A few years ago, I wrote about navigating the boundaries of a friendship with a married man. My first guest contributor, The Single Married Man shared a firsthand account of the confusion of being in transition from ‘married’ to ‘divorced’.
I am finding divorce in every by lane of my social circle these days. Over the years, I’ve bemoaned relationship breakdowns with girlfriends and together we have learnt to deal with it. For some reason, when I was in my 20s, we tended to seek solace from others of our own sex. But these days I find myself in more conversations with men about their failing/failed marriages.
Perhaps it’s because the boundaries between the sexes are blurring. Maybe it’s because marriage is a complex universe involving families, landlords and the law so one can’t afford to be picky about where one finds one’s support. Or maybe like I once predicted would happen, the men of my generation are just finding it harder to cope with the realities than women.
They are all men in transition. They have been independent and intelligent, they’ve believed in gender equality and love and commitment. Now with their worlds tattered, they’re rebuilding how they see the world, life, the opposite sex and themselves. I can see them struggling to fit me into relationship models familiar to them.
One of them propositioned me. I deflected him gently so it wouldn’t bruise his ego. “But you’re the one who told me to get out and have some fun!” he said. I meant it would be good for him to loosen up and experience the lighter side of interactions with the opposite sex. That could include casual sex. But I didn’t like his taking it for granted that I was offering myself up.
Married people, especially those who were not single for very long, often tend to take a superior stance on the single life. Marriage is a lot of work, they tell us. What they don’t realise is that being single is a different kind of battlefield. It’s not all days of How I Met Your Mother/Sex and The City style apartments, hitting the town each night and regular Tinder hookups. It’s constant loneliness and never being sure, it’s eating for one, knowing total strangers have the ability to hurt you and constantly evaluating how lonely you are versus how little your options appeal to you. Recently divorced people have a lot to learn, this is true. Welcome to the world of ONE.
One friend threw a tantrum last month because he felt like meeting me for dinner and I said I was busy. I had to be firm, patient but also subtle in conveying to him that I was not obligated to meet all his needs. It really hit me even more painfully then.
Many of these men, even the most independent, thoughtful ones, by virtue of our Great Indian Family Culture have never been allowed to deal with difficulty on their own. They have been mollycoddled from disappointment and insulated from Nos. They have no reference for what to do in a world that does not have time to meet their every demand. Their families are older and possibly less able to be their shields. Often, the families are showing their humanness in bringing in their own prejudices. What is this boychild in a man’s body to do?
I am also noticing some of them lapsing into cynicism and active hatred of women. It’s a scary thing to be around. Most women know that a man who doesn’t get what he wants, is a dangerous man. At what point do I stop being supportive and decide to walk away? When does one decide that this person, this friend of so many years is more dangerous beast than friend?
Take socially sanctioned male entitlement, sprinkle in a vague flavour of independent thinking, throw in some outraged sense of betrayal and mix liberally with confused East/West value systems — that is the brain of today’s recently divorced Indian male.
I do not intend to fall into the common trap of playing mommy to any one of them. Life and the system has extracted its own pound of flesh from me. But they are becoming different people because of their divorces and our relationships are changing too. I guess I’m afraid of what that could mean for them, for us and ultimately, for me.
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There is a new breed of people out there and they are a helluva lot better to be around than the others. They are the 30-something war veterans of relationships. They are divorcees. They’ve lived in without marriage and borne the backlash from family, landlords, friends and service people. They’ve been engaged and sent out wedding invitations only to have to retract and learn to say something no one in their families had to say.
“It’s over. I’m sorry. No, umm, it didn’t work out. No, there’s no wedding. Sorry.”
It used to just be me and one or two of the other local urban legends (“There was something wrong with him always”, “She was always a fightercock”, “He must have cheated”, “She must have had something going on with the neighbor”). Now I’m losing count of the number of people starting to drift into this group.
We are different. Our battle scars don’t just define us. They’ve made it necessary for us to shape lives that have no references. We are the generation of Indians that had limited career choices imposed on us. We are the ones who began speaking English earlier, went abroad earlier, dressed ‘like MTV and Hollywood and don’t you know that is not our culture??’. We celebrated Valentine’s Day and got into political trouble for it. Then we succumbed to arranged marriage or love marriages with twenty thousand rituals borrowed from Bollywood and ageing family matriarchs/patriarchs. We sank or swam in the open sexuality of new media which swept away the prudish touch-only-spouse-and-only-in-private attitudes we had been brought up with.
