Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“I’m 19 and my privacy is pretty much a sham. My mother is religious, questions everything from what I read to what I wear, and doesn’t let me go out with non-‘sanksari‘ friends. After my father died, ‘log kya kahenge?’ has hijacked everything. I yearn to have a home where I can just be. Now, relatives constantly bring up marriage and I just want to flee. To think that marriage would be my only way out is frightening. “
— Longing For an Escape
RN: If you’re married off in haste, things may just become worse than better, or stay the same. If you have someone you trust or you find a partner you can live on equal terms and be free with, that could be a way to escape this situation and subvert the traditional notions of marriage. Unfortunately in our country, it does happen to be one of the few things that can allow a freer life, with the huge caveat that you’re privileged and lucky enough to find someone who aligns with your goals and desired lifestyles. But this is a rarity and could take some time. Until then, going off to college away from home could be your best bet.
But can I also ask whether it’s possible to try and have an honest conversation with your mother about how restricted you feel? It could be possible that there is a shared experience underlying your dynamic here — she feels restricted/compelled by prying and interfering relatives who make it their business to dictate terms to a now single mother after the “man” of the house passes. Is there something common you could draw from, to show her that you share her pain, and how you can support one another through this rather than be adversaries? You don’t necessarily have to shock her with talk of love, sex, or boys, but there might be something to be said for trying to reach into a part of her that probably feels just as lonely and trapped as you do.
This doesn’t justify what she’s doing, and it’s sad that you need to bear the brunt of everyone’s problems at just 19. And that said, it’s totally fine and understandable if you don’t want to take this on, and would prefer finding ways to move out instead. Whatever you decide, I hope you find a way to your dreams.
SS: Jumping from a claustrophobic family to marriage is like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. I do know of some people who married to get away from their abusive families and that has brought them a sense of relief in a lot of ways. But in their cases, they had a very loving partner and super supportive in-laws who encouraged their autonomy and freedom. So, you have to recognize that these cases do exist, but they’re a rarity. I’d say, take some time to look for a job, earn some money, and find a way to get out of your house. Money is a great negotiation tactic for women. Once you have some level of financial support from yourself, you will feel more powerful in these situations because the dependency will reduce. Maybe this in itself will change some dynamics within your family. But my crucial advice is: get a part-time job, earn some money, start saving for an exit plan.
PB: Oof. I empathize — I know very few people who won’t. This collectivist bullying that goes on in most Indian families is a purgatory that our society believes to be essential to turn young adults into “proper citizens.” If logical discourse is a possibility (I sincerely hope it is), then I’d put forth the argument that a woman’s purpose, independence, and survival should be her prerogative — and forcing talks of marriage on you is unacceptable. As to leaving it behind, if you have the means, and are currently pursuing higher education, then I’d advise you to push through it until then. Someday you’ll find a new place to be. Hopefully, you have support to help you — friends and some family that are understanding — people you can speak to. I assure you there will always be a second way out. If it’s invisible now, perhaps it’ll show itself in time with patience.
You yearn to move out, and that’s completely understandable. Work towards your own home, perhaps a few years down the line. As the Billy Joel song goes “Vienna waits for you.”
DR: The feeling of being trapped, distressed has made you want to “pack my things and move to another country,” right? So, radical idea: how about you do just that? If you can just fly off to another country, by all means, please do. If not, you can move to another Indian state or even a different city. And then, well, go either low-contact or no-contact with the people trying to dictate your life. For your relatives, I’d strongly recommend the latter treatment. In the meantime, if you can bring your mother around to accept your views, or at least, to see things from your perspective, that would be great. It’s helpful to have some semblance of emotional support with the family. But hey, not everyone is lucky enough to have that. So, if you can’t, well, you’ll know you tried. Please don’t perform too much emotional labor in the process though; it probably won’t be worth it.
Look, I know some challenges come with both parts of the plan I suggested — first, there is quite a bit of socio-economic privilege required to just move out at the drop of a hat. So, I know it might not be easy, and it may take a while too. However, for the sake of your mental health, and your freedom, I think it’s really important for you to move — no matter how long it takes. Second, I know it’s not easy to cut off contact with one’s kin — even the most distant ones — given how so many people love espousing “family values” while meaning: “be a doormat.” If they can’t treat you as an adult person, well, hard luck for them! Grow your wings and fly away, my child. Marriage (most likely) won’t be your key to freedom. Why? ‘Cuz you are that key. Now, go be.
SK: I think you know the answer already. You realize marriage is a frightening option; especially if you have to pick between the confines of your own family vs the restrictions of someone else’s. In case you do ever consider that option, I hope you do it for reasons other than just wanting to escape the toxic atmosphere of your family.
Which means you might have to stick with what you’ve got for now. Privacy is important for your mental peace and the way you understand yourself, so I urge you to keep fighting for it. Start with talking to your mother? The cultural/generational shift is hard to navigate, but maybe try relating to the collective prejudices you face from a societal lens? Tell her of your ambitions, of your desires, of what you like, don’t like. Simultaneously, keep looking for options to free yourself. A college in another city/state, scholarship opportunities to fund yourself, more reading (try swapping out book covers or balancing between book themes!), and focusing on making yourself financially independent. I realize it’s a tall claim to make, but not having to rely on your family economically is wildly liberating. If you’re worried about succumbing to others’ expectations, keep a diary or a list of things you want to do/be. Keep giving yourself that reality check. All of this will take a while though — I hope there is patience and strength in your heart.