Observations made after watching young women fall into the trap of considering marriage a life event that requires an entire overhaul of life. Yes, marriage is one of the more important things that most of us will get into during our lives, and yes, love and companionship are important, but not at the cost of losing one’s self. Yes, when two people live together, workarounds are needed on many things, but adjustment need not be a woman’s mantra alone.
Why are the days immediately post your marriage important? Because they set expectations. Of what you will do, and will not do. Of how you expect to be treated, and how you will treat others. Young women are often told that if they bend in the beginning, others will come around as time goes on. In my experience, this doesn’t happen – or – it takes too much time to happen. So, for young women who believe they are adults who’re owed the respect owed to all adults, here is my list of 10 things every newly married Indian woman should do:
1. Call your husband by his name. Startling as this may sound to some of you, I’m routinely coming across young Indian women who will not call the husband by his name, especially in the case of arranged marriages, but I’ve also seen this in love marriages where the spouses were classmates or colleagues pre-marriage. Shyness, tradition, deference to custom, call it what you will – I believe this is one unhealthy habit we have to drop.
Think about it, the people we don’t call by name are our elders – amma, appa, baba, dada, dadi, mama, mami….does your husband fall in this category? If not, why can’t you use his name? Not calling the husband by name (but of course, the husband feels no such hesitation) says something about who in a relationship is worthy of deference.
2. Keep your job: Young Indian women, even those already earning, are often encouraged to leave their jobs, if only for a short while, because they are resettling in a new place, or just to ‘adjust with the in-laws’. Big mistake. Given the economy, its always easier to find a job when you have one in hand. Plus, when you are staying at home post marriage, people start looking at you as a homemaker and before you know it, you’ll be signed up for religious trips, having visitors at odd hours ‘to see the new bride’ and roped in for multiple other ‘family obligations’. Not that there is anything wrong with being a homemaker, but if you want to go out to work, don’t get into that trap. Unless you are moving to a new place where you can’t find a job until you are physically there, don’t quit your job. Somehow, you feel stronger in a new relationship if you have your own money.
3. Stay in touch with your friends: Yes, the newness of marriage can be exciting, but don’t drop your friends. The things you had in common with them before marriage still exist, don’t they? Plus, every woman needs a sounding board other than her husband.
4. Make new friends: This is especially for women who move cities/countries post marriage. Take the effort to make some new friends – even if they are not your soulmates (yet), it helps to have someone to talk to, at work, in your neighbourhood – or if these don’t work for you, join an activity that interests you. You think you’ll never be that woman, but horror stories abound of women caught in new countries, abused and isolated. Even if your marriage is hunky-dory, depression is a real thing for a woman grappling with a number of unknowns.
5. Stay in touch with your parents: This should not even need saying, but in a country where many families have the paraya dhan concept internalised, women are often discouraged from calling/visiting their parents post marriage. Sometimes this is done obviously, sometimes subtly, in a kind of insinuation that your ‘new family’ ought to be more important.
6. Put your feet up: A friend of mine was once chastised for putting her feet up at her in-laws’ place – literally. I don’t necessarily mean it literarily, but remember to put your feet up – sometimes we internalize the fiction that respect comes from running around like a chicken with no head. It doesn’t. You’re as entitled to rest as any other member of the family, which brings me to:
7. Don’t own the housework: Even in nuclear households, we see women hastening to take up all the chores at home. Right in the early days, don’t. If your husband doesn’t know to do anything (which is entirely possible, considering the way most Indian boys are brought up), talk to him about why this is important to you, and why he needs to learn. If the house is messy, let it be, and its quite possible the other person will start picking up. Don’t make the housework ‘your thing’ (unless you are the sort of person who enjoys doing housework for its own sake!)
8. Be yourself: Be the best version of yourself that you can be, but be yourself. My husband is non-vegetarian and I am born vegetarian. After our marriage, I am surprised at the number of people who tell my husband in different ways that he should “make” me a non-vegetarian, or failing that, I should at least cook non-veg for him. Thankfully, the idea is bizarre to both of us. If you are an atheist, don’t suddenly become the puja-paath doing good girl. The fiction becomes harder to break as time goes on, and other people only feel cheated. You can be respectful of differences without being different.
p.s. All this is assuming that you are married to a man interested in having a dialogue with you about what works best for both of you. If you’re facing a control freak who thinks adjustment is a woman’s job, run – it’s better earlier than later!
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Pic credit: Jasleen Kaur (Used under a Creative Commons license)