Let’s Face It, men like independent, successful women as long as they are not their wives!

Most often, even though single women don’t make a concerted effort, they’re open to giving Mr Right a shot if he happens to come along. The Girl is an established professional, well-travelled and very independent. She is someone who can throw her head back and have a good laugh, believes life is an adventure and there are more things to learn and see than possible in one lifetime.

************

Pottsandpan (PP): Marriage has been on the cards for you for a while now, including subtle pressure from family. How do you deal with it?

The Girl (TG): Well, the questions are subtle as well as overt, specially when you are attending any family function. I start with a nice smile, and politely say “I’m still waiting for the right person.” And if that doesn’t cut it, I just counter it with another smile and say, “well seems like no one wants to marry me!” Both work, depending on which generation in the family I’m talking to.

 

PP: What are some of the questions people ask when they’re keen to know your marriage plans?

TG: Well they broadly range between…

  • Why aren’t you getting married, don’t you think it’s time?
  • When will you get married? We won’t be able to do any work during your marriage, we are getting old, so marry fast!
  • Well, have you decided you don’t want to get married?
  • If you want to get married, you should start thinking about it seriously!
  • Who are you waiting for? They are all handsome princes at the start and become Johnny Walker as life progresses (yes! Some of my close friends (and business heads) have actually told me this)
  • You look nice, earn well, you travel the world, how come you have not met anyone yet? (Duh! I think in my head, you asked me a question I haven’t been able to answer myself, maybe you can answer it for me!)

 

PP: What has been the inanest question someone’s asked you about marriage?

TG: I would say the one where someone looked me up from head to toe to determine that I wasn’t a “defective” piece and wondered why I was not married yet. I am sure some people think I am a closet case :-p

 

PP: What are the 3 key qualities you would want to look for in your future partner? Why do you think they’re important?

TG: In my mind it’s a simple ask. I’m looking for someone who is comfortable in his own skin and therefore is willing to let me be comfortable in mine, someone who is kind and humane and has a sense of humour.

One would think the ask is simple, but apparently, it does not come easy.

 

PP: In general, the usual expectations from a marriage have been buying a house together, a car, traveling to exotic locations – now you’ve already accomplished all that by yourself! If and when you do tie the knot what do you think your expectations will be?

TG: The expectation would be to spend the next 30+ years (known as rest of my life) with someone who wants to spend his life with me too. For companionship, for being there when its good and bad, for sharing experiences and actually working together to leave a legacy of sorts, together.

 

PP: Is marriage really needed today? What are your views?

TG: Marriage as it was known in yester years, where it was more for security, both financial and social is less of a requirement today. Marriage for companionship, for being supportive of each other, to share and to give space to each other seems more the necessity. As an institution, I guess it did build the society, but with women being well educated, supported by their parents, financially well off it is less a “need” and more a choice. The institution nevertheless I believe still needs to exist to give society a framework to go by. I think it gives an arena for one to think beyond oneself and for the larger cause called family, which therefore brings forward the good in people. Not saying that not marrying doesn’t make you good, but marriage does make you put others before yourself.

 

PP: There was a meme on a social media site recently where at a wedding, the priest is seen reprimanding the groom saying the answer is “I do” and not “I’ll try!” Do you think it reflects the reality of today’s life?

TG: A commitment is a commitment, which is what you exchange as you say your vows (doesn’t matter in what language or religion). The reality of today’s life is things are so abundant that one has a plethora of choices and can move from one to the other very easily. Relationships, marriage, friendships, family ties need to be nurtured and cared for. It’s not an expectation alone which both parties have to live up to but also somewhere they both need to drop the ego and find the middle path for a larger cause. At times, though one party has to walk all the way to the other instead of meeting in the middle. Often, one has to gulp the ego and move forward. This is easier said than done. However, if you are confident that both of you want the same larger cause it’s easier to do and if the cause isn’t common, then drifting apart and justifications become easier.

 

PP: How long have your parents been married? What do you think has been the secret to their success?

TG: 47 years! I think their ability to respect each other and let go when required was the key. It also underlies love, compassion and understanding each other, which some may call getting used to one another.

 

PP: What is the one advice they gave you for selecting a life partner? Are they in sync with your views?

