Once upon a time, when I was younger, foolish and a few years into my marriage, I would come home proudly from the beauty parlour, having done a facial, and would ask my husband eagerly, what was it that he noticed? He would look carefully at my face, and the poor guy desperately wanting to give the right answer would say “Eye-brows? Did you do your eyebrows?” and I would say “No! Look again!” There would be a few more guesses with cognitive dissonance hissing in my ear that the 2.5K spent on the facial was an utter waste of money. Buyer’s remorse would set in and I would curse myself for getting convinced by the parlour girl that the extra wad of cash I shelled out for the ‘gold facial, top-end brands being used to give your face extra glow, madam’ was a complete con job. Then he would gently win me over by saying, “Facial or no facial, you should know this — you always look beautiful to me.”
I hadn’t learnt the cardinal rule then: never ask a guy anything related to beauty. They will never be able to tell the difference.
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Over the years, I became smarter though. I learnt to ask for compliments directly. “Darling, isn’t my face glowing? I did this amazing facial. It is gold with products from top-end brands, designed to give an extra glow,” I would say. What choice did I leave him with, but to agree? Not satisfied with forced, extracted appreciation from him, I would turn to my daughter, who would immediately notice it and tell me, it looked great. With my son, I would use the same technique as I used with my husband.
Running a family, and being a wife (and a mother) is like operating a fine coffee machine. You learn to push the right buttons, pour the exact quantity of water, the right amount of coffee beans, and you brew that perfect cup, just the way you like it. Whether it makes sense to others or not is immaterial. Your coffee beans, your machine, your cup! Hell, you earned it woman! It is a technique that you fine-hone over time. Most people in long marriages will tell you that wives and mothers (especially those who are mothers to teens) are master manipulators. They know how to get things done.
In Anita Nair’s latest novel, a lovely book which I am savouring like a fine wine, Alphabet soup for lovers, she describes a stable but boring marriage beautifully. She says that the wife doesn’t believe in love, the candy-floss bonbon kind and has left behind the storms of her youth and therefore is happily married. The husband doesn’t lose his temper, doesn’t argue, and doesn’t give the wife any reason to fight with him. Like most husbands, he doesn’t even notice when the wife has straightened her hair. He has got used to her, you see.
Later, as I thought about it, it occurred to me that for a woman, getting her hair straightened would be an event of epic proportions, with a few frantic phone calls made to sister, best friend and perhaps two more friends whose opinion she trusts. Chances are her male colleagues in office might notice it, and even compliment her. But, her husband? Rare is the husband who will point to exactly what it is that she has done with her hair.
Long years of marriage does that to you. You get so used to each other, that you stop noticing.
It is similar to when you first get a nice, expensive, sofa. You are careful, and notice every single spot, and clean it thoroughly, as soon as something spills. But a few years later, you care lesser. The novelty of the sofa has worn out. You get used to it looking less than brand-new. You accept the wear and tear. Now, I am not in any way likening the spouse to a sofa, but I think you get my point. You simply notice less.
Marriages are complicated things. If you want to keep it crackling, you better pay attention to that coffee maker, as well as the sofa. The effort has to be from both sides. One-sided endeavours will result in one of you throwing in the towel.
Picking it up, and moving on, might take a lot more work than you think.