My cousin recently got married to a man she had been dating for about a year. The ceremony was replete with the lights and razzmatazz befitting a celebrity marriage, but nothing could better the glow of the gushing bride and her somewhat serious looking husband as they made their way into the sunset, happily ever after. A month later, I asked Sonia what her thoughts were when she first met Faisal. Was it love at first sight? Did she see themselves growing old together, raising kids and grandkids, and whispering sweet nothings to each other even when they were 70? Sonia paused for a second and said, “No.” She was actually thinking of her laundry list and the saree she saw in the store the other day that this guy’s shirt colour reminded her of. Mundane with a capital M, anyone?
Before you mistake me for a hopeless romantic, let me assure you that I am anything but. In fact, it wouldn’t be an understatement to call myself a marigophobic, my made-up word to describe my antipathy to marriages in general. Mind you, I have nothing against love or commitment in general. As a 30 year old bachelor, I’ve tasted the slings and arrows of cupid to acknowledge that love is a much-splendoured thing, and it is indeed far better to have loved and lost than not loved at all. My individual angst lies with the whole institution of marriage itself, starting from its ceremonial display of nuptial vows (that are almost always never kept in one form or the other), to the whole concept of monogamy and devotion to the intrinsically flawed idea of one true love.
Mind you, my partners-in-crime are usually my fellow men, even quite a few married fellows who have been disenchanted by the whole shebang. But the point of my little story is that recently, I’m being mildly amused by the small but significantly increasing number of women who are taking a more prosaic view about marriage, and are actually growing sceptical.
This being conservative Bangladesh, most of my female friends look forward to the day they will get married. If you really push them into a corner, almost all will admit that the appealing factor behind marriage is that it guarantees them a patient, sensitive, and emotionally available (read lobotomised) partner for life. The life partner is more often than not sculpted according to individual needs, making marriages one of the earliest experiments in social engineering, and more crucially, putting the woman in the driving seat.
As a result, a Bangladeshi woman usually takes her marriage very seriously: her spouse becomes a vivid representation of herself, almost a mirror, if you will, through which her society views her, and gives her approval, or disdain, depending on her choice. So when I ask Bangladeshi women about how they felt when the met their “life partner” for the first time, I’ve come to expect a complete, complex, and deeply personal narrative.
Sonia’s off-hand comment threw me off, but it’s the kind of nonchalance about marriage that I see slowly creeping into Bangladeshi women of a certain socio-economic category. Working women, women of independent wealth, even women who have had marriage aspirations since they were young, are increasingly absent minded about the choices they are making about their life partners. And I have absolutely no explanation as to why.
The simple explanation could be that women don’t have the time to be mulling about decisions anymore. Sonia is the bellwether of her cohort; she has a nine-to-five job, a small side business of her own, and runs the household like the proud matriarch that she is. More and more Bangladeshi women are taking on multiple roles, and romance and fatalism sometimes become diminished on the grand scale of money, power and career oriented thinking.
Yet, I suspect a more sinister change in the offing. Just like for centuries, men have had the upper hand over choosing their mate, with little power vested into the hands of the other half of the relationship; it is now women who are finding men more displaceable and directly substitutable. With more options come more power, and women are suddenly discovering that a Faisal is sometimes just as good as a Sohel or a Tanvir. And what’s more, if a Faisal does not work out in the long run, perhaps a Tom, Dick or Haresh could be imported. Behold emancipation!
Of course Sonia would never admit to my dastardly cynical way of thinking, and this could be all the antics of my patriarchal brain screaming out at the sight of gross injustice handed out to my sex. But if disposable life partners become the norm, how much longer till marriages become the dinosaur of the next century? You heard it here first!