by Anand Mitra
As a happily married couple well into our 30s, my wife and I have a surprisingly large number of women friends who are single. Most of them are in our age group and are exceptionally qualified, articulate and financially secure. It always amazes me to see how these very traits have led to these women remaining single.
Based on my personal observations, here's what I’ve seen typically play out (And since they are personal, and not based on extensive research, they are by nature unscientific).
One typical pattern is that in college, a woman has no dearth of guys interested in her. Her would-be suitors are her college peers, older guys who are working and even much older men who are highly avoidable. Whichever way you look at it, at this stage there are more guys interested in women than vice versa.
While she's getting her master's degree, this pattern continues. Assuming that she's single at the end of her graduate degree, the attention continues to be showered on her once she enters the workplace. There are always guys asking her out and weekends are never spent in solitude.
However, during this period, a number of external forces come into play that will slowly change her position. Her girlfriends start getting married. Initially, this is a trickle, but by the time she's in her late 20s, attending mehendis and bachelorette parties becomes de rigeur. Simultaneously, in the workplace, there are five batches of trainees that have come in after her. She soon notices that male attention is now perennially on the younger women.
All this is happening while she's rapidly approaching the big Three-Oh and she starts to panic: "What if I'm still single at 30?" Of course, it doesn't help that her entire khandaan has been on her case for a while now, introducing her to a bunch of guys that she simply cannot connect with. But she refuses to settle.
Thirty has come and gone, and she's still single. By now the bachelorette parties have been replaced by baby showers and discussions around how in-laws should be outlawed. It's the Travel and Living Channel that is now her best friend. Many of the guys that she meets are simply looking to get into her pants or just don't measure up intellectually. Out of sheer desperation, she attempts searching for a mate on a matrimonial site but simply gives up after her initial subscription expires.
I think there are three reasons that lead to a situation like this in our urban society today.
First is that we Indian men, for the most part, haven't got to the point yet where we're able to acknowledge that women can be and very often are more educated than us. It's a complex issue that includes being mama's boys, our inherent chauvinism, and a general inability of men to keep pace with a rapidly changing social milieu.
Second, it's tougher for a 35-plus woman to get hitched when compared to a man of the same age. This is because a woman in her 20s is OK with a 35-year-old guy but not vice-versa. This is a function of our social conditioning where empirically most wives are younger than their husbands. Men are generally not interested in getting hitched to an older woman. This is maybe because they'd like a mate that has more childbearing years ahead of her. Or perhaps it is simply because for a man the choice of marrying someone younger exists – an option that is less available for a thirty-something woman.
Separately, women have a strong view that they are ahead of the maturity curve when compared to men of the same age. The combination of these phenomena makes it mathematically more difficult for older women to find men to marry since the pool of eligible men is smaller than that of eligible women.
Finally, once a woman has entered her 30s, she's been working for over a decade and is financially secure, has travelled a bit and has likely been in a couple of relationships. She is far more aware of what she wants in a man – usually it's more than his resume. It's someone who has a range of interests that transcend watching TV and hanging out with the boys. A shared passion for music, literature, art or travel would be ideal. For many of the brilliant single male engineers, doctors and MBAs out there, they've likely been consumed by their work and may not be as 'well rounded' as the women would like.
For the few men that actually fit the bill, they're finally in a situation where they are the desired minority. It's a 180-degree shift from college. This realisation, combined with the fact that men are not on 'the clock' could slow things down a bit. He perhaps believes that it's now his turn to play the field before making a commitment.
What is most interesting is that single women are changing the rules of the game in bold ways. For example, a single friend of ours recently adopted a child and will be a single parent to her daughter. The broader social trend has certainly not played itself out fully, and we're very much living in a society where the rules are being rapidly rewritten by women.