. We had decided it would be practical for him to move in with me. So after the vows, we all went to my home -– now our home –- for lunch. My mother-in-law insisted on a few rituals and we indulged her. We also had a party in the evening where we dressed up in Indian clothes. I wore sindoor and a mangalsutra. But that was the extent of our bow to tradition.
Marriage didn’t change things much for either of us. The biggest difference was that we were more comfortable with each other in public and with each other’s families. But otherwise, we behaved much like we always had: enjoying each other’s company, talking for hours, watching movies, shopping, cooking and eating together. In terms of household chores, we shared things pretty equitably, each of us choosing the tasks we wanted to do. He ran errands more often than I did –- primarily because I don’t drive –- but he participated enthusiastically in household chores as well. I never knew what to say when people asked, “How’s married life?” “Not much different” was usually met with incredulity.
To me, husband merely means ‘male spouse’ and wife means ‘female spouse’. But that doesn’t seem to be in sync with other people’s perceptions of these terms. Women may have become more independent and men more considerate, but a ‘wife’ is still supposed to cook and clean while the ‘husband’ -– what? Pays bills? Watches TV? People greet with surprise even the declaration that he cooks (and enjoys it). It surprises and saddens me that it is such a big deal for the man to share (let alone share equally) the housework though it is now common for the wife to work outside and earn equally. The terms ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ are loaded with gender stereotyping. I am considering dropping these terms entirely and referring to him merely as my partner.
In fact, over time, I have come to believe that marriage itself is an outdated institution. When I first read this post long ago, I disagreed vehemently but I realised later that she was right. Even if one puts aside (for the moment), societal perceptions of gender roles within a marriage, a ‘marriage’ is supposed to be a lifelong bond between a man and a woman. But that isn’t what I want, or what I would call my relationship. Life is too long for me to be able to predict what I want for the rest of my life. I like and admire the person I married more than any other person I know but then, I’ve known him for only five years. How can I predict that we’ll still be in love after ten, twenty, fifty years? Today, we live with each other because we prefer it. If some day, either of us derives more discomfort than pleasure from the relationship, we’ll know it’s time to separate. A relationship shouldn’t be a bond that shackles people to unhappiness.
We got ‘legally’ married because that was the only aspect of getting ‘married’ that made sense to us. Rituals didn’t mean anything. Our family already knew and approved. Friends and acquaintances knew we were a couple. But we knew our parents would not understand us living together without getting married (and without any intention of doing so) and we recognised that the legal status of marriage would make things easier (to rent a house together, for example, or to travel together).
But I don’t see why the state should interfere in people’s personal lives at all. Why should it matter to the government who I live with, have sex with, procreate with?
I can think of three objections people may raise to the idea of doing away with marriage altogether. One, the spouse’s rights are protected by law. Secondly, there is the question of the care and custody of children. Finally, marriage might be said to enable stable families.
But property rights can be protected through shared ownership and wills. We should perhaps have some mechanism through which you can register one person as your “next of kin” with their consent. That takes care of who to inform in a medical emergency or whose permission is to be taken if the individual is incapacitated and a medical decision needs to be made. The question of children arises even in cases where marriage fails. Divorced couples do manage. Why should it be any different or more difficult if the couple have never been married to each other? As for the last objection — a relationship in which one or both partners are unhappy but are bound together isn’t stability; it’s confinement.
So I do advocate the end of marriage as an institution. Not that I see it happening anytime soon. But I feel we should treat ourselves as adults, free to navigate our own lives and relationships without religion or the state defining and adjudicating them for us.