The compromises we made in our twenties, were supposed to be our prodigal returns from the rebellion of our satellite TV/internet bedecked 90s adolescence. Things were supposed to turn out fine. We were not prepared for dowry disguised as expensive rituals paid for by the girl’s family. We didn’t expect to have to compete with pornography or gaming, for our partners’ attention. We didn’t think we’d need to decide between dual-career-no-marriage or single-career-resentful-marriage. We didn’t forsee that mismatched libidos and opposed political views would enter our kitchens, our bedrooms and our relationships.
And we are dealing with who we are becoming in the dealing of these things. We are so different.
Yesterday I asked out to dinner a woman I had met a couple of times. “Just you and me?” she asked. “Well, why not?” I replied. We talked about mothers who called if it crossed 11PM and we weren’t home. We spoke of bitchy colleagues making our lives miserable when they heard about this. We discussed unsatisfactory exes and what made a woman good in bed and why this should mean we had to do things we didn’t want to. We brought up menstrual cups and younger men and how wonderful it was to have a conversation with someone who used the word ‘schism’ casually and correctly. And then we clinked our Cosmopolitans (what a throwback!) and went home.
Last week I met a man who once wore the tag of ‘boyfriend’ and has always brought along an air of fresh cologne and protective warmth to our friendship. Right now he’s walking around under a cloud of messy divorce and alimony induced gloom. I hugged him. He shrugged and told me,
“I’m looking at it as the price for my freedom.”
I hugged him again. I understood and I know he knew I understood. Only someone who’s been in that war will ever understand all the nuance in his statement. Then we went out to the shops. He helped me pick out a new pair of shoes. I stood with him while he smoked an only-during-bad-times-cigarette. And we enjoyed our meal more than the hundreds we’ve shared in the past decade. Because, who knows what poison might infect his system or mine soon?
Yet another friend has climbed his painful way out of that abyss, quit his corporate job and gone off to chase a longtime dream. Last year I asked him out. He didn’t say yes. He didn’t say no. Now, he may never return from the place he has moved to. But he sends me photographs of his life there. We both know something that people who aren’t like us, do. There is relating and that goes way beyond relationships. It took divorce and abuse and alimony and broken engagements to learn that.
We’ve seen too much to believe that rituals are romantic. We’ve borne too much to pretend that families always know what’s best for us. We’ve been through enough and more that something deeper in us, even the least aggressive of us, has sat up and said, “Enough.” It’s the amiable friend who remarried and didn’t invite anyone because he was done with the tamasha. It’s the ‘good wife’ who shed her burqa for a high-low dress and finally got herself a business card telling the world about the business she had run for six years. It’s the quiet colleague who moved to another city to start a bar and live with two bachelor friends.
This for me is the new India. It didn’t have to live through Independence or Emergency or most of the big wars. But it has had to make its way through outdated social rituals, oppressive familial references and being thrust into a volatile international economy that it was not prepared for. It has been on Shaadi.com as well as Tinder. And guess what, it hasn’t crashed as yet.
There are more of us and we are all around you. You’re related to us. You’re dating us. You’re working with us. You’re falling in love with us. You’re living next door to us and borrowing daal from us. You’re sharing parking space and theatre seats with us. You’re asking us for advice on what to wear, which college to go to and if we’ll give you a reference at your next job. You’re selling to us. We are not the others anymore. Many of us are the ones making pathbreaking choices and while they’re not comfortable, the generation after us looks up to us because we’re displaying the rebellion they’re losing in their twenties.
Divorce is not an evil word anymore. Living in is not a sin punishable by death. Sex is not a bad word. Virginity is not a prize. Men are not freer than women. Women do not make better parents. In-laws are not the same as parents. Big weddings are nothing more than expensive PR campaigns. Older people are just older people, not wiser people. Rituals do not ensure happiness. Intelligent people are not sorted-out people. An IIT or an IIM degree does not guarantee a good spouse or even a good life.
It’s time you revised your myths.
