A love story

This is one of those spontaneous things. I’m not looking back to see what I’ve written and I’m not actively planning what might happen either. It’s just a story on a theme that’s been on my mind for a while now.

She knew exactly who she wanted to be when she grew up. She wanted to be an investment banker. Well, she was only six so she didn’t know what an investment banker was, exactly but she did know that when she grew up she wanted to go to work wearing starched cotton saris, high heels, and a briefcase (this was before laptops were invented or at least heard of in India). And she knew it had to be a real job in a large office with lots of money involved because she loved her piggy bank and Papa told her that offices have even more money in big banks.

She worked hard towards this dream. She studied English and Math but not much science. She set herself a goal and worked towards a degree in Commerce. She worked hard and went to an IIM and somewhere along the way she fell in love.

He was a bit of an idiot, to be honest. Not sure of his life nor of his work. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to be when he grew up. He was smart, yes, that’s true. He was smart. But in the ways that really mattered he was a bit of a doofus. Now what do I mean by that? I sound a little like a rambling old woman talking aloud to myself thinking all about this boy the lovely girl was in love with but not helping you readers understand him at all. So let me try again.

He was a boy good at math and physics and many other things. He wrote the most lovely prose and could shoot the best three point basket you ever saw. He could do all sorts of weird things with test tubes in the Chemistry lab (now don’t go trying to make it sound all sexual. That was not meant to refer to anything but weird colours and strange experiments). He was a bit of a musician too and a little bit, just a little bit, on the fringe of the cool group. Well, that’s who he was in high school and I think he never grew up.

No matter how many things he was good at, he was never really good at finding out what he wanted to be when he grew up. Well, perhaps that’s the trouble with being good at too many things. You have to choose and make a commitment and then wonder about how things might have been. Better to wonder than to do nothing at all, some say. But it takes real courage to make a leap of faith and who really has courage at 18? (lots of people do but acknowledging it takes away from the romance so please overlook that terrible rhetorical question, gentle reader)

Well, so one day they met. He wasn’t 18. He was 26 and the girl was 27 and starting her career as an investment banker. Not in Hong Kong but someplace equally exotic, I forget where it was. He was doing something interesting. I think it was travel blogging or maybe it was snorkeling instruction or something equally ridiculous. Did I tell you The Boy’s family was rich? Oh, you guessed. That’s good then. So there he was, doing his thing and there she was trying her hardest to figure out what to do now that she was there, working in a big office with all that glass and The View. She thought it would take much longer than it did but although she wasn’t wearing starched cotton saris (somewhere along the way she figured out it was kind of lame) she was wearing skirt-suits and high heels and carrying an important laptop and making very important presentations.

They met at a party, I think. A friend of a friend of a friend introduced them. Or maybe it was just one of those things. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. He was a goofy doofus and she had just let her walls down and we all know what happens after that. After all, The Boy had all it takes to woo a girl. A smile, a nod, an exciting life, and an endearing charm. Well, that’s not all it takes but The Girl was looking to be wooed and The Boy would do. There wasn’t anything wrong with him after all. He wasn’t a serial killer or anything.

So one thing led to another and they went on dates and they went on to have amazing sex. I think it sounds about right. It was a light-hearted relationship that wasn’t meant to be serious but obviously they fell in love. There was no way around it. And besides, I love this story I’m writing. I can’t kill it by not letting them fall in love.

So they fell in love. This serious cliche of a girl and this goofy cliche of a boy fell in love and something amazing happened. They stopped to think about it. That was just ridiculous. I mean, who ever thinks about falling in love? You can think before you go out on a date, before you decide to consummate a relationship, before you decide to get married or have babies or both. But why would you ever want to think about being in love? But they did it, these two. They thought about what would happen next.

The inevitable happened. They broke up. I mean, come on. Love is never going to stand up to rational thought! How does it ever make sense to actually, truly be in love with someone? What does it even mean to be in love, anyway? It’s one of those instincts that’s deep rooted somewhere. (What was that part of the brain it’s fashionable to talk about these days? Wait, got it). Falling in love isn’t the Pre-Frontal Cortex’s job, it’s the Amygdala’s job. Or something like that. When you stop to dissect love, it falls to pieces.

So anyhow, they broke up, this boy and girl. And they weren’t too heartbroken. They just went their separate ways. And they were the freaks of nature who had no ill-will toward their ex. They were genuinely happy for each other and they never tired to stay friends.

Time went by. The Girl became Vice President of something. They Boy joined the Family Business. They both dated other people and they both tried approaching every relationship with the deep rooted professionalism and decency they brought to everything else. But it didn’t work. No one else was willing to be rational about being in love. And so one day, feeling very rational about the whole thing, The Girl emailed The Boy saying, “Would you like to meet?” The Boy was indeed single and he replied, “Yes, I would love that”.

They met for coffee and they had a bit of a chat about various things. The Boy was still a little ridiculous but he’d channeled it all into thinking up new product ideas. The Girl was still very focused and determined. But she’d hit a ceiling and was looking to do something else. She was bored. He was frustrated because he just couldn’t find anyone who’d share his enthusiasm for new ideas. And so they looked at each other. The familiar energy hit them both. The chemistry, the memories, the great sex.

“Why did we ever break up?”, she asked.

“We broke up because it was too easy. Love is supposed to be hard”, he replied.

“Well, what do you think now?”, she asked

“I think we should start a company together”, he said.

Her face lit up with a toothy grin. “Sounds perfect. That’s just what I need!”, she said.

And so they did. They started a company together. Some people make babies. Others nourish corporations. They never did get married to each other. But some stories are just meant to be. Or in this case, not.

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?

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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