Marriage and marriage as an institution
In this section, we set out to test the general assumption that ‘Marriage is the most important decision in an Indian woman’s life’. Only 3 questions in this section were mandatory, but we have received open and honest responses for every question in this section. This may have been because most respondents were married.
- Relationship status and age at the time of marriage:
Out of the 122 respondents, 38% said that they had, at some point in their lives, thought about never getting married . It is remarkable that although most of these women are now married, they, by choice, had considered otherwise. (However, we did not ask how they weighed this choice as compared to the other choices they had at that time)
The average age of the respondents at the time of first marriage was 24.5 years . The minimum age was 18 and the maximum was 37. Three women got married for the first time after the age of 30. Maximum number of women (28 of them – 24%) reported that they were 24 years old when they got married and 84 women (73%) reported that they got married between 21 and 25 years of age.
- Choosing a life partner
91 women (79%) said that they chose a partner of their religion/caste/native language. But not all of these women gave importance to these factors while choosing a partner.
Out of 118 women who responded to this question, 73 women (62%) said that they considered religion/caste/language as an important factor while choosing a partner. Out of these, 3 women mentioned that they gave importance to these factors because they had an arranged marriage . They would have thought differently if they had a love marriage. They also mentioned that one is compelled to consider these factors if one tries to find a partner through a marriage bureau (a sort a of match.com service center).
45 women (38%) did not consider religion/caste/native language as an important factor while choosing a partner. But 6 of them had a love marriage, and they co-incidentally found a partner of the same religion/caste/language as themselves. According to them, this factor contributed to a significant extent in easing the process of marriage itself, and the subsequent adjustment in the spouse’s family . Out of these 45, 6 women also said that they did not consider caste and language as important factors, but they would not have chosen a partner of another religion since they considered religion as an important factor.
Will you consider religion/caste/language as an important factor when your kids get married?
Out of the 70 women who considered these factors important for their own marriage, 14 said that they will not consider these important for their children’s marriage . Other 15 said that children should make their own decision about marriage and that they would not interfere with the decision. 16 others said that they would consider these factors important while making a decision about their children’s marriage. 11 women said that if their children find themselves a partner of another caste/language, they will not object to it but if they have to step in to find a partner for their children they will try to find somebody of their own religion/caste/native language.
Out of the 3 women who took into account these factors for their own marriage (only because they had an arranged marriage), but would not have considered them important had they married after falling in love, 2 of them said that they will not consider these factors important for their children’s marriage. One woman out of these three did not answer this question.
Out of the 6 women who did not consider these factors important while getting married, but incidentally found a partner of their own caste/language, and thought that belonging to the same caste/language as their partner helped them to adjust better, 3 said that they will not give importance to these factors for children’s marriage. One said she will let her children make their own decisions. Another said that she will only consider these factors if the child has not found his/her own partner and she has to step in to find somebody. One out of these 6 did not answer this question.
Out of the 5 women who only considered religion as an important factor and did not give importance to caste/language, 3 said that they will not consider ANY of these factors for their children’s marriage. 2 said that they will entirely let their children make their own decisions.
Among the women who had not considered these factors important for their own marriage, 58% said they will not consider these factors even for their children’s marriage. The rest responded that this will entirely be the child’s decision.
How many women have had an “arranged marriage” in the conservative sense of the term? How many modern women chose their partners based on traditional/conservative norms? What has been their thought process leading to the decision of marriage? How did this process change for the next generation? Do the statistics emerging out of this section seem to represent the process?
- Social and Family Pressure for marriage:
Out of the total 122 respondents, 5 women did not answer this question. 2 of these 5 are married and 3 are unmarried. All five are of Indian origin.
25 women (21%) felt a pressure for getting married and 10 women (9%) said they felt less pressurized.. Several women said that they thought it was best to get married at the ‘right age’. This also includes 2 women of non-Indian origin. They said that they did not feel a strong pressure but were asked about their plans of getting married and starting a family.
6 women (5%) said that they got married before such pressure started. This includes one woman of non-Indian origin
3 women said that although they did not feel a pressure as such, their families were worried about their marriage.
