To the Single Woman Busy Making Her Story Count

You know how sometimes you watch something on television or listen to on the radio and that moment gets etched in your memory forever?

I’ll never forget Indra Nooyi in an interview with David Bradley some years ago when he asked her whether women can “have it all”. I remember slumping back in my chair, the wind knocked out of me when she replied, “I don’t think women can have it all. I just don’t think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all.” 

In my rather delusional bubble then, I had been trying extremely hard to do it all; run a business, start a new venture, travel, keep writing, look after my parents, do my bit for the community and also actively, genuinely trying to find a life partner or as the romantic in me would say…search for love.

You could say I kind of ‘matured’ (a term used by Fijian women and Mrs. Deo from Class 5R for a girl who finally shrugs off her ‘girly-ness’ and stops carefree-ly skipping around the village) that day. I think it was after that interview when I actually fully comprehended what grown-up ambitious women all over the world did – give up or compromise something for the other. Otherwise you’d just die trying to have it all. In that moment the fight left me. I realised that as a woman I had to make a choice. Career or relationships. So I let myself off that relentless search for love and relationship expectations that were adding to my exhaustion. I suppose at that time I was okay with it. I had so much going on, still had a few friends who were single so Friday nights weren’t really spent alone then.

Today being International Women’s Day, I’m sitting here some 5 years later contemplating how could I have ever let myself give up on the possibility of finding love. Me. The 90’s bollywood love stories believer, avid Mills & Boons reader, picture-abhi-baaki-hai-mere-dost type of optimistic me – give up on love.

I can just see my feminist friends rolling their eyes at me for choosing to write on something rather frivolous on a day meant for celebrating women’s achievements. A day to reinforce our resilience in our fight for gender parity and to remind ourselves to continue being bold, brave and pressing for change. We’re in a time where global movements like #metoo and #timesup are smashing patriarchy in its face and here I am wasting writing space on…love. Shame on me.

Yes shame on me. Today I don’t feel like celebrating women’s empowerment or our achievements or the impact I’m making in my region. Today I’m sitting here contemplating the cost of her ambitions for a woman; her tradeoffs and repercussions from her choices.

“You’re too bold for men.” I often get told when conversations turn to my dating life. “Men get intimated by ambitious women, you should tone yourself down if you want to get married..” This usual auntji’s put-down would outrage any self-respecting woman but unfortunately according to a recent study published in the Harvard Business Review, this is a fact. <The Ambition-Marriage Trade-Off Too Many Single Women Face>

Ironic, isn’t it? We empower and call out women to be loud and BOLD on International Women’s Day and for rest of the 364 days a year tell them to tone it down. And one would wonder why the feminist movement is all over the place these days!

Anyhow so according to HBR, “even today, research shows that men still prefer female partners who are less professionally ambitious than they are. Because of this, many single women face a trade-off: Actions that lead to professional success might be viewed less favourably in the heterosexual marriage market.” So there – looks like Nooyi was right. (duh)

“Lower your standards” I’ve been also been told. Funny that on International Women’s Day, women are urged to break barriers and push for excellence in their careers but over Saturday afternoon teas encourage each other to accept a lesser man and settle when it comes to personal relationships.

But you know what really gets me going? Like pisses me off to infinity? Is when married or partnered couples especially if they are friends tell me “you don’t really need anyone. You’re better off single. Being in a relationship is overrated. I wish I was free like you.” Really? Like I’ve had friends say this to me while their partners sat next to them with faces buried in the necks or caressing their shoulders. Now because I’m one of those humans who’ll try and put myself into your shoes to understand why you’d say something like that to me and I’d even understand that you’re saying it to make me feel better – here’s the thing, you’re being a hypocritical arsehole. So don’t!

Though there’s no harm in “just having fun”, is there? Now this one that gets me down the most. The kind that shoots liquid iron up your spine and makes you grit your teeth so hard. The kind that makes you start questioning your own worth especially if the ‘fun-lover’ is a prominent figure in public and how dare he.

Oh the choices we make.

But you know what, Dear Reader. Despite Nooyi’s experience and HBR’s research, I  just cannot leave it at this. This stubborn heart of mine cannot accept that a woman can’t have it all. That a woman who chooses to pursue her ambitions, dreams and goals also can’t have as amazing a personal life, too.

Women have never been more exhausted around the globe than we are today. We keep playing catch up and every time we think we’ve gotten somewhere, only to realise all that we’ve lost on the way. Whether it’s motherhood at the cost of career or doing the same work for lesser pay or trying to look after your ageing parents while your own ‘ripe’ age is fading away – women still stand to loose more than we can gain. Whether it’s trying to stand up in politics, fit into a slinky size 10 jumpsuit or fly a Boeing 787 – women step out of their houses prepared to dodge a ballon filled with semen because that’s the next new humiliation being thrown at us.

Yet despite the sheer brunt of unfairness and imparity to women, we still front up every day. To make our stories count.

And to tell a woman who is busy making her story count that she perhaps might not be loved for pursuing to be the very person she is meant to be because ‘she is too bold and ambitious’…I cannot think of a more sadder existence for a human being.

Of course successful single women have the luxury to ‘have fun’ but you see we’re ‘too fussy”. There’s a reason why we have “high expectations” because we’ve worked too damn hard to pay for our Stella queen-size beds and the 100% Egyptian cotton bedsheets to just let any “low standards” in them!

So to the single woman busy making her story count today, keep being bold, keep being you. Go break those barriers, strive for excellence. Set your standards for your own happiness. Make a difference. But stay soft – it looks beautiful on you. Dream. Create. Be part of a change. And don’t ever let anyone tell you that you don’t deserve earth-shattering, glorious love.

You could argue about patriarchy, or the kind of men around these days, or the man-drought in your cities. Or even laugh at the irony of seeking love from the very we want parity to. But this post isn’t about men at all. It’s about love. The kind that Rumi, Gibran and Pablo wrote about. The kind that the universe promises to those who seek. The kind your heart’s been waiting for a very long time. Don’t settle just yet, Dear Reader…

You could also argue that this post is nauseatingly optimistic (and just plain fucking unrealistic), in which case then, I suppose I still have some more ‘maturing’ to do. 😀


Happy Women’s Day. 

Shyamni. x
Feature Image: Urvashi, staged portrait, Gulmohar Park, 1991. From the series ”Seven Lives and a Dream,” 1990-91 by artist and filmmaker Sheba Chhachhi

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