Tag Archives: marriage

The moment to walk out of a relationship

The latest post on IHM’s blog is a heartbreaking story of abuse. Once a person is deep in an abusive relationship, they can’t really get out so easily. Their self esteem is broken, their movements are curtailed, and even their life is at risk. Yet, given how common abuse is, why don’t parents and daughters ever have a conversation before the wedding*? Why don’t parents ever tell their daughters up front, the doors are open if you need to walk out? Why don’t daughters ever tell their parents what they need or expect?

This is my list of red flags and the issues I discussed with my parents before I even agreed to an arranged marriage. I don’t think how a woman chooses her spouse makes a difference to the list, however. These are also conversations a woman needs to have with her partner before living together or getting married. A couple needs to set expectations from each other.

Before the wedding:

  1. Any mention of skin colour or appearance or mention of socially acceptable standards of beauty. Some people would ask my mother if I was good looking. My mother’s stock reply was, “Beauty is a personal opinion. How can I not call my own child beautiful?” We never called any of them back.
  2. Any subtle (or not) probing into my family’s financial status was unacceptable because it was none of their business. Some were interested in what my brother earned.

The wedding itself. I was clear that I would break an engagement or even walk out of a wedding at:

  1. Any mention of the word dowry, gifts, gifting of saris, demand for customs, expectations from the scale of the wedding and so on and.
  2. Anything at all said against my parents or any expectations from them because they’re the “girl’s side” before, during, and after the wedding would not be tolerated.
  3. Unwillingness to share expenses was a massive red flag indicating entitlement. I couldn’t convince my dad as much as I would have wanted to but it was still progress from my aunts’ weddings.
  4. Any mention about me quitting work or relocating without having an equal discussion was out. A dependent visa was out. If I moved to another country, I’d move on my own visa.

After the wedding. Cause for separation, if not divorce:

  1. Any hint that I need to change anything about myself after marriage because I’m a woman including coercion to wear symbols of marriage I didn’t want to or giving up contact with male friends or any restrictions on my behaviour, movements, finances, etc.
  2. Any implications that I “belong” to a certain family or not.
  3. Any expectations that I need to perform a certain traditional role because I’m a woman including the kind of chores I’m expected to do, unwillingness to share household work, etc.

Would result in me walking out without a word:

  1. Verbal abuse including name calling by anyone, not just the guy
  2. Any hint of physical abuse including something including grabbing my hand with too much force by anyone, not just the guy
  3. Forced sex/marital rape. This I did not explicitly discuss with my parents but they knew what I meant by physical abuse.

The most important relationship we’ll ever have is the one with ourselves. Everyone might have a different line for what verbal abuse is. What’s more important is deciding for ourselves – before we make a lifelong commitment to a spouse – what our limits are and to honour ourselves and those limits.

It’s not one sided. A man can feel equally stifled by a jealous or insecure spouse. He can feel pressure to earn more or be more “manly”. He needs to be upfront about it. In fact, when The Hero and I were engaged, the level of frankness in our conversations alarmed his parents and mine who thought it was too much honesty to last. This was only based on what was reported. 😉 But that’s how our marriage works to this day. The Hero and I can get passionate and argue loudly about the silliest of things and make the most ridiculous of statements and fume (him) and cry (me). Then, we can just shrug it off and go out for ice cream because we’re secure that we agree about the things that truly matter. That approach might not be for everybody but everybody needs to know what they need.

* Yes, yes, not only women get abused but let’s stick with the woman’s side of the story this time, eh?

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Rolling Eyes…

IHM wrote a short post on this letter by an Indian MIL but when my comment started getting too long for the textbox, I knew I needed to make it a post. 🙂

Dear Fictional MIL,

To start off, please don’t claim to speak for every Indian MIL. Mine is a sweetheart and she would probably not agree with your sentiments. You say:

  • I may appear a little jealous; but deep down, I am only scared and insecure.
  • I may appear dominating; but deep down, I only take hold of things only to lessen your burden.I may appear intrusive; but deep down, I am actually protective and concerned for you.
  • I may appear stiff and stubborn; but please don’t judge a book by its cover. I am willing to adapt
  • I may give the impression of an emotional bomb; but I am in my fifties and suffering from menopause.
  • I may be appear obsessive of your husband; but deep down, its the motherly instinct that nature gave me.
  • I may be nagging sometimes; but I want you to help you with things around.
  • I may spoil your kids a little bit with chocolate and toys; but its my expression of affection to kids.

Why do you feel the need to express all your “deep down” positive feelings in such a negative manner? Why dominate instead of ask? Why intrude instead of talk? Why hide your adaptability by “appearing” stiff and stubborn? Why display affection for your grandchildren in a way that belittles their mother’s parenting efforts? In short, why are you behaving exactly opposite to what you say you feel? Why are you so insecure?

You say:

I am doing it all out of love.

Please don’t confuse love and maternal instinct with co-dependence, physical closeness, and emotional control. Every species on the planet lets its child go at some point. That doesn’t mean the mother loves the child any less or even that it is easy. It means that the mother has done her duty towards her children and can now relax and move on to a different phase of her life. Mothers of daughters have lived with their child being away, in her own home, raising her own family, having her own life for millennia in our culture. It’s only now that we’re asking mothers of sons to do the same.

