The lack of marital status is a perfectly valid relationship status.

When I was a medical student and for a few years thereafter, I was a member of a small, but exclusive club of four members. We called ourselves Bachelors Anonymous, named after P.G. Wodehouse’s 1973 novel of the same name, and resolved to ensure that if any member of the club felt his commitment to bachelorhood weakening, the others would collectively bring the poor chap back on track.

Not that we were misogynists or any such thing. Neither had we been traumatised by what is generally referred to as “love failure”. Nor were we victims of toxic parental marriages. And none of us was a Lothario either. It’s just that we believed that marriage was a mug’s game and certainly not one that any of us would care to have truck with. Our club’s motto was: “Be Singularly Happy, not Doubly Unhappy.”

Within a few years of founding, the club had to be disbanded, for three of its four members got married. I was the third to capitulate. Mercifully, I have never had cause to regret this turnaround, but my thoughts, every now and again turn to the one member of the club who refused to succumb, because I am encountering, over the last decade or so, a greater desire on the part of urban Indians to remain single. By choice.

I have no idea whether the numbers of such SBCs (single by choice) are statistically significant, but it is not uncommon to find that one of the causes of parental depression is that their children are refusing to pop the question or have the question popped at them. And what’s more, they seem perfectly content with their marital status or lack thereof.

Begging to help

In a nation obsessed with marriages and weddings, such an attitude can be seen as shockingly inappropriate. Most parents of SBCs end up feeling that they have failed as parents and have driven their children away from matrimony, for they simply cannot understand that their children are perfectly happy in choosing to stay single. Nor can society. “What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you married?” is the often asked question. “Shall I find someone for you?” is the next. But the real question that needs to be asked is, can a person remain single for life and still be happy?

The short answer: Yes.

Admittedly, a fair number of people who end up being single haven’t chosen to be so. Their life circumstances, some of them beyond their control, may have determined their civil status. Often, traumatising past relationships, impecuniousness, early widowhood, marital violence, family responsibilities and such tribulations may be contributory factors. But, even if they have been successful in other aspects of their lives, the deeply entrenched belief that in the absence of marriage and family one is incomplete, can sometimes be embittering.

However, SBCs don’t have such misgivings, simply because singlehood is a choice they have consciously made. While they don’t begrudge their married friends and family members the bliss that marriage is renowned for, since they are certainly not misogamists, they simply want to lead lives where they don’t have to, on a perennial basis, accommodate the needs of another within their own personal spaces. They prefer to think for one, not for two. This often leads to the specious accusation that they are selfish. As any of their friends or family members will tell you, many of them are indeed warm, affectionate and go the extra mile for those they love. So what makes them want to stay single?

Just a class apart

For those who are committed believers in the institution of marriage, it’s hard to appreciate that this is just something they want to do, because they see this as a better way of life for themselves. Most of us tend to believe that SBCs are doomed to lives of despondent loneliness, or worse, that they are licentious, whimsical and may end up becoming sexual predators. In truth, they are none of these. They experience no more loneliness than many married people too do, for in the final analysis all of us are indeed alone even if we are married, something that both married people as well as SBCs need to understand and come to terms with. And they are not necessarily deprived of the experience of intimate companionship that marriage offers, for many SBCs do have long-term intimate relationships. However, in their minds, they still see themselves as single, which means they ensure that they have their own lives and own personal spaces, and that when it comes to those contentious aspects of marriage — time, finances and property, they choose to invest and share only what is surplus. In other words, the relationship is not as compulsively prioritised as marriage usually is.

From what I have seen, the biggest problem that SBCs face is the response of society to their choice of civil status. Having made their choice, they do learn to accept what their single status precludes them from having. I’m not suggesting that staying single is the better way to live. Nor am I saying that marriage is meaningless. It’s not an either-or sort of thing. You can be doubly happy or singularly happy. Equally, you can be singularly or doubly unhappy. It’s just a question of what works best for you.

vijay.nagaswami@gmail.com

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