Nov 19, 2008

An argument against marriage...

I don't wanna ruffle any feathers and get into unnecessary arguments, so here's a bunch of caveats:

1. This is just ONE argument. A good decision requires all relevant arguments to be taken into consideration and weighed against each other. So, this argument alone does not conclusively answer the marriage question.
2. There are a lot of tacit assumptions in the philosophy proposed, and they may not apply to everyone. E.g., priorities in life are not the same for everyone. So, even as I write a piece that sounds like it is generally and broadly applicable to everyone, I realize it isn't really.

Now, go on - read it. If you wanna argue even after taking the caveats into account, I'm not one to ever shy away :)

Part 1 - Regression to mediocrity

Let's first understand a phenomenon called 'regression to mediocrity'. Lots of research has been done on measurables like height, income etc., and has usually compared across generations. I'm interpreting it a little differently.

When you begin your life, the possibilities are virtually limitless. As you progress through the years, the possibilities - what you could achieve in this lifetime - begin to shrink. We, by nature, seek security and comfort. We do not seek to take on challenges which we do not believe we will overcome. We do not like to take risks where the potential downside is as bad or worse than the likely upside. Through the choices we make, which are usually the easier ones, we eliminate some possibilities for ourselves - possibilities which may be grand, but are perceived to be remote.

As the years go by, external responsibilities increase. Past failures make us increasingly wary and risk-averse. We get increasingly fortified within our comfort zones. All this is natural, and has become 'the way of the world' over centuries. And nearly everyone around us, and everything around us, reinforces our risk-averse, comfort-seeking tendencies.

While all this is good, and leaves everyone happy for the most part - this is not how great things are achieved, or great progress is fuelled. That, is usually accomplished by a few great men who go against the tide. The ones who question conventional wisdom. The ones who challenge constraints. The ones take great risks. The ones who dare to dream big, settling not for the 'good' and 'comfortable', but going after the 'possible'.

Consider this. Barack Obama was one of many kids born in the US in a certain period. There were many who had comparable or better means available to them, and Barack had the disadvantage of being black. He became the most powerful man in the world. I'm sure he was outnumbered by those who peddled crack and died on the street. The others had regressed.

Part 2 - Breaking the Regression tendency - the who, what and how

The above principle suggests that humans would naturally do as little as possible - just enough to obtain certain levels of income, satisfaction with life and comfort. But all of us achieve more than the bare minimum, don't we? Let's examine why that happens.

From an early age, we are challenged by external expectations, and motivated to each by external influences. Parents teach you langauage, manners, physical function etc. Then teachers make you learn stuff you may not be too interested in. Your peers set standards, and you compete with them. Anyone who doesn't compete and chills - ends up being ignored, humiliated, or punished. Achievements are rewarded. All of this serves to stimulate your growth, and prevent you from settling in a comfort zone.

Even on the job, later in life - you may not really care how many cartons of biscuits are sold in Thakeshwar town. But your boss sets expectations, and your peers define standards. The possibility of being shown up as incompetent or insincere, motivates you to achieve those targets.

The point is basically  this - throughout our lives, it is mainly standards set by others, that motivate us to go out of our way to achieve and learn.

Beyond a certain age, these agents become fewer in number, and also limited in influence. You no longer have teachers. Parents leave you mostly to yourself, beyond a certain age. It's mainly your peers, who set challenges later in life. Peers at work - will only set challenges within the career path you've already defined. Friends are typically people who like you for who you are, and unlikely to set great challenges. Family - similar argument as friends. They want to see you happy and comfortable, and not suffering in your chase of impossible dreams.

There is one source of challenge that sticks, though...

Part 3 - Linkin' it to marriage

That 'source' is the opposite sex. Nature has designed us to feel attracted to the opposite sex. And chances are - every now and then - you will feel attracted to, and consequently desire the love and respect of someone of the opposite sex. This person, however, may not care a hell of a lot for your past achievements and the trophies you already have in your cabinet. Even if they do, they will probably want to see something that you don't have yet. This is the biggest motivation, to grow as a person later in life. And these are the people who'll shake you out of your comfort zone, and motivate you to change direction from 'mediocrity' to 'maximum'.

