Sometimes I wonder what to tell my thirty-something friends who long to find their ideal partner and get married. It sounds too precious when I ask them why they desire marriage. Unfortunately, marriage is not the romantic voyage DeBeers makes it out to be. Now that I’m grappling with my feelings about motherhood, I am acutely aware that marriage is, more than anything else, a contractual agreement. That’s why I should have been paying more attention to the priest in our marriage class. I’ve realized that life is a set of circumstances and marriage is a matter of two people’s goals fitting those circumstances at the same time, with some lust sprinkled on top. As a goal in itself, marriage is sublimely absurd. Yet some of my friends – female and male alike – cannot articulate why they strive for it.

I always joke and say, why get hitched? It’s a hassle. Anyway, marriage is not better than being single – it’s just different. Just like the saying the grass is always greener on the other side. You can meet a compatible partner and not get married. But a wedding is always seen as The Next Step. Matrimony is so accepted as an ideal measurement of happiness and fulfilment, that we don’t question it. Instead, we use it as a yardstick to measure ourselves and others. And after marriage, the yardstick is family – how soon, how many, how good, how smart are your kids? There are so many people who want to jump on this train, I always feel like an oddball when I question why the tracks have been laid this way.

Often, I have long discussions with a colleague over lunch. N- just doesn’t understand my ambivalence about marriage and children. Ever since he joined the office, he wanted to know all about my life and how I managed to get married and stay married. This is all coming from a man who is only thirty years old but thinks he has so many issues that he sees a psychiatrist every two weeks. He appears completely normal to me, with exactly the same issues all middle class children have, except perhaps his guilt over being middle class is a bit out of whack. Perhaps it’s his deep Russian soul that’s causing all the trouble.

Actually, I should clarify that I met N- when he was twenty-nine. His complaint was, “I’m turning thirty and I’m not married yet! I’m not even in a long-term relationship.” His constant questions were, How do you meet the right person and how do you have a happy marriage? About my notions, he just said, “But you are married, and you’re happy. How can you have an ambivalent or negative attitude towards something that makes you happy?”

“Marriage doesn’t make me happy. My husband does.”

“Ah, yes, but would you get a divorce just to prove you don’t need marriage?”

“Well, no. I’ve worked hard at my marriage and I’m proud of our relationship. But it was very hard in the beginning. I felt those matrimonial bonds as if they were steel shackles on my wrists. You can’t just do whatever you want whenever you want. You have to put the other person first. Do you have any idea how hard that can be?”

“But one should already do that if one is in love with someone,” he insists.

“Of course, but one shouldn’t feel duty-bound; it should be a by-product of love.”

“My father would say you are like a little bird that flits this way and that,” he jokes.

“Ha! He sounds like my grandmother.”

“I can’t believe it! I get it – I get it, and here you are and you don’t get it, yet I’m the one that’s not married!” he whines.

“Listen, you should stop spending all that money on psychotherapy and spend it on a woman. Then see how fast you’ll get married.”

“Ha, ha. You have no idea how many issues I need resolved.”

“Well, maybe I should see your shrink before I start pulling Lucy Ricardo stunts on my unsuspecting husband.” He arches an eyebrow and gives me a look.

“I’m kidding,” I say. “Really.”