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To Be or Not to Be? Married

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November 2003
To Be or Not to Be? Married

By BHAGIRATH MAJMUDAR, M.D.

The irony that some of the first generation parents indulge in is as follows: we often complain that the young generation is given to instant gratification; yet, when it comes to something as substantial as marriage, we also complain when our adult children would rather choose delayed gratification!

It may help us to see the issue from both perspectives. To begin with, we have nourished our children with endless ambition. All their years of high school, college, and professional school are therefore, singularly concentrated on their academic goals. Marriage is not remotely on their mind. After such a protracted period of schooling, when they go out into the proverbial ?real world', two things happen. Number one, they start seeing the rewards of their hard work. They encounter promising professional offers that entail extra-long hours of work and often excessive traveling to boot. Number two, when they look at the matrimonial scenario through occasional peepholes, they find that the pool of partners available for marriage has greatly shrunken and further drying out rapidly. This drives them deeper into their occupation.

After a lapse of another year, or years, when the idea of matrimony is rekindled by friends or family, they are too advanced and set in their ways of unmarried life. They don't want to rock the boat. As far as women are concerned, somewhere along the road, they become acutely aware of their biological clock. They may therefore try to settle desperately? with happy or unhappy endings. Both, men and women, also face sneering looks as if questioning why they were left out. Is it any surprise then, that they feel more comfortable in the company of their likes? Much before they know it, they become established members of the "Singleton family". New Census Bureau numbers show that married couple households in the U.S. slipped from nearly 80 percent in the 1950s to just 50.7 percent today.

Such a predicament is experienced by hundreds of young men and women. Some of them desperately run to India thinking that the bazaar of brides and grooms will always be open there; and thinking also about how they will count their marital bliss by marrying someone who comes from a country known for marital fidelity, stability, and unquestioned loyalty. Many examples have proven them right and wrong.

The situation, therefore, needs to be appraised all over again. We would do well to heed Einstein's sage observation: "You cannot solve a problem on the level at which it was created."

Following are some of the most common fears and objections that the second generation youth have, and my thoughts on it:

"Marriage is unilaterally imposed upon us."

Marriage is optional?unlike our normal traditions and beliefs. It is imperative, however, for you to recognize its significance in your life and your belief system. "Know thyself", and early in the process. This obligatory art of self-exploration will not be taught anytime during your formal education.

Although an important component of life, marriage is nevertheless, not a synonym for either happiness or unhappiness. Only you can decide how important marriage is in your life. If you feel that you are not the marrying kind, do not marry! You will be saving two lives thereby. If you do believe in marriage, nurture it with love, pride, loyalty, and truthfulness.

"Marriage will thwart my professional development."

Marriage will not - and should not - let you put your entire focus on your professional life. Workaholics are as detrimental to marriage as alcoholics are. So, yes, a certain amount of seeming drag on the professional career is to be expected.

There is a flip side, though. Such one dimensional outer (professional) achievements provide only an instant gratification. They inflate your ego, but may deflate your heart. The peak of success lies in sharing its joy with someone your own. A series of professional achievements do not necessarily build up a progressively escalating degree of joy. They can only be habit forming. Because of its cyclic nature, success attenuates sooner or later. Also, no success is everlasting. Often, a sense of incompleteness follows. You may need the strength of a family to buffer such an untoward experience. There are countless examples of extremely famous people famished in their personal happiness.

A balanced life, on the other hand, will actually let you enjoy your work a lot more, although your success therein may seemingly be less spectacular. Your growth may not be steep but it will be symmetrical.

"How can I maintain one relationship for ever?"

"The easiest kind of relationship for me is with ten thousand people. The hardest is with one," Said Joan Balz, a famous musician. The joy of relationship in a marriage is not congenital but acquired. Even in a congenital relationship as with our parents or siblings, we need to nourish it with energy, time, and ongoing maintenance. No relationship will last long unless it is bilaterally beneficial. A system has long existed in our families where one member keeps on giving, while the other(s) keep on receiving. Now, with a better sense of equitability, such antiquity should be outmoded.

Why should there be any hesitation or doubt in maintaining one relationship, while the other partner also assures reciprocally that you are the one and the only one? That oneness of body, mind, and soul, further blessed by wedding should liberate a constant stream of focused energy, flanked by security and self confidence. Also, only apparently it is one relationship because both partners are constantly changing, while dynamically adapting to each other. The last line in a fairy tale should not be that they lived happily ever after, but that they learned to live happily ever after.

"My marriage may not work because my partner works."

This point, more applicable to men than women, needs a serious thought. If you marry a career woman, you have to respect and nurture her career as much as your own. This is especially true about women in the medical profession who seem to be stigmatized the most along these lines. Long absences and traveling are a part of many women practicing law, accounting, business and many other professions as well.

Most women, professional or not, will seek some work outside, either for economic reasons or because they want to have some contact with the outer world. A woman waiting for her husband to come home at the end of the day to serve him is, again, an antiquated notion.

When both partners are working, distribution of responsibilities is not only desirable but mandatory. "Love, honor, and negotiate", is a good old American advice to couples, which Indians have to learn and adopt. Divided work may mean undivided family!

"No kidding!"

Children in a marriage are optional. Needless to say, both parents have to come to an agreement on a serious issue like this. Besides love, children demand time, energy, attention, caring, and money. There are anticipated and unanticipated needs. The bonding that takes place between a parent and a child is a result of only countless incidents of love, trust, and self-sacrifice. Even the satisfaction of playing with other's children in the family will not create a bond unless they are consistently nurtured, almost like a parent.

If children are born as an inevitable outcome of marriage or under a growing pressure of a ticking biological clock, of course, the parents will resent taking them to piano lessons. When they are a result of love, understanding, and preparedness of parents, all their activities will bring an incomparable joy. We all have seen the ability of a child to convert a parent into a "hopelessly loving" individual like a magical phenomenon!

In summary, to be or not to be married, to be or not to be parents, are individual choices. Yes, at the time of death, it does not matter whether one is married or not. It does make, however, a tremendous difference during life.

Let me finish by quoting an incident in which the brother of a bride said in the marriage reception to her sister, "Sister, I am sorry to say that the statistics in a marriage are staggering." I hastened to add, "But the dynamics can make it divine."

______________________________________________________________

[Dr. Majmudar, a practicing pathologist at Emory University, often dons the cap of a priest, performing the matrimonial rites at many Indian weddings. That, plus his reverence for philosophy and spiritualism along with his over three decades in the U.S., observing an evolving community, makes him uniquely qualified to share his views on Indian American marriage.]


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