A remarkable number of respondents (73 women, 62%) said that they never felt any kind of pressure from anybody for getting married . Note that we did not define ‘pressure’ in the questionnaire. Whether a casual remark like – “Oh, you’re a girl. You will get married and go away to your husband’s home one day!” can/should be considered as ‘pressure’ was up to the discretion of the respondents, and now of the readers.
Out of the 25 women who faced such a pressure, 11 had thought of never getting married. Based on this fact, we can state that probably, these 11 women eventually got married due to a social or family pressure. Out of the 73 women who did not face the pressure to be married, 24 had thought about staying unmarried, and 3 out of them are presently unmarried.
Most women (24 in number) who faced pressure for getting married said that they started feeling this pressure between the age of 20 and 25 years. The minimum age at which this pressure started is reported to be 16-17 years. Of course, the number of respondents who reported this age is very less. One of them has also mentioned that she was told from a very young age (about 10 years) that some day ,she had to get married and live at her husband’s home. According to her, she was being conditioned emotionally for that. The maximum age at which this pressure started is reported to be around 27-30 years. This number is also very less. 3 women have mentioned that started feeling pressure for getting married as soon as they completed their degree education.
“To get married, I faced more pressure from the society than my own family. They (society) disapproved of my interest and active participation in sports. They were concerned that I was tall and that if I continued sports, I would become taller, get tanned and become darker. How would a tall and a dark girl like me find a husband? I was 19. I had completed my B.A. They thought that my interest in games and sports was childish. Pressure for being lady-like and getting married started when I was about 17-18.”
“No. There was no pressure from the family. Since I was the only earning member my family didn’t want me to get married. My father never wanted me to be married.”
Also, some women have mentioned that they did not face pressure to get married but their sisters did. One woman of non-Indian origin has also mentioned the same.
Several responses said that although parents/family never pressurized them directly, they were told emphatically that it was best to get married at the right age . Most of the families seem to be inclined towards this thought.. The same has also been mentioned by one woman of non-Indian origin.
- Wedding expenses:
- Things you liked and disliked about your wedding:
We wanted to ask more specifically about how women feel in hindsight about their wedding, one of the most important events in their lives. We requested them to elaborate a few aspects that they liked and disliked about their wedding. We have received some open and honest responses that seem to have come ‘straight from the heart’! We would like to know if the readers think that these responses are representative of their thoughts. We encourage you to think about the general outlook of Indian women towards their wedding ceremonies. Also, please give some thought to the unpleasant experiences that women have come across, due to the behavior of their in-laws during the wedding. Noteworthy is the fact that though most women got fair and equal treatment (compared to their male counterparts) in all other walks of life, when it came to the wedding, their families (bride’s family) alone had to pay for the expenses.
Altogether, 65 women have told about the things that they liked during their wedding ceremonies. 25 of them mentioned more than one aspect. Most of them (20) liked that their wedding was small and simple, rather than being lavish and extravagant . They also liked the fact that it did not involve too many rituals. 10 women liked that their wedding was fun and enjoyable (No unpleasant experiences from the relatives, or friction between the bride and the groom’s families.) . Some other things that women liked about their weddings include:
- A solemn ceremony with all the traditional rituals.
- A break from the traditional gift exchange between a bride and a groom’s family. (Where typically, the bride’s family ends up spending a fortune.)
- No ridiculous demands from the groom’s family.
- A registered marriage instead of a traditional one.
- Did not accept any wedding gifts from anyone.
- Could meet several relatives, friends, acquaintances on the occasion of the wedding.
- Found the partners of their choice.
- The bride and groom paid for their wedding using the money they had saved.
- The groom and the in-laws were very supportive and co-operative during the wedding ceremony.
- The food was good
- Both the families shared the expenses.
- The groom took a loan to pay for the wedding.
- Widowed mother-in-law participated in the rituals although that was not done traditionally.
- Liked the wedding ceremony and all the arrangements in general.
- Both the families belonged to different cultures, but they made an effort to understand each others’ traditions.
