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Indian society considers a married woman with children, complete; but a divorced, single, or widowed woman with children as ‘baggage’.
Like Ellen Goodman says, “You can fire your secretary, divorce your spouse, and abandon your children. But they remain your co-authors forever.” Or in this case your very own personal ‘baggage’.
It was six years ago, when my partner and I had first started seeing each other that he went around town talking to anyone who would listen; about this absolutely fascinating woman he’d met (his words not mine).
“Fine,” he would say, “Yeah, she’s divorced, six years older than me, has a seven years old boy, but that is not important. Have you seen how she laughs, how she writes, how her words make a song out of letters?”
“What?!” They would say, “A divorced woman with a bachelor! She is in it for your money.”
“No,” he would say, “She earns more than me, and she has her own house.”
“Oh,” they would say, “In that case, she just wants a father for her child. You are a strapping young man, you can’t be burdened with that kind of baggage.”
“Umm,” he would say, “She has categorically told me not to try and parent her son. He has his own Dad, who is very present.”
“I see,” they would say, “Then she must be desperate. Have you looked in the mirror lately? She is definitely in it for the sex.”
“Haha,” he would say, “Well, what makes you think that I am not in it for the sex, and everything else that comes from being in a relationship with her.”
“Unbelievable,” they would say, “How would you ever convince your parents that you want to marry a divorced woman with a child?”
“I wouldn’t,” he would say, “I would just never get married.”
Of course, being honest to a fault he would come back and relate these conversations to me, completely nonchalant, as if the words of those people weren’t slowly piercing my heart and twisting right at the center, piling on to a manifold of grotesque insecurities. As if the same intrepid woman that he saw outside, resided inside as well.
The first thing that always hits me when I think about those conversations is that we consider a married woman with children, complete; but a divorced/single woman with children as ‘baggage’.
Like the author of Excess Baggage and dear friend, Richa Shrivastava Mukherjee says, “No one in our generation would publicly admit to these biases, yet they exist. An impolite bias buried deep within the trenches of their conscious mind, but never articulated.”
Pallavi, a dear friend, after having been through a difficult marriage was still being conditioned by her family to stay in the marriage, however, she persisted on moving out. The sentiments she experienced when she was ready to move on, ranged from, “You are ‘damaged goods’,” to “You are not a virgin anymore. If you want to marry someone, go to a divorcee with kids, because you are ‘used goods’.”
Pallavi says, “People judge another person’s daughter when they get divorced, however, they have a different take when their own daughter has gone through it.” For her parents a divorced boy is not a prerequisite, it is the man who their daughter choses to marry is what matters.
When she started using popular dating apps, she chose to keep the information of her ex-marriage to herself. Only after she knew she wanted to keep seeing her current partner (who has never been married), did she reveal her past, expecting an onslaught of judgment, but to her surprise what she got was an unflappable acceptance.
When it comes to divorced or widowed women remarrying, there are categories of course. The two major categories are women without kids and with kids.
When the neighborhood aunty Mrs Sharma’s very divorced son, who is a father of two kids with visiting rights, is ready to marry again within two months of getting a divorce; Sharma aunty’s first choice is a sundar susheel never married, virginal, fair beauty. But if enough of these virginal fair beauties reject the potbellied beta, Sharma aunty might even consider a ‘childfree’ divorced/widowed girl. You know, because one could almost forget that their bahu is not a ‘virginal’ beauty, if there isn’t an offspring borne by another man running around the abode.
Yet, the neighborhood aunty’s fury is a force to reckon with, if beta ji pops a divorced mother in front of her, intending to marry her. The sight of a child who doesn’t have a strikingly bulbous nose just like her son does, and the thought that her son who needed a court order to pay for his own children’s child support, would now buy ice-creams for this fatherless runt; would put our very own aunty in hibernation and tirth yatras. But not before siccing her army of neighborhood aunties onto the veritable ‘evil seductress’; who had the audacity of trapping her son into her web.
