Imagine this. In a coffee shop, an unmarried woman in her early thirties sits alone sipping her favourite hot chocolate and reading a book, immersed in her happy place. A friend or relative who comes to the shop sees her, comes to her and asks, ‘Are you alone or waiting for someone?’ When she replies that she is alone, with a wicked smile, the other person asks, “Oh! Haven’t you found someone to share your life with?” followed by lessons on marriage! Many who read this might be familiar with such conversations, where the so-called ‘privileged people’ nag single women asking too many personal questions about their decision to stay unmarried.
You may have got angry and, sometimes, devastated facing them. Well, being single is not unsafe and unhappy, as they said. In fact, it is a happy place, says happiness expert Paul Dolan, HOD and professor of Behavioural Science in Psychological and Behavioural Science at the London School of Economics and Political Science, in his recent study. He observes that unmarried women are the healthiest and happiest compared to their married counterparts. He elucidates that men are benefited from marriage because they take fewer risks; whereas women die sooner than if she was never married because she has to put up with many factors in marriage.
“He is right,” concur single women we spoke to. According to them, life is pretty happy except of the social pressure for getting married. “Single life is beautiful. The most important factor is that we don’t have to ask anyone’s permission,” says Rakhi R., a psychologist, who is also single. “Even our smallest wishes can be done without any regret, which may not be possible in married life. Singlehood is the best option for career-oriented women,” she opines.
Sarah Hussain, an artist, who has been single forever, feels that being free is the key to happiness. “When we are single, we automatically become happy, because we are independent. There are no obstacles on our path. When another person comes to our life, there will be an invisible chain tied on us, which will restrict our movement,” she believes.
Savita Samuel, a public relations professional, feels singlehood is the best choice ever! But, she feels society should accept a woman’s decision, “Indian society fails to understand that. It’s a woman’s prerogative to decide when and whom she should tie the knot, or to stay single forever,” she feels.
Indu, who runs a travel company, feels the same. She says there is no happiness than being single. “The only unhappiness will be social pressure,” she says, while Sarah adds, “Society will be troubling more our parents with such questions.” In Indu’s opinion, in Kerala, restriction is mostly imposed on travelling. “Women will have to ask permission even to go out for a one-day outing,” she says. “Once she gets married, home becomes only her responsibility. Thereafter, all her desires revolve around it. She will not have ‘me time’. Or perhaps, she is conditioned to believe that her happiness lies in family’s happiness. But, that is not the reality. She is also an individual and she needs her time,” she says. “Single life is free of such restrictions. Single women are not answerable to anyone. They can wisely invest time in their own development. That makes them happy. She can travel wherever she wants, eat whatever she yearns for at any time. There is no time table set for her. Above all, she can sleep as long as she wants in the morning, which is a dream for many married women. I have married friends who just want to sleep a little more time in the morning.”
One of the reasons they cite for single women’s happiness is that they are less bothered about others or loneliness in old age. “People become physically and mentally weak when they struggle or worry too much. Look at our system; parents live for their children hoping that the latter would take care of them in old age. They want us to follow the pattern. The thought of their children remaining unmarried make them sick. At the same time, look at those who live outside; they live so happy in their old age because they are not bothered about their children,” says Rakhi. “When we are unmarried, we don’t have to worry about our next generation. That leaves us with time to fulfil our wishes one by one, which will ultimately make us happy. When we are happy, we become healthy,” she adds.
Savita feels that an independent woman need not worry about old age solitude. “What is the assurance that husband or child will take care of us when we are old? When I am single, I can take care of my mom and dad till they are alive. It is a satisfaction for life. And during my old age, I would anyway be alone and would find ways to tackle it,” she says.
Dr Lissy Shajahan, psychologist and relationship expert, feels it is high time society changed. “All these while, marriage has been encouraged believing that it would provide physical, emotional and economical security to women and maintain values of life. Another reason why marriage is supported is because it plays a crucial role in nurturing the next generation. But how many marriages these days secure women the way it has been envisioned? Why should women choose marriage if she is not happy about it? When a woman is capable of moulding a secure life all by herself, why should not we let her do that,” she asks. “Even the Constitution gives her that right. Then, why should society question it?”
She further explains that single women are happy because they are free and don’t have to take blames in life. She also stresses the fact that if a woman feel that her freedom is more important, then she should definitely choose it. “It needs courage to stay single. Women have to realise their worth and invest in developing their skills to succeed in life. She just has to focus on her passion, work on it and rise above their limitations."
That does not mean singlehood is devoid of low time. “Of course, there are tough times. That is part and parcel of any life. Whenever you feel down, do something you love. I take a break and travel,” says Indu.