81 women responded to what they disliked about their wedding. 12 of them said that they liked almost everything. Of the remaining 69, 44 have mentioned that there was only one thing that they did not like about their wedding while 25 have mentioned more than one thing. Most women (35% - 24 in number) mentioned that they did not like the fact that only the bride’s family had to pay for the wedding or that the wedding expenses were not shared by both the families. It is noteworthy that this includes two women of non-Indian origin as well . 12 women (17%) said that they did not like that the groom’s family behaved with an air of superiority/dominance. 8 women (12%) said they did not like some traditional rituals which indicate a superiority of the groom’s side, such as the bride’s family washing the feet of the groom. Besides this, 8 (12%) women said that they did not like giving gifts to ‘honor’ the elders and the groom’s family making demands and complaining about the gifts received. Women who have said that they did not like the dominance of the groom’s family and interference from relatives during the wedding include non-Indian women as well.
Other things that women did not like about their wedding, include –
- Traditional wedding ceremony as opposed to a registered marriage.
- The bride’s parents were not treated well.
- The wedding took place in a rush.
- Too many guests were present.
- Got married without enough time to plan.
- Immediate family members had to work too hard before, during and after the wedding.
- Husband did not participate actively in planning the wedding.
- The food was not enough.
- Were forced to have an ‘engagement ceremony’.
- Did not like the way in which the priest conducted the ceremony.
- The arrangements were not good since the wedding took place in a village/countryside with not enough facilities.
- Guests were not asked to RSVP.
- The bride did not like her hairstyle during the wedding.
- If you are divorced/separated, please share the experience if you would like:
We have received some really open and honest responses for this question.
“After we got engaged I realized that my fiancé was not the right partner for me. But due to family pressure, I did not dare break off the engagement, and that resulted in a divorce eventually.”
“I had found my own partner, and due to circumstances I got married too soon. At that time I was not really aware of what a relationship means. When I realized what it is, and the responsibilities that come with it, I realized I had made a wrong decision. Though I went to a counselor to try to improve the relationship and avoid a divorce, my husband refused to go. He could not give me the life I wanted. Moreover, he was clueless about his responsibilities as a man of the household. You want status and praise, but no responsibility? What an equation is this? So I applied for a divorce. My husband or in-laws never appeared in the court for the proceedings.”
“I am not sure yet if I want to marry again. It has been a while since my divorce. At first, I did not want to get married again. After meeting several people and observing a certain behavioral pattern in them, I sometimes feel I am better off as single. But at other times, when I think about my future, it seems difficult without a partner. Even if I marry again, it will be from a purely practical point of view.”
Women of non-Indian origin also felt that their divorce was a painful experience and it can be worse if kids are involved. They thought that divorce was best to be avoided if possible.
We also received a response mentioning that divorce was a painful but a liberating experience.
A few respondents have expressed that an unfortunate experience such as a divorce, should not stop a woman from remarrying. It just needs to be a more thoughtful decision
- Have you ever been in a live-in relationship? If yes, for how long?
Of the 96 women who answered this question, 89 women said “No”. Several of these women did not believe in such a relationship. Remarkably, 11 women said that they had never been in a live-in relationship, but now think that they should have tried it . All of these 11 women are of Indian origin. Some of these women have further said that although they themselves did not mind a live-in relationship, their parents would not have approved or they did not have enough courage/opportunity. There was also an opinion expressed that a live-in relationship is okay as long as it is not physical.
10 women had been in a live-in relationship before marriage. Of these, 4 are of non-Indian origin whereas 6 are of Indian origin. The duration of living-in ranged from 15-30 days to a year or so. Women of Indian origin have said that they lived in with their partner mainly for logistical reasons or because both the partners resided in the same city. One response also said that they lived together with their partner for a few months before marriage upon advice from their families.
- Do you think that the spark/physical attraction in a marriage/relationship reduces with time?
9 out of the total 122 women did not answer this question. 5 of them are unmarried. Of the 113 women who responded, 58 women think that physical attraction reduces with time and 43 think that it does not . 8 women have said that they do not know. Other responses include -- attraction/spark reduces with time or changes according to the circumstances and priorities. Some said that they never felt a spark/physical attraction.
