I have a theory that every set of brown parents comes to a startling and jarring realisation when their child enters their early 20s. The sudden dawning that spending all those years telling their kids to avoid interactions with the opposite gender was not exactly conducive to fulfilling their now urgent need to get them married off- and then, it begins: The Search.
And this search can be fast, almost supernaturally so, or it can be painful, drawn out, and with the very serious potential to cause life-lasting trauma. The thing nobody tells you about The Search is how, almost ironically, isolating it can be. The search for a life partner can actually be the loneliest experience of them all because mostly it’s just you figuring things out on your own- there are no clear warning signs on this path telling you to ‘Avoid him!’ or ‘disappointment ahead!’ and there’s no clear plan, or milestones to get you to your desired result. It’s just you, and getting knocked down, and then getting up, and up and up again.
The first few times I spoke about getting married to my parents, I realised quickly that their expectations and requirements for a prospective spouse didn’t always tally with mine. I mean, it’s not like they were asking for much – just that he was Sikh, had a good job, was a suitable height and build, with a fair complexion, a good job, lived locally and that their family looked and felt exactly like our own. Oh, and that his ancestors should have had the same occupations as mine did (I don’t think I’ll ever work that one out). I felt a sudden responsibility to break it to my parents, that one did not just meet a six foot man, hailing from an ancestral farming background, on a weekly shop at the local Asda. I think they knew this already, but it frustrated me that a) they had this insurmountable list of requirements b) no clear plan for being able to deliver on them. I know a lot of people who can relate to this- a feeling of being in the passenger seat, with someone else in the driver seat, hurtling dangerously through traffic- with very real danger of crashing- with you still in the middle of trying to say, ‘But why do they have to be Jatt?’
And then of the course there’s the exposure and vulnerability that The Search can mean. Attending family events suddenly becomes an opportunity to show you off to prospective families and their equally exposed and vulnerable kids. Your achievements are watered down into a quick elevator pitch of your attributes- your height, ability to speak Punjabi, your education, your complexion. A process robbing you of the nuances and human-ness of your existence- nobody mentions a sense of good humour, or that you’re really passionate about saving the environment, or even that you just really love your dog. You become a list of attributes, and someone (or someone’s mum) comes along to decide whether those ticks match up with their own. And that’s that.
And then you come on to the interactions with prospective matches. You tell yourself not to, but its hard- your hopes are up (mainly because at least finding someone will mean an end to this suffering) and then these days you get the more modern version of the ‘go and sit in the other room to talk’- you exchange numbers and begin that awkward whatsapp dance where you’re trying to act normal whilst trying to work out if they are normal, all whilst training to maintain a fairly civil- likely boring- conversation about how their day was and what they like to do on weekends.
So there’s a lot of negative things to be said about the process- don’t even get me started on the speech girls have to hear about finding their ‘real home’ once they get married. But the most painful bit of it is that it forces you to confront your deepest and darkest fears, and tests your resolve, patience and faith in some of the most hurtful ways. It feels a little like being stuck at an empty train station whilst trains filled with happily married family and friends zoom past without stopping. The process tricks you into feeling alone, it robs you of all your power, it makes you feel stagnant and in limbo- even when there may be 100s of things going on in your life which could prove the exact opposite.
So, what’s the solution? I think a bit of it is this: taking your power back, owning the narrative, talking about it. It’s about getting in to the driver’s seat- doing one small action to take control of the process can help to make things feel that bit more manageable. And that one small thing will look different for everyone: some will want to sign up to sites like Your Laavan which are all about handing you back some control, others may simply draw up a list of what they’re looking for in a partner (have you actually done that recently? You’d be surprised at how much it might have changed over time) and for some- it might be an active, conscious decision not to get married at all- to take a break, and come back to the Search later, or even to abandon it altogether. The point is, allowing yourself the time, space and authority to make that decision is so important.
I’ll finish by sharing a reflection from my own journey- which is that whilst making that active step to take back some of your power is vital, so is a second step- which is also having enough faith to let go, even just a little. To use the car analogy again, you’ve taken over the driver’s seat but you’ve switched on cruise control. Trust the Universe has a plan- because its going better than you ever imagined.