There is a suffocating pressure one must endure if one happens to be a woman living in South East Asia and has just hit her twenties. Though we’re finally letting the concept of ‘love marriage’ infiltrate and settle into our culture, marriages by arrangement are still pretty much the common phenomenon. Even if you do happen to be in love with someone, there’s still an expiration date on when it’s acceptable to get married. Cross 25 and you’re getting much too old. You’ll be hearing all about your sudden ageing from your parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles and surprisingly, your friends too. It sounds rather hypocritical; you’re too old before you’re married but as soon as you are, you and your (hopefully better) half are all of a sudden the ‘lovely young couple.’ How does that work?

I usually write about the political scenarios of the world rather than issues such as love, relationships and marriage in a society like ours. Having been in and out of Pakistan for almost a year now, I reside well within the hub of the marriage culture and find it a little odd. Being of a British-Pakistani background myself, it’s safe to say I hadn’t felt the pressure so much in the UK. Either that, or I was just too busy being a nerd. Being back in the country where it’s ‘happening’ for every other person, I’ve had the chance to observe men and women both and the relationships that they have. Whether they’re married, looking to get married or already have that special someone in mind.

Time and again, I’ve noticed that there is diminished tolerance in both the sexes these days. Women have little exposure to the independent life that girls who lived abroad had to face, and resort to a lifestyle that hails them as princesses. It’s not a bad thing at all and hey, what girl doesn’t want to be treated well? But for the many stories I have come across, I can’t help but wonder- what constitutes being ‘treated well?’

Are we burdening the men of this society- men who are increasingly running away from the idea of marriage altogether- in our rush to be a ‘princess-wife’? Or is it the fact that the men don’t realize the existence of women who are sensible and mature enough to want to stand by their side when they start a life from scratch? Both seem plausible topics to debate upon. All in all, what role does the element of ‘love’ play into this? Does love conquer all, or is it just a clichéd myth propagated by the likes of Hollywood and Victorian novels?

This is a column for women like myself; those who think alike and who can perhaps relate. I too have liked people from diverse cultures. But the culture that has started to dictate my life predominately asks me to be reserved about the nature of my likings or how open I am about them. I am no relationship counselor, but having interacted with couples and people who are generally open about their feelings towards their better half, I’ve managed to gain perspective on how to understand the opposite sex and the recurrent problems that come with them.

Dating back to February of last year, after having gone through half a dozen failed “aunty-istic” attempts at introducing me to dashing sons of theirs, I walked into a cafe and sat there was my beautiful friend from America, Sam, lost deep in thought. I asked her what was troubling her and she told me she was taking time out to actually understand men. I realized at that moment, that I had never done that myself. Was I too harsh on them and too quick to call them names when I thought they were being unreasonable? Was I just interacting with the wrong kind of men and not giving heed to men that actually cared?

This topic opens up an ocean of debate and there is a great deal to write in this regard. But my main area of focus for the next few columns is going to be why women face problems choosing a man and deciding that he’s the one. What role do the ‘aunties’ in our culture play? They are the ones with the pressure tactics after all. Why is it that once the man is ‘decided,’ we then become insecure? What leads to a happy married life? What role does love and expressing that love regularly play? What things play negative roles in relationship maintenance? Are the generations changing and are we, as the new generation, far too confused?

Many couples, individuals, and people who have had good and bad experiences, as well as people who haven’t had much experience at all, are going to be interviewed in the process of writing these columns. So… stay tuned! There is much to be put forth here, that many will hopefully find quite useful in their daily lives.

n    The writer is a research analyst on political and social issues, based in Lahore and London.