Think of wives in the ‘70s. They had their friends for long girly chats, sisters-in-law to analyse what their mother-in-law was up to. They had their brothers and fathers with whom they discussed, understood and planned their monetary concerns, some neighbour filled them in on how to handle whom in the family, while another taught them how to make the crispiest pakorasor get the right colour of the almonds in the halwa. They had a convoy of women to help with child rearing duties and they had their husbands to giggle with and snuggle up to in bed. The men too had a fleet of people they shared their responsibilities and needs with. They had their men-only clubs, societies and organisations where they could seek solace and advice. Till modern times most occupations were male-only and workplace camaraderie was an often-sought escape from domestic squabbles. And, of course, they were free to share their issues with their mistresses…
Related reading: How couple-dynamics have changed across generations, for the better
Today, all our needs are parked with that one lover/husband. They must be our parent and pat us when we are down and they must be our man who ravages us in bed. They must be our friend and listen to our woes about colleagues and they must be attractive for us in the evening and we mysterious and romantic to them (in the candle-light dinner we prepared at home). They must mentor us when we are down and they must provide for the education of our children. They must rebuild our faith in a crisis and they must be socially successful!
All our needs – sexual, emotional, material – must be met by the one and only. We too must be the one-stop answer for their needs.
Dr. Salony Priya, a marriage therapist based in Calcutta, cited single- or two-child families with extra doting parents as one of the attitudinal issues in contemporary marriages. She says, “Emotional skills are extremely important: handling your own emotions and trying to get a sense of your partner’s. Now, especially in urban India, we have this new generation of couples with one or two kids. Parents want to fulfil their child’s every single need and desire. The underlying theme is instant gratification and pleasure. Besides, these children are seen as the trophy generation – everyone is a winner, everyone is special. This leads to a sense of entitlement, a culture of ‘I want’. There is little or no disciplining for poor behaviour. ‘Chill’ has replaced ‘accountability’.”
She points out, “These kids grow up and marry people (like themselves) they love and care for, but no one can be like the other’s parents, fulfilling every need or wish that escapes their lips. They have no patience to wait – for anything. They have little tolerance. They demand instant results. This generation not only wants it all from one person, it wants a lot more from that one person. We need to rethink our entitlements. The need to be balanced has never been more urgent than it is now.”
Never has so much been demanded from one relationship.
We lived in involved communities, extended families where religion and elders automatically filled many gaps. Networks and ties were not just expansive but stronger, and people were more interactive in a very everyday, physical sense (not just on Facebook and WhatsApp). Whether it is the modern city life, compact houses and schedules or the ideal of individuation that has led to the disintegration of these communal and familial bonds, the fact is that we were far richer in terms of human resources then, than we are now. Thus there is even more dependence on that one relationship than ever. We have elevated ‘love’ to extreme heroism and it is crumbling under the unbearable burden. Love is in fatal danger today under this severe pressure.
How can one person address all our needs and quirks?
We need a Jinn for that, not a human.
“Besides,” says clinical psychologist Kalpana Khatwani, “Unlike the West, we are essentially a collective nation. In the US or European ‘soulmate’ cultures, even when couples come together and marry, each still has their separate lives in which each does what he or she wants. They are individualist countries. India is a collectivist nation. Everything here has to be done jointly. When you are out at a restaurant or a theatre, women even go to the bathroom together. Even when shopping, women want others to accompany them. In the US, everyone shops alone. We have done well without the soulmate ideology!”
There is, then, no single kind of intimate relationship. There are many, many different individuals who join together, who influence each other’s lives, who fulfil each other’s needs, who love each other… for a day, for a year, or for a lifetime.