Tales From A Marriage: I Love You But I Don’t Want To Live A Life Just Like Yours!

Nisha looked up with a start. It was the lady in question. With a huge smile on her face, Nisha got up and hugged Anu. "You look lovely as always, you little monster!" Nisha complimented.

Where did the year go?

It was exactly one year to the day – yes, one-year anniversary – since Anu and Neeraj got married. Nisha wanted to throw them a surprise anniversary party but Anu had begged, bullied, and threatened Nisha with very ‘dire straits’ – whatever that meant – if Nisha even thought of doing something as bougie as a surprise party.

Nisha got it. Anu was a vibrant and very happening young woman of the world and while a mere four years separated the two of them – Nisha often felt more like Anu’s very old sister (yes, she couldn’t bring herself to consider herself more of a motherly figure…a girl’s gotta have some mojo, you know)?

Stop! Shush! Ewwww! She shook herself. Bougie. Mojo? If only her daughter was around to hear her use slang that she said ‘Yuckkk’ first and then begged her mother that she shouldn’t ever use again. She’d always say, ‘It makes me sick, mom!’

Wow. It was official. This must be what really being middle-aged feels like. When she shushed herself in the voice of her own kid.

Nisha was early for her lunch date with Anu. While there was to be no surprise anniversary party Anu had still insisted on meeting her for lunch that afternoon. Nisha was convinced it was because her SIL had something outstanding up her sleeve for the coveted one-year mark celebrating her partnership with Neeraj.

And Nisha couldn’t wait to hear more. A girl’s gotta live vicariously, she thought wryly. While she and Rahul went on annual trips abroad – they were always official trips that Rahul took while his family accompanied him. Trips where he went off to schmooze with colleagues and clients while she booked herself and her kids into various tour groups and went sightseeing all by her lonesome self with two precocious youngsters.

So, the possibility that Anu had planned a romantic escapade for herself and her husband filled Nisha with excitement. A weekend trip to Lonavla? Anu had tons of friends from her IT company who had farmhouses there. In fact, Rahul had been riding Nisha hard to buy one themselves. It took all of Nisha’s magic with numbers to show him how much they couldn’t afford it. Yeah, yeah…he was the finance guy who worked in a bank but she was the one who actually did the numbers in their house. So much irony there! She got it. So… where was she? Yes. A weekend trip to Lonavla? The glorious western ghats with their lush green mountain ranges and luscious waterfalls? Hmmm…nah. Too…well…bougie for her SIL. Anu had outgrown go-to places like Lonavla and Goa.

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Three days weren’t enough to go anywhere outside of India. So…where else could they go? Whoa! Maybe a weekend trip to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands? Anu had been talking about the islands and Lakshadweep a lot. Maybe that’s what it was.

But why insist on meeting her for lunch? It’s not as if Anu and Neeraj had a baby that they needed Nisha to babysit. Nope. A year in…the two lovebirds were still footloose and fancy-free. Nisha had to admit. She was wrong. So wrong. The two of them not just made it work – they appeared gloriously happy – and ‘society’ and ‘people’ around did not care nearly as much about their very peculiar she-was-the-breadwinner while he-stayed-home roles as Nisha thought and feared they would.

In fact, when she celebrated Ganpati Puja a few months back and invited everyone from her building for prasad – Anu and Neeraj were the stars of the evening. Initially, a few women sidled up to Nisha and needed multiple confirmations from her that Neeraj indeed stayed home while Anu went to work. While trying hard not to be dismissive they were, still, albeit in various degrees, unsure of said scenario.

But by the end of the day, they were all eating out of the couple’s hands. Neeraj disarmed the questioning ladies with a, “Hello aunty. Namaste. Yes. My name is Neeraj. And I’m a useless young man who decided to live off of his wife’s earnings and stay home all day!” A moment of utter shock later – the ladies melted to his natural charm. It was a matter of mere minutes after that they lined up to feed him hot modaks, cold shrikhand and poured him piping hot coffee, and imparted gems of advice like, “You need to take care of your health first if you’re going to take care of a newborn baby soon. They need a LOT of energy!”

Anu fared equally well with the men who congratulated and complimented her on her bold stance as a modern young woman and rued that they didn’t have the same choices as Neeraj now did.

The ultimate applause for their unique lifestyle came towards the end of the evening when the uncles and aunties gathered around after Neeraj and Anu left and commented to Nisha, “They’ve probably changed the traditional man-woman roles but Neeraj is still a man’s man and Anu is a woman’s woman.”

