How do you decide?

It’s quite a known fact now that I am getting a divorce. I have been thinking of writing about this for a few months now. Never knew when the time was right. Be assured, I am not going to reveal the details of my divorce, I don’t believe the reasons for a divorce is public material. Since I am in the middle of one, I think I can get into the minds of others who have crossed this path before me. One thing I know for sure is many (if not most) women think of getting a divorce at some point in their marriage. Maybe men too. And many of these many women find a reason to stay or justify to themselves why they should stay. It is usually because as nurturers it is woven into our fabric to put the happiness of others in front of ours. We (read as most women born in the 70s and prior), will prioritize to sacrifice our happiness for the sake of our parents, or children or security or money or whatever reasons. Note that I don’t mention the spouse, yeah of course, that’s why I am writing this and you are reading this.

Like how water fills up the dam, we build our resentment at our circumstance one drop at a time. When it is too overwhelming we release some water in the form of tears, or anger, or lashing out or any which way. Gives some solace and then the cycle starts again. This goes on and on till one fine day, something snaps. Looking back, I don’t think anyone can pinpoint what actually broke the camel’s back. All the pent up water, comes gushing out as energy or some force to get yourself out of the situation. At this moment, nothing matters, all the lies you told yourself, all the reasons you formed in your head to stay, all the people you thought would matter, nothing, absolutely nothing. You spread your wings and decide to soar. For the first time, in a long time, you decide to listen to your inner voice that has been screaming in your head to set yourself free. You flap and flap and flap. Is it scary? OH HELL IT IS!! The longer you’ve been in the marriage the scarier it is. Will you get stuck in a thunderstorm, what if there is lightning, what if you hit a plane, what if your wings get tired.. Now that you have taken that step, all these what-ifs start circling around your head.

It is confusing. All your justification devils popup like moles asking you, was it necessary? Then your soaring self tells the justification devil, you remember this, you remember that? Isn’t this more peaceful? At the end of the day, are you at peace. The soaring self wins. You go to bed.

Once you find that tiny strength to overcome the devils in your head, or that last bone snaps, that strength builds onto itself. Each day, it builds a new skin. Over the days, weeks and months, you are surrounded by a shell built entirely of your strength. It is not easy! It takes time. It takes patience, with yourself. The new mental health lingo is – be kind to yourself. It is exactly that. Through the little kindness you show yourself day after day after day, the strength builds. I don’t know if the justification devils ever die, I know they phase out. Like another saying, time heals everything, which I strongly believe in after my mother passed, I think the devils in my mind will die too.

The first day you find yourself alone is euphoric. It almost unreal. The surroundings – did they really change, yourself – did I really do it, devils – why are you happy? Sometimes, actually most times, it feels like a dream. Like somebody could wave a wand and reverse your strength, cut through the layers you’ve built so painstakingly, shushing the devils. Even after months it feels unreal. I guess this is also directly proportional to the longevity of the marriage.

Then there are the nightmares. Gosh those devils. They creep into your mind in the darkness, and they flip the switch on you, what the devils tell you during the day, becomes real at night. You wake up, scared; only to realize that it was a dream. It is hard. I don’t think anyone has said divorce was easy.

I don’t know how many stages there is to this thing. I think I am somewhere in between. After initial stages of bitterness, why me, how could i, why did i, and all those sanity check questions, you get into the path of accepting the reality. Another mental health jargon – owning your journey. You tell yourself, yes this happened, what did I gain out of it? Maybe there are too many losses, but there are some good things, there is always something good, even if a miniscule. You start owning your journey. Accepting where you stand, looking into the horizon and thinking now what? The answers start coming to you, not of the past, but of the future. You start asking the right questions, where do you want to go from here? There is a lot of help available on the internet, in the form of facebook groups, support groups, videos. One such interesting video tells you to set boundaries. That is essentially the first step. Not just with that one person, but with everyone. Because now you want to guard yourself and not be vulnerable. Again, I have no clue what stage I am in, but this just seems right. You want to be sure of yourself, the justification devils have played in your mind for way too long. So it is about time, you set yourself right, by realigning your beliefs, your priorities, your soaring self.

At the end of the day, you grieve, I don’t know for how long. Yes, it is hurtful, it is sad. The best thing I have read so far is, what you grieve, is the image of the life you thought you would have had. In this grief, you learn to let go. Of the past.. of the bitterness.. of the whys..

