I’m supposed to be writing a piece about how getting engaged these days matters a lot more to our parents than to us, but the sorry truth is: I want to get engaged.
That likely isn’t a surprise to the people who know me. I’ve always been a romantic, a deep fan of romance novels and romantic comedies, and I’m now a romance author. I love love. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting that. With wanting partnership, and a companion, and marriage, and everything that comes with it. But it all gets a little more complicated when your parents want those things for you too.
I come from a cultural background where matchmaking is common. Where parents are incredibly involved in finding candidates for a potential spouse. But I’m sure people from other backgrounds can also identify with parents sometimes being a little too interested in their love lives. A little too curious about who they’re dating, if it’s serious, and when exactly they plan on “settling down”.
In a way, it seems like it’d be simpler if you’re someone who has no desire to be married. If you’re content with being single, or happy having a partner without the whole engagement/marriage thing. Maybe then it’d be easier to shut down these questions from parents, or brush them off entirely. Instead, whenever my parents bring it up, I go spiralling into an existential crisis.
Because most days, I’m happy. I have a good job, a dog, wonderful friends. My life is full and joyful as it is. I don’t really feel like anything is missing. I don’t think of singleness as some great tragedy, and I think this might be where a lot of single people differ from their parents.
We’re in a unique spot in human history. Marriage isn’t necessary for us, the way it was for generations of women before us who needed marriage in a way that we never will. For security, stability, to own property, or even to apply for a credit card. For us, marriage is optional. It’s something we actually get to choose to do. Instead of being some goal in and of itself, marriage gets to be incidental to our lives. A fun little bonus if we want it. If we don’t, it’s something we can go without.
That’s a fairly new phenomenon. And it’s one that I’m not sure our parents’ generation has fully grasped. A lot of people, without realising it, talk about marriage in a way that sounds eerily similar to Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.
Mrs Bennet (who I believe is unfairly maligned – justice for Mrs Bennet!) is scheming to get her daughters married, but she’s not scheming for no reason at all. If she can’t find husbands for her daughters, her girls will have nothing. As women, they don’t get to inherit the house or the property, and they have no real means of gaining income, so they’ll truly be destitute if they don’t get married. Mrs Bennet has an intense, single-minded approach to her goal and pursues it relentlessly, but she has a good reason for being a matchmaking monster... she’s genuinely terrified.
And sometimes, when our parents talk about marriage, they sound that way too. There’s often an undercurrent of fear or urgency in these conversations, and I’m not quite sure where it’s coming from. Is it simply inherited? Repetition of something they picked up from generations before them? Or is this fear rooted in something else? Maybe, like Mrs Bennet, our parents are just scared for us. Life is long and hard, and maybe they’re scared of the idea of their child having to face it all alone. Maybe sometimes I’m scared about that same thing too.
It’s possible that ensuring we get engaged or married matters more to our parents than it does to us – or maybe it just matters to them in a different way – but either way, I think it’s OK if it still does matter to us on some level. If it’s still something we want. None of us need to feel any shame for wanting to love and be loved.
But I think we – our parents and ourselves – can try to let go of this fear. Whether it’s rooted in something old and not relevant anymore, or rooted in an understandable worry about being alone, we can try not to let this fear guide us. Maybe then we’ll experience a little less pressure from our parents about “settling down”. Maybe then we’ll stop putting that same pressure on ourselves.
‘Say You’ll Be My Jaan’ is released on 18 January via Viking