TG: It is important for partners to be complimentary in nature, don’t choose someone with the exact same character traits as yourself. Initially I was surprised, but I realized they meant traits and not qualities. I’m strong willed and decision oriented, and need a patient partner to deal with me. Patience isn’t one of my strongest suits, though it may be stronger in comparison to some others.

 

PP: Have you been meeting prospective partners? What has been your experience? How do these men react and respond to a successful and independent woman like you?

TG: Yes, in spurts, I haven’t made a very concerted effort. The experience has been less than desirable, probably why the concerted effort hasn’t happened. Men like independent, successful women as long as they are not their wives.

 

PP: What are your views on financial equality in a marriage? Do you think you will be okay if your husband earns less than you?

TG: When I was starting my career, I wanted someone earning equal or more because of the needs one has, to build the basics in life. But at this stage of my life, my views on this is far more liberal since I’m not looking at anyone to take care of my financial needs. Yes, it is ok for my husband to earn less than me, but the “quantum” of less should be defined. I’m used to a certain lifestyle, giving it up almost entirely will not be easy. The same way I don’t fancy being anyone’s trophy wife nor do I suspect that I will ever choose a trophy husband (please remember, that’s not the same as being a house husband).

 

PP: What is the position that love holds in your life? Between love and respect, which do you think is the most important element in a successful marriage?

TG: I think it is important to have love in your life, to hold someone else dearer to you than yourself. I think love and respect are both equally important in a successful marriage. Respect allows you to be you, otherwise you will be looking for validation or taking out your wrath by being derogatory to others or worse, lose your self-confidence and become a victim. Love is something you feel, you give and you make happen – quite like respect, but a lot more ephemeral. You can see it in simple everyday things which you usually take for granted verses actually appreciating it. That’s because we all “expect” it from our partners, we don’t give them credit for being there all the time, if not physically but emotionally at least.

 

 

 

Should you adjust or compromise?

Life is dynamic with changes happening continuously. Unfortunately, no one likes changes. We may make peace with it, react to it with displeasure or cope with it to the best of our abilities. But it always leaves us feeling unsure, perhaps bitter or dissatisfied with an emptiness within of having lost a way of life.

Most relationships allow for two people to entwine their lives with each other while creating a space for themselves within that twosome. This process is facilitated by either adjustment or compromise. The words are used interchangeably and are considered to be the gospel truth (read advice) that most elders pass on.

Adjustment is the adaptation to a particular condition, position, or purpose while compromise is a settlement of differences by mutual concessions and reciprocal modification of demands.

Depending on one’s state of mind, listed below are a few everyday things that might call for an adjustment or compromise. In some instances, the differences aren’t given due importance because it is believed that they’re inconsequential no matter how much they annoy you. But for others they’re game changers leading to a break-up.

New set of parents – from having one set of parents (and your baggage of issues with them), suddenly you inherit another pair. Often your feelings get transferred or you may develop newer issues! Alternatively, if you’re making an effort to be extra nice, your parents might feel offended that you’re paying them more attention. Simultaneously, blinkered thinking like ‘my parents can do no wrong or they truly want what is good for us,’ can also lead to friction.

New House and a new way of living – in most Indian families it is still expected that after marriage, the girl will live with her in-laws. Being the newest member it is commonly believed that she should adjust and compromise. What isn’t acknowledged is that the other family members also find themselves suddenly having to accommodate a new person they may know nothing about. Thus, an instinctual survival mechanism kicks into gear for everyone. The girl believing that this is her new home (the operative word being ‘home’) tries to recreate her parental home while the others try to instil in her the unsaid rules and regulations of their lives. Clashes begin when there is a discrepancy between the two and each tries to manipulate the other into living their way.

Food – the most essential requirement for living and living well. Interestingly, both partners claim that their mother’s cooking is the best. No matter how well you cook, you can never measure up! Potentially the number one reason for discontentment, is it stupidity to even try? It often starts here and gradually moves on to feelings of intrusion in other areas. So, what whets your appetite? Fish head cooked with lentils, spicy food, experimenting with different kinds of meat, eating nearly raw food, too much sugar or bland food, ‘healthy’ eating. Are you irritated with coffee brewed incorrectly, whole garam masala in your food, inconsistency in the thickness of dal, tea not strong enough, or frying onions and potatoes together not separately? Life of course, gets even more interesting in a regional marriage!

