Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dating And Marriage

Would-be "dates" have been taken by complete surprise by me saying that I have no time for or interest in dating. For one thing, a long drawn out getting to know each other period is the surest way for me to get bored with the process and the man involved - I know that only too well. However, putting a "realistic" time-frame around the dating process, I understand equates it to an arranged marriage not to mention puts too much pressure on a "final" decision which is naturally anathema to the dating-minded. Things have to be allowed to proceed at a leisurely pace and at some point the decision will become self-evident is the popular theory. I just happen to disagree with that theory.

So they have obviously asked how I expected to get to know someone well enough to marry them. After all, marriage is a serious, life-time commitment. It is not a job that you can be wrong about and just leave to find another without having much to lose. They would expect one such as myself to be even more cautious given one failed marriage. What gives ? This post is an attempt to answer that very question.

Marriage specially in the Indian middle-class context transcends the individuals and needs to be inclusive of the two families. If the divergences between the two families are too many or too sharp, it strains the fabric of the marriage itself. I have been that situation a couple of times - when caring for someone deeply was not nearly enough because we were not able to find enough common ground to be able to take our friendship quite that far. Then there were the flaws in our relationship that would be perfectly acceptable in a friendship but difficult to live with in a marriage. While those had been friendships of many years, we had not dated each other.

Then there was R (my ex). Definitely excellent marriage material from a practical standpoint but lacking the essential life spark it takes to make a marriage work and last. I knew this the minute we were introduced and told the family elders as much. They asked that I not be so precipitate in passing judgment, that I give it time, that a kind and loving heart could make up for everything else, that marriage is for the long haul and chemistry is only a small part of it. Finally, that I was too naive. I did not trust myself enough to stand my ground.

Ten years ago, I did not need to date anyone to understand if they were right or wrong for me - I merely lacked the confidence in my own judgment. That said, to need to do go dating to find a partner at this point in my life feels nothing short of ludicrous. That men even older than me and with a lot more relationship experience, have the time and energy to go through this process in order to find a life-partner is even more amazing. If they haven't figured it out yet and relationships continue to baffle and confuse them maybe they should stop trying to settle into something permanent. Maybe short term flings are all they have capacity for.

I can understand dating as means of social interaction with "benefits" thrown in for good measure. There is nothing wrong with that and it is a perfectly good idea for anyone so disposed. But to claim that it is necessary to date someone for an unstated period of time to decide if they are marriage-able or not is nothing short of an insult to that person's intelligence.

You are basically telling them that you will have them all figured out in a certain amount of time and know for a fact that you are getting a good deal. You are also telling them that by kicking the tires in advance you are making sure the relationship is durable enough to work out in long term. Rather presumptuous.

I believe that any human being with a functional level of intelligence is fully capable of deciding whether or not they want to reveal themselves and be understood by another person. If they do, the book is open to read on day one - there is nothing to be gained by spending time in discovery. If they do not, even after spending a lifetime with them, they can remain a perfect stranger. It is their choice to make. It is their gift to give or take away at will.

The fundamental premise of dating is flawed because human beings can at best aspire to know themselves, knowing another person is therefore not even a reasonable aspirational goal. Dating offers a false promise of achieving that inherently impossible goal. Not surprisingly therefore, disappointments are rife.

I have seen from experience that being completely upfront and truthful about myself is the best way to know what I need to know about a man. I may not always learn the "truth" about him but I will definitely know (and inevitably have) that he is not being truthful. Sometimes that is all one needs to know in order to walk away and this can happen early on. If truth is reciprocated with truth that is enough to let me know if someone is right or wrong for me. In either case, the process is fairly straight forward and does not entail dating.

When a fully grown up man says it is impossible for him to make a lifetime decision without dating me for an unknown period of time, I know he has no clue who he is looking for and will definitely not recognize her if he sees her. If we dated for all long as it took for his resistance to wear out or for an epiphany to strike we might even get hitched in the end - as I have seen happen with several couples. But chances are he might still be making the wrong call - a decision he could very well regret later. To go along with such an arrangement is to expend a lot of time and energy to compensate for someones lack of maturity at the risk of an ill-judged outcome.

While I speak from a woman's perspective, I suspect a lot of my experience transfers over to men as well. I have girlfriends who believe that they deserve a bigger, better deal than the man they are with currently and yet are not able to articulate what that might look like. They pursue this chimera of the man ideally suited for them and it eludes them date after date.

The more they see, the more confused they get. What if he is seeing someone else as well ? Should I keep my options option so I don't get hurt if he bails on me suddenly ? Is he serious or is he only pretending to be ? Does he pay me as much attention as I deserve or is he too casual ? It turns out if they truly knew themselves they may not have been plagued by so many doubts about someone else.

They like this man's sense of humor, the other man's professional success and the third man's body. If they could all magically come together in one man, that would solve their problem at once. I encourage these women to read about Draupadi. They continue to date not knowing any other way to meet the man they will marry and get frustrated that many years of dating is not helping them close the deal.

My point is, dating can be good recreation if your life allows such time and latitude. If you lack both and have better things to gainfully occupy yourself with it is just a harmless waste of time (though you can do your bit to save the environment and date local only). But if you have the all of those constraints and are only looking for a spouse, it is completely avoidable.


Vikas Gupta said...

Interesting, incisive comment on dating and marriage. We are on the same wavelength on this as well.

I have never dated anyone in life! I only knew the two meanings of date (day, fruit)until the age of 18!

I don't consider dating as a necessary precursor to marriage.

I am inclined to thinking that most people do not think of dating as a means to an end but see it as an end in itself.

These are also the people who will cringe at the sight of wedding ring!

I am inclined to thinking that there is some sixth sense with human beings which enables us to make such choices. Any other exercise is often unnecessary and merely an alibi for something else.

Another Kiran In NYC said...

Interesting viewpoint.

Many, many people dont know exactly what they want and what attributes a "significant other" must display to make a long term relationship like a marriage work well.

As a middle class desi semi conservative and educated young adult, I certainly did not definitively know the answers. I didnt even know what attributes people were capable of displaying.

Dating and exposing myself to some heart break and happiness in equal measures allowed me to explore, not so much other people, as myself. I found what I liked and what I needed to make me happy. I could never have found that without reference of context... context in this case being other people.

I read your essay from a few years ago on Aman and Tuhin and was moved beyond words. I think we all have an Aman in our lives. Here is my Aman and what became of him.

My Tuhin however turned out to be my soulmate of the last 20 years.

The Amans in our life will always remain immortal, but sometimes we need the Tuhins too.

Ananva said...

Have been reading your blog for a while now. I liked this post. I agree with you- dating may or may not reveal the true person you are seeking, people put up appearances. And frankly, how long does it take to get to know someone? A lifetime IMO.

Heartcrossings said...

Vikas - Unfortunately a lot of people do see dating as a means to an end (i.e marriage) and not an end in itself as you point out.And that is why people get exhausted from being on the "dating scene" forever.

Kiran - Thanks for stopping by and your kind words for my story Two Loves and I. I left a comment on your blog post about your dying friend - I can't even begin to imagine how you are coping. You are absolutely right, we all need a Tuhin to balance the Amans of our lives.

Ananva - Yes, its often a lifetime of knowing or finding out that there is yet more to know...