This week a couple that I’m friends with, brought the M-word into their relationship. He popped the question, she said yes. Then (as she put it), they fell somewhat silent, seemed to lose their appetites, finished a quick meal and headed home. I spoke to her late in the night and she sounded pensive, worried even. I remember the feeling. It made me think of my own and everything I felt and thought and experienced after that.

couple at nargile lounge
couple at nargile lounge (Photo credit: j.o.h.n. walker)

She said neither of them seemed to be terribly excited about it. At the same time, it wasn’t that their feelings for each other were in doubt. My first question to her was whether they had told their families. It wasn’t till I brought it up with her, did I realize the relevance of this point. Most Indian parents of this generation are alien to the concept of dating or being in a relationship, unless it is a definite (and rushed) predecessor to marriage. My generation on the other hand, is struggling with the imposed schedules, the expected ‘deliverables’ called engagement and marriage that are forced onto relationships that take their own time to mature.

I asked her to spend a few days thinking about their reasons to enter into the engagement. Why, I asked did he propose? And why, did you say yes? Was it the looming fear of loneliness or being ‘left on the shelf’? Was it desperation and not wanting to let a promising mate get away? Was it succumbing to familial pressure to get married, to the next eligible mate? I felt I should ask these questions to them, because nobody thought to ask me these things when I was engaged. The harshness aside, my relationship may even have been saved, if only I had more clarity on why we were doing what we were doing.

So I’m curious now. What kind of timelines do today’s urban relationships follow? There is the noticing each other and the gradual paring away of crowded interactions into one-to-one conversations. This is the Indian equivalent of ‘dating’. At some point, both people agree that they want to be in a relationship (or ‘exclusive’ as I believe it’s called in the West). This symbolizes the entire range from committed committed to lust-crazed to attached to just-for-kicks. At what point in such a relationship does one person decide to start talking about marriage? And what makes the other person say yes?

I don’t know what my ex was thinking when he proposed to me but my guess is that he got tired of fighting, his resistance worn down by tradition and family and society. Why did I say yes? Pretty much the same, I think. I was so tired, so overburdened and I didn’t think saying ‘no’, let alone ‘I don’t know’ was even an option.

It’s possible that both my ex- and I are chronic over-thinkers, that we were incompatible and that’s why the relationship did not last. Indeed, I see enough of couples around that seem to gracefully dance into the mating rituals and traipse off into happily ever after.

How, I want to know, do they do that? Dance is about timing and grace, isn’t it? How do you know when to step and when to hold back in the mating dance? How do you know to follow the lead, to turn or guide? I’m clueless.

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