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The Runaway Brides ( & Grooms)

The 1999 Julia Roberts movie 'Runaway Bride' is about a woman who gets nervous about marriage and runs away at the last minute, leaving the groom at the altar. If you thought this happened only in reel life, the running away recently of Jennifer Wilbanks, a 32-year-old from Georgia who concocted a kidnapping story to escape the wedding, should prove otherwise. The incident caused a lot of discussion in the media, with many discussing similar wedding jitters that caused them to break off their wedding at the last minute.

Running away from marriage is getting more common in urban India, though perhaps in different avtaars. Parents in many traditional families, where arranged marriages are still the undisputed norm, do not understand the needs of their children and often impose their own decisions. Shubha took an instant dislike to the man her father wanted her to marry. Though the man had a good job, he was uncouth, unromantic and rough. Shubha could not put down a firm foot, as she feared upsetting her father who had hypertension. "My intuitions were right. The man wanted sex all the time and was quite fierce if I refused," says Shubha, who returned home within ten days of her marriage and refused to go back. Why could she not be more adamant and refuse to get married in the first place, I asked. Shubha says she had taken a chance; besides she could not risk the shame the cancellation of the marriage would have caused. Very Wilbank-like. I fear; yet I dare not .

Marriage phobias are even more intense amongst people who choose their own partners. Some develop cold feet; being indecisive, they postpone indefinitely getting married. Sowmya, a dentist who practises in the city, met Aravind, a marketing professional in an MNC. Both seemed to get along well and had the right "chemistry"; but when Sowmya pressed for an immediate marriage, the trouble started. As Aravind kept her hanging for a "yes", he told her different stories at different times - he was not yet ready for marriage because of office pressures; he needed time to convince his unwilling parents; and so on. Soon Sowmya was to find that all his explanations were untrue.

"If he had said he did not want to marry me, or if he loved somebody else, things would have been simpler. His parents actually liked me, but Aravind had some excuse or the other," says Sowmya, who then consulted a marriage counsellor.

"Probably Aravind suffered from commitment phobia. He was also too possessive to let go. Finally my counsellor helped me to analyze the situation and come out of the relationship and the mental turmoil I was in."

Whether it's the so-called love marriage or an arranged one, men and women are too cautious to say 'I do', and choose to float in a commitment limbo, with one foot in the relationship, and the other at the door. With a growing cynicism about marriage and the possibility of being trapped in a less-than-perfect relationship, people are wary of being caught in the 'claustrophobic' confines of a life-long marriage. They subject the relationship to constant review: is he/she the best for me, or is there a better person? They dodge the decision to commit, so that they can retain the moral right to scan the horizon for a better deal.

The institution of marriage is no more considered a pairing of a cash-producing father and a home-building mother. Women, once marrying for financial security, are now more educated and working in better jobs, freeing them to be more selective. Yet men and women have only a fuzzy concept of an ideal partner in their minds, being confused by the notion of an ideal soul mate infused by popular culture and the media. Because the early phase of a relationship is marked by excitement and idealization, many romantic, passionate couples expect to have that excitement forever. Longing for the charged energy of the early days, people look elsewhere or split up.

"A relationship can evolve and flourish only if you accept others' imperfections. You need to have tolerance. The notion of 100% compatibility is misleading. You can enrich the relationship by giving each other some space for differences," says Raja Reddy, the counsellor at 'Helping Hands', a counselling center in Bangalore.

Many psychologists argue that there's no such thing as true compatibility. "Marriage is about adjustments," says MJ Thomas, a psychologist at the Bangalore's Sagar Apollo hospital. "All couples disagree about some thing or the other. We have a highly romanticized notion that if we were with the right person, we wouldn't fight." Discord springs eternally over money, kids, sex and leisure time; but long-term, happily married couples disagree about these things just as much as couples who divorce. The magic is to develop binocular vision, to see life through your partner's eyes as well as through your own."

Uma Shankari is a freelance writer. She loves to write on development issues.

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