I have known Ritesh for a few years now. He is going through a messy divorce. Not someone who shares too much, he quietly goes about getting through the never-ending court dates and meetings with his lawyer. I asked Ritesh how the divorce had changed his life and how he was navigating simultaneously the pain of a dying relationship and the buzz of a new one. Divorce dilemma and coping with separation and divorce have a huge psychological and emotional impact that is most often ignored.
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This is what he shared.
Coping with divorce
You are a man in your 30s in the middle of a divorce in Delhi – cosmopolitan, but not quite OK with divorce yet.
Divorce is not something that happens to you – like an illness or death. It is something bad that you chose to do. It used to be the thing Americans did, the thing that exposed their moral inferiority. It is now part of lives around us. But it is still a ‘vice’, contracted from the West.
Parents are silent and sad this tragedy hit them. Aunts and Uncles subtly advise cousins to stay away lest you corrupt them. Married friends with kids no longer invite you to family get-togethers. How will they explain to their children why uncle’s wife and kid no longer visit? Far easier to not invite Uncle!
You are suddenly lonelier than you bargained for.
A new relationship after separation
Then you meet this new girl. She is understanding. She is interesting. And she is interested in you. You want to ask her out. You do and it’s all you imagined it would be. Back home, your mind runs amok. Does this nice person deserve to be dragged into my mess? Or – I’m no good at relationships, look how I handled the last one! Raised to care for your family, but caught in the gut-wrenching, soul-sucking divorce battle, you wonder – “Can I give this person any love?”
But love finds a way. A quiet, gentle flow, it seeps into the cracks of your life. There are complications, though.
Your lawyer strongly advises you to not be seen publicly with her because your ex will use that against you. Your parents and relatives, who have judged you for breaking the sanctity of marriage, are in no mood to accept a new person in your life.
Jeered at, you are advised to fix the old one.
You are confused and worried. For her, mainly. A man having a second relationship/wife doesn’t raise eyebrows. But a woman going out with a man who is yet to be divorced? You want to protect her from such judgment. And so you keep her under wraps. And then you worry for this fragile connection. Will this ‘still in the making’ relationship survive the claustrophobia? Can it live through these furtive meetings and constant watching over the shoulder?
Related reading: Divorce is about letting go, not holding on
You desperately hope it will. She’s the reason you wake up every morning, put on your armor and set out to battle. And divorce is a battle all right. Laws in India are stacked in favor of the woman. Intellectually, you understand it’s the dilemma of a country with a uniform code for a diverse population. Emotionally, you are ripped.
Life has turned upside down. You want to work hard and make money. But more money ups the alimony demand. Then you are racked with guilt because you’ve added to the pain of your aging parents instead of sharing their burden. You are wondering whether your friends loved you only because you came in the package of a family man with kids.
And what about your individuality? You wonder a lot about your individuality. Why did I let it drown in the cesspool of this marriage? You grapple with who you are now. The divorce dilemma grips you entirely.
She’s the only one who sees you as an individual now and you pour your grief to her. But if that is all I talk about, will she not go away? Aren’t we supposed to be sharing love, laughter and joy? Doing regular things like regular couples?
Shifting from a battle to a new life
‘Regular’ is seriously compromised for us, yet I don’t want to lose her. She is my hope. I come to a point where I have to choose. Live only my pain day in and day out, or build a new life with her.
And so I have decided. To create moments of joy and laughter. To dream ‘our’ dreams and plan ‘our’ future. I have chosen to create this new relationship while I attend to the death of an old one.
And my days thankfully, are no longer about winning a battle; they are about building a new life.
(As Told To Neelu Singh)