Sooner or later, we all get to experience the dreadful ‘Rishta Process’, in a society where turning 20 means you are an adult and at the best age for getting married. But what happens to those who aren’t able to find the right person, or have personal obligations that need to be fulfilled before they can move onto the next chapter in their lives? What happens to those who live in minorities and have less of a choice?
Not only for women, but for men too, this process has brought a wrath upon people in their thirties. Thirty is a dreaded age if you’re a single woman living in Pakistan, though it is also a societal pressure for men, even though not equally as unpleasant (life has changed a lot in the past decade or so).
I got in touch with a few Pakistani men and women (different ethnicities as well) to find out about their views of the complicated marriage process they all had to face at some point in their lives, and the difficult people they encountered on their journey.
- NAHEEDA: AGED 32, UNMARRIED, MY FAMILY WANTS TO MARRY ME OFF TO WHOEVER COMES THEIR WAY
[Naheeda believes that the way Muslim parents suppress their children destroys any future prospects they might have had of finding someone for themselves. She faced disappointment in that department, and still struggles to find someone right to this day. She also has issues with her mother thinking that the ‘larkay walay’ are somehow superior when they look for a girl to marry]
“I always fantasized about knowing someone before I got married, but because I was born in a conservative family where you’re not allowed to meet future marriage prospects, that dream remained unfulfilled. My older sister’s broken marriage was another factor in me being scared of relationships overall, and I feel like the ‘rishta process’ is also a little complicated for women.
My mother thinks that those who come to see ‘girls’ are far more superior to us, and they have a right to judge us. I don’t think they have the right to judge us, and I think it’s sad that most of the parents look at ‘rishtas’ as a process of fulfilling their duty towards female children, while the male children still have some leverage.
I am looking for someone currently but I am alright with being single as well, it doesn’t affect me anymore. The pressure from society got me sick at one point in my life, and I ruined my own health and sleep over it. I firmly believe that God plans everything, so we should just be patient.”
- RAFAY: 35, UNMARRIED, MIDDLE-CLASS MEN HAVE A LOT OF FINANCIAL PRESSURE
[Rafay was of the opinion that for a common, middle-class man, life is extremely difficult if he wants to marry to a girl of his choice. He felt that unless a man is financially stable, families don’t want to pursue him, no matter what his age may be]
“A middle-class man has a completely different set of issues in a third-world country. For me, financial stability matters a lot, not just for me but I know it would matter for my future wife as well. It takes time to get somewhere, and I believe I’m just not ‘there’ yet. It’s difficult to find someone who would understand all these problems and all these burdens, because girls these days are materialistic and want a secure, stable future.
I would prefer moving abroad and finding someone who understands all these problems that I have, otherwise if I can find someone understanding here, I would love to pursue her for marriage. I believe it’s really important to connect with a person before getting married, because so many people around me have left the institution of marriage after a few years, because they couldn’t cope with each other. I’m strongly against people getting together just because they’ve reached a certain ‘should-be-married-by-this-age age’ in Pakistan. We need to stop this from becoming something that humiliates us, or makes us feel inferior or in competition with the rest who are having babies and moving on with their lives.”
- REHANA: AGED 31, FAMILIES THAT COME TO SEE ME, ASK ME WEIRD PERSONAL QUESTIONS
[Rehana’s father died when she was young, and she is not too stable, financially. People that come to her house question her brought up by a single mother, and ask her questions that make her uncomfortable. Many don’t even give her a reason for not calling back, she says]
“My father died when I was fairly young, and since then, my mother has single-handedly raised us. People usually have a problem getting their sons married into such families because we are 4 sisters in total, and the ‘dowry’ issue is something that is fairly important to them. Many people have a problem with my height, and they usually just come and observe me and never call me back. Whenever we ask them the reason for not calling, they never reply.
One such proposal asked me very strange questions: Do you watch movies? What kind of movies do you watch? When you go out, who do you go out with? What are the places you go to? If you go out with your mother, what are the things you buy? I found them extremely strange and felt like a robot with specifications who was supposed to answer each and every thing.
Sometimes, it feels like we only prepare our whole lives to sit here in this circle of people who come to see us and judge us, and this is all we are meant to do: please the people that come to see us. Sometimes, I feel like it’s an animal selling point where you buy what suits you. Marriage shouldn’t be like that, I think.”
- SAWERA: AGED 30, UNMARRIED, MY PARENTS LIE ABOUT MY AGE
[Sawera’s parents lie about her age, to make her appear younger. She is often not pursued because she works in the media industry, and is questioned how she would raise her kids because of her job, where people are generally ‘indecent’, according to prospects]
“I have been pressurized into getting married ever since I graduated. I feel that a single woman living alone in Pakistan generally has safety concerns, even though there are so many divorcees and widows these days. I believe if there was security of some sort, a lot of women in Pakistan would prefer living by themselves, rather than with abusive or toxic family members/In-Laws.
