Marriage is the favourite topic of conversation for most Pakistanis, men and women alike. They love asking about when a person will get married. Be it a guy or a girl, if they are still single, then this is the topic that will dominate the conversation. Many women complain about this as their position and worth in society is judged by their marital status, which is definitely the case. Most women in our society are not at liberty to make their marriage decisions on their own, and have to rely on a ‘rishta’ coming their way to change their lives which is why they are often eyed with pity if they are single past a certain age. Men seem to be considered independent, free to make their choices as they desire, therefore if they are single past a certain age, people assume that they like being single enjoying life without restrictions. That it is their choice. While this may be the case for some, many men stay single much longer than they would want because of the demands this society puts on them.
Men have a lot of pressure as the breadwinners and providers of the family. Even with the changing mindsets around gender equality across the world, most men are valued on their financial worth. This is much more rampant in Pakistan than it is in the west. A man has to have a stable income and a certain lifestyle in order to be considered ‘marriage material’. The house he lives in, the car he drives, the line of work he is in, everything is up for inspection and judgement. Most college romances end in heartbreak, simply because the guy is not financially strong enough to satisfy the requirement of the girl’s parents and they are not willing to wait and let him build his life. Instead, they will prefer to marry off their daughter to someone 5 or 6 years older, who has already achieved what the young graduate needs time for. If a couple has fallen in love while studying in college or university, then they most likely have the same qualifications, and together they can build their desired life much faster than a man struggling on his own. If we truly strive for equality, we should allow young couples to make their decisions and build their own life together. This should be encouraged in our society; this should be the norm. Sadly, we still seem to be a long way away from this stage.
Things are not very different when it comes to arranged marriages. While on one hand the woman is evaluated on her looks and housekeeping abilities, the man is judged on his income and his lifestyle. Some may argue that it is the right of the girl’s parents to choose the best life for their daughters, and that is a valid point. However, making financial status as the core deciding factor is making life very difficult in our society.
Then there are added pressures of getting their siblings married, especially sisters. Many men have to work extra hard to arrange for the necessities of getting their sisters married. They handle all the pressure without a supportive partner by his side because the society frowns upon a man who decides to get married while his sisters are still sitting single at home.
As a man, the pressures keep on building from when he is in school. Study hard so you can get in a good university. Study harder so you can get a good job. Work hard so you can get a raise. Keep working hard so you can make more money, make a better home, get a better car, have a fancier life. While all of this is important, it should not become the primary focus of life. Majority of the young male population in Pakistan is running this rat race, and all of this is mainly to satisfy the norms set by society, to fulfil the dreams and desires of other people in their life. Have we ever paused to think about their dreams and desires? We constantly hear that men can do whatever they choose in their lives, but not enough people pause to think whether the society allows them to do what they want. We live in a world so driven by financial success that each decision we take has to be weighed by its financial implications. Everyone wants their son to be an engineer, doctor, MBA etc... why? because nobody prefers to give their daughter to a school teacher or a writer or a painter. It is even worse if the guy is a musician or an actor, because those are considered to be the worst industries, some even consider them haram. So then how will we produce artists and thinkers and philosophers? It is not surprising that the men of today are frustrated.
What they study, where the work, what they do in their spare time, everything has an impact on the financial viability of the actions. This ends up having a toll on the mental health of these men, which is another thing barely anyone talks about because along with financial independence, men are supposed to be strong figures who cannot show weakness. Mental stress and loneliness can wreak havoc on the strongest of minds.
Our society needs a strong refresher on the importance of individuality, and this can only happen through education. It is heartening to see many people from all walks of life talking about the importance of educating girls, to allow our women to utilise their skills for more than just housekeeping and child bearing. This will allow them to be self-sufficient and less dependent on the men in their lives. However, at the same time we need education and awareness to allow men some room to breathe and the confidence to trod the less trodden path without the crippling fear of poverty and loneliness.
Parents should trust their children, allow their sons and daughters to work together to build their own future. Each human being brings their own set of skills and value to the table and they should be allowed to make things work for themselves. They should be able to build a world where they can both take pride in their accomplishments and share the sadness of failure, as true partners.
Bilal Alvi is a doctor by education, marketer by profession and a writer by passion. He is an expat based in UAE with his heart firmly planted in Pakistan.
He can be contacted at [email protected]