‘Altar Run’ and Indonesia’s Marriage-Obsessed Society
“Indonesian girls are like Christmas trees. Hot commodities before the 25th, but on ‘Clearance Sale’ immediately after,” said Amira, 23, an architect.
I cringed upon hearing her words. The realization that one day I have to go home to a marriage-obsessed society frightened me.
“And do you know what’s even worse? A friend of mine was once told by her mother that if she’s not married by the time she’s 24, it proves that she’s not wanted by men,” she continued.
We then agreed that the harsh statement might be a function of how women used to be married by the time they were 18. Well, maybe in their early twenties if they were lucky. However, it puzzled me how Indonesian mothers still advocate this kind of horrible arrangement. Of all people, they should know better than to rush their daughters to marriage.
I have a friend who got married only to fulfill her mother’s deathbed wish, and it was catastrophic. Contrary to what her mother thought, the couple wasn’t compatible for each other, and she wasn’t emotionally prepared for marriage. So, they got divorced a year later.
As a friend puts it, starting from their early twenties, Indonesian women are automatically signed up for this game called, “Altar Run.” Much like its iPhone counterpart “Temple Run” game, you are basically running as fast as you can while chased by vicious monkeys (read: relentless relatives who keep asking the same questions). The exact wording may vary, but they’re somewhere along the lines of, “When are you going to get married?” or, “Aren’t your parents expecting grandchildren, already?”
One way to survive this game is through evasion: sidestepping questions, changing the subject or just plain running away from these relatives every time they come near. Another way is by improving your armor: develop a thick skin and ignore the questions and comments so that you can stop these relatives from sucking the happiness out of your life.
Now, “Altar Run” is not a women-only game. Although women face earlier onset, men are not free from its grip. A guy friend turned thirty a couple months ago, and all people seemed to do was evaluate his marital status. My Indonesian friends speculated a dozen different reasons why he wasn’t seeing anyone at all. They laid down their cases as if there was something enormously wrong with the way he leads his life. I defended him wholeheartedly, explaining to them that marriage was not his priority since he spent the last five years finishing a PhD, but my effort was for nothing.
I was lucky that I didn’t spend my early twenties in Jakarta. Instead, I took my sweet time to study and work in Singapore, using the work bond I got from my undergraduate scholarship as an excuse. I have to say, though, that I did have to play “Altar Run” whenever I visited Jakarta. But, you know what, I never felt sorry to disappoint my relatives (or my parents) with what I had to say. I loved my life and I don’t regret that I refused to live up to their expectations, i.e. getting married and having babies by the time I was 25. I grew so much over those years from having full liberty to work, learn and travel. It was a precious time in my life; I wouldn’t have achieved as much if I’d been strung to another person, worried about how moving to another continent for a work opportunity would affect him.
Truth be told, I have nothing against people who seek marriage from a young age. What I do have a problem with is how a lot of Indonesians get married for all the wrong reasons. Some people get married because they gave up on surviving “Altar Run.” Others do because they are taught that marriage completes them as a person, or that it’s a rite of passage to becoming responsible adults. The thing these people need to realize is that social pressure, no matter how great, does not make it true.
In fact, getting married without factoring in emotional and financial readiness may be the most irresponsible act you and your partner can do. Even worse, Indonesians are very reluctant to be up-front about their own expectations. Discussing important matters like children, career or division of labor is rarely done among partners, let alone between children and parents. So, in this kind of setting, rushing into marriage is even more disastrous than it would usually be.
Anahita helps decipher the intricacy of relationships by keeping it real.