Sunday, March 13, 2005

Happily Single

I am very excited with the decision I made 2 days ago to go to Delhi for 2 weeks. The only aspect I'm not looking forward to is the nagging question every one I meet will inevitably ask me - "Shaadi ka kya plan hai?" I jokingly ask my married friends when they ask me the same, "Are you having so much fun after marriage that you want to share the joy with me or are you jealous of the fun I'm having as a single person?" The usual response is that after a certain age it will be harder to find someone or you will have to make more compromises. I confirmed at lunch yesterday with a single woman friend, who is a couple of years older than me and is now looking for a serious relationship, that this claim is absolutely wrong. She made an interesting point. She said that it's not that we make more compromises, but we are more aware of the compromises we are making because of the experience we have gained.

I'm not against the concept of marriage. A human baby benefits from having 2 parents; it needs all the caring it can get. Since men have an inherent tendency to run away from the responsibility of rearing an offspring, it is good to put them in a legally binding contract, which they can break but not without consequences. Due to the social expectations, they are under pressure to take care of the baby and contribute their fair share, at least materialistically. The society does not expect men to rear children and even considers it effeminate if they do. In his book The Selfish Gene (I've been quoting that book a lot recently, that's how much I liked that book) Richard Dawkins writes that by nature all animals are selfish. Parents try to minimize their investment in one child so they can maximize the number of offspring, hence increasing the chances of their genes making it into the subsequent generations. When a baby is born the female already has more invested in the baby in the form of eggs, which are rarer and bigger than sperms. Hence, the man can afford to let his investment in one baby go waste, while the woman cannot. Besides, the woman is the one left "holding the baby." In the case of fish the female lays its eggs and leaves the male to spray its sperm on them. Therefore, it can be seen that in some fish species it is actually the male partner that takes care of the offspring. Whatever the reason - the gender based division of labor, men's relatively small investment leading to their tendency to defect, or the women’s inability to leave first - in humans, women somehow got the short end of the stick. So if one wants to reproduce, marriage is very good.

And almost all of us want to reproduce; we are genetically we are programmed to do so. However as humans we are capable of perceptive thought and knowing that we are hurtling towards disaster. Jared Diamond's new book Collapse describes over population as one of the main reasons why some societies failed in the past while other succeeded. It is sad to see our current societies, despite their prescience of the impending disaster and its causes, not taking the appropriate steps to correct the situation. I have some nerdy friends who believe that technology would save us somehow... talk about blind faith. Dawkins presents an easy solution according to which even delaying the process of procreation till we are in our thirties, hence spacing out the generations, would be equally effective in controlling the population explosion.

Now if we should delay having kids and the only reason to get married is to have children, there is doesn't seem to be any incentive to get married now. Personally it would force me to change my current priorities which are school and work. On the flip side, I would share the day-to-day responsibilities like paying bills, filing taxes, which should free up my time. As for never again feeling the excitement of meeting someone new, and the thrill of a first kiss -- these are things I feel I can easily give up. I won't mind getting out of the whole dating scene, not that I was ever an active participant in it; I do it in fits, dating a lot of guys in a month, then no one for a year (actually I do a lot of things that way - blogging, working, reading, exercising). I do have an overwhelming fear of committment; not only betrothal, but also signing a one year apartment lease, buying a concert ticket 2 months in advance, making specific weekend plans, registering to take the GMAT -- these all make me uncomfortable. But given time I can overcome that fear.

So marriage is good, but in good time. Now that I've straightened out my thoughts in my mind, I just have to explain all of this to everyone I meet in India.

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