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I’ve been thinking about girlfriends a lot recently. Men have comprised a major part of my life in these past ten years. They have been my primary references and the biggest influences on my identity and my relationship with the world. I’m not talking only about boyfriends. There still are more men in the professional world than women. And in the group of people for whom career and what they do shapes identity more than relationships, it’s almost exclusively been a boys’ club. Since my friendships are with people I respect, admire and like, most of them have been men. I haven’t been able to relate to most women. Our differences have come through in the form of competition, judgement and other hostlities that don’t leave room for friendships.
Yet, I have had girlfriends at various points of time. They’ve been really special, possibly because of how rare each of them was, by her gender in my life. Female friendships are different from my friendships with men. This is not devaluing the very many wonderful people in my life who are men. But given the life experience is so gendered in our world today, it becomes more than just (as I like to put it), body plumbing.
*Image courtesy photostock on FreeDigitalImages.
J was probably my first ever real girlfriend. We were buddies in school but at that time I wasn’t really conscious of the differences between boys and girls. It wasn’t till seventeen, when we ran into each other again, that I discovered what it was like to have a girlfriend. I was a precocious, over serious teenager, burdened with intellect expectations, heavy books and heavier conversations. J brought out the adolescent in me. She opened my life up to frivolity. Yes, that’s how I saw it even then, and yet it was an important part of life that was missing for me. She’s the one who taught me about make-up and deodorants and clothes (“It’s not lean-ge-ree, Ramya, it’s lingerie!”). My teenage years would not have been truly magical in that way only adolescence is, if there hadn’t been room for crushes, for dressing up, for agonizing over looks and words and strangers.
J left my life around the start of our twenties. I know now that we were always very different people and it was just our common age that brought us and kept us together. Well, also perhaps the fact that we shared some common problems that are huge for a teenager — bad teeth & braces, unrequited crushes and a delayed sense of coolness. I was angry with her for the way things ended, for a long time. But I know it was inevitable. We were both too young to be gentler about it.
There’s P who also goes by the title of Best Friend. This is a difficult relationship to explain. We were friends in junior college (for the exact period of time that J and I spent apart between school and collage). And then we weren’t friends for a span (when J and I were close). And automatically, almost the very minute J and I parted ways, P returned to my life. We were both older, had grown into our individualities and were young women, not awkward teenagers.
P and I don’t really have much in common. Not shared interests, not personalities, not even common friends. Yet, she is the only one who was there, really there when I was in a bad relationship that I couldn’t think straight enough to get out of. Years later, I was the one who met her at the airport to tell her that her father had died. Once you’ve shared trauma or death with a person, you are bound to them in a way that makes it impossible to walk away completely. This about more than gratitude. In the unlikeliest of ways, P really gets what it feels to be me. And yet, she makes different choices, lives a different life. It’s really quite mind-boggling.
This year has been one of reckoning for a number of reasons. For one, it has been two years since the BIG relationship ended. It made me rethink my priorities, my values and indeed, myself. Marriage and a romantic relationship with a man became less relevant in the recipe for a happy life. And it allowed me to think of my relationships with other people and other aspects of the world (including work, health, money, home and my hobbies).
How I relate to men has shifted. In romantic situations, I’m both more cautious as well as less afraid of risk. That is to say, I’m willing to try a lot more with less fear because I am not as scared that mistakes will break me. And at the same time, I’m also less willing to commit because, really, I don’t even know if that’s what I want anymore. But also in other non-romantic relationships, the way I see and relate to men has changed. I do not idealise men anymore. This means I don’t rever virtues in men as much (because now I know believing passionately in something and being able to act on it when the situation demands, are two different things). Oddly, it also means I expect less and am a little kinder on their failings.
So where do girlfriends come into this? Because men don’t form the rocks, the pillars of my life anymore — how could they? The best of them are struggling to cope with being an overcoddled sex and also hold on to their sense of what is fair. The idols have melted. It has left a lot of space in my world to deal with life’s stuff on my own. I’ve been learning to make less of big deal of things, fewer snap decisions based on momentary emotion. So much space has opened up. And in this space, women have popped up.
