Someone I know, who is just 22, is very upset these days. She had a fight with her boyfriend sometime ago and since then, he is refusing to talk to her. "How does one win back a man without seducing him? What do men want, really?" she asked me this evening.
While he remains uncommunicative, she has no idea whether they will eventually make up or break up. Though she would rather they make up, because she wants to marry him because they have been seeing each other for four years. But at the same time, she is prepared for a break-up as well.
In our society, whenever one acquires a girlfriend or a boyfriend, no matter how young you are, the idea is to get married. The girl and the boy first stake claim on each other and then go out on dates, rather than doing it the other way round. Either way, sex happens. If not sex, then almost sex -- this far but no further.
The root of many of problems when you are in your late teens or early twenties is the tying of every relationship to marriage. But this is a mistake we all make. We realise it to be a mistake only when we grow up and become wiser and then look back and laugh. When I got my first girlfriend at the age of 17 and broke the news to parents, my mother, always the emotional one, hit the roof and dragged me to the puja room and made me touch the feet of the gods and promise that I would never see the girl again. My father, as usual, was unruffled.
He told me, "When I was your age, I also had a lot of friends. But where are they today? I am not in touch with a single one. We have all moved on."
"But I've already told her that I will marry her. What will she feel if I back out now?"
"You are not going to be in school forever. When you grow up and see the world, you might just change your mind. Why rush into decisions now? You are not even in college."
But in the flush of youth, I refused to see his point. Eventually, experience won over impulse. Now when I look back, what a crime! -- choosing your life partner at an age when your facial hair has not even fully grown.
My father was 43 when he had this chat with me. Today, I am nearing 40 and I am perhaps wiser than him. Wiser because, unlike my father who remained committed to just one woman all his life till she died suddenly last year, I have far more experience in the field.
Age and experience teach you the difference between being fascinated and being practical. In my humble opinion, fascination rarely ends in happy marriage because you feel like running away the moment the bitterness of practicality sinks in. On the other hand, if you get married for practical reasons, the togetherness usually leads to fascination for each other.
Some years ago, I knew a woman, a Tamil Brahmin, who was 20 then. Or maybe 21. She was madly in love with a guy who belonged to a different religion. Even while she dreamt of marrying him, she dreaded the lifestyle changes she would have had to make in order to be a member of his family. But she didn't mind doing that: she said she was more than willing to adjust to the new lifestyle because she loved him so much.
Borrowing from my father's wisdom, I told her she was only wasting her time breaking her head over a relationship that was not going to work.
"How do you know it is not going to work?" she angrily demanded to know.
"Because I just know."
"I know why you are saying that. But I am going to marry only him, ok? Any problem?"
Just a couple of years after we had this conversation, she went to London for further studies. I was spared of the constant outpurings about her complicated love story. And then came an email, that she was finally getting married. The groom was a fellow Tam Brahm, someone she had fallen in love with in London. Hello, what happens to the time I had spent listening to the sob stories about an affair which I had predicted would never materialise?
So I won. My father won.
How I wish I could get back to my twenties armed with the wisdom I have earned in the past two decades. That, however, is impossible -- as impossible as people not making mistakes in the flush of youth. But I only hope people don't hinge the best and most productive years of their life on men or women who may never belong to them.
What would you prefer, really: marry someone and then go on a world tour, or go on a world tour and then decide who to marry? When I say world tour, I don't mean it in the literal sense. What I mean is the expansion of mental horizon.