So, yes. All her reservations were for nothing. In hindsight, Nisha was a bit ashamed of her own reaction. How did the older aunties and uncles get on board with Anu and Neeraj while it took her so long to come to terms with it?

BUT…she was happy to be proven wrong. She was more than happy at how successfully Anu and Neeraj were navigating their very 21st-century marriage.

“Di? Nishu di? HELLO?”

Nisha looked up with a start. It was the lady in question. With a huge smile on her face, Nisha got up and hugged Anu. “You look lovely as always, you little monster!” Nisha complimented.

Anu struck a little model pose and a did two-step strut in response. And both of them burst out laughing. Nisha’s peripheral vision confirmed that she wasn’t the only one who saw how stunning Anu looked. Almost 5’8″ she looked lean and lithe. She was glowing. Her dark eyes looked smoky and the bright red lipstick rounded off her stunning face. She wore a military green pantsuit and black combat boots, her loose long haired streaked with browns and reds, a silver coated diamond stud adorned her left nose, multiple silver bracelets on both hands, silver hoop earrings, a crossbody Chanel handbag, and long nails painted a bright red completed the very casual I-just-threw-things-together look. Her skin glowed with a light tan that gave her normally fair skin a golden sheen. Anu reeked of happiness.

“Like seriously, you little wretch, you look gorgeous. And so stylish. And so effortless.’

“OK, di…enough. Thank you but I really need to talk to you.”

Nisha nodded her head enthusiastically. “I know I know. I’m here. Let’s order a drink first and maybe some appetizers and then we can talk about the BIG SURPRISE!” Nisha did a sing-song with the last two words.

A surprised Anu started to say something before the waiter showed up to take their order.

“Two glasses of Bloody Marys, please! Virgin BMs.” Anu quickly ordered. “And one order of crispy paneer fingers and another of focaccia bread with mozzarella cheese, for now! Thank you.”

The waiter smiled and left.

“Whoa! I didn’t get to say anything. Sometimes you’re just like your brother, you know? He also never gives me a choice. Decides what I should eat and just orders.” Nisha said in a mock huff.

Anu rolled her eyes. “Di…ever since you got married to bhaiyya and we’ve gone out…this is ALL you ever get for your appetizers. I ordered because I wanted to save time from you going through every single item on the menu with the waiter and getting clarifications from how much cilantro or pepper the roasted peppers have or how many calories each cocktail samosa has before you come right back and order what I just did. That’s your thing! I just saved us some time.”

“Still…you could’ve let me order it for myself!” Nisha complained weakly.

“Shall I call the waiter back so you can order the same things again?” Anu said with a twinkle in her eyes.

Nisha laughed and shook her head.

A few moments of catching up with their lives (they hadn’t met for over two weeks) ensued. Did Anu get her new promotion? How is Neeraj’s new lifestyle website – it was his third iteration over the past two years and no. Still no readers. Just changing the name of the site did not help. Something more needs to be done, di! And from Nisha’s end – yes, Rahul was well. Still playing golf every Saturday and Sunday, the kids were still horrors, and no, Nisha hadn’t really given much thought to getting back into the workforce yet.

“So…same old, same old, then?” Anu said wryly as the waiter got their drinks and hors d’oeuvres.

A few moments of utter peace and quiet ensued. The Bloody Mary was absolute bliss. Nisha closed her eyes with each sip and sighed loudly. It was virgin BM but the restaurant typically added a touch of vodka. Just enough that it gave Nisha a buzz but not so much that she lost track of who and where she was. Each mouthful of her favorite mocktail was followed by heavenly bites of gooey-on-the-inside but crispy-on-the-outside paneer sticks dunked in chili sauce while Anu’s snack of choice was toasted focaccia bread slices dripping with melted mozzarella cheese. For a while, there existed a complete and utter food coma between the sisters.

Finally, Nisha sighed. “OK. I know we have to talk about something since you invited me here all hush, hush. And BTW shame on you for not letting me throw you a surprise party.”

“Di…’ Anu started.

Nisha raised her left palm and shook her head. “Nope. I could’ve easily told you about the party and arranged it exactly how you wanted and you could’ve pretended to be surprised. But no…I wasn’t allowed even that. And shame on you. It’s your first wedding anniversary!” Nisha huffed.

“Di…as if you have time for frivolous things like arranging a party for me. I know how busy your days are. Don’t think I can’t see. Even if my brother doesn’t.”