There is of course, my wonderful Reema. Time, maturity and life were just right for her to happen as she did. We are both intelligent, independent women who don’t anymore need to prove ourselves with heavy conversation. We are also both pleasure-loving, light-hearted human beings who don’t have to live flashy lives of friovolity either. Reema and I talk about books, lipstick, the future of digital media, stupid people, the cities we’ve known, philosophy, family and life. We are different people, with different lives. And we have some similarities. I love the fact that this friendship allows us both to revel in the similarities (it’s always nice to have company) as well as explore our differences in a safe manner free of judgement.
A number of other women have appeared in my life this year too. They’ve come to this place in their lives through differnet journeys from mine. But like me, they are open to the experience of being with another human being who is respectful and fun, not just similar to them in some way.
It’s only now that I have it that I realise what my life has been missing all these years in not having enough female friendships. With men, there are agendas looming over every interaction. There is romantic/sexual interest in some cases. If that isn’t possible, then boundaries have to be constantly drawn and adhered to so that the rest of our lives are not destroyed. These boundaries don’t have to exist in relationships with women. I say don’t have to, because there are still a lot of women like J who value rules over experiences. But there are other women like me who are willing to risk saying or doing things that aren’t socially usual, in the hope of a bigger life.
What’s especially intriguing is how different these women are from me. Two of them are happily married, one of them is a mother. Several of them are making interesting decisions with their careers — one of them juggles an MNC job with sabbaticals to go travelling, two others have diversified from their traditional fields to include more creative elements (like me), two have businesses of their own and are dealing with the ramifications of this level of independence on their family lives. They are making courageous decisions in their personal lives — living-in, deciding to not have kids, going in for fertility treatment to have kids after a certain age, breaking free from family and living on their own, choosing to be part of a joint family, divorce and remarriage.
It occurred to me recently that female friendships are not celebrated. In fact, they are presumed to not exist. After all, it is in patriarchy’s best interest to keep women subservient, stupid and apart, isn’t it? What logic can there possibly be for statements like ‘Two women can never be friends’? When two women become friends, something big opens up for both of them — they are able to articulate things about their lives and worlds that feel incomplete, they are able to gain strength from each other and support each other in challenging these norms and if they are lucky, they go on to live fuller, richer, freer lives. All because of a meaningful friendship.
I feel like I went through the 20s feeling and believing that I was fighting a solitary battle to be me, to be more than the relationships and gender stereotypes imposed on me. But the 30s are bringing me into contact with several other women who are doing these too. It’s inspiring, it’s validation in a way that male friendships can’t provide and it keeps me from giving up. Truly, my life is a richer place because of my girlfriends.
Take a bow, Reema, Jinal, Rochelle, Reena, Meeta, Paromita, Aruna, Kiran, Sveccha, Fairy, Ankita, Samradha, Netra, Aditi, Shweta, Tupur, Avantika, Lopamudra, Prachee, Niyati. Each of you is an inspiration.
In XX Factor news, longtime friend and well-wisher of my blogs, Meetu (also known as WOGMA) joined XX Factor as its newest guest-contributor, giving her own introduction with her first post ‘Mom-me‘.
- ‘Why Marriage Is A Declining Option For Modern Women‘ (via Guardian, link courtesy Gautam Ghosh)
- ‘Pick A Number‘: A hilarious point-scale of sexuality (via NewYorker)
- A graph on how the sexes name colour – Do men and women really see colours that differently? Or are men just plain lazy? (via Venks)
- ‘The Top 10 Relationship Words That Aren’t Translatable Into English‘: Sex and the City gave us ‘La Douleur Exquise’ but who knew the deliciousness of ‘Retrouvailles’ or the sensuality of ‘Cafuné’? If you’re confounded, the article explains their meanings. (via BigThink, link courtesy Smriti Ravindra)
- ‘The Surprise Spanx Make-out‘: A fun read on the battle between getting help to look good & letting the world see that. (via Salon, link courtesy Lakshmi Jagad)
- A dating site and my new project!: ‘Ten Things Men Should Never Do While Dating‘ (via LoveBeckons)
- ‘Biggest Relationship Trends of 2011‘: The accompanying images are more than half the fun! (via Glo)
- ‘She’s Got Game‘: I’m not the kind of girl gamer she talks about. But I’ve felt the same ‘You’re off your territory’ attitude in the comics section of bookstores. (via Michelle Oraa Ali, link courtesy Ashwini Mishra)
- A way to get men to stop making those %^$ period jokes! (via RaggedTag)
- A funny cartoon on haircuts, men and women (link courtesy BlogAdda)
You can catch the links as they come in and even post your own to the XX Factor Facebook Page.
