Happily ever after...

SECOND THOUGHTS

Happily ever after...

Marriages are made in heaven, they say. Right here on earth, one of the most commonly sustained institutions in life, and perhaps one of the most bewildering, is that of marriage. Surprised that I am calling it ‘bewildering?’ If you stop and think about it, you will probably agree. But, that is the point. We do not stop to think about it! It is one of those institutions that is entered into without any questions. One is born, grows up, gets an education, finds a job, and then gets married. For most people, there is a lot of pressure to get married once one is ‘settled in life’. Indeed, ‘settled in life’ generally means getting married. And if this does not happen as soon as one has found a job, society begins debating on the reasons for the delay. But what does marriage mean, really? Most people I spoke to generally agreed that it is all about companionship. That is what a ‘life partner’ has come to mean — someone to share your life with. One friend called it “a kind of security, a comfort.”

There is no definite trend to suggest that more people are choosing their own partners — what is quaintly called a ‘love marriage’ in our country! Both, arranged marriages as well as romancing and finding partners, are continuing to happen in different spheres. Yes, there are several matrimonial sites that are now available for people to find suitable matches. These sites are in-between, a third dimension, where one can choose partners very specifically, right down to wanting a live-at-home wife or a working professional. They have replaced the days of the ‘marriage broker’ to a large extent. Remember him? A cloth bag clutched in his hands, he would visit you with a selection of horoscopes, complete with kula and gothra, details of property, amount of salary earned, family details... that’s what used to puzzle me when I was much younger — how can two complete strangers decide to get married for life? The thought used to be scary. How does one take that huge plunge on such little knowledge? But then, even if one meets an interesting person, falls in love and gets married, most often the true colours of the partner get revealed only when one is married and lives with each other.

And for many, there is no choice after getting married and finding that there are a lot of mismatches — it is one of those conveyor belts that one simply clambers onto, and there is no getting off. Yes, divorces are also happening, but for a majority of people, there is simply no second innings. It is something that is accepted without question. It is something that simply happens, and if there are mismatches, there is only compromise.

There is a stage in life when the ‘honeymoon period’ is over. That is when taking the partner for granted begins. It happens regardless of gender. Nobody pauses to think about what is happening. I remember, a long time ago, when I was discussing relationships and marriage with a teacher, I had mentioned that it was a 50-50 partnership. He had gently corrected me and said it was a 100-100 tie-up. Isn’t that true? But I suppose we don’t find the space to think seriously about what it really means. Let me take this thought a little further and see if I can put my finger on it. Take a moment and think about relationships in general, and not just the institution of marriage. Even in a workspace relationship, there is always a ‘taken for granted’ element that sneaks in, and usually no one stops to think about it, or if they do, there is a fall-out, unless they can sit down and talk about it. Now, if you take this thought a little further and apply it to this institution called marriage, you will perhaps see what I mean — two people living constantly with each other until the lines blur, and each probably taking the other for granted and never realising it, and before one knows it, life maybe over.

Time factor

“We do sit and talk about it,” said a friend, “but with children, time constraints, and a hectic schedule, serious changes are not possible. I guess you have to accept that there is not enough time for each other. My husband is okay with it. I think I am the one who constantly compares my present life with my past. Very often, I live in the past. That’s the problem. I think I just need to accept the fact that things in life keep changing,” she said ruefully.

Another friend of mine, a teacher, said she constantly asks girl students in her college if they are applying serious thought to why they want to get married. She says women don’t realise they are in great danger of getting stuck in the rut of marriage and becoming glorified cooks and housekeepers. “There is very little space to think about it. There is no out-of-the-box thinking. Anything different becomes wrong, politically incorrect. If I suggested that something was not working and needed to be changed — like the bread toaster I recently bought, but found it to be faulty, and changed it for another — I would be labelled as living in a Utopian world!”

Another friend had a different take on the subject. Talking about the same analogy of returning a toaster because it was faulty, he said the other option — and usually the one he believes most people take — is to sit down with the toaster and try and repair it. “It is just a question of how you look at the problem. You cannot treat a relationship like a badly working toaster and change partners,” he exclaimed.

Very often, it is not easy to change something, especially a partner, simply because it is not working satisfactorily, because two families are involved. The problem of too many explanations that disappointed families and the society demand usually deter couples from breaking up. The other angle is when there are children involved. How many times does one detect people’s unvoiced view that they are continuing in a relationship “for the sake of children”. Broken marriages often tend to have a traumatic effect on children. So one continues to soldier on. “I cannot just move on now. I believe my children are used to a certain comfort now,” said a human relations expert. “There is definitely expectation of more from the relationship,” she continued, “I don’t agree that expectations come down. But with so much time and effort spent in looking after the household and children, it often remains just that — only an expectation.”

