They tell us that the most important thing in our lives should be marriage.

I was really excited to go to my friend’s wedding, good food, dancing, getting reunited with some old friends. Besides trying to look for a million different outfits to wear for each of the functions, I was pretty thrilled. You see, Indian weddings are a big deal. If you get invited to one, plan to take AT LEAST a week off and bring comfortable pants (you won’t be able to button them after the second day trust me). I settled on going to three events (because I could borrow three of my mom’s Indian suits) then cooping up in the hotel room and studying for the rest. I knew I would need time to recharge because there were going to be so many people.

My friend was half way through dental school, two years older than me. Her husband was three years older than her and he was doing his specialty. Both of them were a dental power couple. It was awesome. They met in grad school and I guess their relationship took off from there.

Luckily, she gave each of her closest friends our own rooms. I guess she knew I would need the space and I’m so glad she did. Here’s the thing about me, my parents were not born in India. And I learned everything about it from my grandma. They never really acted like typical “brown parents”. My grandma on the other hand begged me to marry a Punjabi guy. It’s in all of her letters she has written to me, so it’s a big deal for her. But frankly, I don’t really think about that stuff. I mean this was my friends wedding. I was excited to see her and sloppily cry with our friends, stuffing our faces with Ladoos because she could never come for our girl’s nights anymore. But I would be so happy that she actually found the love of her life and we could all witness and share that moment with her. I was thinking it was going to be an enjoyable experience for me! Boy, was I wrong.

I went for the henna ceremony and I remember sitting with my friends and trying to choose a design from this binder exploding with laminated pages. I feel a tap on my shoulder and my friend shakes her head. Aunty alert. Smiling I look up. Aunties are not blood relatives. But they are allowed to comment on us. It is good because we get an extra network of support. But sometimes, it can be A LOT.

“Sat Sri Akal Auntyji!” I laugh hoping to lighten the moment. But, she begins scanning me up and down.

“How old are you, beta?”

“21?”

“Are you single?”

“Yeahhh Im not looking for anything right now… Definitely got to focus on school at the moment.” I reply. “You know how it is.”

“I don’t,” the Aunty says. “Why are you still single?”

“Still?!”” I exclaim looking my friends for support. “21 is really young!”

Her eyes pass over me one more time this time she is staring at my stomach. “Stand up.”

I obey her but I am very confused.

“You are too tall and skinny, that is why. What are you studying? Can you cook? Do you speak Punjabi?”

I answered her questions one by one trying to keep my temper. I felt trapped. Like honestly, screw the henna. I wanted to get out. Finally the lady finished mine and I stood up.

“Beta, you are getting older. It is your duty to get married. Didn’t your parents teach you that.”

I rose one of my eyebrows and biting my tongue I said, “My parents told me that my duty is to find out what I want to do in life and do it well. They taught me to work hard to make sure that …”

She cut me off. “Don’t mind me saying this, but you really should have been reminded of your real duty as a woman- being a wife.” She left me with my wide eyed friends. One of them helped me with my water glass because I had the mehndi tattoo on my hands drying.

“You should have said you were planning to marry someone…”

I almost spat out my water. “Are you serious right now? That is way too far! And it was like all of my accomplishments didn’t even matter. Like I was telling her about my dental research and passion for art and she literally focused on the fact that I don’t know how to cook meat and apparently because of that no Punjabi will marry me. Im not about to have accomplishing my dream career be overshadowed by if I can cook dhal the right way. This is ridiculous, and you know it! I need to get out I feel gross.”

I walked out of the ballroom and I saw that same aunty point to me. The other women around her stared at me and their eyes were assessing my every movement. I couldn’t do this.

Punching the up button, I struggled to get my key from my purse.
“Need a hand? ” a man’s voice calls out.

I turn back around to find Mohan (he’s a fictional mix of all the men I encountered that fine weekend). Honestly, I would prefer to smear all my henna than to accept help from him.

“I got to meet the prettiest one in person.” He holds the door open for me and I step in. “I hope the elevator stops so we can talk more.”

I can smell alcohol on his breath. Trying to change the topic I say, “So how was the boy’s night. Is the groom excited?”

