The first time marriage became a topic possibly relevant to me was when I went to college. No one had ever talked about it in terms of me before: not my parents, not my friends in school, not my cousins or sister. We'd discussed the "ideal boyfriend", what we want to be "when we grow up", colleges, dreams, travel plans, how to change the world etc, but never the “ideal husband” or marriage.
Within the first couple of months of college, however, during one of those late-night talks when everyone's just trying to get to know each other and make new friends, someone asked "So, what age do you want to get married at?"
That was the first time I'd even thought about the idea of me being married. I was only 18, I'd just begun college in a new country, I was as confused as ever about what I wanted to do with my life. Marriage, frankly, had never even occurred to me as a possible part of my Plans for the Future. I was genuinely surprised at the question. "You mean to say you guys have an age that you want to be married by? You've actually thought about this before?"
That's the first time I really understood that there are families which have expectations from their children regarding marriage. My best friend at the time, a boy, had a long-term girlfriend that his parents knew about. He knew he was going to be married around the age of 25, because his girlfriend would be 24 at that time and already past the "ideal marriage age" for girls in her family. Another close friend, a girl, said that there was no way she'd be allowed to be unmarried past the age of 24, and that's if she managed to push it to 24.
This was all new to me. My parents had never even mentioned their "plans" for my marriage to me. They still haven't, and I'm fairly sure they don't have any such plans anyway. I couldn't imagine a situation in which my various uncles and aunts and grandparents could pressure me into getting married at any age. Why would it be any of their business? And why would disapproval from them lead to me making the life-altering, very serious decision about getting married?
Since then, I've talked more to my friends, and while I still can’t understand the pressure and the expectations that they face because I’ve never faced that, I’ve accepted that there are such pressures. My advice to just “screw it and do what you want” may not work in all situations and for all people. I may not be able to empathise, but I can at least sympathise.
I’ve also had more time to think about marriage. And it still doesn’t feature on my Plans for the Future. For many reasons, I don’t understand marriage as a concept, and until I am convinced that there’s a real reason why I should get married, I don’t plan on getting married. What really bugs me, however, is the dismissal that I encounter if I voice this opinion. “Oh, you’re still young. You’ll change your mind in five years.” I have heard that countless times. Especially so if I add that I don’t like kids, and don’t want to have any of my own. The indulgent smiles from many adults really annoy me. Yes, I’m 20, but that mean that my opinions will necessarily change magically when I hit 25? Why are all women expected to want to get married? Why am I expected to want kids just because I’m a woman?
Do guys face the same indulgent smiles and general disbelief? I don’t know, but I’m inclined to believe not. A guy saying that he doesn’t want to get married or have kids will probably be more believed than a woman saying that (I may be wrong here). The expectations that a large part of society has from its members are extremely gendered. I may want to change my mind later on in life, but the desire to not get married just to spite those who were so convinced that I would change my mind is very strong.
I feel a little stupid even writing about this, because I do feel too young to be even thinking about marriage. Not because I’m too young to understand it and have an opinion about it, but because I feel too young to be thinking about it affecting my life because it’s never been discussed as part of my life in my family, and won’t be a part of my life for a long, long time, if ever. But I have friend who might be married two years from now, solely because the society she lives in has set this schedule that her life must follow, and marriage is part of it. Her not wanting to be married at 24 is abnormal, stupid and against everything they believe in, and hence, the childish desire must be ignored and squashed. And my opinion that marriage as an institution doesn’t make sense should die a similar death.