“You should look for someone new to settle down with now,” a well-meaning auntie advised me in the pits of my heartbreak. Once I’d managed to swallow the lump in my throat, I was perplexed. I had just about started to feel like a human again after months of wading through tears and grief, yet the focus was completely on matching me up with someone new, a concept that was far from my mind. Although this felt hurtful at the time, what this comment perfectly encapsulated is just how much fear there is around being alone within South Asian culture.
After being in a long-term relationship for most of my adult life, everything I knew about being single came from TV shows. From the classics like
The remark I experienced spoke to the ever-present time limit — usually, age 30 — that ominously hangs over many brown women to secure a man for marriage. This deadline stems from the expectation to have children, which is also deeply ingrained into South Asian culture too. While this isn’t necessarily unique to the South Asian experience, our culture does disproportionately attribute women’s value on their ability to find a spouse, with consequences ranging from judgement to ostracisation. Dr. Amar Bains, a clinical psychologist with South Asian heritage, explains that South Asian culture is strongly rooted in collectivism, where there is more focus on society and togetherness instead of embracing individuality. She says “marriage therefore carries more significance. It is learned behaviour from generations, that South Asian parents often see it as their role to encourage the marriage of their children, as they see marriage as a key developmental milestone for their children to enter adulthood.”
I got divorced six years ago, but I still receive so much pressure from the community to get remarried, the concept of being happy alone isn’t yet accepted.
This belief, accompanied by the fact that
Despite the wave of pressures to ‘couple up’ (sorry, I’ve been watching too much
Yet, that wasn’t always the response she had received surrounding her divorce. Jigna tells Mashable that when she got divorced people would look at her in pity. She says “they would immediately speak to me about getting remarried as if that was the only thing in life that would make me happy. Over the years I’ve focused on making sure I was happy alone, but being a strong independent woman is something the South Asian community struggles with. I got divorced six years ago, but I still receive so much pressure from the community to get remarried, the concept of being happy alone isn’t yet accepted, and I do feel as though I’m treated differently because I don’t have a husband and children.”
She adds that “the biggest belief [in South Asian culture] is that marriage is a necessity in order to be happy in life. Being single or getting divorced is seen almost as a sin, it’s seen as rejecting the route to happiness.” Jigna’s experience is partly mirrored in what Bains has seen in her practise, but there is hope that attitudes are changing: “In my work there is a mix of experiences, some clients report isolating themselves or being ostracised from their families for divorce and for some individuals their families and communities have supported them wholeheartedly.”
If you do say you’re single then they think it’s okay to start setting you up with people they know.
She says “it’s an awkward situation for sure, because if you do say you’re single then they think it’s okay to start setting you up with people they know. Although it can be with good intentions, a lot of these people don’t know you personally enough to recommend a suitable match or don’t care to ask what the woman wants out of a partner, which is really important because for so long women in our society have been seen to be the ones to cater to the needs of men, when it should be an equal partnership.”
Much like Jigna, Preeti wanted to use her voice to challenge these long held beliefs. She started her podcast,
“Everyone has their own timeline, I love love but I have no idea when my love story with another human will start, but in the meantime I can focus on the love story I have with myself and embracing that self love,” Preeti adds.
Similarly, since Jigna has opened up about her experience around her divorce and becoming single once again, she not only feels empowered herself, but hopes to empower others going through similar experiences. She even
Jigna feels that the South Asian community attaches so much shame to being divorced or not being married by a certain age, and she hopes that by sharing her story both men and women will know that it’s completely fine to be content on your own. Jigna says: “Marriage should not be a goal by which success is measured, and I hope my page and the stories I’ve shared can help people believe that, and also give them the courage to pursue whatever does make them happy.”
Bains reiterates that when making any life decisions it is important to step back and reflect on your own value system, to ensure that you have made a decision that is right for you, as an individual. She says: “when we act in line with our own value system, we are likely to experience better physical and emotional health.”
Being single can be difficult terrain to navigate for most, but growing up in a culture where finding a partner is held up as the pinnacle of a person’s life, especially for women, can ingrain a real sense of fear and shame around being single. However, as I embark on this journey of singledom, because of people like Jigna and Preeti I feel more confident than ever to tune out the external noise. Who knows, maybe it really can be glamorous and fun, just as my favourite TV shows told me it could be.