KARACHI: When was the last time you saw someone you know, over the age of 45, getting married? If that seems a bit of a stretch, let’s make it 35? Not to say that it doesn’t happen by any means at all, but it does sound a bit odd in our immediate circles, isn’t it? That’s because it is, or at least used to be.
Earlier this week TV personalities Manzar Sehbai and Samina Ahmed made headlines as pictures of their intimate wedding went viral. The moment was one for the books. But, the wedding was not only special because it was two celebrities – it was special because the two celebrities shattered glass ceilings with their decision to tie the knot at the age of 70.
In a country where women are routinely subjected to rishta aunties’ glaring stares starting young, and where if you hit 30 and haven’t snagged a rishta for yourself yet, you’re pretty much cold turkey, choosing to get married at 70 seems like a breath of fresh air!
The ideal age conundrum
The alarm associated with late marriages in Pakistan isn’t as dumbfounded as it may seem to a Twitter commentator today. An early marriage is preferred for various reasons such as the moral value associated with chastity and the stress on the years when the woman’s fertility is at her prime.
According to a paper published by the NUST Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities, “An early marriage is preferred and is seen as the best security for a girl in Pakistan - chastity is highly valued for girls and is a reason for preferring early marriage.” This ultimately leads us to the glaring fact that over 50% of marriages involve a girl barely over the age of 18 because “Pakistani society takes marriage as a natural and expected part of being a grown-up, and they continue to get married at early ages for family formation and childbearing.”
These hard facts are a reality check we shouldn’t ignore but another more important consequence of this urgency is the stigmatising of women and in some cases men, who end up unmarried in as early as their 30s. This is why any attempt at embracing marriage as an institution beyond social restraints and normalising older age marriage is not just laudable but also a step in the right direction.
It isn’t just us
Having said that, the obsession with an ‘ideal age’ for marriage isn’t a phenomenon confined to just Pakistan. World over, this notion of a specific ‘right age’ to marry persists but over the years, especially after the feminist wave of the ‘60s, women over in the West tended to marry much later and that trend persevered. Now, more and more couples in their 50s-60s make their way to the aisles.
Some emerging trends in later marriages are indeed a more progressive sign for Pakistani society but it still seems to be a distant dream than a concrete reality. And even if it were to be a reality soon, one can’t help imagine it as one with a thousand judging eyes nonetheless.
Indeed, Manzar and Samina received tons of prayers and good wishes which was almost as refreshing as the wedding itself. But the question remains that will the same people praising the couple over social media welcome their own immediate relatives if they were to marry well into, let’s say, their 40s? Probably not.
Light at the end of the tunnel?
While living alone or on your own continues to remain a matter of personal choice, but to be relegated to being alone for the rest of your life because log kia kahengay? (What will people think?), seems pretty unfair.
The current discourse on social media is an important step in our collective acceptance of older couples and older people in spaces reserved for younger people in general. But again, the question remains - when will this acceptance translate into our real lives? When will the conversation around older or divorced women getting married stop being such a 'hush-hush' issue in our comfy drawing rooms?
These are not easy questions to answer. They require an in-depth study of our tribal roots, and a much-needed conversation between the upper and lower strata of the society for us to even mark a few points of error, let alone fix what’s wrong or ‘problematic.’
Many congratulations to Manzar and Samina for kicking off a new chapter in their life and giving us more than one reason to realign our understanding of social values and customs.
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