To prove the point, I'll take up my own case :)

I was born into a middle-class Army family. Because of my dad's frequent transfers, I kept getting shaken out of my comfort zone every couple of years, and competed with different people at different schools everywhere. An Army life also equips you to deal with social and inter-personal situations quite well, since the environemnt around you is not only very dynamic, but also very strict. Anyway, by class 11, I'd become this fairly well-behaved, independent, and extremely geeky teen. The parents were proud, and the teachers and other students were almost intimidated. I was the guy who'd announce the answer to a tough physics problem, without putting pen to paper, even before the teacher had finished reading the question out to the class.

Then, I went through the first of several life-changing experiences, courtesy a girl in class I had a massive crush on. I'd written a 3-page long letter, to tell her how I felt, just as she was about to leave for another city. Then, I found out, through a common friend, that she didn't like me at all. While she respected my acad abilities, she thought I was a one-dimensional person with little 'life'. She liked, of all people my best friend at the time, who was much more popular with many more people, because he used to participate in a much wider range of activities, and had far superior social skills. I was shattered, and did a lot of soul-searching over the next couple of weeks. And decided, thereon, to focus less on acads, and more on my relationships with people and image.

(Incidentally, I got in touch with her nearly a decade later, and we are good friends today. In fact, I'm fairly sure she's gonna read this - and realize for the first time how big a role she once played in my life. To Miss N - You know I'm talking about you. Please don't try and deny it. And thank you very much!)

Then, in the 2nd year at IITM, I made my first girlfriend. Before meeting her, I'd developed a high degree of confidence dealing with the male-kind, but none whatsoever in dealing with the fairer sex. For a year - I watched her. Watched her cry, and then get over her ex. Then, watched her fall for a dude-types at her comp class. Watched her realize she actually liked me, dump him, and wait for 3 months, sitting 3 feet away on the beach, while I gathered the courage to take a little step. Of course, there's been no looking back since that first step, though the cast has kept changing with increasing frequency ;)

She challenged my value system and priorities in life. What's wrong with a little social drinking? What's wrong with holding hands in a place where others can see? What's wrong with doing what you want to, and feel 'right' about, even if it goes against traditions? Is being the best in one field and making a lot of money, enough to be really happy with life? Who's going to cry at your funeral, and what will they say about you, when you leave this world decades later? If people with ability don't try and change the world, how will it become a better place? How can they look themselves in the mirror and feel proud, when so much more could have been done?

There were also situations I wasn't equipped to deal with. Here's a snapshot

Me: Where are you?
She:  I'm with Niyanta at the hospital.
Me: Oh.
She: You wanna talk to her? (NOT in a questioning tone, but as if she was repeating what I said)
Me: (hang on, when did I suggest that?! I don't even know her! Your friend - you talk to her! I mean, I feel bad and all - but why should I talk to her) No.
(Pause, as she's passing her phone to Niyanta. I quickly realize it was not a question for me to answer, but just a little drama she was playing out for her friend. And I had the responsibility to keep it up)
Niyanta: Hell-yoo...
Me: Hi. How're you feeling now?

I'm sure you get the picture. Call me thick - but it took me time to realize that people are supposed to behave this way. My then-girlfriend taught me the first lesson, and I picked it up from there. She is possibly the only reason that this blog, today, is NOT about some obscure server-authentication java code, and you are reading it!

(That relationship ended in 2006. We kept in touch, but not for long. The way it ended, and the fact that we aren't friends today, is a major regret for me. I wish we were still in touch, and she would read this - but it wasn't to be.)

There's nothing specific to share between then and now, but I think I've had another defining-moment sort of experience recently, with someone I was calling Ritegal in a few posts published here.