Sleeping habitsThe early bird catches the worm or early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise, may ring true for some people but not if you’re a night owl. Do you prefer to sleep hugging a pillow or on your stomach or tend to rotate or slide down the bed? Do you kick in your sleep or dream aloud or simply snore? Is your partner constantly reminding you of how much sleep you require? Do you like to read or surf the net or watch TV before going to bed?

After sex rituals are as stressful as the inability to reach orgasm or making love in certain positions. Do you rush to clean up immediately after? Do you light up a smoke? Do you turn around and start snoring? Does the sex act make you feel alive and awake, so you go watch more TV or read? Do you put a pillow between yourself and your partner after you’re done? Lying spent would you rather sleep in the buff or wear your clothes? Do you like to be hugged and fall asleep in your partner’s arms or would you rather sleep comfortably by yourself?

Bathroom habits – Do you like a clean and dry bathroom before every use? Do you finish reading the paper (physically or online) or play a mind game (perhaps Sudoku) while at it? Do you screw back the toothpaste top after use? Do you mess the entire basin area or mirror splashing water? Do you keep the shampoo and conditioner name facing front after use? Do you always forget to switch off the geyser or your towel before a bath? Do you suffer from constipation or irritable bowel syndrome or anything else ensuring that you’re always in the bathroom? Where do you hang the wet towel?

Shopping evokes different feelings. One might go shopping armed with a checklist while the other loves window shopping or buying whatever fancies them. Do you shop to relax and unwind? Do you love mindless walks through malls? Do you enjoy checking out newest gadgets as soon as they’re launched? Do you shop at full price or during sale season?

Your sense of style can vastly effect your interpersonal relationship. Do you dress for comfort, to be presentable or follow fashion religiously? How often do you groom yourself? Is your wardrobe styled to cater to different occasions or do you look the same wherever you go, no matter the occasion? Does your shoe and belt always match? Do you love bright floral prints while your partner likes subdued colours?

Entertaining patterns can be a bone of contention. Do you entertain regularly or only on weekends? Do you always entertain at home leaving you responsible for cleaning up? Or does your partner prefer the newest eateries in town? How often do you catch up with mutual friends, or office colleagues or family? Does it irk you to constantly spend time and money entertaining the same people?

Choice of relaxation – differs between partners. What’s your ideal holiday? Are you an indoor or outdoor person? Do you like adventurous sports or relaxing on a beach? Do you like a scheduled itinerary when travelling? Closer to home, do you like to laze with a book on weekends or catch up on the latest release? Does it bother your partner that you’re most happy ‘doing nothing?!’ Must you meet up with family and friends together or do you like to do your own thing?

Money matters and your attitude towards it impacts your financial health. The belief that your money is my money and my money is my money can be equally problematic as your money is your money, my money is my money. Some couples agree to mutually break up home and living expenses while some crib that they contribute more than the other. Money gives a sense of power, position, control and stability. Couples can hold differing opinions about how money is earned, what its spent on, the concept of saving and what it offers.

Religious rituals – Each family has its own way of praying, celebrating or making an offering. How tolerant are you of your partner’s religion? Do you have an altar or prayer room at home? Do you take a bath before praying? How often do you visit your place of worship?

A life of togetherness can be lots of fun when you see eye to eye on these matters or else, it becomes a constant battle. Sometimes humour helps dispel these differences. Instead of compromising or adjusting you may simply want your partner to stop or change the annoying behaviour.

The irony is that however you choose to handle the above or react to the problems arising from them determines the longevity and health of your relationship.

 

The First Lady

Arguably the most important person in the husband’s life and thereby in one’s married life – the ‘mother-in-law’ whom I’d like to address as the First Lady of the house!

I’d heard much about my MIL (mother-in-law) before the wedding – but of course soon realized that nothing can ever prepare you enough to face the real deal! Having grown up in a nuclear family, I was quite unprepared. My notions of a joint family, living with in-laws were ideological in nature – mostly derived from fiction, gossiping friends or the telly. Therefore the expectations set were in most cases unrealistic!

