When you’re a 30-year-old, unmarried Punjabi girl – the first topic of conversation most people will have with you is about marriage. God knows how many times a week I’m asked “why don’t you settle down?” But when I speak to lots of married friends, they question “why do you want to settle down?”
It’s the age-old dilemma of wanting what you don’t have – a psychology study suggests that when you are single, all you see is happy couples; yet when you are committed, you see happy singles.
According to family and society in general – I need to be doing more to ‘settle down’ because I’m pushing my sell-by date. However, when I speak to married couples I’m shocked at how unhappy they are. Whether its issues with their spouse, the in-laws, pressure of being parents or financial worry of having a family – they tend to be unhappy and encourage me to enjoy the single life.
Sadly, many have considered or have committed adultery. They have flirted with somebody leading to casual dating, had a one-night affair, sometimes even a full-blown affair or booked an escort…
And it made me question – is monogamy unnatural? Is it normal to want to be with more than one person at the same time? Or are we made to be with just ‘the one’?
I look at my parents’ generation. The majority of them hardly knew their spouse before they married. Yet decades later, and through so many hardships relating to first or second generation Indian migrants, they have stuck it out.
I wouldn’t call them the most loved up generation. In my parents’ case; after 40 years of marriage there isn’t really a relationship because they’re simply not compatible. One of my uncle’s appears to be happy on the exterior because he is the type to compromise – yet he shares his frustrations with others. Another uncle has a fiery relationship with his wife because they are both hot-headed and strong-minded. But their love for each other cannot be denied.
I wonder if couples like these would have chosen the partner they ended up with. I wonder if they have remained together because of social norms. Have they conformed to cultural pressures and remained together because divorce is taboo? Or have they remained together because they feel they have nowhere else to go? Maybe they feel it’s too late to start again or move on.
I spoke to a friend who has recently separated from her husband and has a child. She happens to be English and I thought her perspective is one that women across ethnicities and cultures could relate to.
She believes men are smothered by their mothers, and when they find a partner she will mother him too. But once a baby comes along, it takes precedence and the man feels side-lined. He can react in one of many ways – he can stray and pursue attention from another woman, he can gain satisfaction from behaviour that may seem rewarding such as alcohol or gambling, or in some cases even turn to aggression to vent his frustration.
It may sound like a simple theory with extreme consequences but sadly, it’s one that rings true to a few couples I know. It hasn’t necessarily happened as soon as a baby is born but this male behaviour is prevalent in some of the married men I knew who are fathers.
On the other hand I wondered if this theory could be switched to women…are women smothered by their fathers? Do they search for a protective provider in a male partner? Do they expect their partners to give them as much attention as their father did but when a baby comes along this attention is diverted? This makes the woman feel unloved, unwanted and so the bitterness, depression or anger starts to boil…Wonder how many couples can relate to that.
Although when it comes to new mothers I think postnatal depression and body image has a lot to do with it too.
Maybe there is too much Freudian thinking going on here!
Another friend who is divorced and is now in a live-in relationship also questioned whether we’re naturally monogamous. She believes attraction may be important at the beginning of a relationship when passion is at its peak and you can’t get enough of each other. But with time, and the stresses of life, this attraction or passion may diminish. However, what is vital for the relationship to stay strong is friendship. You should be comfortable enough to be yourself or even be adventurous with your partner. You should have the confidence to share anything with them without the fear of being judged.
I suppose this is common in couples who no longer care what they look like in front of their partner – a stark contrast to the beginning of a relationship when appearance mattered.
But is this the wrong way to go about things? Surely, to maintain a spark in a relationship it’s down to both individuals to continue making an effort for the other. Whether it’s taking care of themselves in terms of their appearance or treating their partner to spontaneous shows of affection – I think it’s crucial to maintain passion otherwise one of you may feel inclined to stray.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not, in any way, condoning or justifying people who are unfaithful. Some people may be naturally promiscuous and cannot be with just one person for the rest of their life. But surely, if you let yourself go, don’t watch your weight, give up on dressing decently, no longer make time for personal grooming – then can you blame your partner for feeling less attracted to you?
Needless to say our bodies change over the years. Gravity and age (as well as childbirth for women!) will eventually take its toll. But I get really frustrated at people who complain they haven’t got time to get their hair done, or haven’t got time to get their eyebrows done, or haven’t got time to shave…it’s as simple as this: if you won’t make time to take care of yourself, who will?
Nobody is going to volunteer to shape and trim your beard for you. Nobody is going to offer a manicure. Nobody is going to moisturise your body for you.
Yes, I’m referring to both men and women.
Some time ago I wrote about a (male) friend who believed relationships can only work if they’re ‘open’. By that he meant they are healthy if you are open to your partner experimenting with others. He was quick to confirm this would work both ways – for the husband and the wife. But the key is to let the other know.
So there is no secrecy, no cheating as such because you have confessed everything. Apparently, half the fun of an affair is the secrecy of it so by my friend’s account; your partner is less likely to cheat if this element is taken away.
I shared this perspective with a colleague who is married and recently became a father. With a cheeky grin he simply replied if both parties are consensual then fine, but such cases are rare.
I questioned his thoughts on monogamy. He believes men have a natural animal instinct to sow their seed as far and wide as possible. This is an evolutionary fact in the animal kingdom – although he wasn’t sure if women were as inclined.
So I questioned whether he thought the concept of marriage is flawed because of men’s natural animal instinct. He immediately responded: “No. Marriage is the test of faith and self-control, which separates us from animals.”
I must admit, hearing these words were music to my ears. I was so relieved to hear from somebody man enough to admit men are promiscuous but also humble to acknowledge marriage is an oath you take to be true and faithful to somebody.
And maybe that’s what it boils down to. If you can honour your oath of sanctity in a marriage; settle down. If you know you don’t have the self-control or even the belief in monogamy then save your partner the future heartbreak and be honest. Who knows, your partner may be accommodating to the idea of an “open relationship” or you could part ways and find somebody who is better suited to your mind set.
So maybe naturally we are inclined to be with more than one partner – men may have evolved to ‘plant their seed’ and women may have evolved to find the best seeds (!) but – hopefully – we have evolved into a civil society where we can differentiate ourselves from animals by self-control.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with polygamy – each to their own, whatever floats your boat. But in any relationship, honesty is the absolute minimum a person deserves and the optimum to achieve.