You’re possibly inured to horror stories about divorce and expect to read them on my blog. But that’s the last thing in the world that I want you to feel. It isn’t as though I’m hardened up to tales of parting. Although I recognize the pattern I can feel the anguish within the oft-told tale.
A Bombay based friend with an apartment for rent has an interesting experience with her latest tenant. This story was preceded by a rant against the Society that runs the building – a ‘Society’ just as fascist and dictatorial as any Society anywhere. This Society (guardian of the morals of all and sundry) had passed a dictum not permitting single people to rent flats. Talk about discrimination! My friend, though single, owns her flat so is presumably less likely to kick up some unholy shenanigans that rent-paying single people are prone to indulge in. Look at the assumptions – a) if you’re single you’re untrustworthy b) if you’re single and have to rent an apartment then you must be ‘trouble’ with a capital T.
With no regard for the superannuated ‘rules’ of a restrictive Society my friend interviewed the candidate a woman in her forties with two teenage daughters. She’d been through years of abuse, ignored and tolerating her husband’s affairs. There’d never been a honeymoon period – it had been a dreadful relationship from the word ‘GO’. And she should probably have gone long ago. Now, tired of his dismissive behavior she’d decided to leave him.
Again I wonder at someone’s ability to put society and family considerations above one’s own comfort and security. We are so conditioned by norms, society, culture, misplaced notions of family honour that we allow our lives to become a living hell, spend years in an unfulfilled marriage that cannot change for the better and yet do nothing about it. Your marriage is yours and yours alone whatever your in-laws, parents, society or the extended family say. You are the one who has to live with the man/woman who is making your life miserable. Marriage is far too intimate a relationship to remain in if your relationship isn’t working.
Leaving a marriage is never a lightly taken decision and it is even harder in a country where most people believe that the very fabric of society is threatened by the actions of a few individuals who opt for divorce. Having said which, marriage isn’t something you should give up on quickly but there must be a time frame to that trying. Trying to make it work – implies that both people are trying, not just one, out of fear of being stigmatized while the other, secure in a patriarchal society that cannot lay blame at a man’s door, enjoys his affairs, neglect of his family and lives a ‘free’ life, virtuously ‘providing’ for the family he doesn’t really care about.
It’s also important that the ‘trying’ involves some professional help such as family therapy. That is trying. Without therapy, you’re not trying – I assure you. You’re simply skirting the issue, avoiding the unavoidable and being cowardly. Lying low till your parents and in-laws stop noticing, till they feel less invested in your marriage, till they’ve forgotten how much they spent on the wedding… None of these are reasons for staying in a bad marriage. What is a reason, is your own belief that the marriage is worth saving, that there are aspects of the person you married that make you want to remain in the marriage. These are genuine reasons.
Firstly, take the decision to marry after weighty consideration. Marriage isn’t a decision to be taken lightly, because the parents are nagging, or the time is right. You have to live with the spouse your parents persuade you to get hitched to. Make sure you can. Make sure you find the person you can tolerate, have fun with, whose ideas match yours. Their being from the same caste as yours is hardly a criteria to endear them to you. Your mother may want that, but your mother’s interaction with your spouse will be minuscule compared to yours. Marriage isn’t about mother-in-law/daughter-in-law bonding or son-in-law/father-in-law bonding but about the husband and wife bond. What parents think or want is actually immaterial. You may consult them perhaps because of their experience, but they shouldn’t be allowed to dictate terms. The final choice has to rest with the person doing the marrying.
So, this poor tenant, a Tarot card reader, was finally moving out of her marriage, having wasted 20 years in fear. Now, at the end of her 40’s with no career, no bank account – she has a joint account with her husband and needed to make the first down payment for the rent in cash (yes my friend decided to have her as a tenant even though she wondered how she would pay the rent every month) – she is reclaiming her life. All I can say is Better Late than Never. But it does seem like an awful waste of a life till now. I hope her daughters don’t decide to go the same way as their mother, should they find themselves in an unhappy marriage.
Just to make it clear how difficult it is to leave an Indian marriage and just how much pressure a patriarchal society puts on a woman, she had no support from her own family in the bold brave move to a new life. There were no brothers willing to help her, no mother to lean on emotionally. A harrowing event such as leaving a husband has to be orchestrated alone because even ones own flesh and blood refuses to step in and be there. It’s good in a way, because it strengthens one’s resolve and makes one a better person – but I think families are cruel and selfish to treat a woman making a bid for freedom like a pariah.
I’m sure she’ll be fine eventually and she will certainly be stronger but society, in this case, has caused her unnecessary suffering. She’s wasted far too many years because of other people, people who don’t care very much about her in any case.