My parents tell me that I cannot delay marriage much longer, and have begun pestering me with information on various young men. I find it impossible to make a choice by only looking at a photo and some very basic information such as education and job (and, of course, caste). One young man seems better educated, another seems more fun, another more handsome… but how can one tell the reality?
And even if one did know the reality, I find it difficult enough to decide what sari to wear or which of my friends to invite for a special event! How do I decide with whom to spend the rest of my life?
I sympathise with your dilemma. At the end of the day, every choice can only be made in the light of imperfect knowledge. Even people we know very well, change over time, and sometimes make silly decisions, or change in unpredictable ways in response to dangers, opportunities, suffering, and so on.
Life comes with no guarantees … but what we do know is that, if we wish, we can walk through the uncertainty of life, hand in hand with God. I am not aware if you know God, or even believe in Him, but let us, for the moment, leave that out and consider the question of marriage simply at a human level. You are very right in saying that the sort of information we are presented with nowadays (photo and basic information about education and work) does not give us any basis for deciding.
Traditionally, the network of relatives and friends gave you much more relevant information, including what used to be the most important matter: the family background. Nowadays, family background is, sadly, less important because we live in a more and more individualistic world, so what is more relevant is the person’s circle of friends – but no one talks about that during marriage discussions! So here’s the start of what you might like to find out about your potential husband: who are his closest friends? What sort of people are they? If he doesn’t have any close friends, that is itself an indicator that you ought to take into account in making your choice.
You also need to find out about his likes and dislikes. For example, if you like to go out a lot, while he wants to spend time at home, then at least you know that this is an area in which, if you want to live happily together, you will have to adjust to each other – for example by deciding which days (each week or each month or in relation to festivals) you are going to go out and when you are going to stay at home.
Next, what are his ideals regarding family? Of course, children are a gift from God, but insofar as you can influence things at all, would you like to have no children, or only one, or several? And does he value close family relationships or is he focused more on career, money, power, or fun? If you marry him, will you be living with his parents, or will you be living separately? If you will be living with his parents, then it is highly important to find out as much as possible about them too! Also, are there any siblings, especially brothers, at his home? If any older brothers, then they are likely to be already married, and you will need to get along with the ‘bhabhis’ as well.
Next, what are his life-goals? If you are interested in a comfortable life, while he wants to change the world, then things may not be easy between you, because anyone who is committed to some ideal is probably going to have a difficult life as he clashes with vested interests that oppose his ideals.
Lastly (for the moment!) what are his values, or what does he regard as appropriate and inappropriate means of getting to those goals? What I mean is that, even if you are both committed to the same goal (for example, a comfortable life), you may have different values regarding how honest one should be, or what one should be prepared to give up for that ambition.
In any case, what a comfortable life means to you may not be what it means to him – for example, he may like to have the most expensive car the family can afford, whereas you may prefer to have better furniture and crockery and things actually inside the house.
Not everyone is used to expressing such things, and sometimes we don’t even know the answers to such questions till we are asked, because we haven’t thought about them.
So once you have an initial inclination towards someone, based on however imperfect knowledge your parents and you have, it is important, via telephone conversations and email, to be clear about such matters as those given above, well before you decide to meet.
That is because, in our culture, any meeting is already seen as a potential clinching of a marriage arrangement, and if the meeting does not work out for any reason, there is usually a feeling of at least
disappointment in the families, and loss of face, if not actual bitterness.
I hope that gives you a small checklist you can use to guide you as you consider (and, perhaps, discuss
with God) this most important decision of your life.
Published in the June 2014 issue of the Forward Press magazine
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