If you aren’t married, then what are you, really?
I can no longer count the number of times my identity (along with many, many others) has been questioned, picked at and ridiculed as a South Asian woman.
How many times have I pushed myself mentally, taken on more than I can handle, rapidly scribbled down business ideas in my notebook — to only be told, at the end of it all, “You need to get married soon.” How many times have I been flying over the moon with a personal accomplishment, satisfied with my hard work and drive, to be oh-so-lightly slapped in the face on the way?
The past generation peeks out from behind their half-empty cups of chai and snicker. “That poor unfortunate girl”, she has “NO idea” how screwed she is! They ask questions about how I am doing, but the interrogation is disgustingly laced with pity. There’s something else I can’t place — oh. It’s that slightly alarmed, disapproving look usually reserved for the mentally insane. Right. That makes sense.
My blood thickens and I am sickened and ashamed at the lump in my throat. I shouldn’t even care what people think anymore, I’m not ten years old, for fucks sake. But it’s working — they’ve got me. Such innocuously worded statements said with so much conviction can make even the strongest person question her own plans and goals.
I’m working, I think to myself indignantly. I’m thinking. I’m using my fucking brain. How dare they! What do they know? They know nothing. Seething, angrily storming away, internalizing a flood of thoughts.
How demoralizing! How disincentivizing! How patronizing! Your thesis is irrelevant, your hours spent volunteering are a waste of time. Your creative outlet is frivolous, your depression is nothing but a minor land mine.
Don’t you know what your purpose is? Don’t you know how fucked you are without a man? Without a child? Without a two story house complete with picket fence? Did you know that while you were stupidly thinking of going back to school for that degree, your cousin had her second son? She’s doing “SO well!” they gush excitedly, pouring over photographs and exclaiming. This is the world they understand. Baby pictures. Smiling, happy faces.
If I smile and admire the photo, it’s “oh you better have a child soon, tick tock!” If I stay off to the side and say nothing, it’s “oh my, that jealous, hateful girl!”
I can’t win. I stop trying. There is nothing to gain here. I was sent to school, wasn’t I? Encouraged — no wait, forced, to get good grades or die trying. Oh, wait. That was only for when I was 20. Stupid me! Now the times have changed, haven’t they? My brain was only meant to be used THEN. Not NOW. #duh
What a waste, I think to myself. The thousands of women who are pushed — but not in the right direction, pushed against their individuality, their niche areas where they could be STARS. The sassy 26 year old with an uncanny ability for interior design who reluctantly packs up her diligently researched binders to move across the country to marry and fulfill her parents wishes. The quietly perceptive 34 year old that would have saved numerous lives had she entered the disturbingly hard field of social work — but was pushed, pushed to stay safe. What a hard, difficult industry! You won’t make money there. You don’t want to be working with those kinds of people all day.
Keep it safe. Don’t do that — it might backfire. Don’t do that — it’s not time for that right now. And most chillingly, don’t you know how old you are?
The strong worded statements of the people we know. People that genuinely mean well. Perhaps they can’t understand your brain. Your thoughts, wishes and dreams. Or perhaps they expect you to be wired as they are.
More disturbingly, maybe they don’t want to get it. It’s easier to understand this path, after all. It’s comforting. It’s not like I don’t want it. Hell, of course I do! Unfortunately, I happen to want a boatload of things. Yes, I am to blame. I blame nobody else for my wandering except myself. But what the hell, people?
When you’re a child, you’re encouraged to be creative. To wander. Think of creative solutions. Make silly mistakes. Read books. Be smart. Dream big. And now, we’re required to toe the fucking line. Be rational. Dream big — only if it involves my dreams, they say.
I can’t change anything. People will think what they may. But I can’t stand by and watch the word “accomplishment” being loosely used, thrown around haphazardly, as if a Nobel Peace Prize is somehow equivalent to marrying into a rich, well educated family with good genes.
The word “accomplishment” can’t have possibly evolved and morphed to include marriage and having a child. Oh my! You had sex, you’re so accomplished! Give me a fucking break. The word “accomplishment” is taking back what’s rightfully hers. Or his.
Yes, you are accomplished. You work hard. You sweat it out. You can’t stop pushing. You’re Type A to a T. And you may or may not get married some day.