Mending The Cracks:
The secret to a long-lasting marriage is understanding the concept of togetherness
So Jeff Bezos and his wife are divorcing each other after 25 years of marriage, or “loving exploration,” as they called it. This is a tad better than the “consciously uncoupling” that Gwyneth Paltrow had from her husband.
“I’d like to have a consciously uncoupling,” I told my husband rather peevishly. “In fact, I’d like to have a consciously uncoupling from the entire extended family, the courier man, the iron man, and every other person who rings this doorbell.”
“There is a word for that. It is called Vipassana,” he replied. “Yuval Noah Harari does it for 70 days at a stretch and writes bestsellers recommended by Bill Gates and Barack Obama.”
We had just had a huge fight and were staring at the shards of our marriage, wondering how we were going to pick the pieces up and put them together this time. How the heck were we going to go on a “loving exploration” of everything that was wrong with us and our lives? What did that even mean?
The old married couples were able to stick it out because they knew how to fight and they knew when to stop. Marriage was sacrosanct, so they bickered constantly instead of having a blowout, walkout and meltdown
I don’t know about you, but all our fights follow the exact same pattern. One of us feels ignored and unloved by the other. Of course, we don’t state this as the reason for the fight. That would be so childish. Instead, we blame countless other things, and in an Indian joint family, they are easy to find. Your mother is such a nag. Your father is so demanding. Why do you talk so much to your brother on the phone? Are you both laughing at me? Your aunt picks her nose in public and expects me to shake her hand. Your uncle ignored me at your nephew’s first birthday. And why, by the way, do we only attend functions on your side and not on mine? Your brother stared at me rudely when I walked in. Your sister thinks I am an idiot. She talks so patronisingly at me. I don’t want to deal with your family. I want to consciously uncouple from the whole lot of them. I want to go on a loving exploration all by myself.
Relationships are messy. The grass always seems greener outside a marriage. And today, we have options, or so we think. We don’t need to be stuck in a marriage that is not working. But “not working” is a nebulous concept that can mean anything from, “I am sick of having sex with her,” to “I can’t stand his mother.”
The last time I walked out after a fight, I had to slink back in because I left my cellphone at home. “Isn’t it pathetic?” I told my husband cuttingly. “I came back for my cellphone, not you.”
I meant it to sting, but he was busy on his cellphone. My phone clinked. It was him sending a message: a heart. So nowadays, this is how we make up. We send each other emojis in lieu of saying sorry. It is both a satisfying and a sorry state of affairs. A far cry from how it used to be.
Not that I am holding up earlier generations as the epitome of marital bliss. Every marriage that I see amongst elders seems to be based on anything but love. Most of the old couples I know bicker constantly. They have almost nothing in common. They definitely don’t go out on date nights, hold hands or say, “I love you.” Then how did they stick it out?
I think it is because they knew how to fight and they knew when to stop. Marriage was sacrosanct, so they bickered constantly instead of having a blowout, walkout and meltdown. They didn’t question their togetherness.
Today, there are no rules, so we fight about everything. Maggi noodles, insta posts, Gucci bags, Guddi aunty, throw it all in. We throw tissue paper and heirloom china at each other – well, usually the woman is doing the throwing in my experience. We fight about jobs, family, money, children. And some of us threaten divorce, hoping that the other person will sit up and take notice, will cherish and protect as they once promised they would.
“Love yourself,” I told my husband at the end of our last fight.
“You sound like Gandhi,” he replied.
“I am serious. I think the root of all our fights is the feeling that we are ignored and unloved. What if we don’t expect it from each other but instead loved ourselves?”
“To become self-sufficient? Like an island?” he asked, looking finally, a little alarmed. “I am not sure I want that.”
And with that, we slowly started picking up the shards of our marriage to put them together yet again.
(This column addresses the issue of parenting our parents, an integral part 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.)
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Hello Shoba Vaidehi here … I had written few replies some years ago but then got busy with life etc.
First of all in the “olden days” there were not many *real* options for women if they walked out. I think you had once mentioned Moondru Mudichu as a movie where the only option was to marry the old man. Women were not equal, couldn’t stand on their own. Even today those women who don’t have a real option / economic self-sufficiency cannot walk out.
On the other hand women who are self-sufficient can and sometimes make the choice to quit. This may be for hard reasons (abuse, beating, cheating, drink) or soft reasons (“love you but not in love with you”, “want different things”, “uncoupling” or n-number of such things.) One close friend of mine who is about to “uncouple” with her hubby is saying she “wants different things”. To me this is not a reason. She was a arts-to-software girl (also from Chennai) and he is a consultant/banker US MBA, their second child is about to finish college. She says she wants to go back, visit old temples in India, study carnatic music etc. and he is respectful of all this but he wants to hike Machu-Pichu and learn new languages etc. He agrees they want different things: he is looking outward/forward and she, in his view, is inward/backward. They squabble a lot (but not really fight / throw things etc.) She also resents, but does not say this loudly, that he has women friends. No affairs etc they are also married but she cannot understand how or why he wants to meet them for coffee etc. He says they are able to discuss *his* things about banking etc which I guess makes her (the wife) feel worth less (and worthless.) And so it goes.
As a somewhat traditional woman I feel he should pay more attention to her and explore common things and maybe she should do so too. But my hubby points out there is nothing wrong with having friends (ladies) as long as it is just that. I cannot accept this! Hubby says it should not become Sindhu Bhairavi type of thing, one is focused on Meera bhajan and other is on molagai-podi. What to say!
Ultimately I feel “arranged marriage” in India or USA, esp in South Indian situations where the girls are all educated and independent etc., is on its last legs. Its much better if boy and girl spend time together, I see this as a kind of extended nelangu, and decide they like each other and have common views. So the common views can grow over time. Not like different views which, through slow and painful tussle, only grow apart and 25 years later becomes a Sindhu Bhairavi.
Anyway … sorry about the long reply but this post struck a chord… Hope all is well at your end Shoba. Best! Vaidehi
I loved what you said, Vaidehi. And agree with you. Thanks for writing in.