Hectic urban life also takes its toll on marriages. Working couples are so involved in the everyday roller-coaster ride that there is simply no time to pause and introspect. What is meant to be a lovely life together usually turns into a meaningless routine of waking, scrambling to get the children ready for school, and leave for work, often hurriedly preparing breakfast and packing lunch. Evenings are spent in long commutes back, especially in urban India, and even then people don’t take time off to switch off their minds and relax during the longs hours of commute. One friend has started listening to talking books. She says she finds it relaxing. But the mad scramble begins once she reaches home. Very many women unquestioningly take a huge burden on themselves to run a household. Yes, shopping together with family does happen, what with the new trend of supermarkets and the glitzy display of goods, but ends up being the only family ‘outing’.

Mediocrity is also a huge part of our lives these days. One is often puzzled at how little we question things around us in daily life. We take bad traffic, bad roads, electricity and water problems, and bad films, all in our stride. The fact of the matter is that this acceptance of mediocrity has become an integral part of our psyche. When was the last time you saw a really outstanding film? How often are you puzzled that a ‘hit’ film turns out to be quite terrible? I am not generalising and saying that we only get to see terrible films. But, more often than not, we accept a film even if it does not have all the elements that truly affect us simply because there is no luxury of choice.

And accepting mediocrity day in and day out has become so much a part of our mental make-up that I wonder if it leaks into our marriages and relationships. Do you understand what I mean? Do we compromise on our marriages and accept things simply because we don’t even see that there could be something better? A friend disagrees. “I would not call it compromise. It’s more of a give and take, sort of lending a shoulder.”

Constant care

Marriages are like precious plants that require careful nurturing, watering, and weeding from time to time. How many of us are doing those things on a regular, daily basis? Most of our marriages, if you take the analogy of plants, are surviving somehow, fending for itself, without daily care and maintenance. Cable TV and modern communication tools like the Internet and social pages are adding to the ‘always on the go’ phenomenon. We are not switching off. A banking technology expert told me that he has taken to switching off his “wireless world,” as that was severely affecting the way he spent quality time with his wife and children. Otherwise, he found himself constantly checking emails on his smart phone, and carrying his office home. “Many times I found myself returning late from office, eating and crashing. I had to change that. Sundays do not mean I should sleep the whole day at home. I need to spend quality time with my family. The shelf life of a marriage is determined by the quality of companionship.”

It maybe changing now, with working couples sharing the work at home, but males in India have generally been brought up to take the woman of the house for granted. It starts with our mothers. There is never a question of her taking a day off. She is always there, whirling about the house, working, doing a hundred things without any personal time off.
Carry that forward to when they get married — you get the picture of how it does not even strike men on the numerous tasks that the woman of the house carries out. One friend is making sure that her son does his bit around the house, and that “he should not be like his father, expecting things to be done automatically for him.”

The teacher friend said she was having serious doubts on whether the institution of marriage, as we know it, would survive in the years to come. “With so much cold communication happening with social networking sites and the Internet world, I feel the younger generation does not find the need for marriage as a means to companionship. Indeed, they don’t even realise what real companionship could be, because they have no access to friendship in the ‘real’ world.”

Introspection

It is not that this is a generational thing. I remember when were growing up, about four decades ago, the subject of “a good marriage” versus “a bad marriage” always came up with a lot of discussions and examples. If somebody was blamed for not helping out with anything at all, it would be — “he is like a paying guest”. On the other hand, there would be warm praise lavished on another “for doing so much at home although he was a man!” With so many people discussing about the ways and means of applying brakes on the hectic mode of life, it makes it seem more current now. More people are at least trying to feel that they should introspect on all aspects of life, including that vague but hugely important part of our lives — marriage.

I was pleasantly surprised at how many people began talking so readily about the subject. Every discussion was at least an hour long, and it did seem to me that people were just waiting for somebody to ask them what their marriage meant to them. Could it be that even asking them about it showed how important the subject was in all their minds? And it was not just an urban phenomenon. A resident of a nearby village took just a couple of seconds to begin talking freely on the subject. “Marriage means having a good family life, looking after everybody well to the best of our capacities. The main thing is to live happily with whatever little we have. My wife is my good friend now. We may have some arguments or debates about certain things in our lives, but it never lasts for more than 15 minutes.”

I think it is safe to conclude that although people have different takes on this centuries-old tradition called marriage, the most important point is that many more people than I expected were thinking about it, and agreed that happiness, that elusive thing, was most important. With all its compromises and taken-for-granted issues, marriage is still a huge part of our lives. We spend most years of our lives living it. And, just as we love to really taste and enjoy every meal without hurrying through it, we also need to make sure we savour our marriage, every single day of it!

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