“It is natural for physical attraction to reduce with time because as time passes, you connect with your partner at different levels. So, physical attraction no longer remains the focus of your relationship. You develop mutual trust and understanding, your faith in each other grows deeper and more importantly, physical relations become secondary as several other responsibilities of a married life start to take over.”
The responses mentioning a reduced physical attraction with time echoed the above thought.
Several responses that said physical attraction does not reduce with time also emphasized that this attraction increases as the relationship matures. For example:
“If both the partners love and respect each other, physical attraction never reduces. In fact, like an old wine, it becomes more enjoyable with time. On the contrary, if mutual love and respect are missing in a relationship, then physical relations remain as a mere mechanical act.”
- Did you change your first and/or last name after marriage?
40% women said they did not change their last name after marriage whereas 59% said they did . Of them, 3 women said they changed both, first as well as last names. 1% women said that they use both, their maiden last name as well as husband’s last name.
Among the women who did not change their last names, 5 women gave the following reasons – could not due to lack of time for the paperwork, will change when making a new passport, would have liked to change but did not change for professional reasons.
One woman said that she did not change her last name, but her husband did and he uses her last name.
The comments that women have made about their decision of changing or not changing their last names after marriage are noteworthy:
“Yes, I changed my last name. I like using my husband’s last name. I love him. I feel I am a part of his family. I don’t think that I am letting my family down by not using their name, I don’t feel inferior or less capable and neither do I think that my achievements are undermined due to this. So, I changed it. It is a tradition in our society that a woman should change her last name after marriage so that the whole family is known by the same last name. I accept that tradition.”
“I did not wish to change my name, but my own family pressurized me into it. I feel sorry about it even after 10 years of being married. I feel like my identity has changed.”
“Our parents are our mentors. The name/ family name that they give us is important. Using the husband’s name is like accepting his ownership and that of his family. I cannot associate with my husband’s family name.”
“Marriage is just another phase of life. I felt it unnecessary to change anything about my existence or my identity for it. Does the husband change his name after marriage?”
“I did not even think about not changing my last name as an option. Everybody changes their last names, so I changed mine too.”
- How long was your courtship? Do you think that it was enough?
We have received a wide range of responses in this regard. e.g. “There was no courtship. I met my husband only once and we got married within the next 4 days,” “We have had 8 years of courtship”.
Most women (16 in number) have reported 6 months as the period of courtship. 45% women have reported one year or more as the period of courtship. Of them, 77% felt that the time was enough. 5% said they would have liked more time for courtship, whereas 1 woman said that she would have liked some more time.
54% women have reported a courtship of less than one year. One woman has not stated the exact period, but has mentioned that it was enough. Of the women who had less than one year for courtship, 31 women currently reside outside of India (2 of them are of non-Indian origin). 49% of them thought that their period of courtship was enough and 3 of them felt that they would have liked more time. One woman said she was not sure if this period was enough or not. 14 women were certain that their period of courtship was not enough. Of these 14 women, 9 are of Indian origin living outside India and one is of non-Indian origin.
Among the women who had more than one year for courtship, most thought that this time was enough for them to understand one another.
“We courted for year and a half, but I did not know how to get to know him. I think I got married too soon. It was a mistake, and I am sure that my husband also suffered because of it.”
“There was no courtship. We met once in the presence of our families for “arranging” the marriage. They liked me and the marriage was finalized. Therefore, we met at the engagement ceremony after that.”
“We had been communicating with each other for 8-9 months, but we hadn’t arrived at a decision about marriage. Some more time may have been good, but both of us were already quite old so we didn’t have too much time at hand. Honestly, I felt even 9 months was too long a time.”
“We couldn’t avoid some surprises (from each other’s behavior) after marriage although we spent 9 months in courtship.”
“We had six months, but I did not want so much time at all. 8 days were enough for me to make a decision.”
- Do you believe that a woman should overtly display a symbol or an indication of being married? (E.g. Bindi, wedding band etc) Do you use such an indication? Do you think such indications should only be used by women?
