“Do you think you’ll get married before me?” my older sister asked.
This short conversation prompted an array of thoughts about what my family expects of us in regards to marriage, some of which was coincidentally brought up (not by me) at dinner a few hours later.
#1. My aunt who married a Muslim man
My aunt, my father’s sister and grandpa’s daughter, was quite literally cut off from the family for years because of her decision to marry a man of a different religion. I never played with her kids when we visited India, I couldn’t recognize them in a picture. Talk of her name was whispered, if then. No one really kept in touch with her, not openly, at least. Now she is more welcome. She’s welcome to walk into her dad’s house (something, shockingly, that wasn’t acceptable when the decision was still tender). I have now met her and one of her kids. But that doesn’t make up for what happened before.
#2. My cousin who married a black Christian man
My cousin, a Hindu, was the darling of the family. She was the first granddaughter, the first niece, the first child. She grew up and fell in love with a man of a different race and religion, my grandpa’s worst nightmare. My grandpa and my aunt and uncle (her mom and dad) didn’t speak with her. I was quite young so I don’t know all the details, but I do know that she was considered a disgrace to the family for a number of years. How insane.
#3. My cousin’s failed arranged marriage
My cousin had a very sad experience with his arranged marriage. The girl he married had some problems that her family didn’t explain prior to the agreement. He later found out and was in a difficult position because he didn’t feel that he could live with her. It sounds awful the way I’ve written it, but it’s more complex than what it seems here. In short, he had to introduce divorce to the family, but more importantly, he introduced the fact that arranged marriages are not always the right choice.
My mother’s side is more welcoming to change and differences, sometimes somewhat warily, but nonetheless.
#4. My aunt who married a non-vegetarian (and not in an arranged marriage)
This was not such a big deal. But I look at it as pretty cool. My aunt is eight years older than my mom, but my mom married a solid five years before her sister. My aunt met her future husband at work and they even dated for sometime. Dating was such a foreign concept to my then-traditional Indian family — all that they were accustomed to was arranged marriages. My parents were arranged, my uncle. Most of the people on my dad’s side have been, as well. My grandma loves my uncle (my aunt’s non-vegetarian husband), but she does feel uncomfortable staying at their house where there is meat in the fridge. (I think it’s kind of ridiculous for her to not like that, but hey, I’m 68 years younger).
And some family is very determined to have married children and grandchildren.
#5. My mom’s cousin who isn’t thinking about marriage
My mom’s aunt and uncle have two girls. The younger just got married a few months ago. She married a man of a different race and religion, but unlike my other cousin(#2)’s situation, this man was completely welcome and accepted into the family. Which is another reason my mother’s side is much more understanding and willing to change. Anyway, my mom’s older cousin has yet to marry. She’s very independent and probably not too concerned about settling down and starting a family. Her parents worry about her, seeing as she’s 35 and single. It’s a source of discomfort for her parents, which is what I find weird.
So, this is my family. And I’ve really only highlighted several of its faults, which I know is such a misrepresentation of the wonderfulness it does hold. But I’ve done this just to show that my family has very specific expectations for any unmarried child in it, even if we may have other plans. So when my sister asked me if I think I’ll get married before her — she who is 21 and has been dating her boyfriend for almost a year — my answer was simple. Firstly, the law is a bitch, secondly, my family won’t handle this shock. My immediate family and my mother’s family won’t mind, but I couldn’t be cut off from people my father holds so dear. I couldn’t let him take their questions and scoldings for raising me poorly or not forcing me to marry a man. I couldn’t let him think less of them for not accepting me. And I know he would.
I don’t write this to pity myself. I really do not. I know that there’s a lot of waiting to do in this type of situation, and I am fine with that. I only write this to explain myself a little better. To explain why I closet myself, why I am hesitant. I write this to relate to other closeted queers who might find hope. My situation is better than most, and I know and am grateful for that. I write to explain, not complain.