A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!
* Image via Wikipedia
So a couple of weeks back we had our first hearing at the court.
If you want to get divorced in India – make sure its mutual. If its not – then my lawyer says,
“The only party who benefits is the lawyers.”
Sooner or later – and egos ensure it is later – you will realise it is not worth the trouble and wish it was mutual.
It was around 7 months ago that we realised that our decade long marriage couldn’t be salvaged. It had been on the rocks for four years and while there was no cheating or extra-marital affair – there were the little things that were actually the big things. The value differences. The expectations. Whoever says that love conquers all hasn’t really tried marriage to a person with a very different value system.
Back to the subject of the post. A friend referred me to a lawyer and we both met him. He was pretty cool. Said that he’d have to say that we had been living apart for a year at least – and then we’d have two hearings in front of the judge – 6 months apart. And that was something he couldn’t influence. The Supreme Court has that as an order. Yes, the law can be an ass.
So we went to the judge one Saturday morning. Surrounded by other couples – not all of them going through a “mutual separation” – heard accusations of domestic cruelty and of one spouse turning up and no word from the other.
When our turn came – the judge only spoke to our lawyer (for the purpose of the hearing we needed to have separate lawyers – and our lawyer had got an additional lawyer before the hearing – and got him to prepare what is called a “vakalatnama”) and then much anti-climatically he looked at the papers then enquired about the address proof and then passed it to the clerk to give us the next date after six months.
I discovered that unlike Hindi movies lawyers don’t call Judges “Mi Lord” – in NCR they call them “Janaab” 🙂
So that was it. I was semi-divorced (or semi-married) as I signed the court papers – and will be until the next hearing.
As I wait for the divorce to come through (maybe I’ll do a post on the complications of divorce in India someday) friends have started asking,
“So have you started dating again?”
The question used to make me recoil with horror. Because while I am attracted to confident and beautiful women, I don’t feel ready for a relationship. And I really don’t know if I ever will be. A divorced man (and woman) is seen as flawed by members of the opposite sex and society as a a whole.
So I don’t really know what they mean when they ask me if I will start dating again. Do they mean I should start dating other separated and divorced women or women who are spinsters over 35 and are desperate enough to marry a divorced man paying money to his ex-wife for child support?
Uncannily, thanks to Facebook, I have connected with two old female friends (who I have never considered in a romantic way) and discovered that they are separated/divorced – a fact that changed the way I thought of them. Would they be interested? I think not… but my reaction to their relationship status intrigued me.
Then there are single women who want to chat with you – but knowing that they are 12 yrs younger than you makes you cringe as you wonder
“Are they closer in age to my kids than to me?”
“Come on! 38 is not old! Why are you making yourself older than you are?”
Then there are the older women – 33 to 40 yr olds who, after knowing your status, want to meet for a coffee. My previous marriage was a decision based on a month of dating.. and I am now really scared of people in a hurry in relationships (even myself)
As I focus again on a single life – I hope to figure out the changed rules of dating… and will keep you updated
Please join me in welcoming XX Factor‘s first guest-contributor. He’s a friend who often has an interesting male perspective to offer on the posts. Meet The Single Married Man and here’s his first post:
I still don’t know the answer to that question, though I suspect its got to do with expectations.
We don’t talk of expectations or values when we are flush with the glow of infatuation. However expectations are what make/ruin a relationship – and they have to be communicated in advance.
A lot of the expectations can be “value” or “condition” based – things like “I want a husband who keeps a steady job and buys a house for me by the time we are 30” – if you can’t meet that, buddy, you’re doomed.