My MIL wasn’t too happy with me as her son’s bride-to-be, mostly because I was a Christian and therefore unsure of the ways of a Hindu household. She was uncertain about my ability to settle into their tradition bound set-up. Every year the extended family came together to celebrate Durga Puja in their native village and everyone pitched in to help – would I be able to fit in? Would the others be able to accept me? As a couple we had decided that I would continue being a practicing Christian and not convert – how would the extended family react to that?

To my credit, I was instantly liked and appreciated for my efforts at the Durga Puja. I wore sari the Bengali way and did everything I was asked to do – making chandan (sandalwood) paste, stringing a garland, giving away prasad (puja offering). I did it because it was an important part of my husband’s life, because I knew that the onus to fit in rested with me as my acceptability into the extended family depended on how I carried myself during those five days.

MIL had grown up with her own prejudices about Christians – and in fact once quite innocently asked me if I could speak in Bengali! At that point I thought it was funny since I was a Bengali Christian and so could definitely speak in my mother tongue. But, was it really funny? After all I was more comfortable conversing and expressing my thoughts and feelings in English rather than Bengali. English was unconsciously the first choice of language when interacting with relations and extended family. Was it any wonder then that she was skeptical about my grasp of the language?

Soon after the wedding when my MIL was travelling, I went about re-decorating the house – the sitting room, kitchen, dining area. This was my home now and I wanted to make MIL happy. I was looking for a pat on the back for a job well done as I thought the re-decoration made the house look even more spacious and welcoming. Two days later after MIL’s return, I came home from office to see that she had changed everything back to what it was earlier! I was taken aback and couldn’t figure out why she’d done that. She didn’t say anything to me for days and then one day unable to stand the silence any longer I asked her. She politely commented, ‘this is my house and since I’m the one who mostly uses the kitchen and dining area, I like to keep things the way that suits my convenience.’

For a long time I was angry and hurt because MIL had in no uncertain terms told me that this wasn’t my house and that without her permission I shouldn’t change anything. What I failed to see and accept then was that it was indeed her home – one that she had painstakingly made her own with years of hard work. How could I, who had just arrived, want to change all that? I didn’t need to do any house work since she took care of everything – shopping, cooking, cleaning and entertaining. Why did I then need to change the set-up which she found most convenient? And more importantly why didn’t I ask if she needed my help without just assuming that I could make a difference? Today, years later I understand her sentiments as I too get upset if anyone makes any changes in my home, my own set-up!

MIL loved to dress up and wear jewellery while I always liked to be just presentable – I would dress according to the occasion and wore minimum jewellery. In the initial years there would always be a war of words as my MIL wanted me to wear practically every piece of jewellery I owned or was given! I couldn’t understand why she didn’t like the understated subtle look I preferred. During one such argument she openly told me ‘I can’t dress up the way I want to because of you. There is no way I can wear jewellery as I will look over dressed in comparison to you. People will say that I have kept all the jewellery to myself and not given you anything!’ I was aghast as that hadn’t crossed my mind but I guess her sensibilities dictated that she be forced to tone down because of my ‘subtle’ fashion statement! I understood that but somehow just couldn’t bring myself to do as she wanted – it still continues to be a bone of contention between us.

When I look back, as advised by the article in Times of India, Bond with your mother-in-law, I too had tried to be polite if she picked on me, tried to please her when she asked for my help, tried to mask my feelings by putting myself in her shoes to figure out why she behaved the way she did, tried to build a rapport by being open about my feelings and sometimes I also resorted to humour to lighten the situation. MIL too in her own ways failed trying to mould me into her ‘ideal’ daughter-in-law.

I complained to my husband whenever I had an issue with my MIL which was almost every other day! I still remember the night when in frustration he burst out, ‘you’re always complaining about her and she’s always complaining about you. Where do I go? Why don’t you understand that I’m hurting the most trying to balance between you both?’ He sounded miserable and for the first time it struck me that in our own ways we were making his life a living hell. That night I vouched that I wouldn’t complain to him again. Of course, I wasn’t successful but did try to keep my opinions to myself. I dealt with it the way I knew how but this in turn led to even more trouble. My silence was viewed as arrogance. In my attempt to avoid conflict I had in turn allowed everyone to assume the worst about me.

