I’m not much for weddings. It’s not that I can’t appreciate the ceremony, the coming together of loved ones - that part is the beauty. It’s the idea of marriage itself. Spending that day, and the rest of your days on earth tied to that ONE person. No one can predict the future, people and places are ever-changing, so how can someone be so sure they want to commit themselves to one relationship? That whole “together we are stronger thing” is lost on me. I actually feel more capable on my own, stronger, more free to go after what I want. Settling down with one person has always been equated with...well, settling. Why settle in life, why be tied down, why compromise? Marriage has never been a part of my plan. Picturing myself in a white dress for longer than five seconds makes me break out in hives.
I was once on a date with a guy, we had been hanging out for a couple weeks. Midway through the dinner he reached out to touch my hand and all of a sudden his face became really serious. “Uh, are you okay?” I asked. He responded: “Yeah, I’m really, really okay. I was just thinking that I could kind of picture a future with you.” I put down my fork. “You mean, like, next week? You wanna plan something for next week?” He responded: “No, no, you’re funny. Like, I mean, a future, long term. Like forever.” FOREVER. So, like, the longest period of time possible? Damn it, I still had half my salad left and it was so delicious. I wasn’t about to stick around for this speech, though. I could already feel my stomach churning and I was starting to get itchy. I put down my fork. “Oh, that’s, um, that’s a while. I gotta run to the bathroom, but I’ll be right back.” I got up, scooted my chair back, took one last look at this beautiful boy, a long look because, unbeknownst to him, it was going to be my last. I half ran to the bathroom and when I got there I locked the door behind me. I didn’t have a set plan right away, I just needed to calm down and get my heart rate slower first. I washed my face and took some deep breaths. Damn it, you decide to branch out and go on one formal date with the dude and look what happens. I’ll be sticking to hoopin’ sessions at the park from now on. I turned around and noticed there was a small window behind one of the stalls, leading to the outside. Sweet Jesus, a way out! I took off my shoes and used them to punch out the screen. Don’t worry, it was easy to put back. No harm done. I stuck my head out first, assessed that it was probably a 10 feet drop, not bad. I retracted my head then popped my legs out. Bend your knees, girl, bend your knees. I leapt forward and stuck the landing. It was some Shawn Johnson shit. I ran to my car, hopped in and drove home. Because I do have a soul, I texted the guy and let him know that it just wasn’t going to work. Let’s face it, he’s definitely better off that way.
So this is my reaction towards marriage, and the idea of spending eternity with one person. I want to run or, in this case, jump. That wasn’t the first time I’ve run away from a guy, nor do I anticipate there will be a last. I’ve also experienced that story the other way around, asking the guy to jump out of a window when I felt it was time for him to leave. I might have been Jackie Chan in a former life, or I just have a strong fear of commitment. I’m guessing the second option is probably more accurate.
My roommate, who is from India, couldn’t be more different from me. She is the most stable, loyal, committed person I know. Committed to her family and friends, her job (I’ve never heard her complain), and to the idea that there is one true love out there for her and she’s determined to find him and live happily ever after. Well, she found him. One year after they met, they planned to wed. Knowing weddings aren’t my thing, she knew just how to phrase the invite: “You’re coming, right? You’re the maid of honour, the best man, the sister, and there will be TONS of dancing, vegetarian food, and all my cousins are boys!” Visiting a new country, a new culture, dancing and eating to my heart’s content and hanging with boys? Uhhhhhhh, yes, please! Oh-oh, and seeing two people I love dearly take the plunge for eternal love…yeah, yeah, that’s cool too. Little did I know that trip and witnessing that wedding day would change my entire perspective on true love.
Standing next to the groom when he first laid eyes on the bride, dancing like a serpent in a beautiful green diamond gown for him, made me a believer. His hypnotic gaze and all consuming smile turned my scepticism into pure admiration and awe. I saw the look of love, the look of two souls merging into one, the look of “You’re it. You’re all I want.” It took Hollywood coming to Bollywood for me to understand why two people make that decision to spend forever together. It took me being in India and witnessing the three day wedding affair to understand that it might be possible for two people to spend eternity together without either one of them wanting to jump out of a window. Together, these two were stronger, and neither one of them felt like they were settling, or compromising, or being tied down.
India is not for the faint of heart. Upon stepping out into the streets of Delhi, one instantly realizes that the reason yoga was invented in India was to counteract the mad chaos that is the daily life there. Being able to just go numb and focus on your breath is the only way one can survive any attempt at travelling more than 10 steps in that city. My roommate had told me ahead of time "People in India don't really walk on the streets, they don't drive either." At the time I was so confused; after witnessing with my own eyes, though, I couldn't have said it better. India is not for anyone who can't immediately adapt to their surroundings and unclench their jaw. It's not for anyone who has to close their eyes or squeeze someone's hand to get through a scary movie...because that feeling will be emulated every minute of the day when you walk out of your door.
