Wanting it all
Today, the thirty somethings in India are really struggling to find life partners like never before. When I say like never before, I mean these are people you would have expected to be married already, but not anymore.
Some 8-9 years ago, on Varamahalakshmi festival, our family priest, who also doubles up as a matchmaker, had come home to perform the ritual. He mentioned that one of my dad’s younger colleagues had approached him for matchmaking help. When my dad asked the priest about this colleague’s prospects of finding a bride, this is what the priest said – “This chap is a 30 year old muduka (translates to old man in Kannada), that too with just an engineering degree (no masters) working in some private company, not even Infosys or TCS. Even software fellows are struggling to find women because all brides want to go onsite nowadays, so this guy doesn’t stand a chance”.
Of course it sounded a lot more amusing in Kannada with alliterations and all that, but the point being I am not talking about such men or women here. I am talking about people our society would generally consider very successful, having all ingredients of being a “marriage material”. So, why then, are these successful people struggling to find partners?
What is different about this generation?
This generation is highly ambitious. We thrive on a sense of achievement and we don’t settle for anything less than a sense of achievement from whatever we do. Simply said, we are at far higher levels of the Maslov’s hierarchy today than any generation in the past. Until we’ve checked off that self-esteem box in our professional lives (by founding one’s own company and making millions off an IPO/ sell-out), we want to push the decision of getting married and hence, the average age of people looking to get married is far higher today. I am not saying this is a good or a bad thing, but it’s a thing.
So what does this mean in terms of finding a partner?
Some men no longer just want a wife who can look gorgeous, cook, clean and bear their offspring, and most women no longer want men who can just be the breadwinner for the family or be the macho protector like the Shah Rukhs and Hritiks of the world. We want partners we are proud of, we want partners who make us feel like we have achieved great heights in life through our choice of partners. And, it’s okay.
To be fair, our grandparents or parents were also fairly ambitious. In the past, when parents/ aunts/ uncles found a potential daughter-in-law/ son-in-law, they optimised for values that mattered when you recruit a new family member – cultural upbringing, physical genes, compatibility with a large extended family, workload reduction for existing family members, protection of family wealth and so on.
The bride who finally got recruited would have cleared the bar on all counts, and the groom has nothing left to do in terms of getting social approval since his family would have taken care of that bit during recruitment. At the most, the girl would have to check off the “oh how did this dude land such a cute girl” test amongst the groom’s gang of male friends.
Today, most of us have been in and out of several relationships before we have resorted to the arranged marriage route, and we have pretty solid ideas on what kind of a partner suits us. Parents have no clue about what we’ve learnt from our past relationships and hence, there is a lack of interference in filters between parents and us. So parents actively encourage their kids to find their own partners, in numbers larger than ever before, despite having a pretty static view on what is a good son-in-law or a daughter-in-law.
This puts undue pressure on the ward to not only seek validation from the family, but also an ever expanding peer group thanks to the internet.
So what do you then optimise for?
And this in turn, makes it harder to find a partner because let’s be honest, you simply cannot optimise for everything.
So, we start with trying to match ourselves in terms of professional success because by 30, our professions are a large part of our identities. Anyone who is as successful as us, is probably just as proud of where they have gotten in their lives, so if you are hoping to force-fit them into your families who is hoping to find you a “smart, modern, liberal thinking, yet homely” person, don’t you think you are going to find them to be “rigid”, “too arrogant”,”too chauvinistic”, “too feminist” or “not making an effort to get along with your family”?
Whether you like it or not, life is about trade-offs and we’ve all got to make them at some point. Being with someone who gives you a sense of achievement also means you both have very strong personalities and you are bound to run into disagreements, more likely on a daily basis but guess what? Making that work, embracing the challenge of convincing someone to see life your way, and agreeing to disagree is what will continue to give you a sense of achievement. Imagine if you were married to someone you never disagreed with, someone who would just listen to everything you said, and life was just too easy, would you enjoy that? Probably not.
You are in a market, this is an auction, and you only get something precious if you are willing to pay the price for it. Each of us has to figure out what we’re optimising for, the price we are willing to pay for it and that’s exactly what we are going to get. The big difference between a regular auction and a marriage is, you make a downpayment and have a recurring price to pay everyday of your marriage unlike in an auction.
Sorry, such are life. Didn’t you know?
So, happy spouse-hunting and enjoy making your marriages work.