Letter To A Classmate Who “Just Wants To Settle Down”

What do you think of this tweet?

Gave a talk at a women’s college in DU recently was shocked to hear girls only wanted a good marriage. Why waste a seat in univ then?

It’s a provocative thing to say alright, and it’s definitely annoyed a lot of people (look at this spirited takedown by Monika, for instance)

This post is not about whether non career-oriented people “deserve” a seat in college or not. As long as someone gained admission through fair channels, and as long as there was no manipulation in the process, I don’t think there’s any question of ‘wasting’ the seat. Since when did students’ career plans (or lack thereof) become part of the admission criteria at DU?

This is about the “shock” (at hearing that girls just wanted a good marriage). I do not blame the tweet’s author for that. At all.

When I first got into IIT-D (to the general shock of everyone who knew me) I automatically assumed that EVERYONE there would be ridiculously career-oriented. Frankly, getting into one of these colleges, with your chosen field of study, is no joke. It takes a LOT of effort to beat a sub-two percent  acceptance rate and in general, you have to be pretty academically focused in your High School years to make the cut (what you do AFTER you get in is, of course, a different story :D). I automatically assumed that anyone who was academically focused would probably also be very career-oriented. It’s a reasonable assumption to make, but in the case of Indian women, it does not seem to ring true.

When a classmate said something like what was mentioned in the tweet, I could not hold back. I’ve written the following “letter”, the contents of which more or less match what I actually said to her in person, and if it’s not as fluid as I would have liked, it’s because I’ve tried to approximate my original phrases.

Dear R,

I’ve met so many bright, intelligent women like you who describe their future plans as follows:

Oh, well, I have to improve my CPI a bit so I get a good placement. Maybe I’ll work for a couple of years. And then, I’ll settle down.

This is such a shame, R.

Since you are a proud IITian today, there can be no doubts about your caliber or ability to work hard. But are you going to actually use that brilliance for your own good?

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to become a homemaker. If you can afford it, it’s your privilege to do so.

But if your entire AIM in life is to marry a rich guy and live out your White Picket Fence fantasy, I think you are being more than a little foolish.

Remember, There are no free lunches in life.

That holds true regardless of whether a person is male or female, employed or unemployed, in a relationship or single, attractive or ugly. No matter how much support you have from people around you, at the end of the day, you are going to be on your own. YOU are the one who has to live your life, and you are your own staunchest, most unswervingly loyal ally. No one is going to give you some kind of royal, luxurious lifestyle without demanding repayment in some form or the other. No one is as concerned about your happiness as you.

And therefore, you must be PROACTIVE about your own happiness! You must take responsibility for running your own life. You must do justice to your own self.

What you must NOT do is to hand over the reins of your existence to someone else. To become a slave to someone else’s whims and fancies. To give up your independence. It is ALWAYS a bad idea to give up your independence to someone else. Always. No matter who that ‘someone’ is or how close you are to them. This is life. Shit happens. And if everything blows up in your face, you don’t want to be caught napping.

Even if you aren’t into the career-building thing, work if you can.

Make money.

Spend some of it.

Feel the rush.

Feel the surge of confidence.

Feel the control.

Savor it in your mind.

But don’t spend it all at once! Have a plan. Save some for a rainy day, and use it to build your own resources. NOT your family’s resources. YOUR resources.  As an individual.

Have expectations from life! Don’t just be pushed along like flotsam, wherever fate takes you. Being a woman does not mean that you must bow to any and every situation you face. If things go wrong, FIGHT! Use the resources you’ve built over the years. If you can’t fight, withdraw! Use your resources to do that. But don’t just sit around at take it all with a whimper and a fake smile. You deserve better than that, from yourself.

Be strong. Be resilient. Be confident, and be independent. That’s what I ask of you as a friend.

I realize that you may resent all of this “free advice”, but I cannot, in good faith, keep it from you. Taking it or leaving it is entirely your prerogative.

I remain,

Your Loyal Friend.