People usually run away when they hear about my age, and don’t call back when they hear that I work for the media industry. Sometimes, I have caught my parents telling people I’m 3 years younger than my actual age. Some of these people tell me that the media industry isn’t a good industry, and that I should quit once I have children. I was serious with a prospect, but my father declined them because the man said he would not be able to take a stand for my career because he came from a ‘conservative background’.
Women don’t ask men what they do and never ask them to leave their jobs for anyone, so why do they have the right to question the choices of women? It should be the same for both genders.”
- MAHAM: AGED 30, PEOPLE WANT TO KNOW IF I CAN COOK, THEY DON’T CARE IF I’M EDUCATED
[Maham believes that whether you’re 20 or 30 it doesn’t matter, as long as you’re independent and find the right person. She believes that pressure from society is always present in Pakistan, but supportive parents are the key to dismissing all negative beliefs]
“Being the third daughter in our family, I have been raised to believe that there is no expiration date to a woman. A lot of my friends got married really young, and they are divorced now. Getting married, I believe, doesn’t guarantee a smooth life. I worry about my work more, in fact. I once went through the rishta process when I was fairly young, and I came across people with weird concerns. They wanted to know if I could cook, if I’ve ever looked after kids, if I will quit my job, if I will travel alone after I’m married, and on and on it went. I have been vocal about my choices in life, and I believe someone should come and make your life better, not more complicated.
I am lucky that I have been blessed with a supportive family, but I feel for those women who aren’t. For them, it must be difficult to pursue their dreams, or even continue a simple job in this world of suppression. I am now engaged to a wonderful man who supports my every decision, and my parents made me into a confident and independent human being that affects how I think about life.”
- SABA: AGE 31, UNMARRIED, PAKISTANI MEN CAN DATE A NON-MUSLIM, BUT THEY CANNOT BRING HER HOME
[Saba believes that as someone who’s not a Muslim and settled in the country, it’s difficult to find someone who accepts you in a wife’s role. She plans to find a soul mate abroad]
“I’m 31, single and from another ethnic background. Since I am not a Muslim, many people think it is okay to date me, fall in love with me but it is never okay to bring me home. I think that the way Pakistani men are raised is questionable; they believe dating isn’t haram but bringing home a wife from another ethnic background is. I have also noticed that Pakistani men generally tend to become more controlling once they get serious about a woman, which is also another red flag for me.
In terms of mentality, openness and acceptance, I still haven’t been able to find the right man here. I mean, I may love somebody, but that doesn’t mean I will control their life. I may love someone but not at the cost of ruining my life, growth and sanity. I think that they (Pakistani men) don’t support your growth generally, so after marriage, it may become worse. I guess you can say I’m fearful. Also, for me, race and religion play an important role.”
- ANEELA: AGE 32, UNMARRIED, MINORITIES DON’T HAVE A LOT OF CHOICES IN PAKISTAN, MOST OF THEM AREN’T EVEN EDUCATED
[Aneela believes that Pakistani minorities are often overlooked and she isn’t in a hurry to find someone just because they come from the same religion. She believes that minorities still have a long way to go when it comes to education and status in Pakistan]
“I’m a Catholic Christian, and for me, it’s been really difficult to find someone who matches my mindset. People are really cruel about my age and biological clock behind my back, but I don’t really care what they talk about. If people discuss me then I’m worth it, and I believe that life is beautiful anyway.
I believe that we shouldn’t be dependent on anyone in life anyway; I invest in myself a lot, and I believe that there is no right time for finding a partner, and I can wait. I think for me, I honestly don’t care if it happens or doesn’t, it’s like that now. I’m fairly happy wherever I am. “
- UMAIR: AGE 32, UNMARRIED, RISHTA PROSPECTS ARE USUALLY SUPERFICIAL & MOST OF THEM SAY I’M TOO ‘SOFT-SPOKEN’ TO BE A HUSBAND
[Umair wasn’t able to get married because he had family obligations and for this reason, became financially independent after he turned 30. He was fat-shamed during the marriage process, due to which he developed severe self-esteem issues]
“My father was sick and it was my responsibility to take care of him, so marriage never really crossed my mind in my twenties. The whole family was mostly focused on his well-being and the topic was often ignored. When I was finally able to secure a stable job, I realized that people had bigger issues: they were superficial and materialistic. I was asked if I have my own house or if it’s on rent, whether or not I have an independent car and how much salary I earned per month.
I once fell in love with a girl but she also turned out to be materialistic, and her family body-shamed me a lot (I am a bit chubby). They wanted a smart guy for their daughter, someone who was slimmer. Also, I have been told that I have a soft nature, which is why most girls wanted me to be a friend but never a husband. I still don’t have any idea why, but now I am forced to believe that women generally like men who tend to behave like bad boys. I got rejected 6 times during the marriage process, and this is the only question people are interested in: Job/house/car. They don’t really care about the nature and character of a person anymore, I believe.”
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of individuals that were interviewed.