I have been married for 11 years – and I am going through a divorce now…Have seen my behavior – scrutinized it – so here are the top tips for dealing with a married man going through divorce
1. He will hit on anything in skirts/salwar kameez/jeans – As someone who’s been married the guy will try to see if he’s still “got his game” – so he’ll try out all the old lines on all the single/separated women
2. If you’re a married woman don’t tell him about your bad marriage – Divorcing guys hone into married women going through a bad patch. He’ll think you are “fair game” without the baggage
3. What had attracted her to you is the bone of contention – Remember what she found adorable about you – your forgetfulness – your laid back attitude , she will hate you for it. And other women would like you for it. Don’t fall for it.
4. He’ll be teary eyed and emotional – We saw Sanjeev Kumar in “Pati Patni aur Woh” – learn the lesson
5. If you’re single – and are attracted to grey hair – deep voice , stay away
In time the married guy will go through a divorce and be single again. Until that happens, legally – give him a wide berth.
– The Single Married Man
- Soul Searching After Divorce (divorcedazed.wordpress.com)
- The Happy Divorce (psychologytoday.com)
- I have a theory. You know how the divorce rate in the US sucks… (skillzmcfly.tumblr.com)
Recently a friend explained why he doesn’t believe in the institution of marriage. He can’t stand the political dynamics that are natural to any family, the complication of multiple opinions and agendas and the excessive rituals. I can’t say I agree. I know there is a common notion (further popularized by pop culture) that women are programmed to love the idea of marriage, due to the paraphernalia of weddings. But those aren’t my reasons for believing in marriage.
First of all, I distinguish the wedding from the marriage. The wedding is the formalization, the ceremony that symbolizes that two people are henceforth bound together, socially and legally. Customs may vary but this is the fundamental purpose of every single wedding ceremony conducted over the world. It is a ritual and like all other rituals, it only has as much significance as the people carrying it out, attach to it. It is true that no paper or custom can ensure or create a fulfilling union between two people. That has to be built by the two people in question, bit by agonizing, confusing, wearying bit.
Let’s look at marriage itself, beyond the rituals, beyond the superficialities of sindoor and rings. It is the meeting and combining of two people’s lives. It is the merging of assets, of tangible ones like money & possessions and of intangibles like career, eating habits, lifestyle choices etc.
Take the most basic human action of eating. Everyone does it. It’s difficult enough to decide on one meal to be shared by two people (eating place, seating, cuisine, taste, spice, vegetarian/non-vegetarian etc). How much more complicated it would be to repeat this for the rest of the two people’s lives? Multiply that several thousandfold for every other aspect of life above food.
This alone tells me that the only sensible way to start is to do it in an organized manner. Marriage signifies just that, with several of the supposedly meaningless rituals providing a framework for two people to undertake this arduous venture. I’d say that’s a template at best and can (and should) be customized to the couple’s requirements.
Considering what a massive undertaking this is, it’s only prudent to account for issues and breakdowns. I think it’s a fool’s errand to go starry-eyed into something as big as a lifelong relationship and assume blithely that everything will work out in a ‘happily ever after’ way. Marriages are not always happy. Unions are not guaranteed to work. Compatibility may not last. While a relationship should only be undertaken with the hopes of it working, the possibility that it may not should also be borne in mind.
What then of two lives that were joint together (or at least attempted to)? The division of those aforementioned assets is yet another complicated exercise, one that often consumes the people involved, completely and leaves everyone dissatisfied. There’s no easy way to unite or to end emotional involvement; that bit is always going to be bloody. It seems wise to at least sort of the relatively easier things like possessions and even that’s not easy. A formal ritual strikes me as the process that can be closed most cleanly. If at this juncture, the law must be brought in as an impartial third party, it is only fair to have it be a party to the union right at the start, which is the legal wedding ritual.
Personally, I may have the temerity to go against society and the strength to survive a messy breakdown, outside the structure of marriage. However, I cannot guarantee the same for my children. It doesn’t feel fair for me to thrust my life’s choices and their consequences onto my children, even before they choose it for themselves. Society still isn’t easy on the children of a single parent, especially an unmarried one, never mind an unmarried mother. Whether I ever have children or not is immaterial. This is far too important for me to overlook what might be even a remote possibility.
I won’t (and haven’t) run around desperately in search of a partner to sucker him into the grand party of a wedding. I’ve lived a reasonably happy single life for many years. However, if I decide to build a lifelong relationship with a man, marriage is the only way I’d consider going about it.
A version of this article is posted at Yahoo! Real Beauty.