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Marital Transactions

Published by Priyanka on

I just watched this movie called Kalyanam Samayal Saadham. In a nutshell, it’s about a guy who is about to be arranged married and few days before the wedding, realises along with his fiancé that he is suffering from some form of erectile dysfunction. There was one line in the movie that caught my attention. The hero says marrying someone based on their caste, creed and pay package is not marriage, it’s merely a business transition. But marrying someone knowing that they have a “problem” and standing by them to sort it out is “a real marriage”. To be fair, in a traditional arranged marriage, you aren’t necessarily expected to discover the “problem” before getting married, so in that sense, all marriages are meant to be business transactions.

Marriage has always been a contract between two entities. Earlier this entity used to be a large family, today it’s at best a nuclear family with parents/ in-laws if not two individuals. For many many years, the terms of the contract was pretty straight forward – the man went out to work and the woman stayed home to run the household. Women always married “up-wards” or a man with a well paying job/ showing potential to earn as they’d have to be financially dependent on a man other than their father. There are several biological and social arguments for how we evolved into this model, but it seemed to be working just fine for several generations until women started leaving the shackles of their homes to earn a living independently.

Wait, before you get all feminazi on me, let me clarify. Women going out to work wasn’t the problem, but the institution of marriage not being prepared for this change (financial independence of women) was the problem. For starters, there was disruption in partner selection. Our society mostly cared about women being able to cook, clean, do tailoring/ crochet to entertain themselves, rear children and manage the general shebangs around the house. Suddenly, there was a new element to this – women who brought in an additional income to the household, but potentially at the cost of other things.

For about a generation or so, our society was caught in the dichotomy of wanting additional income and running a peaceful household where women continued to manage things at home. That’s why the women who joined workforce in the late 70s and 80s seemed to treat employment as a privilege and the additional workload of fully managing a household as their sacred duty because our wedding mantras didn’t quite evolve. They still said things like a woman has to feed a man, get fucked when he wanted and such anda-kalatil things. That’s why most men never learnt to share household work and ended up becoming big-time free-loaders.

Over the next generation (90s – 00s), due to double income households and lower number of children in each family, general affordability improved within the middle class. With the boom in IT, which guaranteed very respectable salaries for both men and women, there was enough incentive for women to be as educated and interested in a career as men. This was also around the time Indian engineers started getting exported to the US, resulting in increasing the marriage age of men and in turn, of women too.

The financial independence among women in this generation was unprecedented and there was little reason for a woman to be married off to a man except to procreate respectfully in a society. But still, we continued to use our age old selection parameters where we wanted the boy to have a good job and woman to be “cultured”, and possibly making lesser money than the guy. For instance, if boy was B.E., girl should be B.com/ B.Sc. And if girl was B.E., then boy should atleast be M.S. in U.S. et all. The women in this generation were cultured enough to wait till they flew off to U.S. with the husbands on site before settings things straight (read making the husband do the dishes and laundry).

Now take the millennials, who’ve seen the world and know it all, thanks to the internet. They are suckers for equality and they will not have India be left behind in terms of how relationships/ marriages work world wide. Despite this, our partner selection has hardly evolved. Men still want pretty women and women want successful (read well-paid) men until they are married only to realise that none of this matters in the long term. After a long day at work, you want to come home to watch that episode of Mad Men knowing that your wife won’t bug you to watch Modern family.

You don’t care how well your husband did in college if he can’t change your child’s diapers. What you eat matters, what you do over the weekend matters, how you travel matters and what chores you loathe matters. In a marriage, you need to learn to trade – I’ll make dinner, you do the dishes. I’ll plan our trips, you do the packing. You do the laundry and I’ll fold the clothes and so on. Things that you never optimise for start to consume your daily lives and before you know it, poof! the marriage is over. So, whether you discover the “problem” pre-marriage or not, make sure you figure out your comparative advantages so you can trade effectively in the relationship. Happy transacting!