There is no recipe, life doesn’t come with a book of instructions, and the least of all for a divorce. It is unexpected. It is sad, yet happy, it is confusing, yet brings clarity, it is a bold step, and takes so much of your strength. But then..life.. it goes on.. one day at a time. The happiness at the end of the day is worth it.

Why Marriages fail?

Marriages are made in heaven, aren’t they? Then why do they fail? Let’s first define what a failed marriage is. It is one where there is no companionship. Period. When there is nothing left of made for each other. When there is no happily ever after. This is when one starts thinking, was this really made in heaven?

Marriages have a link to your previous lives. There is no doubt about this. The person you end up marrying, because often it is not who you think you chose, by some play of the stars you are pushed to that threshold of your life. Otherwise how can two people be there at the same time, same place thinking that they can spend their entire life with each other. So yes marriages are made in heaven and everything is good about this fantasy, but what comes after is something that happens on earth, in its entirety.

Now go back to the first day after you got married. You probably woke up next to the man /woman you love (at that point in time), thinking you are the queen/king oHf the world. You shower and wear something he/she likes.. If you are cooking, you will cook something that suit his/her taste buds. If you are hanging out with friends, you know what he/she prefers to drink, to eat, to do. You (both) train your mind to create common favorites, a restaurant, a vacation destination, a movie and what not. If there is something he/she absolutely detests, either you will stop doing it or find other like-minded people to please yourself. In all these situations you are thinking of the other person before you think of yourself.

The longevity of this thought is the measure of one’s successful marriage.

I have been applying this to many couples I know, to validate my understanding. My friend’s parents, who have been married for many many years, now in their sixties. Even today, they ensure the other has eaten every meal of the day. It doesn’t matter who ate first, its the thought to check that your partner has eaten. When in the cold, checking if your partner is warm enough. When you are in the sun, ensuring your partner is hydrated. There are a hundred things like this that I see them doing for each other. When you think of it, its very simple, but that is the success of their marriage. Even today, they think of the other person before thinking of themself.

The above is the ideal scenario. Let us look like some variations. There are some couples I know where this feeling is partial. Partial could mean two things. a. It exists in both people but occasionally there are lapses. b. It exists in one, but not in the other. The first category are most millennials. The indulgence of Internet and thereby acquired knowledge from the internet sways them to think of themselves under certain circumstances. If they have seen a strong bond between their parents then they will survive these intermittent lapses. 

When it doesn’t exist in one or in both then that is an abusive relationship. One you need to reach for the nearest exit door.

So what is fair time period to ascertain, if you will go old together? Five years? Seven years? I would place my bet on seven years. Even after seven years of marriage if two people in a relationship are able to carry on the feeling of putting the other person first, then it is possible it will last their lifetime. 

I am a…

Growing up I was told we were Hindus. My father born in a Brahmin (priestly) family staked claim of how superior we were. My mother kept it neutral, her father was a Namboothiri (priestly) and mother a Nair (not priestly). None of this deterred them from sending me to Bishop Cottons a Christian School. Here I recited the “Our Father in heaven”, every working day for ten years of my life. Teachers read from the Bible, we learnt the hymns and it was all Christian. Irrespective of the faith your family followed, every student followed the same Christian rules.

My family’s Hindu-ness was limited to the corner of the kitchen adorned with photos of Hindu Gods, a lamp was lit everyday and the yearly trip to Guruvayoor (a Hindu temple). There was absolutely no other show of religion in any manner. So I grew up amidst the Hindu believers at home and Christian believers at school which I think just neutralized the whole concept of religion in my mind. Was I divided? I don’t think so, it didn’t matter much. I prayed before an exam, before I got my marks, or to win a competition. That summed up religion for me.

Muslims were a different category altogether. My father has been blessed (pun intended) with the skills to identify a Hindu from a Christian from a Muslim and immediately tag them with certain behavior. I am glad that my mother kept me grounded and taught me to respect the person first before their religion. So wading between these beliefs and catching up on Ramayana, Mahabharatha, Bible on the television shows aired on Doordarshan, I grew up.

