Dear Desi woman on the brink of marriage,
Congratulations on this exciting time in your life! Maybe you’ve been dating your partner for a while and or maybe your engagement was a surprise to you; maybe you are fresh out of high school or perhaps you’re well into your forties. Getting married for the first time is always an exciting but also daunting prospect. Its hard to know what to expect and often advice from family & friends can seem conflicting. You may not be able to see it yet, but our culture places a lot of value on weddings rather than marriage.
The only thing we know for sure is that Desi marriages are never supposed to end and that you must stay together NO MATTER WHAT. Yet, no actual useful advice is given on how to make a marriage last or how to deal with marital conflict. While you may get advice steeped in religion and tradition, often most of this isn’t practical advice that actually benefits you- as the woman- in the marriage. But luckily for you, Panda is here to spill the tea about the things you should be talking about before you get into a marriage. As much as society may perpetuate the notion that ‘love is all you need’, there is a lot more to making a marriage work starting with clear expectations before signing the marriage register.
Now that I am in a relationship with someone who isn’t Desi, I can clearly see how many behaviours accepted as ‘cultural norms’ are actually toxic and can severely destroy a woman’s quality of life after marriage. This post may not be for everyone’s taste but there are many women out there who need to read these things even if they disagree with them:
1. Your parents are STILL your parents after marriage
Traditionally brides would bawl because they felt that they were being given away by their parents to their in-laws. But here is the thing that no will emphasis to you- Your parents are your life givers; this doesn’t change because you are married. Getting married means welcoming new people into your life- not throwing away the old ones. As much as your in laws should welcome you and be kind to you, you will not forget about your parents. In fact, you may need them more now that you are married because you will need their emotional support to transition into this difficult time.
Let’s be clear: just because you are married doesn’t mean you can’t see or talk to your family anymore. You can and should see them whenever you want to. No one has ANY right to make you feel guilty about this and NO ONE can ever replace your family.
2. You don’t have to give up your education/career
Why does marriage need to halt your education or career? Does it halt a man’s education/career? No. So why must it affect yours? If you spent 4 years training to be a forensic pathologist then why does getting married require you to halt that passion and become a receptionist simply because its deemed for ‘suitable’ for someone’s wife. If you give up you passions at the beginning of your marriage, you’re losing the whole essence of who you are. A truly supportive partner will never expect you to do that despite what his mother or aunties may think. And trust me, one day you will look back and regret, “I wish I had completed my Masters Degree” or “”My life would’ve been different if I had continued being a chef”.
Remember, you know what makes you happy and you know yourself best; no one else can manipulate or guilt you into doing anything just because it suits them and their idea of what you should be.
3. You don’t have to move in with your in-laws or feel guilty about not doing so
Back in the day- when women didn’t have the earning potential that they do now- the expectation was that a man would support his parents and that his wife would move in with them so that he didn’t have to sustain two households. However, with many present day couples being dual earners- in fact some women are earning far more than their male counterparts and living independently- there is no financial obligation for women to live with a man’s family anymore.
Yet somehow women find themselves being guilted into moving into another family home which comes with its own rules, expectations and duties- responsibilities that not every woman wants to take on especially if she can and wants to live independently. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied into decisions that will only destroy your peace of mind. Discuss how you both will manage your money and how financial planning can help you both be independent and happy. And if you’re married and chose not to live with your in-laws, you don’t have to spend every visit listening to how you aren’t a good daughter in law because you don’t live with them; neither do you need to be persuaded into the idea of it. If you don’t want to, your decision needs to be respected.
If marrying someone REQUIRES you to move in with his family and you don’t want to- you may want to evaluate whether a marriage to him (and clearly his parents) is worth your long term sanity.
4. You don’t have to change the things you like (or what you eat or what you wear or how you practice religion)
Desi men (like most men) have this habit of loving everything about you- the fact that you travel, are financially successful, the way you wear make up, the fact that you enjoy a good steak, have a thriving social life or the way you wear shorts to the beach. But suddenly you’re in a relationship/engaged/married and this means you must change. Why does it mean you have to change? Why does your relationship status affect your personality or social life or fashion sense? It doesn’t for men and it shouldn’t have to for you. When a woman marries it’s become a norm within our culture for her to ‘cover up more’ or ‘got to the temple more frequently’. No one ever expects a man to change what he wears or where he goes.
I can’t stress the importance of having these discussions RIGHT AT THE BEGINNING of any partnership and at EVERY STAGE as well. Humans change and so too may your expectations of your partner change which is why its important to communicate these about these matters. Marriage shouldn’t mean you need to go church everyday if you were only going once a week before. If you want to get deeper into religion, that’s your personal decision that no one should pressure you into. If your wardrobe consisted of spaghetti straps and heaps of make up then you shouldn’t be expected to wear long sleeves after marriage or go bare-faced and neither should you feel guilty if you don’t want to.
Discuss these issues and you may find that there’s an expectation that you will change after marriage… even though it’s never been discussed with you before.
