(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, dated 22nd August 2008)
"Can you believe I told him I was reading Orhan Pamuk, and he said 'oh, I've never heard of a book called Orhan Pamuk'???!!!!" said the traumatised woman, "and the worst part is, that wasn't even a joke!"
The speaker was an intelligent woman in her mid-twenties, who makes more money than most of her prospective husbands, has a trail of boyfriends behind her and with good reason. But unfortunately, she is also the oldest unmarried person on both sides of her family, and therefore her parents and most of her relatives are in a constant state of panic – for which reason, she has been meeting or speaking to prospective husbands whose wavelengths are so different from hers that each rendezvous could be converted into a Seinfeld episode.
I was talking to a friend of mine about the most successful women we know. Most of them either married late, or never married…um, maybe it would be more politically correct to say "are not married yet". But however much someone accomplishes, the world seems to think it is a call for pity that that person 'has everything, but is not married'. The men don't get off too easy either.
A friend in his forties, who loves his work, is very good at it, and changes girlfriends about twice as often as he gets his car serviced, worked his way into the list of things another friend wants to set right about the world. "What a waste of a brilliant, good-looking guy!" she sighed once, "he is so funny and makes more money than he can use, he has a job he likes, and he doesn't have anyone to come home to!"
"Well, he has someone to take out pretty often," I replied.
"No, no, all that's a reaction," she said, as convinced as married people are wont to be about the relationship curves of their unmarried friends, "if he had a home and a wife and kids, he wouldn't be a Casanova."
"Yeah, well, it would count as infidelity."
"You know the problem with unmarried people?" she said, miffed, "they don't know what they're missing out on! We have to introduce him to someone whom he can get married to."
Ironically, though, she also has the habit of telling people who are on the verge of marriage that they don't know what they're getting into, and it is not the same thing as a relationship, and takes much more sacrifice and willpower to get through. From my observation of marriages, at least the ones that have begun after the turn of the century, I think the best aphorism to sum them up would be:
All happy marriages are nonexistent; each marriage is unhappy in its own way.
And the reason? When Faust signed a deal with the devil, and Maugham's Lotus Eater decided to live out twenty-five years in Capri, the inalterable reality of their fate probably struck them as a romantic destiny, and their cavalier decisions were elevated in their minds to hamartia. But the truth is, if someone told you that you could have only one pair of shoes for the rest of your life, you're never going to be happy with the commitment until you make really sure they look lovely, are a perfect fit, go with everything you have, make everyone else envious and are way too good for you (and ideally, pliable to alteration or transmogrification if you wish it). Then again, those Manolo Blahniks Sarah Jessica Parker flaunts might just have you screaming for freedom from Faust's hellfires or Thomas Wilson's bankruptcy! So isn't it about time the world stopped running around with glass slippers, to speed up the Prince's journey to Cinderella??