23 thoughts on “Letter To A Classmate Who “Just Wants To Settle Down”

  1. I find it amazing that one would make so much effort to simply get married :/ My sister knows this girl who wants to get into engineering for the sole reason of improving her prospects in the marriage market and does not intend to work at all. I don’t understand the relationship between engineering and marriage. Or between IIT/IIM and marriage either.

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  3. ‘There are no free lunches in life’- How true.

    BUT – What do you think about women who don’t want to give up their careers / won’t let their husbands take a break and put their kids into play-schools or employ maids to take care of them?

    • I don’t have a problem with women not wanting to give up their careers. There’s nothing in the manual of life which says that a mother must stay home to ensure a better upbringing. Both my parents have been in extremely demanding, high-pressure careers all their lives, and I’ve turned out fine, I think :).

      I do have a problem with not “letting” your spouse take a break. Your spouse is an adult. Unless there’s an absolute emergency, no one gets to lay out what their spouse does or doesn’t do with their career.

    • It gets my goat when people say how selfish the mother is, if she chooses not to give up her career and put the child in a daycare or employ a nanny. I & my sister grew up with a “working mom” who put us in a daycare and none of us turned out to be a disaster or a freak! Infact while growing up we were two friendly, independent kids who loved spending quality time with their parents.
      Being physically present with your kids all the time doesn’t enatil love or guarantee good upbringing. It’s the emotional connect that matters. You could be there all the time and still neglect your kids.
      Also I often wonder how people never talk about how that maid’s kid is getting neglected, or that construction worker’s kid is not being properly fed or looked after.
      One of my aunts was a stay at home mom, she still employed a live-in maid to look after her kids. My neighbor, put her kid in a play school when the kid was 2.5 yrs old, though she stayed at home. I know of friends whose mothers were all “housewives”, yet they never could extend that emotional support to their kids. Even though these kids were fed hot chappatis, were properly looked after in terms of their physical and material needs. One of them never had to lift a finger to do anything, yet he never felt his parents loved him or he was properly looked after.
      Even My mum ensured her kids wore clean and ironed clothes, got nutritious food and were provided with all other necessary things!
      Conclusion is..whether a women chooses to be a stay at home mother or a chooses to keep her job, all that matters for the kid is that the mother is emotionally there for them, that they spend quality time with them and supports them and understands them. The same is also required of a father.

  4. @ES, when you think of kids in daycares, why do you only think of selfish career minded mothers? Last I checked, most kids have two parents and if they are in daycare, they need to have a selfish mother AND a selfish father right?

      • My 2 year old goes to daycare. And I absolutely love the interaction she gets in there with the other kids. I had a working mom and went to daycare. And I am very close to my mom and have this incessant need to tell her everything – as compared to some of my friends who had stay at home moms and are now not very close to them (not that stay at home is bad, just pointing out that stereotyping gets you nowhere).

        My comment was more in the light of how fathers seem to get a free ride when it comes to daycare decisions. It is ALL the mother’s fault. She is too selfish. She is too career minded. She is an unfit mother. Whereas a dad who returns home only at 10pm every night and does not even get to see his kid’s face the entire day is deemed “hard working for the family”.

        It irritates me even more when my husband picks up my daughter and changes her diaper during some party and everyone starts off about how lucky I am. I change the diapers twice and don’t even get an appreciative glance!

        • Agreed.

          Also, ever noticed the way people ALWAYS look at the mother when a baby is being cranky in public?
          Never the father. It’s always mommy who gets the crinkled noses and dirty glances.

          As a society, I guess there’s this belief that anything FATHERS do for younger children (apart from providing the financial support) is basically a bonus. Which is as stupid as it’s unfair.

      • ‘Is it so selfish to put a child in a daycare?’ – Any paid service to bring up a child CANNOT and WILL NOT provide the best care to them. How much ever you give them. Have you seen day-cares forcing children to sleep or watch TV? Its very similar with maids. Think about this – Unless forced, how many employees in an office work perfectly? That’s the employee attitude.

        The responsibility to take care of a child belongs to both mother and father. I was talking about those mothers who would not let their husbands take a break to take care of the kids, because the society will find fault on her. So, the kid stays with their grandparents or day care or maid.

