We also met Archie – who adopted this playful nickname during our travels together. She was a member of our India team, and like me, in her late 20’s, single and lived in a city away from family. Like me, Archie was passionate about her job, loved her independence, and social life. However, Archie felt an overwhelming and inescapable pressure from her family, friends, colleagues and society to settle down – and quick. A single woman inching towards 30 repels marital opportunities in India, where deep-rooted beliefs still insist on a relatively young marriage.
The average marriage age in India is 24. A female remaining single past the age of 26 is likely to endure certain social stigmas, impacting life daily. Archie and I shared many deep and meaningful conversations during late night dinners, on overnight trains and jeep rides into some of the most deserted, dry regions of Northwest India. Through these conversations, I discovered just how much these age-related practices, still deeply rooted in the rich Indian culture, were impacting Archie’s life. She felt pressures I wasn’t feeling back home. Single women become labeled as shameful or irresponsible. Landlords are allowed to jump the price of rent due to their status – considering unmarried women at this age a higher liability. Society questions the reasons why a woman is still single at this age – raising concerns about her ability to conduct herself in an orderly fashion and be a good wife. These pressures not only appear from the outside world but also within the family. A woman’s status impacts the reputation of the family and raises concern for financial matters. A common dilemma, which happened to be Archie’s, was that her parents were reaching an age of retirement. This factor ties into the urgency of marrying their daughter, while they still have the energy and the financial resources to form an arrangement with a potential spouse’s family.