He comes closer. “My night was missing a very special girl. Wanna guess her name?” He puts his hand on my hair and begins running his hands through it.

“Mohan stop,” I say firmly.

He tries to lean in closer. Thankfully my floor comes and I step out quickly. Mohan comes out with me and pulls me closer to him. He grabs my face and tries to kiss me.

Alarmingly I push him away. “Look I’m really not in the mood right now. You are a good friend that’s all. Don’t ruin our friendship like this. ”

Mohan puts a hand on my waist again trying to pull me close again. “It’s just a kiss! Are you seriously rejecting me? Me? Do you see this watch? It is something your family could only dream of affording. You should be lucky I liked you. Hell, you aren’t even that pretty. For a middle class girl, yeah…”

I use my elbows to push him off me and he hits the floor. This time, I come up to his face and glare at him. “You can say whatever you want about me. Call me ugly. But, the minute you say anything about my family, I am not responsible for what happens. I hope you find a girl who is impressed by your watch because she certainly has nothing else to be excited about from you.”

Angrily, I storm off to my room. At this point, the henna was drying. I am a pretty sensitive person. I can keep my composure in the moment. But the minute I am alone, I really feel everything. Shakily, I rummage through my purse to find the key and I throw open the door to my safe haven. The nice housekeeping ladies left me some chocolate on the bed. I needed more…

I order some room service chocolate cake with extra vanilla ice cream. While that is on its way, I try to wash the henna off my hands and I start to cry. I really hope not everyone thinks the way these people do. Was I actually that behind? Was I that bad of a daughter?

Washing the makeup and tears from my red face, I look in the mirror and see a girl with her hair in a messy bun and an oversized t-shirt that doubled up as my nightdress. Was I really overlooking my responsibilities? Am I that much of a mess?

The cake came thankfully, and I sat on my bed and got under the covers. Shoveling cake in my mouth, I tried to reflect on my love life.

I remember how my Indian friend put me on this Indian dating app without her telling me and me being so upset about it because I got all of these texts from random men. And she wouldn’t even tell me their names. It was some twisted guessing game. I remember yelling at her on the phone, Yeah that is exactly what I wanted from a guy! I want him to look at my picture and decide if I am worth talking to or not. She said I was not “open-minded.”

I know based on past experiences, I am scared of talking to Indian guys because they will think I’m too American. So, I keep my humor, personality, and goal to myself and ask about mundane things.

And yeah my love life wasn’t working out because of these insecurities with my “Indianness”. What was I supposed to do… Im never Punjabi enough for Punjabis? But, I’m not ever going to be looked at as not Indian. I always thought that life would magically introduce my man to me. I wouldn’t have to do any of this work to no avail. I wish I could just find a guy who had the same values as me who would just focus on his work. And I could focus on my work. And boom, in the end when we got where we needed to be we could take things further and not have to deal with this unnecessary pressure. But dating, takes commitment and time. And I don’t have time right now and that shouldn’t make me any less of a woman. Commitment is fine; Im too busy to stray off.My friends were not too keen on this plan. And I know that now I am older it just gets worse.

The next days of the wedding were all about marriage proposals because the aunties found out I was single. I was stress eating the whole time. I was not used to this pressure. It’s like, in America being 21 means you are an adult. And for me and most of my friends, it meant I needed to think about getting married. And it’s too much.

Let me tell you my real duty as a woman. I don’t want to be a wife right now. I want to be a sister, a daughter, a granddaughter, and a friend. I want to be the best dentist I can be. I want to be a role model and a leader in my field.

You are all expecting a nice conclusion, like in my other articles. And I don’t have that yet. I am still searching for it. The only thing I can give you is what I wrote above. The woman I am right now brings me peace. And if I find a nice guy along the way who fulfills my grandma’s wish then well and good. If not, I am perfectly content the way I am. All I can say to my readers is find stability within your own choices. At the end of the day, define what being a woman or man means to you. And yeah, it is alright to crack under pressure and order yourself a dessert. Be a mess, but always bring yourself back to confidence in your decision.

Define yourself because at the end of the day, your partner will not say “WIFE come here”. They will call you by your name. And you get to decide what that stands for.

CEO of Muskaan, world traveler, fiction writer, American born Punjabi. Insta- tasha_2398