Life after divorce for women in India is not easy; here are 5 ways in which the lives of divorced women in India change.
By Kalpana Misra
“When I first contemplated leaving my husband, my friends, educated and independent women, proffered advice in the form of dire warnings. ‘Don’t even think about it. It’s not worth it; this will seem like nothing in comparison to what you will have to go through’. They were partly right. It is tough, but you survive it. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, and eventually you feel much better for having taken that step rather than continuing in a situation that is anathema to your soul,” says Kaveri Choudhury, University Professor and mother of 2 grown up boys, who left her husband at the age of 45.
What can you expect if you decide to step out of your marriage?
1. Living standards plummet
Your living standards drop because the money available has been halved and the expenses have risen – one establishment has been split into two. Jyoti Chatterjee’s* husband decided to leave her and move in with his mistress. As a nursery school teacher, living in her own apartment with her 11 year old son, Jyoti did have the means to survive, but there were many things she could suddenly not afford or had to think twice about – like holidays or getting an air conditioner in her living room. “None of them necessities, considering I had enough money to put food on the table. But…at a time of emotional turmoil like a divorce, one can do with some creature comforts to cheer oneself up,” she says.
Jyoti was lucky. There are others whose lives change completely in terms of the kind of homes they live in or the amount of housework they suddenly have to do. After all, a spouse, even a bad one, shares half (more or less) of the chores with one. It’s hard but you do eventually find less expensive ways of enjoying yourself and you learn to strive harder to earn just that bit more. With this comes that sense of satisfaction that you ‘did it on your own.’
2. Children lose the plot
The children, if there were any, start acting up – doing badly at school or college, being socially inept and quarrelsome.
Divorce means that a child’s world falls apart and the two people he/she loves best in the world don’t love each other anymore (Read, Parenting While Going Through A Divorce). This is devastating knowledge for the child who will be afraid, angry, depressed, rebellious or guilty and will act out these emotions in one way or another. This is a time when children need extra care and more attention. Be honest with them about what is going on and encourage them to express their feelings.
Don’t presume that it is better to carry on with the failing marriage in order to protect the children. If you cannot mend your relationship, it may be best to move on, because children sense what is going on…
Don’t presume that it is better to carry on with the failing marriage in order to protect the children. If you cannot mend your relationship, it may be best to move on, because children sense what is going on, they know when you are not truly happy and the pretense of a false marriage is also detrimental to their well being. Handled sensitively and with an awareness of the inherent difficulties this stumbling block could become the irritant in the oyster of your child’s life that turns her into a pearl.
3. Social pariah
You die socially when you are divorced. This may seem like a small thing and for some it’s not that important. But if you are a social being and sensitive, you are in for a few nasty surprises. Your common friends may choose to invite your ex-spouse and ignore your calls. Ouch, that hurts! Your own mother may speak up on behalf of the one you left, pointing out all your flaws in an unloving way. Take all of it as information. Those people were never your friends in any case and now certainly cannot be. At least you now know exactly what your mother thinks of you. And the good thing is, you will make more friends.
You will meet like-minded people, those who have been through similar experiences. So perhaps it’s the universe’s way of getting rid of the deadwood that you wasted time on. When it happens, laugh and carry on. There’s a better, truer friend waiting round the next bend.
Anything male prowls around you suggestively (and if you’re a man, everyone is suspicious of you because you’re such an oddity).
You are single but not ready to mingle and are flummoxed by the kind of unnecessary attention that you are suddenly getting. It can make you very uncomfortable and unsure of yourself.
Sandy Khanna*, a self-aware and reflective sort of person, spent hours ruminating on her attire, the subconscious signals she may be giving out and a host of other things till she came to the conclusion that it was not her, but her circumstances that made her so interesting. At first she was depressed, and a little afraid of being such a target for intense attention. Then she decided to enjoy it. Instead of dressing down to avoid being noticed, she dressed exactly as she wanted to and bloomed in the extra sunshine, taking it as the ultimate compliment.
Time heals everything and as you get used to the new you, you start enjoying solitary restaurant meals and learn to identify mindless teenager laughter as not being directed at you.
5. Loss of Self-confidence
Your self-esteem plunges new depths – you haven’t been able to make your relationship work, you are very wary of relationships and yet you would like to be in one because that’s what you’re used to. If you haven’t had the good fortune to get a divorce by mutual consent then you’ve been dragged through the divorce courts and undergone tremendous character assassination.
On your bad days you wake up and see couples everywhere. You cannot bear the weekends because it’s about family time and you don’t have any unless it’s your turn to get the kids. You avoid malls, shops and cinema halls like the plague because you feel that everyone is staring at you and your singleness. You want to eat a Chinese meal and all your friends are busy with their husbands, brothers, parents or other friends. You defy convention and go anyway. You hang your head into your bowl of Won Ton soup, feeling the waves of pity from all around you. And you’re sure that group of teenagers is laughing at you. This too gets better.
Time heals everything and as you get used to the new you, you start enjoying solitary restaurant meals and learn to identify mindless teenager laughter as not being directed at you. You order a big meal confidently and eat it with relish, avoiding eye contact with beer swilling single males but unafraid of their curiosity. And you get the left-overs packed to take home.
In short, you enjoy life…again, stronger, more confident, poorer but with a wealth of rich experience. If you have to, go ahead and do it. You won’t just survive – you will thrive.
*Names changed on request
Kalpana is a writer and editor, mother of three girls and an ardent blogger. When she is not travelling or tweeting she works on her book which is a funny-philosophical take on building a house and a home in the wilderness of the Aravalli hills. Her other passions are human rights, animal rights, environmental concerns and Buddhism. She is also a fitness freak who dances salsa and tango and teaches yoga.