Woe Is Me! “My Family Taunts Me for Being Unmarried. How Do I Make Them Stop?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“I have moved out of my home but my family looks down upon each decision I make. Their toxic comments don’t stop — because I’m living my life as an unmarried girl.”
— Bogged down
AP: We have been raised in a collectivist culture, which is why we are taught to always keep “where we have come from” close to us — our family, our relatives, our neighbors. Even when they can’t physically be with us, they make sure that on some level they still stay with this. This can manifest in both ways, either as a healthy relationship of love, encouragement, and a place to call home, or in a toxic way with judgment, expectations, and criticism. Our conditioning makes us believe that we must bear this burden, no matter what, and even the thought of consciously distancing ourselves from them fills us with extreme guilt.
Of course, we know all of this, but find it difficult to break the cycle. Sometimes it takes someone else, a friend, a therapist, or a stranger on the internet to tell you that it’s okay. Your feelings are valid. Start by communicating how you feel when they speak to you a certain way, and how it affects your mental health. There are people who don’t like to be told they are wrong, so instead of taking that approach, you can simply let them know how their words affect you. If they care, and I’m sure they do, over a period of time, they will understand. However, if it doesn’t stop, you can choose to not speak to them until you find the strength and energy to deal with your trauma. Instead of seeing it as cutting people off, think of it as taking a break until you heal. A break to collect your thoughts so you can (and only if you want to) go back to them and try to make them understand again.
Please be selfish about your happiness and protect your mental health. Here are a few words of strength by Harry Styles from his song Matilda: “You can let it go/ You can throw a party full of everyone you know/You can start a family who will always show you love/You don’t have to be sorry for doing it on your own.”
RN: Ah, hello, and welcome to this week’s episode of Being a Woman in India! Firstly, I’m so glad you moved out of such a toxic environment — that’s powerful and brave and you should be proud of yourself. Second, think how when you’ve taken that step, it’s much easier to keep increasing the distance now that you’re already away? Their taunts can’t reach you if you’ve shut the door on them firmly.
But I know this is easier said than done. Perhaps, you want a relationship with your family, but not the toxicity. You could try reorienting their view by showing them through tangible gestures how happy you are with your life! Maybe show off your accolades more, buy them something they’d like and, perhaps, speak their language by engaging in the things that Indian parents generally appreciate other than marriage and babies. The list is a short one but it still gives you some options.
Failing that (or if this doesn’t appeal to you at all, which is fair too) — is having an honest conversation with them possible? Do they know your opposition to marriage, and do they understand why you’re living your life the way you are? Are there similar people in your family who set a good example of an unmarried woman — or, on the contrary, who serve as a cautionary tale for what happens when women are married too young/when they’re not ready/against their wishes? In any case, you need to weigh the pros and cons of maintaining a relationship with them with some friction, or cutting them off entirely.
DD: I would urge you to first ask yourself: why is the validation of your family so important? Since you share a relationship with them, it seems natural to feel like their opinions matter, and they (probably) do. However, that doesn’t have to apply to all aspects of your life. If you are satisfied living unmarried, then that’s an informed and conscious choice that you are making. Only you know what’s best for you at this time. Your family won’t have to bear the consequences of an unwanted marriage, only you will. So, disappointing them (in my opinion) doesn’t seem like the worst thing that could happen to you. Assuming you’ve already tried talking to them about the reasons you want to live unmarried, I’d suggest spending time thinking about how you can get to a place where these comments don’t affect you instead of relying on the hope that they will stop.
DR: Here’s the thing: you probably can’t make them stop. I’m guessing, you’ve tried already. So, the sooner you come to terms with the improbability of that prospect, the easier getting over their remarks is going to be for you. Because, then, you can divert the energies you are currently using to figure out ways to make them stop, towards learning how to care less about their opinions. Ultimately, you should aspire to give their opinions the number of f***s they give yours. They don’t care how their remarks affect you, you must strive to not care how your choices affect them. If you think therapy will help you get there, go for it! If you’d rather seek online support forums — on Reddit or elsewhere — look for those. Speaking to like-minded people stuck in a situation similar to yours — who, I doubt, are going to be hard to find in India — might help too.
If you want to take a break from them, that’s an option too, you know? You can, actually, set a boundary with them, where you tell them that if they continue to make toxic comments about your life choices, you are going to cut them off. After that, go low contact the first few times they resort to their antics — hoping they’ll realize you’re serious. If they don’t, well, you can go no-contact. That’ll hopefully teach them to not be so toxic; if not, you can either focus on developing a thick skin to their remarks before making amends, or you can move on with your life, leaving the bridge you burnt, behind you.