Fast forward a few years and I ended up marrying a Christian. Nothing was new to me because I had said the Lord’s prayer for ten years of my life. I was baptized in order to get married in a church. At that point love was blind and bigger than religion so I said, why not? So I crossed the bridge and tried to adapt to new ways and all of those religious accessories that come with the conversion. A few years along I wake up from the dream, the love is there but not blind like the dating days and I tell my husband that I am going to cross the bridge back. To my good luck his belief in religion was also on an as needed basis. So he let me choose what I wished to follow all along. Although some of the extended family had strong beliefs, we sailed past those with some manouvering.

Now I am the mother of two teenage boys and the last thing I want to teach them is religion. They know in theory what these religions and their beliefs are, but then, what’s the point? This world is heading to a place where religion has taken precedence over humanity, so I ask myself, shouldn’t I be teaching them humanity? Based on how independently teenagers think, I don’t think ten years down the line, religion will be upheld the way it is today. Everywhere you hear news about sexual abuse in the churches, which I see the”informed” generation rejecting. There is a ton of gold and money donated to Hindu temples and I wonder why? Shouldn’t that be used instead to feed hungry children, give them an education? Why does this world need any more temples or churches or mosques or other centers of worship when one cannot uplift and uphold the human within?

I am not against religion, but dead against the belief of religion that divides people. By the law of nature there are only two categories of humans, the XX chromosome and XY chromosome combination. Every other divide whether it’s based on religion, color, race are created by some person. I am tending towards believing that the only religion that should exist is humanity. Abolish every other religion, practice and belief. Every XX respects XY and vice versa, that’s all that needs to exist to make this a better place. I know this is wishful thinking and the world and it’s people are so segregated that all they can think of is either themselves or their small community.

Is it too late to look at the larger picture?

Coffee house…

“Hello Shalu…”, said the male voice on the other end. Shalini recognized the voice instantly. She had heard it many times before. The number was new, not what she had saved on her phone as, ‘Think before you pick’.

“Hello Gopal…”.

“I am in Trivandrum, shall I come over for sometime?”, he asked. She wanted to ask ‘why’. Common sense prevailed and she quickly got into the skin she had shed ten years ago.

“Okay Gopal. Let us meet at Coffee Day at Kowdiar”. Shalini had moved apartments almost every other year when the rent went up. With her meagre salary from the job at the library, she could afford only so much. She tried to live as close as possible to the library, so she could walk and get her legs move. It felt eons ago when she drove her Audi car into the driveway of the public library at Houston to drop off books. She did not want Gopal to see her current living conditions.

“Ok at 4.30?”, he asked.

She looked at the clock and saw that it was 3.30 in the afternoon. It gave her enough time to dress up and get an auto to get to Kowdiar.

“Yes, 4.30 is fine.”

Shalini seldom heard from Gopal, maybe two or three times in the last ten years. She had shut that door when she walked out of the house with two bags of her clothes and jewellery. She left everything behind. The sprawling house, the luxury, friends, her job, she had left it all.

She got to the coffee house on time and saw Gopal sitting at a table. He looked younger than she remembered. Life had treated him well. She thought she should have colored her hair, she was greying everywhere. The little make up she put on, did not conceal her wrinkles. She turned to look at the glass door and saw the reflection of an old woman.

“Hello…”, she said and sat down across Gopal. He looked up from his phone and smiled.

“How are you Shalu?”

“I am good, and you?”

“I am doing very well. How did you come?”

“I took an auto. Are you in Trivandrum for work?”

“No, my wife’s family lives in Trivandrum, so I came to visit them”.

“Oh!”, said Shalini and instantly regretted the reaction.

“I have been married for about three years. She is from Trivandrum, moved to Houston after the marriage…”

“You live in the same house?”

“No, I sold it. I live in another neighborhood now.”

“Are you happy?”, quipped Shalini.

“Yes Shalu. I am happy.”, said Gopal, looking down at this hands.

“Good for you…”, said Shalu, with a tinge of jealousy and self pity.

“And you?”

“I work at the library, live with books, write when I can. It’s going on… Why did you want to meet me, after all these years?”

Gopal was silent for a few minutes. The waiter came, we ordered our coffee and I looked up at Gopal, waiting for the answer.

“Shalu… I wanted to thank you…”, said Gopal.

“For what?”, wondered Shalu.

“For leaving me….”

Shalini burst out laughing.

“I realized that when you left me, you were giving me back my freedom.”

“And you realized that now? After ten years??”

“Took me a while… you know me…”, said Gopal coyly.