Since early this year, I'd been feeling very comfortable, almost smug, about how my life was going, especially on the professional front. I thought my whole 'bachelor wishlist' had been ticked off, and I wanted to get married. And I thought I'd get anyone I selected. I mean, I didn't think I could get Katrina Kaif. But I thought anyone I felt was 'right' for me - anyone who met all my (ambitious, but realistic) criteria - would gladly agree to settle down with me. The illusion was shattered on the 16th of November.

'All my friends are in the fashion or film industries.'
'I know 60-70% of the people in Bangalore. (clarification: people her age, people who matter)'
'I don't hang with such people (about an acquaintance of mine, whose stories I found amusing. He isn't one of my favorite people. But, well, I do 'hang' with him. And, no dirty jokes about the last line, pliss)'

And the shattering of the illusion was re-affirmed through an e-mail a couple of days later.

'We're very separate people... I don't think we'd gel... let's not waste each other's time... let's not fool ourselves... that's all I have to say. Ciao'

I don't think this whole episode was 'fair treatment', but it did happen to me, didn't it? Comfort zone vaporized. New challenges to be answered. Time for change. Positive change!

Part 4 - In case you didn't get it...

Marriage is a major facilitator of regression to mediocrity. You no longer need to accept challenges and grow to impress women (or men, whichever way you swing!).

Of course, your spouse would also challenge you and spur you on to achievements. If you find the 'right' person, marriage could be the right choice. But it's far more likely that your spouse will NOT be your greatest critic and challenger. Even if they want to be, practical constraints - like EMI's, relatives, social norms, children - will hinder some of your growth as an individual.

So, if you do want to achieve a helluva lot in this lifetime (refer my posts titled 'A life worth living', linked on the left, to understand how I see it), and chase dreams that most consider impossible, marriage would certainly be a trepidation.

Most of us will get married, anyway. And should too - because there are a lot of lessons to be learnt in the course of that journey. But it is still important to delay it till you are ready, and crucial to find someone who will challenge you and help you grow - rather than someone who will assist you in regressing towards mediocrity!

Opinions welcome!


  1. Anonymous4:55 PM

    Nice post....
    Totally agree... especially with the last statement... more or less what I was thinking since the last couple of days...

  2. What a roundabout, topsy turvy, here and there, beating about the bush way of pouring your heart out, philosophising, sermon(ing), saying something which could have been poured out, philosopohised, sermonised, said in 2 lines.

    Take a break!!!
    PS: i thought the comment should be in the spirit of the post.

  3. @PA: Thank you. Good to know there's someone who agrees and relates!

    @LoM: I can see you have taken upon yourself the mantle of being this blog's greatest critic and challenger, to help it grow away from mediocrity. And I will eventually appreciate that.

    For now, knee-jerk reaction: My blog, my space. I have the right to express myself, whatever's on my mind, in any way, and in as much unnecessary detail as I choose to. If you don't like it, "take a break" yourself.

    That was to keep up the long-winded spirit. I could summarize it in a 2-word hindi phrase, which can't be published here, but I'm sure you 'no-wot-ah'm-sayin.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. As always, mostly agreed. I do feel however that after a point in time it is okay to not be shaken, and it is okay to be comfortable with yourself. It is important to grow, but one can grow without being hurt. Even I have had several episodes that have shaken me, and forced me to challenge myself and grow. But growth does not just mean being able to impress means growing as a person, loving yourself, and feeling absolutely secure within. Marriage does not mean end of growth. It helps you grow in a different way. It helps you grow with love and security, without being shaken or hurt, without hurting your beliefs, with peace of mind intact. And that is what makes it so special :)

    - Baba sri Shinara :)

  6. Hello,

    Happened to stumble upon your blog when i googled for the book "joker in the pack" to read the reviews. Happened to read ur post on the review and from then on started reading the rest of the posts. Really impressed with your writing skills and more than that your thoughts about marriage,relationships and i pretty much agree with this post of yours. Very good concepts and thoughts and very nicely articulated. Keep such posts coming :).. Felt good after reading couple of them:)

  7. Thanks, JuzDomain - that's one of the best comments I've ever received! More importantly - you agree with most of the stuff :)
    Will resume writing regularly once the workload in office subsides.