Most women have answered this question in great details and explained their opinion.
On examining the responses of the women of non-Indian origin, we found that 50% women think that such indications/symbols should be used by married women. 30% think that using these indications should depend on the woman’s wish. 2 women said that such symbols/indications should either be used by both sexes or none.
Non-Indian women have mostly shown an inclination towards wearing such external symbols. We think that is because in their society, such symbols are worn by both the sexes, unlike the Indian society where these indications are mainly worn only by women.
78% women think that displaying external indications should depend on a woman’s wish.
But 30 women (29%) have replied that they wear such an indication. 39 (38%) have said that they wear it (or not) depending on the time, place and the occasion (wear it sometimes, wear it when going to weddings and other ceremonies, wear it only when visiting in-laws, wear it only with Indian clothes etc.) 7 women have said that they wear only one indication like a mangalsutra (a black beaded necklace typically worn by married Indian women) or toe rings or a wedding band etc. 27 women (26%) said there wear no indication at all.
We could conclude from several of these responses that most women view their mangalsutra and other symbols of being married as a mere piece of jewelry. There are several women who wear it because they are used to it, because they like to dress up, because they don’t want to hurt the elders in the family who expect them to wear it etc.
Many women have elaborated their decision of wearing or not wearing such a symbol.
Several Indian women have said that these external indications of being married serve as a protective device from the troublesome elements of the society.
“It’s like a protective armor sometimes. I use my ‘mangasutra’ when I want to let people know that I am not single. I rarely wear a Bindi (only wear it with a saree). Men should also be made to use such an indication, so that single young girls will not be cheated by married men.”
“External symbols should not be used. I know that this would be dishonest, but when I visit India I wear my ‘mangalsutra’ such that it hides under my clothes. I never wear it when I am in America. I am going to try not to wear it in India as well.”
“If married men only wear a ring (a wedding band), a ring should suffice for married women as well. I wear only a ring 99% of the time. But when I wear Indian clothes, I wear my ‘mangalsutra’. Also, I remember to wear it when I am with my parents or in-laws. They don’t force me to wear it and I know they will not object if I don’t wear it. But I know they would like me to wear it. So I try to make them happy.”
“In my opinion, married women should wear external indications if they like to wear it. It should not be mandatory for either men or women. What is the need for external indications if your heart has accepted a relationship? What’s the use of these indications if you follow them and don’t fulfill the relationship? Even if I make a demand that men should also use these symbols, it is given that these symbols will be merely symbols or ornaments if the man does not value the relationship. ‘Internal’ change of heart is more important than ‘external’ symbols.”
“Traditionally, there are scientific reasons for wearing some of these ornaments. Like silver toe rings, for example.”
The passionate responses to this section indicate that marriage is a topic very dear to a woman’s heart. We have tried to highlight the general thoughtprocess in the respective sub-sections. Also, worth mentioning is the fact that all women seem to agree that as wonderful an experience as a marriage is, a divorce can be traumatic to the same degree.
Most of the women did not face any pressure to get married. We could not establish a defining relationship between age at the time of marriage, wedding expenses and factors influencing the choice of a partner.
For Indian women, period of courtship has not been a very important factor in deciding about getting married. Conventional factors still continue to influence the decision of arranged marriages. But women are definitely thinking about changing this for the next generation.
Women have expressed likes and dislikes about their wedding ceremonies very clearly. Remarkable numbers of responses have said that wedding expenses were shared by both the parties.
It is apparent that women have well thought ideas about things like their wedding ceremony, changing or not changing the last name after marriage, using external indications/symbols of being married, reduced physical attraction in a marriage with passage of time, etc. Live-in relationship has also been thought about as an option.
In this section, we observed that women have been quite open and forthcoming while answering most of the questions. We believe that is the success of this survey.
Many responses have said that, in the past, they have done several things contrary to their beliefs/wishes with respect to marriage. However, as analyzers, we think that this clarity and honesty in their thought and expression as well as an inclination to change the unacceptable traditions for the sake of the next generation is very remarkable and noteworthy.