Reading Priya’s lovely post, Of Fairy Tales and Marital Bonds, I thought my six years of married life have earned me the right to dish out some advice to Indian women who would like to get married.
Nah, who am I fooling? Forget advice. Just consider it my thoughts on relationships and finding Mr. Right. While the original arranged marriage had fewer boxes to tick, new age, “modern” arranged marriages believe in letting the prospective bride and groom evaluate each other a little more (read, 2 dates over coffee and a few calls/skype chats). Which has led to the creation of a new box to be ticked labelled: “interests”.
And so now, one looks for a man (or woman) who matches not only one’s caste, sub-caste, linguistic group, appearance-income-occupation criteria but also interests. In ‘love marriages’, of course, interests have always been an important factor, besides chemistry and compatible personalities and values.
In 6 years of being married though, I have come to the conclusion that interests are a poor way to gauge compatibility – or predict happiness. This is for a number of reasons.
First, interests change. In my teens, I flirted with philately. In my twenties, reading was my all-consuming passion. I hated cooking. In my thirties, I have tried my hand at and enjoyed many more things than I did when I was younger. I now like reading, bird-watching, travelling and experimenting with new cuisines. My husband lists photography, bird-watching, travelling and fiddling with gadgets among his interests. Ten years later, I am sure our lists would have changed – at least a little. So, gauging people by their interests can be tricky, even if it does serve for initial warming up to each other.
Second, interests can be shared with other people. When I was younger, I believed that I could never be happy with a man whom I couldn’t talk books with. Six years of being married has made me rethink that dramatically. Yes, occasionally when I have read a book I totally love and can’t share it with my husband, I do wish I could. But, I have other friends I can discuss books with and I can join a book club or any number of online literary discussions.
Third, interests are usually not the trouble spots in a marriage. Not being able to discuss your favourite music or books with your spouse is trivial when compared to having a spouse that you can’t discuss your troubles with. Or one who has completely different values. I can find a different friend to discuss books with, but if my husband believed that it’s ok to cheat in business, I could hardly make up for that by having more friends with integrity! Or what if you’ve always thought of yourself as an independent, autonomous woman and found yourself married to a man who believes that after marriage, you must “adjust” to more traditional ways of being? Or if you’ve been brought up to be careful about money and save for a rainy day, while your partner is cool with blowing it all up? These are the things couples fight over – again and again, and willingness to work through your differences is critical.
If you follow her blog, you would have seen the kind of letters the Indian Homemaker gets from young women on a regular basis, asking for advice on dealing with husbands/in-laws who try to control them – these are testimony to how shallow the spread of empowerment is, even for women in urban India. Reading activist-writer Meena Kandasamy’s recent piece on her own domestic violence story was another chilling reminder of this. A couple of years ago, the friend of a friend rang up and asked for advice over getting her divorce. Since I didn’t know her very well, we didn’t discuss the specifics of why she was separating, and I assumed that it was incompatibility. Until, towards the end of the call, she mentioned casually that when they were in the US, her husband had slapped her around so badly that she had run into the bathroom to protect herself and call 911.
Violence and abuse seem to happen in all kinds of marriages, including ‘love marriages’ where one gets a rude shock at what one has married. Still, I do believe that many young women in India are getting married far too early, with far too little knowledge about the man they are choosing, and ticking a box called ‘interests’ only gives one a misplaced sort of confidence that one knows the person. Ditto for the young man who believe he is “modern” because he is “ok if my wife wears jeans” but find that his wife’s definition of modernity has moved far beyond and does not include asking for ‘permission’ from his family to work or go out with friends.
All marriages are essentially a leap of faith, especially since few of us in India live with the prospective spouse before marriage. Nothing can guarantee happiness, but I would love to see more young Indian women establishing their own benchmarks rather than ticking a few mandated boxes on a checklist.
Pic credit: The Zartorialist (Used under a Creative Commons license)
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