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COVER STORY

The Quarter-life
Crisis

In a population of 160 million, what's the probability of finding The One?

 

You're in Dhaka city. It's the month of December. The days are short and comfortable, and the nights are long and cool. You can put on all the makeup you want without fear of having it all melt away, and “suit up” without getting horrible sweat patches. And thus, we enter what is dubbed “the wedding season.” Those dark days are (kind of) over now, as the so-called winter sneaks out of the city. But oh, the scars this season puts on our souls. If you're twenty-something and single, you know what I mean. Weddings inevitably lead to discussions of the institution of marriage as a whole, and if you're accidentally a part of these conversations, of course it will steer to the subject of your marriage.

Preety Haq, who has recently become engaged remembers her 'dreaded post-undergrad years', as she calls them. “My relatives, friends' mothers, parents' friends and almost every older female I knew seemed to be asking me when I would be 'ready' for marriage.” It became so rampant that Preety started to avoid going to weddings where she felt cornered.

Almost every person in their mid-to-late twenties in Dhaka is in a relationship, usually with their high school sweetheart, a friend of a friend, or someone they met at university. Almost every mid-to-late twenty-something not in a relationship are having panic attacks, especially after attending around fifteen weddings on average in the wedding season. Ruling out the people who insist on going solo, why this anxiety on being alone? The 20s are supposed to be the best years of your life, where you get to be with both family and friends but also enjoy more freedom than before (and probably more freedom than you'll ever have later in life). It's when people discover who they want to be, have a clearer picture of their future, and enjoy being single, meeting new people and hopefully finding The One. But since almost everyone's taken, the scope of finding Mr or Ms Right is very limited, and many people get desperate and end up with someone for all the wrong reasons.

Maria, 29, who is currently a postgrad student says, “Recently, I have had my qualms about marriage,” she says, “Honestly speaking, I have seen too many marriages and relationships go bad to not be afraid of the concept. I am afraid of settling down with just anybody because my 'biological clock is ticking' as my mother has pointed out a number of times.” Maria says that she is happy with what she has achieved in her professional life, which is where she has invested most of her time so far, but as she approaches the big 'three-oh' she does want to find that special someone and settle down but has no idea how to get there.

Most likely, everyone is, or has experience of, or will be caught up in this web of unavailable life partners. When asked to find a girl for her cousin, my friend replied, “That's impossible. There are no single, eligible girls in Dhaka that I know of! Tell him to find one himself.” This made me think about everyone I know, and the truth is that my friend is right! Now, the question is, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Well, it's definitely not great news if you're single. Different people in very different situations all face the same problems where being single is concerned. “I went abroad for higher studies after my high school graduation. My friends who still live here seem to know so many people, but my sphere's limited to school friends and the people I know now through work,” says Tawseef, 27, who returned to Bangladesh after finishing his studies abroad. “According to everyone, it's high time I get married, and my family keeps showing me biodatas of girls. But it's a lifetime commitment and I don't want to commit to a random girl!”

Nisha, a 26-year-old banker has been in only one relationship in her life, which ended in her university days and she has been single ever since. Only recently, says Nisha, does she feel the tag of being 'single' gaining importance in her life. “It all started when most of my friends started to get married. With each friend that I declare "married" to my parents, the pressure they put on me seems to build.” Nisha realised that her mother introduced her to other women with prospective sons at every social gathering they attended. “At one point I started feeling like goods for sale with my mother singing my praises to a complete stranger!”

Nisha finally had a talk with her parents one day where she stated that she had no problem with them looking for a spouse for her but till that happens, she should be allowed to live without “feeling like a rejected good”.

 

But this mentality is very unfair, according to some people, especially the older generation. “Youngsters who are victims of attempted matchmaking should also stop automatically assuming that telling them about someone eligible will lead to marriage,” says Mrs Siddiqui, who is a classic neighbourhood ghotok but also happens to be quite open-minded. “Contrary to yesteryears, a lot of parents these days don't want to force their kids into anything. They just want them to know people from a good family and educational background, who they otherwise wouldn't meet in their regular lives. Whether they like or dislike that person is their choice.”

Then there are people who are obsessed with a “dream wedding” and want to get married ASAP. “He's not proposing, and I'm getting so many proposals from these established families,” is the regular rant of my friend Rashika, 24, about her boyfriend. “In another two-three years, these proposals will stop coming! They'll think, she's in her late twenties and unmarried? Surely there's something wrong with her! If he breaks up with me then, I am doomed!” Clearly these girls are confusing a “wedding” with a “marriage”, still have a lot of growing up to do and are nowhere near ready to make such a huge commitment.

 

“I just don't want to settle for mediocre,” says Shababa, 22. “And I'm not worried because I think I have enough time to enjoy my life!” Many people who have this mentality believe that people all around them are guilty of “settling”. “Girls these days will marry the first idiot who bothers to ask them out!” says Naim, 22, clearly someone who has been wounded by Cupid's arrow a couple of times. “Some are marginally smarter and get hitched to a rich guy who buys her the most expensive gifts.” Well, “marginally smarter” is probably one way of putting it.

A lot of people this age want to get to know people of the opposite sex. They also want to do so without any obligation to get into a relationship, not in the so-called overly Western fashion of “many fish in the sea”, but in a way that is both modern and more relaxed, as well as respectful to our culture.

We may disagree with our elders on a lot of things, but we can't deny that they seem to have a sense of contentment in their lives that today's younger generation lacks. They all agree that our main problem is lack of compromise and communication. “We're not all villains plotting to force our kids into marriage. It's just that there's an optimum time for everything, and the best time to get married is during your mid-late twenties, I believe,” says Mr Abrar. “To know if someone could be The One, you have to have meaningful conversations. If something about them bothers you, then say so -- maybe there's a solution.” It's also important to remember that nobody's perfect, and sacrifices may even need to be made on your part. There's a difference between “settling for whomever” and “compromising”.

All in all, what are you to do at this age when everyone is obsessed with your love life? We know that life is short. Enjoy your life as much as you can. But also keep an open mind, and be honest about your feelings. It's not the end of the world if everyone is getting married and you aren't. It's okay to be careful and choosy when looking for love -- in fact, you should be. But while you're single, dream big and do all the things that make you happy. Nothing is more attractive than a positive attitude.

By Mehereen Aziz and Raisaa Tashnova
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Model: Zamsad
Location: Kozmo Wisdom

 
 
 

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