“Awww! That’s why I love you. I may have married your brother, Anu, but…”

“…you stayed married because of me! I know, I know!” Anu said with a chuckle.

Nisha laughed. “So, what’s up, Anu?”

“Di…” Anu sighed. She then took a deep breath and said, “Di…please don’t freak out, OK?”

The huge smile on Nisha’s face receded to a frown. “Don’t freak out about what?”

The waiter swung by hoping to get their order for their actual meal. Nisha smiled guiltily at him and asked him to give them a few minutes to think about what else they’d like. He nodded, refilled their water glasses and refilled Nisha’s BM, and left. Anu smiled gently at Nisha and confessed, “The big experiment? I think it’s failed.”

Nisha looked confused.

“You know? The marriage.” Anu almost ate the words as she said them so softly Nisha could barely hear.

“What?” Nisha leaned forward towards Anu with raised shoulders.

“The marriage.”

Nisha gestured to her ears to show she still couldn’t hear what Anu said. Anu took a deep breath and revealed, “Di…my marriage? The big experiment? Me work. Neeraj as a stay-at-home dad? Turns out, it’s not working.”

“What? What do you mean? You guys are so happy. What happened? Did he cheat on you? That jackass? Did he…?” Nisha’s voice rose with every word.

Anu surreptitiously looked around the restaurant. Nisha’s high-pitch voice was gathering some attention from nearby tables and she squeezed Nisha’s hand and hushed her. “Di…no. No one cheated. It’s just…you know…we gave it a shot. And it did not work out. A year in…I’m nowhere close to being pregnant. Not for lack of trying, btw. Lots and lots of trying.” Anu rolled her eyes.

“So? It will, Anu. It will. You will get pregnant soon and it’ll work out, OK. Don’t give up.” Nisha implored.

“It’s not just that, di. I mean…Neeraj…he’s a nice guy. He cooks and cleans and keeps the house spic and span. But…”

“But what?” Nisha asked quietly.

“It’s just not there, you know? That spark. It’s gone, now. For me, at least.”

“You mean…? You’re not sexually attracted to him anymore? But, he’s gorgeous!”

Anu shrugged. “Too much of a good thing, you know?” she joked. When Nisha did not smile back, she continued, “Di…I know what you’re going to say. That I shouldn’t give up so soon. That marriage is all about give and take. About compromising…”

“Yes. I was going to say all that. You don’t believe that? You were so excited when you found someone like Neeraj. He gets you, Anu. Do you have any idea how hard it can be to find someone like that?”

Anu nodded. “Yes, di…I’m sure you’re right. But I can’t stay with him just for that. Honestly, what we had…it’s just not there anymore. Thank God we don’t have kids! That would’ve sucked.”

“But…”

“Di…you’re so sensible when it comes to other things. Like…when bhaiyya booked that tour to Russia during the pandemic and you guys couldn’t go…you said these things happen. You win some you lose some. It’s like a business deal, right? You can’t always win.”

Nisha was horrified. “But marriage is not a business or a financial transaction, Anu!”

Anu shrugged. “Isn’t it? I mean…Neeraj and I married because we liked each other yes. But he was supposed to raise our child. But 12 months later – here I am. Still not pregnant. I haven’t really gained anything. Just a husband who stays home and vacuums all day and works on some lifestyle website blog that’s never going to take off. It’s lose-lose for me. That’s not what I signed up for.”

Nisha swallowed. And tried to get her rapidly beating heart under control. She tried again. “Anu…listen. I get you’re disappointed. But give it some time. It’ll get better. You guys will work around it. You will figure something out. I mean…look at your brother and me. Is it the perfect marriage? Of course not. But…we are OK. We are content. You’ll get there.”

“But di…that’s just it.” Anu squeezed Nisha’s left hand and said earnestly. “Please, please, please don’t take this the wrong way. I absolutely love and adore you. But the last thing I want is a marriage like yours.”

Nisha pulled her hand away from Anu and stared at her SIL.

Anu did not flinch and said firmly, “Di…you settled. You could’ve done so much with your life. But you didn’t. You settled. But I won’t. I love you…like crazy. But your life…is not what I want. I don’t ever want to be you.”

Image source: YouTube

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Roopa Swaminathan - The Messy Optimist

Hi...I'm Roopa. I'm also a messy optimist! I'm an academic-cum-artist. I'm a writer, filmmaker and professor of creative writing. Academically, I've a Double Masters and a Phd read more...

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