Solo and Satisfied: A Journey of Acceptance
To be paired up with someone and have a family is seen as one of the greatest accomplishments for a desi woman. Deep down, as a desi woman, I really do believe in the sacredness of marriage, motherhood and family above anything else. I love the pureness of the bond between mother and child, so I do often think to myself that this obsession may be valid -- what greater gift can there be for a woman to have than to experience the miracle and joys of motherhood? Afterall, we as humans are called to love and be loved, and life has the potential to be so beautiful when sharing this journey of life with a partner/spouse. However, at the age of 43, I find myself single, a situation I never wanted to be in. I have a choice though: to be bitter or to make lemonade out of lemons. I chose the latter. And now I find South Asian societal obsession with marriage problematic. It pains me how we collectively view it as a factor that determines one’s success and social standing.
Being honest, I went through the typical motions every desi girl goes through. My twenties and thirties were spent pro-actively searching for the perfect Indian American man who would be a spouse and build a life and family with. I tried every avenue available at the time: shaadi.com, Bharatmatrimony.com, match.com, family and friend set-ups, speed dating, NYC desi social and networking scene, matchmaker, desi community networks. I left no stone unturned, but by 37 (two decades of fruitless searching later), the hubby never showed up. I was exhausted, burnt out and had no will continue the madness. I did not want to dress up one more time to impress some boy, go on humble bragging rants of how great my cooking was, highlight how accomplished I was, emphasize how “fun I was,” just so that I could get “chosen.” Something seriously felt odd and there was no way I was going to continue to do this. So one day I just stopped. Completely.
Involvement with our mainstream Indian community always involved gazes of pity after answering that I was single. I heard innumerable unsolicited comments and wisdom about getting married and being single from the Auntyji brigade over the years. For instance, a few years back I attended a puja and a cute Indian grandmother asked the typical standard desi question about marriage. When I said no, she looked at me with sadness and said “How unfortunate! Why weren’t you able to get married?”. Since she was an elder lady from India, I granted her leniency; however, what really is so unfortunate about being self reliant and self sufficient. I was healthy, educated, and dare I say, I was happy. The unfortunate part of this whole situation was that being single was treated like some calamity.
There was one humiliating incident from a friend’s bridal shower several years ago that I feel the Aunty did out of pure condescension – every time she met me, she tried to point out that I was not trying hard enough. For context, her son and daughter both had gotten married by their mid-twenties. She was quite proud of this and found some validation in putting the rest of us down. Aunty Ji knew I was still single, looking, and trying hard at 31. However, without hesitancy she remarked “Oh, you are still single! Why don’t you go and put yourself on Shaadi or Bharatmatrimony to find a nice match.” Ok, (1) Aunty Ji, Do you not remember asking me this question last week? (2) Will asking this publicly and loudly in a humiliating way help me find a boy? If yes, please go ahead. (3) Again, why is marriage such a huge accomplishment. Dare I ask, how many married couples can be happy if they are not happy alone?
Why can’t a single woman be viewed as complete? I always questioned what it was about desi culture that emphasized a need for a partner. Perhaps it stemmed from a patriarchal culture and heavy reliance on men years ago. Perhaps it stemmed from a very archaic notion that there must be children and a “son” to carry on a family name, and marriage way the only way to achieve that. However, today, in 2021 when I am a financially and emotionally independent woman, why was I always pressured to find a man? Having a companion and partner is always nice; however, why was I always treated as incomplete without one. This is where I think the flawed mentality that you cannot be solo and satisfied needs to be addressed.
First, there is a double standard in the stigma around being solo.
While I as a desi woman get questioned for being single and middle age, why doesn’t the same standard apply to men? Look at Bollywood for example. When Saif Ali Khan got married to Kareena in 2012 there was no issue that he was a middle age divorcee with two kids, and that he was marrying a women 12 years younger! However, the beautiful bombshell actress of yesteryears Rekha is still thrown a pity party by the Indian media for never having been successfully married or have kids. I give her credit though for showing up solo to all the latest Bollywood events looking the epitome of elegance, confidence and sexiness and she is in her 60s! (It is high time we celebrate strong independent women who are living full and complete lives).
Second, there is so much normalization about being married and happy. However, no normalization of ridin’ solo. Self-sufficiency and reliance is something to be celebrated. It not only helps those who are single, but those in relationships too.
I found myself middle age and single, but had no clue how to walk the path of being a single professional woman. There certainly were not many female desi role models or groups to turn to who could have been of help. I was so lonely and confused which I think was due to the fact that I had not yet cultivated the right mindset and inner resources on how to be happy being alone. I had no clue what a life as a single women would mean and how to just be all by myself. I also felt I was walking uncharted territory after spending a lifetime of searching for a spouse due to pressures from my desi parents and community. The only think I knew was to be “coupled up” and to always have someone around. I realized though that I had come to a crossroads where I had to redefine and reinvent myself into a happy and fulfilled single women. I had to create a new paradigm from the standard desi one of marriage and motherhood.
As one chapter closed and I began to question why I cannot be solo and satisfied, all the right people began to come into my life. These were in the form of women of all races and cultures, who were single either through divorce, widowhood or never met the right person. Through friendships with these ladies, I began to see how one can create a meaningful and fulfilling life as a single woman. I realized it was up to me to shape my life as single women through some lessons I learned from them.
So my tidbits - how does a single woman create a meaningful and fulfilling life?
Well, once you come to terms with singlehood and take ownership of your own happiness the sky is the limit. Each single woman will find it in her own way. The first thing I did was to stop pitying myself. Next, I unconditioned myself from the desi emphasis that “marriage and motherhood was the be all and end of all.” Finally, I had to learn to love myself unconditionally and to be happy with who I was as a person. I was not a failure or sad spinster just because marriage and motherhood did not work out. Life was still going to be beautiful, but in a different way.
Here is how I have created a life of meaning as a single professional woman.
1. Practicing gratitude: I wake up every morning and make a conscious choice to be happy and gratitude for the life I have. As a health care professional, I have found work where I am helping people every day. The COVID pandemic has been one way of doing this.
2. Meaningful hobbies and pastimes: I engage in a wide variety of volunteer work from mental health advocacy in our desi community, to facilitating conversations on death and dying to taking senior citizens to their doctors’ appointments. I have cultivated many other hobbies and interests: solo global traveling, reading, the arts and cultural scene in NYC, knitting, the outdoors.
3. Community: I also am part of many different communities: spiritual, cultural, recreational, to name a few. I have developed a very strong and supportive circle of other single female friends who enrich my life in so many ways. Lastly, I have learned to enjoy my own company whether it is walking along the beach, dining out, traveling or visiting an art gallery or museum.
I would like every desi woman who is single and middle age to know that singlehood is not the end of the world. Though for many of us, it is something we did not expect to happen, we can choose our mindset. We can choose to be happy, to make lemonade out of lemons. Life as a single professional can still be meaningful and fulfilling when we make the decision to do so. Having mentors and role models can show us the possible ways of walking this path, but in the end, it is up to us to craft that life in our own way. I encourage everyone to still be open to finding a partner because it is can still happen but continue to live your best life possible. For me, after walking this path for a few years, I can say with utmost confidence that I am single and satisfied.