        At the end of the day, because of all this useless politics, the child gets neglected. And thats what modern women (who have the highest say in family and child-care) are doing. Lets accept it.

        • Any paid service to bring up a child CANNOT and WILL NOT provide the best care to them. How much ever you give them…At the end of the day, because of all this useless politics, the child gets neglected

          I see that you are falling back to that oldest, most trusted and most overrated of all arguments : conventional wisdom. There is no evidence at all that kids in daycare are “neglected” any more than kids of stay-at-home moms.

          Neglect isn’t something that lends itself to objective measurement. But we CAN judge how well kids do socially and academically, and there is plenty of research which suggests that children in day care actually do better on those criteria than those with SAHMs, thanks to the automatic socialization which goes along with it.

          Have you seen day-cares forcing children to sleep or watch TV?

          No, but I’ve heard of them. I have also seen stay at home mothers neglecting their children to the point of abuse. That does not mean they represent the majority, or even a substantial proportion of the total number.

          There will always be bad apples. No one’s saying that kids should be left with them.

  5. I completely agree with you on this Clueless – It irritates me even more when my husband picks up my daughter and changes her diaper during some party and everyone starts off about how lucky I am. I change the diapers twice and don’t even get an appreciative glance!

    Its crazy where everyone thinks is what a wonderful person your husband is that he is changing the diaper once daily and putting her to sleep at times. Worse when its the family who does it.. and more often than not, it is the FAMILY, HIS!

  6. Its easy to justify that people who have themselves been in Day care or have put their kids in day care have turned out fine…

    But Know this: Day care will not give proper attention to the kids (sometimes to the extent of kids getting hurt due to their ignoring) once you leave the premises. You can live with the delusion that day care is providing awesome care to your kids, but the fact remains that only parents can provide proper attention, timely and proper nutrition to the kids at an age when they need the most.

    I really wonder how difficult it is for both parents to take a break for at least one and a half years each so that the child is properly taken care of, till he starts proper schooling? IS THAT SO DIFFICULT?

    • “Day care will not give proper attention to the kids “

      How can you be so sure of this, ES? I’ve personally seen daycare centers provide top-notch care. Yes, they can be a bit pricey, but many parents are more than willing to pay.
      I don’t know if this is true for India, but back in the US, many people send their kids to such a center even if they stay home, with the idea that it provides a more social, interactive experience than sitting on the mother’s lap all day.

      “I really wonder how difficult it is for both parents to take a break for at least one and a half years each so that the child is properly taken care of, till he starts proper schooling? IS THAT SO DIFFICULT?”

      I don’t think we get to be the judge of that.
      Depending on your line of work, it can be very difficult, even impossible to do anything of the sort without kissing goodbye to your entire career as well, or at least, making it very difficult to get hired again.

      18 months is a very, very long break in most lines of work.

  7. My views:
    Every girl is entitled to study in a college.
    It does not matter if she does not take up a job after completing her studies.
    Colleges must be treated as places where one gets an “education” not a place where one earns a license or pass for being eligible for a job.
    Even being a good homemaker and raising good kids the proper way needs a proper education.
    If there is opposition to this due to shortage of seats and the need to keep the seats for those who will “work” then clearly we need to increase the facilities for education.

    There are so many cases where women did not study further and equip themselves to face life trusting marriiage and a husband to take care of them.
    They regretted it later. The husbands were not able to fulfil their responsibilities or were incapacitated due to bad health or they just died before their time, leaving their wives helpless.
    May every girl, study as much as her capacity and aptitude permits and qualify herself.


    • I completely agree with that.

      The logic that someone may deserve a college seat more because they plan to use it for a career is flawed.

      Even so, I would question the DECISION to not use that degree for a career. Unless one is facing substantial family pressure or something, there’s no reason why that degree shouldn’t be utilized to improve one’s own life. Let’s face it – being a traditional, stay at home wife from the very beginning is not such a great idea in these times, especially for people entering into marriages with partners they’ve never lived with before. Once life settles down a bit, and once you have adequate savings, you can always quit, right?

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