My funny Valentine

This Indian life: Lessons in love and my funny Valentine
Could it be that a marriage lasts because both spouses value what they have more than what they give up?

Here is what I want to say to you, my funny Valentine.

When you were just a name on the other side of the word “weds,” I sat on my childhood bed and wondered how long we would last. The world was rife with possibilities and yet, here we were, getting hitched − to each other and an institution that would become outdated in our lifetimes. Or so I thought.

Dictated by auspicious dates, events and ceremonies galloped ahead, drowning me in a persistent unrelenting momentum that sped to a preordained finish line: Sneha weds Kabir. 

Every relationship is held together or torn apart by three things: passion, principles and people
Every relationship is held together or torn apart by three things: passion, principles and people (Getty images)

Trousseau shopping with the in-laws, applying henna on sweaty hands, twisting a yellow mangalsutra that hung around my neck like a noose − the whole thing made me breathless. 

“If things don’t work, I can always divorce him,” I told myself and exhaled. Divorce gave me wiggle room, the possibility of freedom against the weight of the traditions that were closing in on me. This would become a chip that I routinely cashed in: during every fight we had in fact, so not legally. Not so far.

You had no such qualms about getting hitched. Then again, you are infuriatingly congruent. There are no demons pulling you apart inside. The different parts of you have melded together into a thoughtful, sorted composite whole, layer sedimented upon layer. Or so I thought.

A good marriage requires many things but not the ‘mutual respect’ trotted out by magazines and movie stars

One thing I found out. For any marriage, even ours, to last, one person has to view the marriage as sacrosanct. Once done, never again. Till death do us part, and all that sort of stuff. One partner has to decide, even unconsciously, that it is not worth it to go on the dating meat market again. Our friend, Sara puts up with that no-good husband of hers because she has simply decided to suck it − no matter what.

When I stepped into our first home as a newly-wed bride, I looked at the stacked books on mathematics, physics, politics and football and wondered where my books on fashion, philosophy and music would fit in. Over days and years, we made them fit, your books disappearing below mine. 

We had some similarities too. We were both screamers who didn’t − couldn’t − go to bed angry. Like dogs with a bone, we would chew over the same issue, bring in work, family, money, insult and call each other names, till one of us, usually the more exhausted, apologised. 

Years later, I would tell our sons about those early days when you thought me a gypsy and I thought you a strait-jacket. Had we met at a bar, would we have asked each other out? Being with you has been an exercise in bemusement. How many contradictions do each of us contain? We each − even you − battle inner demons that rear their ugly heads at inopportune moments. This then is the lesson of loving: knowing that everything your lover says isn’t coming from him. Sometimes, it may be his parent, schoolteacher or suicidal colleague speaking. 

A good marriage requires many things but most important is not the ‘mutual respect’ trotted out by magazines and movie stars. Not even the tolerance that marriage counsellors talk about. I think what makes marriage work is the ability to see past his foibles, family and sometimes feelings (or triggers).

Early in a relationship, life is all about shared interests. Do you like Krav Maga, mountain-biking or the opera? As we seek to merge from two beings into one, we value commonality more than differences − movies, TV shows, and restaurants. Differences of opinion become threats to our very being. It took us 20 years to forgo our differences for shared values. When did it stop mattering to me that you don’t drink whisky? When did it stop mattering to you that I don’t care about football? 

Every relationship is held together or torn apart by three things: passion, principles and people. Usually all three circle through different stages. More often than not, they will tear you apart − if you let them. How you deal with them depends on one single factor: ego. Do you have the sense to swallow your ego at crucial moments when the fight is at the point of no return? Do you have the sense to stop speaking and say sorry for the greater good? Do you have the wisdom to forgive when you know you are right? 

Both of us didn’t forgive. Not always, and not even often. But at some point, we ended up valuing the relationship more than our individual selves. We knew when to roll our eyes and let the other one rant. We valued what we had more than we valued what we had given up for each other. Perhaps this was why we showed up, gave up and made up.

Will this see us through the next 20 years, my funny Valentine?

(This column addresses the issue of parenting our parents and other unique facets of This Indian Life and our culture. If you have stories about the weird and wonderful relationships that enrich or enervate your life, write in.)

This Indian Life appears every fortnight

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BRUNCH Updated: Feb 16, 2020 00:13 IST

Shoba Narayan

Shoba Narayan
Hindustan Times

From HT Brunch, February 16, 2020