What do you mean by being “considerate of the fact that I am still his mother”? I wish I knew what it means so that I could assure you that your DIL probably means no harm to you. In fact, I do empathize with your situation. But have you ever thought that if you treated your DIL the way you wish to be treated instead of being hypocritical and expecting her to understand what’s happening with you “deep down”, you would gain a new relationship in your life instead of losing control over an existing one with your son?

In an Indian marriage, the in-laws always make the first move. If you make a wise choice, you might not need to write letters like this. I know this because my mother-in-law made the right choices and so, I’m the one who reminds her son to call her and I’m the one who is more upset when she leaves after a visit. We are not perfect, my MIL and I. We both make mistakes all the time but we have the strength to apologize and the wisdom to move on.

An Indian Daughter-in-Law

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The whole “own family” business

There seems to be an underlying assumption in everyone’s mind that once a woman gets married she belongs to her new and “real” family. She is expected to take on the customs of the family she is married into. She is expected to change her dialect to match theirs, change her style of sari-wearing to match theirs. She’s expected to treat her husband’s parents “as her own” and his entire family as “her own”. She is expected to match her thinking with theirs. She is expected to align interests with those of her “real” family. She is expected to think from the perspective of everyone else. She is expected to assimilate into their culture and just generally take on a new identity. She might be the recipient of nothing but love and kindness or of nothing but selfishness and inconsideration or of some combination thereof but she is still expected to bow down and change because this is her new reality.

Why is this?

This question is not about me. It’s about every Indian woman who is told that his parents are now her parents and her responsibility. It’s about every Indian woman whose parents feel ashamed to be gifted something with their daughter’s salary while her husband’s parents feel proud to be gifted something with his. This question is about every girl who ever grows up being taught that while she might be able to behave a certain way before getting married, she should not expect the same thing after marriage.

Why is an Indian woman’s identity tied to her marriage? Why must a husband’s family be so important? Why should they matter at all to the wife? Surely a person’s parents are important to him but why must they be equally important to her? Why should she be expected to give them the same importance she gives to her own parents?

Even if I were to buy into this logic of familial peace and harmony, I have an urgently pressing question. Why should the woman, and only she, ever compromise? Why doesn’t it ever happen that the entire family shakes down into a new equilibrium? How many members of her “new” family ever seek to understand her thoughts, her feelings, her point of view, her hopes, her fears, her dreams, her aspirations, and her likes and dislikes? Yet how well is she expected to know all of theirs? How well is she expected to know who eats rasam and who prefers sambar? How quickly is she expected to establish a relationship with every leaf and nut on the family tree? How often is she expected to be kind, gracious, patient, and hospitable? How often is she reprimanded for not repressing her true feelings?

When does she ever get a chance to be herself? When does anyone stop to understand what she really needs?

These questions are, of course, rhetorical in the current context. We live in a strongly patriarchal and hierarchical society. One where women are inferior to men and the older are superior to the younger. Our society doesn’t make room for individuality or feelings. We are more interested in preserving social constructs designed to benefit older males. Indian families are not about democracy, they are dictatorships – or more charitably, empires. Formidable tyrants are not to be rebelled against; they are to be won over. Brides do not elope; they must be obtain at least consent. Doesn’t Indian cinema teach us at least this much?

I don’t understand this concept of automatic power just like the Government of India gives out automatic promotions to bureaucrats. Crossed the age of sixty? Congratulations! You have moved to the highest power level you will be eligible for in this lifetime. Female getting married? Welcome to the bottom of the hierarchy. You may move up a notch once you have given birth to a child (preferably a boy) and another woman has married into this family after you.

I can imagine a lot of people nodding along silently as they read this. At the same time, I can imagine a decent number of others who might be wondering why I have to be contrary as a matter or principle. Given that nuclear families are the norm, why can’t a woman just pretend and get it over with? Surely it doesn’t hurt to pretend once in a while?

I beg to differ. Pretension is worse than friction in my opinion because pretension operates on the assumption that someone else’s feelings are more important than yours. It indicates that someone else is right for wanting to control your life and your choices. Pretending to agree or pretending to not be hurt or dismissing hurt because it was not intended but just arrogantly inflicted through a lack of empathy are worse than a failed or miserable relationship because pretension adds power to the balance. One side of the relationship goes about either blissfully unaware or keenly aware but much more powerful because someone else is exerting the effort to pretend and not upset the balance. How can one side of any relationship be so important? How can only one side be so important?

I can imagine a second argument against being vocal about voicing displeasure. Surely it’s important to consider whether hurt was intended before offense is taken? Surely there is such a thing as being too sensitive? To this I reply, surely there is such a thing as extreme insensitivity which prevents one from ever taking a hint? Surely it is easier to not speak than to not be hurt? Isn’t your argument by it’s very nature perverse? If someone were to make a racist statement, would it be acceptable to ask the injured party to grow a thicker skin? Yet growing a thicker skin is what women are expected to do day in and day out with no consideration ever given for their point of view or their feelings!

To conclude, prevailing social standards of Indian marriages are inherently unfair because no such change is expected of men. Certainly the enlightened few attempt to respect the woman’s parents but the “new family” is embraced by the woman alone.

Inspired by a lot of recent posts on blogs I follow

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