Illustration by Ashley Goodall
Today is a big day for couples. But for someone like me who is—how do you say it, completely alone—Valentine's Day is mostly about being tagged in sad memes by my friends. "Happy Alentine's Ay to those who won't be getting the 'V' or 'D' on February 14th" was a personal favourite.
For my family though, my grandma in particular, Valentine's Day is just another reminder of my ticking body clock. As a Sri Lankan in my early 20s, I'm apparently about five years behind schedule. And I've literally never met another Sri Lankan woman who hasn't followed up a question about my age with, "Oh, I was married by then." It doesn't matter how young you think you are, they have always been married before you. I can never win, and it's only getting worse.
Setting up an arranged marriage for me used to be a joke bandied by my extended family. Now I'm getting serious texts from my uncles and aunts, asking if I'd be interested in moving to the UK to marry someone I've never met. Just the other week my mum admitted she'd had to politely decline a proposal from a distant relative. You know things are getting desperate when they use the word "cousin."
Of all the people trying to push me into marriage though, it's my dear old granny who even at 86 is the most persistent. I wanted to find out why my having an arranged marriage seems like such a good idea to her and, seemingly, my entire extended family. So I called her up for one of the most honest, heartfelt, and gruelling conversations I've ever had.
VICE: Alright Granny, why do you want me to have an arranged marriage?
Pearl Masilamani: Because you haven't found the one you want. If you brought us someone good and steady then, yeah, we're all for it. But if you don't find someone then we will.
But I could also just not get married…
No, your life would not be complete. You become selfish and, I'll tell you, they become bitter later on.
Who becomes bitter? Single women?
Yes! They have a very narrow look on life. They become very envious. I haven't yet come across a healthy spinster—a wholesome spinster.
Why do you think that is, Granny?
Because we learn to share, darling. We learn to understand another person's views. We have to. My husband learned a lot, I tell you. Poor man.
Do you actually believe arranged marriages are successful though, are people in them happy?
Most often they work out well because the girls or boys who are willing to have a proposed marriage. They don't want to find another potential partner, they just know their parents will do the best for them and they accept that.
Ok but realistically it's 2017, and Sri Lankans are dating and probably sleeping around, right? Surely the arranged marriage game has changed?
Dating is no problem. Boys have to get to know girls, and girls have to know boys—but falling in love is another thing. It's a step forward, isn't it? Because a girl must watch out that the man doesn't make all those promises and get you to bed. Because if you've been dating for a long time, accidently you might go the full way. And if he's sleeping with you, he should marry you. I wouldn't accept that. You have to be in love to go to that extent.
Ok but I've been in love before and I didn't marry the guy. People have sex with people they love and then later break up with them, even in Sri Lanka right?
But if you're not sure it'll lead to marriage, how can you go to bed?
Because... people in 2017 don't expect to get married after sleeping with someone.
That's true! And it's because if a man has tasted it, they won't be interested in you anymore. That's it!
So you're saying that not only do I need to get married asap, but it's also important that I'm a virgin.
Invariably, it is. If it's an arranged marriage they're very strict. Maybe the boy has slept around and there's no proof but with a woman, there are proofs to say you've had...
How would you find proof of that?
They'll be able to tell if she's used to it, from her behaviour. It'd be very obvious.
WATCH: You might be lonely this Valentine's Day, but you don't need to be alone.
Aren't you advocating a double standard: Men can have sex but women can't?
He cannot sleep around either. But being a man, if he has dated a girl and gone to bed with a girl and if the girl was willing, then he would have. But girls are expected to be… Sri Lankan girls. They can't have slipped up.
So let's say you arrange me a marriage. Do I have to disclose if I've "slipped"?
No, not at all. A girl should never disclose if she's had it to the husband… that leaves a scar. You are going into a new life. But it's different in Sri Lanka, if a girl has been running around, the boy will know she can't be all that pure.
Why is it important to be "pure"?
So basically, sex is a pretty big deal in your view of marriage.
This is life, you know, and how you go about it. Some men can be crude, some can be gentle, some can be tactful. It is scary because we don't know the men, really.
Would you be able to find me an orthodox Sri Lankan man who hasn't had sex?
Of course, there are! Although your cousins will argue that there aren't.
Can you find me a house husband?
That is difficult these days.
The thought of coming home from work and not have to do all the housework brings me such joy.
So you want a woman?
No, I just want to work full-time but also have children.
If you both have jobs then you can afford to have help and not neglect the children. But I know of a couple where the wife was asked to stay home and the children are very well brought up. Children need a mother.
They need a father too.
Yes, outside. But there's no dignity in a man staying home. Even you will stop looking up to a man like that.
I don't think I would Granny. I enjoy working and providing for myself, I wouldn't expect a man to be the sole breadwinner, I don't want to be expected to be the sole child carer, cook, and cleaner.
Nowadays they'll welcome the second income, they won't take a backseat. They will respect it. He'll make adjustments for that. Do you want to know if he'll be the boss of the household and you the housemaid? No, you'll share the work.
But is there really love in an arranged marriage? I can't imagine being happy without that spark.
Yes, later on there is love. It is a matter of getting them away from the parents and then you can shape them. Because it's love, companionship, and it takes time but the two will eventually to get to know each other.
Thanks Granny, I will... keep this option in mind.