5. You don’t need to give away control of your body- have kids when and if you want to
For whatever reason, our culture perpetuates this notion that the second you walk down the aisle or around the fire, you should be striving to conceive a child. Why? I have no idea. Marriage is difficult enough, adjusting to living with someone (if you’ve never lived together before) and all that comes with it; feeling pressure to have a child shouldn’t be lumped on top of that stress too.
Many women are suffering with feelings of inadequacy because they feel pressure to have babies and can’t or don’t want to for whatever reason. At the end of the day, its your body and you & your partner will be the child’s parents. It’s up to both of you to decide when and if you have children. If you have other things to do before you want kids- like studying further or travelling- then you can surely reach a compromise depending on the supportiveness of your partner. And if your aunties and his cousins won’t sniping about your alleged barrenness, you don’t need to feel guilty about that.
It’s your body and your life- you must do whatever makes you happy. Children- if that’s your wish- will come if and when they are meant to. And if they don’t… that’s ok too.
6. There is life after divorce
This is my last point and while its probably the ugliest one for a bride to be thinking of, its also the most important one that no one else is going to talk to you about. Believe me, no matter how strict your parents are, NO parent wants to see their child suffer and NO parent wants to bury their child. Your parents will take you back with a full suitcase or be happy to see you move away from a situation that brought you happiness rather than having to attend your funeral. And even though I am not a parent, I don’t believe many level headed parents would disagree with me.
While divorce is difficult and can be traumatic, it is also sometimes a necessity to remove yourself from a situation that causes you emotional or physical distress. You do not need to stay in a situation that makes you feel inadequate or brings you great suffering. You can find happiness again and your life can be better than it ever was while married. I am living proof of that.
My only advice is to you in this regard is to- GET A PRENUP.
In my last marriage to a Desi man I suffered through every single one of the above. I spent years thinking there was something wrong with ME for wanting to continue educating myself in my early twenties instead of having babies and for not wanting to live with my in laws because I was earning enough not to do that. I was constantly berated for not wearing clothes my in laws deemed appropriate enough (even though there was nothing indecent about anything I wore). I was told that my in laws would replace my parents and that I needed to dedicate more time to serving their family. All of these cultural norms brought me great distress and emotional anguish.
My parents- being the sensible people that they are- told me that I don’t have to do anything that I don’t want to. That I don’t need to feel obligated to do things I don’t want to or feel guilty about not doing those things. In case your parents are stuck in cultural straitjackets, I am here to be the sensible one for you.
Every topic above MUST be discussed with your partner BEFORE you walk down the aisle. If you don’t want to live with your in-laws, make it clear. If you plan to continue working after marriage, establish that precedent. How will we manage our money? What do we want to accomplish before we have children? How much of an influence will your parents have in decisions about our household and lifestyle? If your partner is reluctant to have these discussions and be open in their answers then these are red flags immediately. Culture will teach you that it’s wrong to bring up these topics especially as a woman marrying a man- that a man’s word must be obeyed and his wishes must be granted.
But these days, its easier than ever to get divorced and if you want your marriage in 2019 to last you well into the future, you can’t follow principles from the 1800’s. You can only adapt cultural practices to suit your needs and evolve them as society changes.
Any relationship- whether it results in marriage or not- requires an immense amount of communication, compromise and conflict management. If you can start those principles as early as possible in the relationship, you have a far better chance of having a long lasting commitment to each other. Life is short and you only get one chance to live it the way you want to. At the end of the day only you can make yourself happy- not culture or traditions or what people think of you. Make sure you’re comfortable with the uncomfortable topics before you say your vows.
With all my support,
I think you’ve done well in this post and using personal experiences to help explain. Not knowing you were a Desi woman before (but I did) I think your advice is good for all people, not just to one culture. There are so many things that are not discussed between the couple or with parents (’cause we don’t want to make too many waves), or with a third party that often, like children, there is no prescription, model or directions. It’s a “wing-it” and work at it situation.
Trust is a big question to ask oneself of oneself and the partner and does each person know that they can depend on the other-that may take time. Trust is to me one of the biggest pitfalls or strengths of a relationship.
I agree with you that this advice can be applied across the spectrum of cultures and that it highlights the importance of communication between all couples. Trust is also a huge dealbreaker for me and probably one of the most important aspects for me as well. Unfortunately these days we have to forgo the attitude of ‘not making waves’ and be realistic about the elements of what will help your marriage work.
The waves I meant were parental concerns, as personal experience. Making waves and reality in one’s own marriage is sometimes very necessary.
Ah ok I thought you meant being afraid to make waves before the wedding with your partner.
Great post, I really enjoyed reading it. I’m not a Desi woman, but I can sympathize with the weight of the emotional labor that all of what you mentioned must feel like… whew, I’m truly distressed just thinking about it! So glad you’re bringing these things up, and that you are actively creating a relationship that will make you happy. Best of luck!
Bethany you’re so right that even from a non-cultural perspective, the expectations and pressures on any woman in a heterosexual relationships is much higher than anything that is expected of a man. The only we as women can find our own happiness to create new ways of thinking and challenge old norms!