Conversation with my neighbour on a lockdown morning:
“Hello, ma’am, ma’am.” I was watering the plants. As I turned, I saw my neighbour from the balcony downstairs waving at me. I don’t really know him though I occasionally see him in the common area.
“I just heard one family on your floor has tested COVID positive. What are you doing?” he asked looking very concerned. “What can I do? I am just staying indoors,” I replied.
“Myself Amit Kumar (name changed). I work for an IT Company. I have tried talking to you earlier also but you stay reserved.” Then after giving me an account of his job and family and asking me what I do he suddenly popped the question, “And marriage?” “I am not married,” I said. “Oh! Nahi hua,” he exclaimed or replied. Though irritated, I just smiled at him and walked in, muttering to myself now you know why I “stay reserved.”
That’s usually how people react when they learn I am not married. It used to irritate the hell out of me earlier, I try not to react anymore. Somehow, there’s something sad about an unmarried girl. No matter how well you’re doing if you are not married there must be something wrong. While an unmarried man or a bachelor is sought after, footloose and fancy-free, the same is not true of his female counterpart. We often hear the term ‘eligible bachelor’. Our own Rahul Gandhi and Salman Khan, well in their 50s, are still ‘eligible bachelors.’
Unmarried women or spinsters on the other hand are pictured as ‘old maids’, sad, lonely women. There’s nothing attractive or desirable about a spinster. While a ‘confirmed bachelor’ is not married by choice and therefore elusive and attractive, a spinster is pictured as a plain woman who couldn’t find herself a husband and therefore to be pitied. Though the likes of Sushmita Sen and Tabu and so many other women we know have defied the perception, most people still find it difficult to believe that women could be unmarried by choice.
I somehow can’t get this incident that took place quite a few years back out of my head. One of our distant aunts’ visiting handed over a big packet gift-wrapped packet to my married cousin saying, “This is for your home.” Handing over a small packet to me she said, “This is for your half home.” “Why half home?” I protested, “My house is bigger than his.” “But since you are not married it’s half home,” she replied. I was stunned. Sitting before was a woman who works in a good position, has travelled all over and has chosen not to get married, quite a bold decision in those times. Yet she considers my home incomplete because I am not married. “You are not married either,” I finally said. “So, mine is half home as well,” she replied with a smile.
To counter the negative connotations of spinster the term bachelorette was coined to describe women who are single by choice. Later “Bachelorette” was famously or infamously the term used to refer to female contestants on the old The Dating Game TV show and, more recently, The Bachelorette. The term thus became associated with young ‘eligible’ bachelor girls.
While a bachelor continues to be eligible well into their 40s, for bachelorettes or bachelor girls it’s a different story. If you haven’t found your mate by the time you are 30, your ‘eligibility’ seems to wane. I can’t think of a female counterpart for Rhett Butler or Mr Rochester, the rakish middle-aged bachelors who won over the young female protagonists (Scarlett O Hara and Jane Eyre).
Thankfully, there’s a growing number of people who have started thinking differently. There are so many women now, not just celebrities, who are happily unmarried.
One evening as I walked in a little late to meet my girlfriends for a drink, ‘There was so much to do today,’ I complained. ‘I have to do everything on my own (unlike you girls who have husbands),’ “What’s your problem?” came the prompt reply. “You are financially independent. You can do whatever you want without having to bother about a husband or kids,” said my girls looking at me enviously. “Grass is always greener on the other side,” I said smiling back at them happily.
Being on your own can be challenging at times but it’s certainly very satisfying and liberating. It also doesn’t mean that you have never been in love or will not be in love. It only means you are confident enough to go on with your life the way you please, without bothering about any tag or perception.