My mother said she worried about me roaming around alone.
I’m in my thirties, have been married for ten years, and have finally started going on vacations alone and with friends.
Wait, let me clarify. I went on one solo vacation recently where I traveled alone but stayed with friends. One of the friends I spent a few days with happens to be a man. It’s not been two weeks yet since I got back, but I’m going again on a short weekend trip to Goa, where I’ll meet this same friend. My husband is not coming.
I travel for work a few times a year. I travel with my husband a few times a year, usually. When I was young I had gone on long bus and train journeys alone, between home and college. But now my mother is scared — presumably not of accidents (because what’s to stop a car from running me over in Mumbai?) but of sexual assault. Which, in her view, is more likely to happen when you travel for fun than when you travel for serious reasons.
Or, more likely, she thinks I’m having too much fun.
A few friends have said this to me: “You’re having too much fun.” Or worse, “You’re a bad girl.” This is meant to be a joke, of course, but the sting seems intended. (Much more gracious are some other responses I have gotten: “You’re on a roll!” and “You’re making me jealous.”)
What is “too much fun”? What amount of fun, you might wonder, is the right amount? Probably the amount that another friend of mine is expected to have; she left her husband and two young kids alone once last weekend and once six months ago — the first time was my birthday, this latest time hers. And apparently her mother-in-law was still surprised when she left.
Another friend, also with two young kids, is going on an exciting foreign vacation soon — with kids, husband, parents, and family friends. At least there are enough adults to watch the kids that she won’t have to spend every moment taking care of them, I think.
I can hardly remember my mother ever spending a night away from us because she wanted to. She was barely allowed to visit her mother once in two years, and only for a couple of days. Until I was a teenager, I always accompanied her — we couldn’t expect my father to take care of me if I was left at home. Now that she’s been widowed for some years, she’s finally found some fun — a circumscribed, socially acceptable amount —lots of visits to family out of town and socialising with friends and family nearby, and a few rare trips out of town with (women) friends. Dating, of course, is out of the question.
I wonder which formula for fun I’m supposed to follow. Definitely spending a few nights partying, especially with men friends, is extreme. A trip with a group of women might perhaps be okay, so long as I don’t do it more than once a year or so.
My mother rolls out that old chestnut, “Times have gone worse. You hear of so many things happening nowadays.”
“And times were so much better earlier?” I say cheerfully. “You used to let me roam around wherever I wanted when I was younger.”
“I did not!” My mother walks right into the trap.
“Exactly”, I say.
But my sarcasm breaks down soon. Because I realise that this is something I’ve also been feeling: I’m having too much fun. I’m too happy. This is not right.
Why does this bother me? The only person, apart from me, whose opinion may actually matter in this is my husband, who has been nothing but encouraging. I am not neglecting work or other priorities. I am not doing anything risky or unmitigatedly selfish (spending time with friends feels selfish because it feels so good, but given that these friends want you with them, it’s not a totally self-absorbed endeavour).
Why does being so happy feel wrong? Is it because we are always told that it is?
It’s not even purely a gender thing. My friend who is in his late 20s says he’s been told, by other friends, that he’s “having too much fun”. That he needs to settle down, focus on his career, stop dating casually.
Is it a religious thing, where you’re supposed to work hard now and get the rewards after you die? Being happy before you die is irreligious? Once you are in your late twenties, your priorities are supposed to be other people. If you are a man, you need to focus on your career so you can earn well and support your family: pursuing lower-paying work you love or deciding to work fewer hours to have better work-life balance is irresponsible. If you are a woman your priorities are, of course, having kids and taking care of them, keeping house for your husband, working and earning money, looking after the well-being of the extended family. Where’s the time for fun in that?
Fun, in these situations, is defined as time spent with family. Even if you hang out or go on vacations with friends, it’s more acceptable to do so as a couple. Going to a yoga or zumba class is a good thing even if you enjoy it. Meeting women friends for lunch once a month is okay. Having too much fun without your spouse is seen as being suspicious.
So how much fun, exactly, would be too much fun? Does ‘too much fun’ imply risky behaviour, behaviour that might get you assaulted or killed (and of course, you the victim are to blame)? Does it imply a higher risk of accidents, like if you went whitewater rafting?
Or is too much fun more fun than most people are having, so how dare you?
Unmana lives in and loves Bombay. She also loves books, music, and feminism. She blogs at Unmana.com and can be found @unmana on Twitter.