In the words of Varadarajan Ramesh, the founder of The Hive publishing collective and an accomplished writer, “Even until recently popular media has portrayed divorced women as manipulative, conniving, scheming vamps. It is only now with the advent of OTTs the narrative has started changing.”
A point to ponder though, how many neighborhood aunties watch Netflix?
In Indian society, when we talk about broken marriages, almost all the time women are blamed. They are expected to live with a cheating, physically and emotionally abusive, unavailable man because ‘log kya kahenge’.
Divya, a divorced single mother, went through hell watching her daughter suffer in school because of the lack of a father figure. In 2008 her 8 year old was bullied because her ID card did not show her father’s name or her Dad didn’t come to pick her up. One particular school, in fact, refused admission to Divya’s daughter on the grounds that in a divorce case, often the other parent comes and creates a ruckus to see the child.
Divya chose to go for second marriage for the sake of her daughter. The hard truth was that she didn’t find one single genuine profile on matrimonial sites. All she found were men looking to have fun with women and all that happened was that she lost money and peace of mind.
To quote her, “In all those matrimonial sites, we found one alliance who came, saw the house from outside, did not enter and said they were fine with it. It was only later that we realized it was because of how well to do we were. Despite that my parents were desperate to see me ‘settled’ and they would agree to anyone who was ready.”
And that is when she had a niggling doubt that her family might think of their divorced daughter and granddaughter as a burden to them.
Around that time, through common friends, her mother found out of a suitable man, divorced. When she reached out to his family, his mother categorically mentioned that they are not looking for a woman with a child. Strange, considering that man himself had a daughter from his previous marriage. That is when the man himself, intervened and said he is ‘fine’ with a woman with a child.
When they met, Divya was still highly skeptical, waiting, almost hoping for this alliance to blow over, just like the others did. Things changed when he asked her, “Is your daughter ready for it?”
The fact that he cared what the child thought, was enough to make Divya hope again. In all the years that Divya and her parents were looking for an alliance, they never found a single man looking for the right woman, irrespective of whether she was divorced, widowed, with kids or without.
However, it was another friend (anonymous), who confessed to finding love with her single friend from school after a bad divorce. A needle in the haystack!
The question remains, why is it so rare to see a single man marrying a divorced woman? Even though, it is completely acceptable for a divorced man to marry a single woman.
It is as if our battle scars are ugly reminders of what this society does to women behind closed doors. No one wants to see a woman who was battered and bruised, who bent down to painfully gather the pieces of her soul, her eyes brimming with unshed tears, piecing herself together one shattered dignity at a time, and coming out of the marriage as a scarred Goddess. A deus ex machina that perplexes the world she lives in. Unless, of course, she will compromise on her dreams.
A world expects a woman to always want a man for financial security, for physical security, for a status in the society; and if she’s a divorced/ widowed mother, she cannot expect an unmarried, childfree man.
But our scarred Goddess has been there and realizes how false the glitter of that gold is. When she choses to be with someone, it would be for two things and two things only, love & respect. Everything else, she knows how to deal with, best.
To conclude, I would like to quote Helen Rowland, “A bride at her second marriage, does not wear a veil. She wants to see what she is getting into.” That must certainly include knowing if the man wants her for herself, as she is. Child and all.
Image source: shutterstock
Writer. Artist. Dreamer...and a Coach.
Hi, I am Lakshmi Priya, but I respond better to Ell.P. A leadership consultant/coach when the sun shines, and a writer/artist past midnight. read more...
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A ‘thank you’ makes a lot of difference in the way any woman in your life sees herself in your eyes. It might even mean the world to her.
I have not received any appreciation in the past. Probably never will. This is the experience of ample women across the globe. The expectation to be thanked for all the sacrifices she makes to keep others happy has faded. Yet the urge to hear few words of acknowledgement always lingers.
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It will mean the world to your mother if you answer her calls. If your sister seems lost give her a hug and assure her about her strengths. Tomorrow, there might come a day when you would have to make your daughter feel empowered with few words of wisdom every now and then. For the children to feel wanted and loved, you must be able to spare some quality time with your wife and be present in the moment.
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