“Gopal… it was obvious to me like it was to you, that we were not meant to be. I don’t know why we decided to get married in the first place. I tried in my way and you tried in your way, but the puzzle never fit. I waited for a long time for you to leave. I understood that you were scared and I had to be the one to let go. It was not what I wanted to do, but I had to do, to give us both our sanity. I was getting sucked in my depression and you didn’t want to hear about it. The best thing was to stay away. I never met your expectations, you looked at every other woman and thought what a wonderful woman and wife she is. It is not that I am bad, it’s just that I was never enough for you, I always fell short… anyways, there is no point of talking about all that and digging the past… bottomline is you are happy now. I am glad I could give you atleast that.”

Gopal took Shalini’s hands in his, looked into her eyes and said, “I am sorry”.

The waiter brought their coffee. Shalini withdrew her hand and sipped at her coffee. She avoided eye contact with Gopal and looked at others who occupied the coffee house. They drank their coffee in silence deep in their own thoughts. When Shalini was done with hers, she got up, smiled at Gopal and left the coffee house, without looking back.

Now, it was truly over.

At the coffeehouse…

“You really don’t share anything with me, do you?”, I asked.

After many years Akash and I went the coffeehouse we frequented before we got married. The cashier chuckled and winked as we walked hand in hand, eons ago. The place had changed significantly and so had the people…

Akash put down the cup on the table and stretched back in his chair. He folded his hands behind his head and looked out through the window. I sat looking at his face and thinking, this is the man I chose to marry twenty years ago. He looks the same, then what changed between us?

He leaned forward and took my hands in his. He fiddled with my bangles for a bit and looked into my eyes.

“Nandu, I am moving out. There is someone else…”, I sat in silence, my eyes were welling up, why do they do that? Why can’t they wait for the right moment, maybe when I am alone? I looked up, in an attempt to send the tears back to where they came from.

I withdrew my hand. Gathered my purse from the table, my phone and the keys. Why don’t I put everything in a bag instead of carrying fragments, why ain’t I whole? My sunglasses, where were they? Oh they were on my head, holding my hair in place. As I stood up, my saree got stuck under the chair. I chose to wear a saree he got me for my birthday, a beautiful pastel green and now it was stuck. Can I make a clean exit?

I finally walked out… of the coffeehouse…

Prince Charming

One of my friends today was pouring out her woes on how she is engulfed with guilt that she cannot get her arms around everything at home and work. Nothing is completed perfectly, leaving everything half baked piling up on the guilt factor.

I told her, to stop killing herself. There is only this much each person can do. And we have another person living under the same roof who is equally responsible for everything we do. The overtime we do is making up for the things that the other half so conveniently ignores.

Every girl has an image of her prince charming. She grows up with it. Its like its in her genes to form the image. Okay, atleast most girls. There are some who don’t. The unlucky few. They get married and then start forming the image of Mr. Prince. Duh! Sorry girl, too late.

I believe most girls look for the below basic qualities in her spouse –

Mr. Prince should be her best friend. This is the shortest sentence I can possible write about the person she would desire to spend her life with. A person she can talk to, to any length, about anything under the sun, with no pretense or hiding.

Mr. Prince should consider her a friend. She should be his best friend. He should be able to share everything with her. That’s when the relationship is balanced.

Mr. Prince should respect her opinion whether he likes it or not. He can disagree, she is fine with that, but he should not shove her opinion into the trash bag.

Mr. Prince should know her interests. What she likes, what she doesn’t like and stay by her at every occasion where she likes something or dislikes.. He should encourage her likes and not blame her for her dislikes.

Mr. Prince should be interested in the children they ‘produce’ (for lack of a better word) and their lives. The children should be a joint first priority and they should grow up in a happy environment.

Mr. Prince should not judge her. As Sreedevi’s character in English Vinglish says, family should not be judgemental. ‘We are in this together, come what may’. When one person starts judging the other, you are separated.

Mr. Prince should pamper her. Okay, that’s a big ask. Atleast occasionally, with flowers, with a movie, dinner, small talk or whatever her interests are.

To guys who are reading this, if you have got your cards right, your lady will treat you like a king. If you get your basics wrong, boy you are in for hell.

What if you marry the wrong Prince? You literally cannot go back and say, uh oh! sorry, you got the wrong one. I know the stylish, famous and ‘in-thing’ now is a divorce, but no! You just talk… 🙂 That is where you need to put in overtime, not to do his chores, but to make it work..