We are at a café, crowded with muted conversations and dark red drapes. Meghna is sitting across the coffee table from me looking deep into her mocha latte. We haven’t spoken in eight months. I know she is angry but am unsure as to why. I could imagine disappointment, yes. Anger, no. She raises her head slowly, looks into my eyes, as if seeking something, and says “You’ve never understood me.” I look away. There’s never an acceptable response to that accusation except complete acceptance. She continues, “I think you have never really cared about me or our relationship.”
“But I have, Meghna,” I interject.
She brushes me off. “It was like I existed to you only in the moments we were together. In the entire two years we’ve lived as a couple, you’ve never once asked me where I was, what I was doing, whom I am with... when I am away.”
I don’t understand. Is she saying she is angry because I did not pry into her personal life? That I treated her like a grown-up and not like a teenager who needs to be supervised?
“I respect you, Meghna. That means I respect your judgment. Your choices. I believe that if you want to tell me something you will. I also accept that you may not want to share everything with me. So when you don’t tell me things like where you were, who you were with, what you were doing, or why you were doing it, I accept it as your right to keep your private life private. As my partner, you are accountable to our relationship only. As a person you are a free spirit and not accountable to anyone except your own conscience. Haven’t I said that before?”
She sighs audibly. Her eyes accuse me but for crimes I still don’t get to see. “It’s not the same. It’s never the same,” her voice has an edge to it now, “That’s what you will never understand.”
The last sentence feels like an irrevocable curse. Is my soul to wander this world eternally looking for understanding but never to find it?
“Do you mean I should have kept tabs on you when you were out or doing something that I was not a part of? Would that have had made you happy?”
I search her face for signs of approval. There’s only anger there. But there’s something ambivalent about her anger. I’ve seen that look before. On kids who trip and fall and can’t decide whom or what to blame – the rock for being in the way, the ground for causing the pain or the parents who did not instantly appear to alleviate it. I sit looking at the aesthetically defined lines of her face wondering how a love is laid to waste here. Over what, I still cannot fathom. Lines from a poem on marriage by Khalil Gibran potters into my thoughts:
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
And I sense something close to understanding in my heart. It only gives rise to more questions than answers. Had Meghna somehow accepted the popular version of what a relationship is? Has she been sold on the morality of entitlement and ‘ownership’ of one another in intimate relationships? Did I, by not asking about things like her whereabouts, create a “spiritual separateness?” And that was unacceptable to a heart that believed, with a million others, in the infused ‘Us,’ that replaces the ‘I’ in a romantic relationship? Are we all aiming for spiritual servitude in marriage? I am still thinking of the ‘curse.’ Would a spouse who asks more questions be more in love with their partner? When does interest become inane? When does it become pathological? There must be better indicators of love and affection between two souls, isn’t it?
I am reminded of the filial bond. As a parent, we teach our children self-responsibility. We help them find the courage to trust their own judgment. To the best of our ability we prepare them for the world. And one day they fly away into the open world. No longer will you supervise their actions. No longer will you call to check where they are, who they are with or what they are doing. You’ll treat them as equal adults who are free to lead their lives as they want. Then why would an adult consciousness regress? Why would it wish to return back to the stage in growing up when parents had to keep a check on them? When the questions, “Where are you?,” “Who are you with?,” “What are you doing?,” were posed regularly? This is where my understanding breaks down and Meghna’s accusation moves into the realm of the incomprehensible.
When we equate our partners’ intrusive curiosity of our individual lives as a sign of their interest in or love for us, we have forfeited our spiritual and emotional independence. If they cannot stop from intruding into the private space where we exist as individuals and not as spouses, we and our right to life is not being respected. If one is wondering why their spouse hasn’t asked about something, isn’t it more responsible to ask why one hasn’t shared the information with their spouse already?
Meghna may not be alone in her anger. Or in her ‘waiting’ to be asked about her daily choices. There must be thousands of women and men who are simmering within with anger they believe justified. Hopefully they will be able to explain their emotion to their partners and together seek a higher ground.
Meghna and I, well, we haven’t had coffee together ever since.