Have I told you guys where I’m staying while I’m in Bangalore volunteering? Why, I’m staying at a dorm for unmarried Indian woman. Obviously.I’m quietly thrilled to have escaped the clutches of backpacker hostels and to be spending this month hanging out with Real! Live! Indians! After all, I didn’t come all this way to trade Lonely Planets with 19-year-old German boys.
The dorm is lovely – three vegetarian meals a day, one roommate, a nice bathroom and even cable tv! But the best part? Making heaps of new friends and getting insight into the culture of this huge, fascinating country. (And also dispelling the myth that all western women are fast and loose. And prone to eating McDonald’s every day).
I’m particularly fascinated by the role that love/marriage/dating plays in Indian society. Of course, in a country of 28 states, multiple religions and 1.2 billion people there are just as many approaches to relationships.
Here are some of the women I’ve met and the stories I’ve heard over the past three weeks:
* The Hindu woman who can’t tell her parents that she’s dating a Muslim
* The many, many women who are earning their M.B.A/Ph.D/M.D and putting off marriage until their careers are on track
* The engaged woman who is doing a ritual fast for her future husband’s health
* The woman in an arranged marriage who is totally, totally in love with her husband
* The woman who turned down 17 (!) arranged marriage set-ups to marry her boyfriend.
* The woman who trusts her parents’ judgment in men more than she trusts her own
* The woman whose fiance broke up with her when he discovered she wasn’t a virgin
* The woman who is living abroad, dating men outside of her race and religion and not hiding it from her parents.
* The woman who is ready to marry her boyfriend but is waiting for her older sister to find someone first
* The woman who isn’t interested in getting married, but is afraid of being an unmarried woman in India at the age of 30 … so she’s doing a second Master’s degree in America.
It’s also been really interesting to hear about the reality of arranged marriages. I think most of us envision parents tearing daughters away from the boyfriends they love and forcing them to marry very boring, ‘suitable’ men. Not so, friends.
From what my girls have told me, love and dating usually progresses something like this:
1) Ages 18-23
Girls have boyfriends that they don’t introduce to their families. Relationships aren’t necessarily serious. Relationships might be physical in nature but since almost everyone lives with their families, things usually stay pretty PG-13.
2. Ages 24 – 32
If you’ve been dating a guy for a while and he seems like ‘husband material’ (comes from a good family, has a good job, etc) you introduce him to your parents. Families meet and if all goes well, blessings are given and a giant, giant wedding ensues.
If you’re single and haven’t had any luck on your own, you can tell your parents to start looking for you. You can tell them what you want in a mate, and (hopefully) they’ll take that into consideration. They’ll put out feelers to families and social contacts they know to see if there are any nice boys available. They’ll arrange a meeting with said boy, you have coffee or dinner, chat and see if you like each other. After several more dates (totally non-sexual!) you may or may not decide to get married. Again with the giant wedding.
So it really doesn’t seem that different from when your mom tries to set you up with the neighbor’s grandson!
Does your family have any expectations for the people you date? Would you ever marry someone that your family didn’t approve of? Indian readers, did I get this right?