After travelling for almost two weeks in India with my best friend - getting kicked out of a movie theatre in Jaipur for trying to sneak in, perfecting the art of hailing and haggling with tuk-tuk drivers, walking on to holy ground and seeing the Taj in all its glory, and making the male waiters dance at every restaurant we entered, I arrived in Indore - the city where my roommate was getting married. I had travelled thousands of miles to witness this special occasion. I arrived by taxi to my roommate’s house - or mansion, rather. I was greeted by a procession of my roommate’s family members. Finally, after kissing and hugging dozens of people I didn’t know, my roommate ran out of her bedroom and hugged me. We stood there in silence, tears trickling down her face. Reunited, and it felt so so good.
From there, the next three days were a blur. The wedding was a three day affair. Boy, when they say people go all out in Indian weddings, they are NOT joking. Over the next three days we would sleep very little, dance very much, and eat to our heart's content. I swear if I didn't have something in my mouth, one of the aunties would be trying to feed me. Because I was the guest of honour, everyone wanted to know all about me. One of the first questions they asked me was: “Are you married?” The first time I was asked this question by one of the aunts I blurted out: "Noooooo way!" I must have had a pretty horrified look on my face because for the next three days, I kept hearing the aunt tell her friends (in Hindi, but I picked it up): "Go ask her if she's married and then watch her face!" I knew from conversations with my roommate that marriage is a biggggg deal in Indian culture. Unlike here in the United States, marriage for a woman often symbolizes that she’s basically "made it" in life. There is a lot of pressure on girls to get married, and get married quick. For the last five years my roommate’s parents have been pushing her to get married. She told me that if she wouldn't have found her husband, she would have caved in and let her family arrange her marriage. Of course, I was the rebellious influence that kept coming up with ways to fend her parents off while she just enjoyed life and took the time to find a guy on her own. Rather than judging this culture, though, I did my best to just observe and understand.
So after I responded initially to that question with "Noooo way!" everyone seemed to not want to press the issue anymore. One aunt, however, exercised her curiosity. "So how come you no married?" Oh god. "Well I'm only 27! I'm still so young!" I thought that was the easiest answer and would end the questioning. "I was 21 when got married! Why you wait?" There goes the easy way out. "Ummm, well, I'm just independent. I like my freedom. You know...being free?" She responded: "You think I no free? You still independent and free! Freedom no end when married!" Oh great, so now I insulted her. At this point I was reallllly not liking being in the hotseat. I tried to switch the conversation back to her: "I really like your sari! You look so beautiful! Tell me how you put it on!" And then… "You look beautiful too, so why you no married?" Shit man. Three strikes and I'm outttttt. Thankfully my roommate saved me and called the aunts in for tea. Phew, saved momentarily. I realized I would need a better answer, though, because that aunt was definitely coming back for more. My roommate said once her family realized I wasn't married, they'd be trying to set me up. Helllllllllll no, I was NOT going to let that happen.
I loved every minute of the three day marriage ceremony. Getting painted with henna, riding around with my roommate’s brother on his motorcycle to run last minute wedding errands, eating, watching the dance choreography practice, eating, practicing how to wear a sari, eating, observing the different traditions...like hiding the groom’s shoes and having the bride’s male cousins negotiate a handsome reward to get them back, or the bride being serenaded by her parents as incense were lit in the background. Every night there was a huge dance party - the best Bollywood beats - and I danced until the DJ had to call it quits. Growing up in a big family, a big, loud family has served me well in the world. I felt right at home with the 1,500 strangers who attended the ceremonies. One night I had a dance battle with one of my roommate’s cousins. He was a really great dancer, used to choreograph for a team in college. After our battle, the same aunt who drilled me about marriage came up to me at the end. I tried to hide, but she cornered me. "Hey, I know why you no married." Oh god, she wouldn't let go. "You're enjoy. You're enjoy too much in life. I see you now." WAIT WHAT?! So all I needed to say was that I'm just enjoying life and I'm happy the way things are? Woahhhhhhhh! I responded: "Yup, now you see. I just enjoy life." She told me again, "You ARE enjoy. You ARE enjoy soooooooo much. Don't need change." She kissed me and squeezed me and from then on we were best buds. From then on, when anyone asked if I was married (really, if I had a dime for every time, I could have paid for my plane ticket), the aunt would come to my rescue and say: "She is enjoy! She is enjoy! No time now!" I will try my best to live by the phrase, "I am enjoy." Not "I'm enjoying,” or “I enjoy,” skip the whole subject verb conjugation and just BE the verb. I can dig that.
Three days of a Bollywood wedding made me understand that the idea that two people were made for each other does exist. Hell, if two people can live through those three days of mad chaos and still want to spend eternity together, that’s testament enough to their compatibility. I really wonder if American weddings were like that, how many couples would survive and still want to be together in the end.
I’d like to say that trip cured me of all my commitment phobic behaviour, but alas, I’m still prone to the Jackie Chan, exiting- through-a-window type scenarios. Regardless of whether or not I picture myself having a fairy tale type ending like my roommate did, my trip to India served as a reminder that the relationships we have in life are the most important part. Living simply is the key, less is truly more. We define our own happiness, and in my country, with our Hollywood culture, it's hard not to get swept up in what a standard definition should be. When in doubt, though, start dancing. Take your Hollywood mindset and put it on a plane to Bollywood. I promise, it will put things into perspective.
Namaste and many thanks to a country full of vibrant love. We shall meet again one day.