With the changing dynamics, pursuing a ccareer is becoming increasingly important for women in the new millennium. Today there are women who view employment as a major life goal, and who also happen to be single. Thus we are witnessing the birth of a new demographic entity: the career single woman.

Increasingly accepting the notion that ‘we need not be half of couple’ to be fully realised humans, women love the unmitigated freedom of not being married.

It’s the right of every woman to figure out what she wants and hone her philosophy, since this is a new road we’re paving. Many women are putting marriage on hold. These women also yearn to get married at some point, but not before they have settled down in life.

For Sheeba Afghani, one of the biggest advantages of marrying late is that one is ‘more evolved and self-reliant’, both emotionally and financially (in majority of cases). Hence, one is in a better position to choose a more ‘compatible’ partner. “You are no longer driven by all the wrong reasons for marriage — parental pressure, social acceptability, emotional insecurity, financial dependence, etc.”

Her assumption is that if you have survived the different pressures, ‘to marry at the right age’, you have already gone through a process of personal growth which enables you to have a better understanding of ‘what you want’ in life, and in a life partner.

Another flawed assumption is that a majority of single working women have to choose between career and marriage. Afghani, a Communication Specialist at Unicef Pakistan, says, “Certainly not. The choice for me was arranged marriage versus love marriage and not career versus marriage. Moreover, marriage and career are not mutually exclusive. And my marital/single status has nothing to do with my career.”

In Pakistani society, the status of women changes considerably with marriage; suffice to say that married women have a higher status (in general) in society than single women.

This higher status manifests itself in greater mobility, more social acceptability, enhanced financial status (acquiring material possessions for the first time) and in general a greater decision making power. These are great incentives to lure a young woman to opt for marriage.

On the contrary, when you marry at a later age you have already acquired this freedom on your own. “This can be an extremely empowering experience as it liberates you from the necessity of a marriage of convenience (this certainly does not mean that all women who marry early have marriages of convenience or vice versa),” adds Afghani.

“With careers established, you have a good idea — a realistic one — of what you want out of life and what you are willing to compromise on,” says Bettina Schunter, 43, working with a UN agency and living for more than six years in Pakistan. A career, she feels, gives one financial independence and independence in thought and action. One is responsible for oneself. If one can have a marriage that accommodates career and ambitions, then there is no need to delay marriage. Marrying later in life can afford some women in some contexts more choice. However, for educated, empowered girls used to taking their own decisions, marrying late an open-minded partner who allows her choices, can work better than marrying in early to mid 20s. “But there are too many variables to determine one right choice for everyone,” adds Schunter.

Kiran Qazi, 28, feels it’s also important to realise that it’s OK to be female and single. “To be committed to a life of freedom — and perhaps solitude. In order to ‘keep her identity’ and make herself ‘strong to struggle in life,’ she prefers to put marriage on hold.

“Let’s face it, nowadays you have to really give all your time to your work if you want to make it anywhere.” Working for a humanitarian agency in Islamabad, her argument for putting her marriage on hold is that “You become more mature and tolerant with time which makes you more flexible. It broadens your vision to assess things differently and take decisions in one’s favour/ benefit”.

Rahema Jaffery, 42, calls it an arm-wrestling match between the old world and the new. Just the other night, after drinking tea and reading in bed I felt mighty contented with my life, and my personal space. Not being able to sleep, I saw a lovey-dovey family movie and was in tears. The next morning, of course, when I woke up in a leisurely fashion, made coffee and then went shoe shopping, I felt thrilled again to be single. Every career single woman can expect this unending dialogue in her head, and that’s OK. Just don’t buy into either side too much.

Rejecting the assumption that increase in separation and divorce rate is essentially due to the financial independence of the women of the new millennium, Jaffery says, “There was a time when due to social pressure women would not think of breaking the ‘sacred’ marriage bonds. But all this is changing now. Women know they can take care of themselves financially, if need be, so now they need to handle the social and family aspects of the relationships.

In short, when you marry at a later age, you have had enough time to experience life on your own, to make your own mistakes, to learn your own lessons, and above all, to trust your own strengths. Hence, life has better prepared you to select a significant other who is more compatible with you. Also, if due to some reason the marriage fails, you are better able to survive the emotional and financial fallout.

Most women we spoke to believed that women, in general are expected to fulfil domestic roles associated with being a woman, irrespective of whether or not she has a career. Domestic gender roles are culturally determined, not biologically determined — and should be the choice of a woman, not forced upon her.

Today’s women should strive for a certain amount of financial independence before they consider entering marriage. Also, while family expectations and societal pressure cannot be disregarded it is extremely important to focus on the prospective partners’ personal qualities and companionship potential.