When my husband was offered an opportunity to work in Mumbai I was super thrilled – it was a means to escape the ‘respectable’ way – it meant living away from my in-laws without having to create a scene. Unfortunately it didn’t work as well as I thought it would. My in-laws and extended family taunted that I had broken up the family while my husband too felt pressurised that he had to leave his home for me. When I heard this I was devastated as in no way was that my intention – more so I had quit my job believing the move would make our lives better, there would be no visible conflict and it would definitely be a good career move for my husband.

Years later, I still carry that burden but believe it has worked out for all of us. The love that was almost at break-point was resurrected and we found each other again in the new city. Professionally my husband’s done extremely well, his view of life changed and today he is a better man. My MIL who had her own issues to deal with realises some of my worth (I’d like to believe!) when she sees us together, sees that her son is happy or compares me with her other daughter-in-law. With the birth of my daughter I’ve truly understood the meaning of being a mother and the innate protectiveness one feels when someone else tries to take my place – somewhere it’s helped me understand my MIL better.

Books, articles, researches, discussions about how to deal with the MIL are freely available but no one really teaches you how to ‘live’ with one. That is something that we each have to figure out on our own as every “mother-in-law – daughter-in-law” unit is unique with their own sets of baggage, needs, outlook and expectations. The “son” is as important to both parties but one has to acknowledge that the mother is the first woman in his life and he’s grown up being moulded by her. For some it’s difficult and ego battles are inevitable while there are others who have been able to live in harmony. There aren’t any easy answers but only those that one can find for themselves on their own – those that suit them and their situation.

In my case what is most important today is that we have each made peace with the situation. We’re still in touch, my daughter spends quality time with her grandmother, we’re together during Durga Puja yet we have our own separate lives.

Are we happy? I know I am.

This post was featured in BlogAdda’s Tangy Tuesday Picks on 26 November 2013

What is marriage?

A good question to begin with – is it a union of two souls? Is it an institution which provides security and comfort? Does it help to build respectful boundaries? Is it an emotional or physical outlet? Is it a save haven to bring up children? Is it companionship that marriage offers?

I’m sure there are many more answers that can help define marriage – but I believe the crucial point is ‘what is one’s expectation from marriage?’ That helps to define how one approaches the concept of being married to another person.

While I sat with my would be husband attending the 2-day course on Marital Preparation by the church, I grew apprehensive. There were 5 other Christian couples with us on the same course and their expectation from marriage were diversely different from ours. Their views on physical intimacy and sex, financial responsibilities, family honour, careers, children, roles and responsibilities of a husband and wife were so different.

Initially I was taken aback and then I wondered if the problem was with us or them. Perhaps their views were more common than I was willing or wanted to accept. As we voiced our opinion, we stood out as sore thumbs. They viewed us as a different breed and slowly we realised that we couldn’t make inroads into creating the slightest dent in their thinking. The tutors or priests didn’t  help either. By the end of the first day, we decided that we would simply attend the session as a prerequisite for a church wedding but simultaneously realised the need to develop a course that would really help couples to approach this institution with a clear and open mind.

Marriage is a responsibility. Marriages are not perfect and there are no set rules. Each couple creates their own rules from their experiences. Love is equally important but in the fast paced life we lead today one has to work continuously to make a marriage work.  It no longer matters if it is an arranged or love marriage as that is only one of the building blocks of a successful marriage.  In India especially, one marries into a family – one that is different in every way possible. Even with the increasing incidence of nuclear families, the wider family continues to play a role.

My mother’s advice to me when I married was that I was on my own – I had to make this marriage work especially as our backgrounds, upbringing and religious beliefs were different. If it didn’t then I couldn’t blame them. Not that she was shying away from her responsibility of being a support to me if things didn’t work out. But thinking about the advice objectively, it made me realise that she had a point. The only one who could make this marriage work was me – I had to invest ‘myself’ wholeheartedly as it was something I wanted.

Even after knowing my would be husband and loving him for 8 years before marriage, I realised that my expectations from the marriage, our relationship and him as the man and husband greatly differed from his expectations from me. It didn’t matter what we knew about each other before hand. What mattered was what we came to know of each other after marriage.