In India, our personal choice to get married and have kids is everyone’s business. I’ve been inundated by these questions hundreds of times, but rarely has anyone asked me if I’m happy, content and excited about the way my life is shaping up. For the record, I am, on most days.
While many of my peers have chosen the well-trodden path of “settling down”, I prefer my seemingly unsettled ways. In 2019 alone, I’ve spent a month losing myself amid the awe-inspiring wonders of Iran and another, digital nomad-ing in Armenia. I’m typing this post sitting in a handwoven swing, hearing the chatter of birds, on the balcony of my current abode – a stone hut, surrounded by a gorgeous old oak forest in the Uttarakhand Himalayas.
Despite being financially independent, in a mature relationship and passionate about what I do, I’m constantly told that I need to settle down. That I’m somehow shirking my responsibilities and being selfish.
This stems from a deep societal conditioning that, sometimes even unknown to myself, I’ve been unlearning on my travels. After putting it off for many years, I finally decided to write this post for fellow dreamers, adventurers and rebels, who dream of doing life differently.
There’s already a lot said and written in favor of marriage and kids, so all I seek to do is share an alternative perspective I’ve learnt on the road, one that I hope will convince you to think, question and consciously make your choices:
Contrary to what Indian society will have you believe, these are intensely personal choices.
The concept of marriage came about some 4,000 years ago in ancient Greece, when humans began settling down and practicing agriculture. The idea was to make a woman a man’s property, and ensure that the kids she gave birth to really belonged to him. Over time, religion became part of the equation, making marriage a pious affair, one that signified stability. However, it was only in the Middle Ages, that thanks to the French, “romantic love” became associated with marriage.
See where I’m going with this? The concept of marriage came about as a practical (albeit patriarchal) transaction to arrange society. 4,000 years ago. And I dare say times have changed. Many women, especially in urban India, are financially independent, command equal rights and choose their own romantic partners. Binding a relationship with a legal contract or having it blessed by a religious authority is no longer a practical need. It’s a very personal choice, and unlike what our family, friends, relatives and the nosy world out there would have us believe, we have every right to choose.
These thoughts first occurred to me while living with tribal communities in Maharashtra and Odisha, where live-in relationships are the norm. Isolated from technology and the evolution of marriage in the rest of the country, their traditional wisdom recognizes the practicality of a partnership based on mutual trust, rather than legal or religious binding. But more than that, women are free to pursue their own path and not judged for their choices, just like men.
I mean no offence to people who choose to walk down the well-trodden path. That’s exactly what it means to have a choice.
As much as you think otherwise, your life may never be the same again.
I often receive emails from individuals who lament that they chose to get married or have children without fully comprehending its impact on the rest of their lives. When we make such an irreversible decision in our twenties or early thirties, we need to contemplate alternate viewpoints rather than accepting the only one offered to us.
Think about it: raising a kid is a full-time job that’ll take atleast 15 full years of one’s life. No individual should take it on unless they really, truly, deeply feel a maternal/paternal instinct, and are financially and emotionally capable of raising an entire human. These parameters are important to ponder upon before deciding to do what everyone else seems to be doing. It’s a taboo topic to talk about, but some of my friends who’re mothers (and love their kids, needless to say) have candidly confessed that if they could turn back time and choose differently, they would. Not so long ago, the BBC anonymously featured mothers who regret having children.
Most people do it at the expense of finding or following a passion.
I’m 31 and have no desire whatsoever to be married or to procreate. Yet I’m constantly reminded that “the clock is ticking”. If you ask me, that’s probably one of the worst reasons to change the entire course of your life. Worse still, is when people tell me they’re thinking of having children because they need something more in life, they’re bored of their regular schedules or they need to stir up their relationship.
The more I travel, the more I realise that there are a thousand ways to live your life, but most people only choose one. The work – home – sleep schedule tends to breed boredom and an absence of purpose or meaning in life. And the only recourse society seems to suggest is to have a kid. But think deeper about it and you’ll find so many ways to get more out of life – work for the environment, fight for animal rights, teach someone a skill, learn a language, use your privileges to help create alternative livelihoods, travel with purpose, start a company to solve a pressing challenge, chase a forgotten dream, take some risks!
People will criticise your choices no matter what.
If you’ve grown up in an Indian family, you’re all too familiar with the “log kya kahenge?” (what will people say?) line of thinking. It’s incredulous – and mildly funny – how so many of our life choices are made to appease what our friends and society at large think of us.
But perhaps you’ve heard the story of the farmer, his son and a donkey? No matter what the farmer did, people ridiculed him. And that’s true for everything we do in life. If you don’t get married, people will wonder what’s wrong with you. If you do, they’ll come to your wedding and criticize the food and the skin color of the bride and how much the groom earns. If you don’t have a kid soon enough, they’ll wonder what’s wrong with you. If you have three kids, they’ll laugh at you for procreating so much.
I’ve met many interesting people on my travels. Social entrepreneurs, naturalists, activists, poets, nuns, writers, musicians – and the one trait that’s common across all of them is that they don’t fear criticism. They don’t try to fit in.
Ultimately, we are the only ones who have to live with our choices. That could be a life with or without a legal partner, with or without kids. And it’ll be criticized by others anyway.
The carbon footprint of having a kid is high but there’s an alternative.
It’s 2019 and we know that climate change is real. But the impact of our consumption choices never hit me as hard as when I went to volunteer on a remote island in Cuba. Once stunning corals looked dismal, uninhabited beaches were covered in algae and the seabed lay littered with plastic. According to the WWF Living Planet Report, wildlife and marine life populations on earth have declined significantly, over just two generations.
Luckily, there are some things we can still do as individuals: Choose not to create more humans on this overpopulated earth, eliminate meat and dairy from our diet (or atleast reduce them significantly) and reassess our transport, water and energy needs.
If you feel strong maternal instincts and the need for a kid in your life, consider that there are millions of little humans and animals who’ve already been born, who are looking to be adopted, who need a home and a whole lot of love. You could fulfill your desires, change someone’s life and help the planet. That would be truly selfless.
Why do we follow society’s version of a “normal life” so seriously?
It’s almost like we’re a bag of potatoes destined for the same fate. Well, we are destined for the same fate ultimately, but that doesn’t mean our life journey needs to be a replica of everyone else’s. We don’t need to follow all the rules of adulthood. We don’t need to silence the child, dreamer, adventurer, rebel and freethinker within each of us. We don’t need to give up on our dreams. And we certainly don’t need to be told how to live.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re 16 or 60. Now is a good time to ask why you’re doing what you’re doing, and if this is what you want to keep doing. Get your finances and skills in order, revive those dormant dreams, tell that ticking clock to f*ck off and set yourself up for some adventure, whatever that means to you.
After all, we only have one life and we are all destined for the same fate, ultimately.
Inviting you to join my new Facebook group (women only):
Over the years, I have received messages and emails from many, many women struggling with their life choices and having no exclusive, safe, confidential space to discuss such dilemmas. I’ve just created what I hope will be such a space online, where adventurers, dreamers and rebels can connect with like-minded souls and form a support system. If that’s you, join the group here.
Has travelling shaped any of your major life choices?
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