Choosing the one, committing to them, building a life together – home, kids, work, et al, earning companionship and nurturing security, creating a small universe in this big one, caring and being cared for, weaving an exclusive safety net for two, thread by thread and living happily within its folds ever after. That is what marriage is for most of us, at least in theory.
Marriage is home, even if it entails compromises and work, as the popular tabloids and therapists tell us. For the herd creatures that we are, marriage has provided us with a working model, it has organized division of labour within the family, given us a structure to have and rear children, chalked out a framework for the economics of living – transfer of property and finance, offered us an emotional haven with the concept of shared lives and one of the most important, a legitimate space to indulge in our carnal instincts.
We are so wedded to the idea of wedding, that anyone who flouts its norms, is seen as errant or plain unfortunate or somehow lacking and the singleton is definitely destined to be doomed! While marriage is in an important sense, a practical institution that offers a framework to support the otherwise complex business of living, it also takes much in return. Very much like the yagnas we perform, something personal must be offered (destroyed) – ghee, til, khoi, to the fire god for what is asked for in return. A marriage adds to the ‘we,’ one creates as it takes away from the sense of ‘I’.
And the ‘taken away’ is airbrushed or made to appear trivial. We are repeatedly bombarded with the benefits of the union only. Think of the billion-rupee industry selling us happiness and meaning via love and marriage. Think of the agencies and services to set the wheel straight in case it loses alignment, think of the reprimands and shame forced upon the so-called mavericks who dare to speak of their misgivings or discontentment with it.
The fear of ridicule and abandonment, from private family members to the broader guardians of the institution – law, religion and society, is enough for us to forego our angst and nod in agreement, even though behind closed doors and in secrecy we may do what we think we can get away with! But we all know and shudder at the consequences if exposed!
Related reading: Are Indians ignorant about their bodies and intimacy?
There are costs, everyday costs, that this union exacts, whether we acknowledge them or not and they do take away from us, at times a little, at times substantial chunks, whether we are willing traders of it or not. And, as what it gives is vital, what it takes away too, is often equally fundamental!
Everyone on the outside of the union has limited access to the two in the union and the ones in the inside can only develop as much intimacy with the ones outside of it. Here I am using intimacy in a broader sense, encompassing the emotional, mental and spiritual aspect and not just the physical. We, the collective herd, in a very matter-of-fact and righteous philosophy, are led away from the rest of the herd or warned against forming deep ties with them.
Imagine the loss of letting go of the parts of ourselves, revealed only in response to an intense another. Imagine the narrowness of such limited associations and boredom this kind of confinement brings, think of the wasted energy and unemployed passion and where one gives in, think of the pain of betrayal and deceit.
In fact, too much of energy, time and resources spent on oneself too is seen as anti-union and deeply selfish, going against the very grain of being a good ‘spouse’ or a family man or woman. Where and how then, do we voice the inconsistencies that we feel day after day, whether in our hearts, bodies or minds against what has been established as the collective norm?
True love lasts forever. Our soul mates will fulfil all our needs. We are somehow morally wrong if we are attracted to another. Monogamy is about being evolved. We will desire the ones we love!
The book I am working on, questions these very norms. It is an inquiry in the fate of romance, sex, love and the impulse to infidelity and infidelity in long-term relationships. Do romance and desire follow a straight line as we have been told? Is there a soul mate for everyone and if we do find him/her will we come upon eternal love and everything else will fall in place?
Related reading: Couples that laugh together
Is it okay to sometimes hate the very person we love? Is the institution of marriage in sync with our base instincts? Are we really made for monogamy (one sexual partner only)? Is it as simple, as those advertisements claim? Buy that cologne or this pill for desire, those diamonds or a perfectly executed candle-night dinner for romance? If we are attracted to another, does it mean we do not love our partner or vice-versa? Are things really that white and black?
The survey I have written about deals with the marriage bed. Given that the marriage bed is inside the bedroom, it is very difficult to truly understand how couples relate to each other within the present social structure. Even though sex is a private act, its norms are repeatedly entrenched via various mediums, how many times is normal, what is normal, the idea of the size, women’s libido as compared to man’s etc.
After interviewing a host of therapists, sexologists and councillors, I began face-to-face interviews to understand the ‘why’ behind the data I collated from them. It came across and as expected, that people are not free to be honest as they would have been, if they had anonymity. The fear of being judged and ridiculed is bigger than the impulse to share one’s facts honestly. The survey, the link of which is given below was born out of that gap.
However, modern or informed we may call ourselves, the fact remains that there is a wide dissatisfaction, confusion, conflict regarding love, sex and fidelity in an urban married couple. And more often than not, these are brushed under the carpet for the sake of maintaining the status quo, (read children, peace at home, productivity at work place etc.) But the dissent leaks out and if not addressed rots the very foundation of growth, happiness and peace that we unwittingly try to sustain. At times, it does get too late. The survey asks you questions on your marriage bed, it should not take you more than a few minutes but it will definitely stay with you for days and make you question the very things you have either taken for granted or been struggling with.
One of the questions in our survey was, ‘Is your spouse happy with the sex life?’ In total, 53% people answered No and (worse), ‘Don’t Know.’ A few questions later, I have asked, ‘If and when there was an issue with your sex life, have you visited a sex therapist or a councillor?’ 93 % have shied away. And if and when, one of their spouses succumbs to a one-night stand or an affair, these very same people will in all probability, go into a hysterical overdrive of shock, indignation and dismay. The survey will make you think, is there a gap in what is really important and how we actually treat it as. One doctor that I met recently said ‘check for people’s car service record, it runs on date’, ask them if they have gotten their yearly body profile done and you draw a blank!’
Coming back to the survey another interesting answer to the question: ‘Have you ever had an extra-marital relationship?’ was, ‘even the slightest association with other men make me happier.’ This brought us to deeper questions: Is it true that male libido is stronger than that of the fairer sex? And if it isn’t, why are the ladies in burkas, why are they ‘kept’ behind closed doors?
A male friend who took the survey complained that it is too female centric. When we asked another male friend if he also felt the same, he replied that it is in fact sex centric. Most Indians mistakenly feel that sex is a duty for the ladies, and pleasure for men. This questionnaire makes them question their beliefs.
The link for the survey is: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/VNLH35F
The ‘Survey Monkey’ does not ask for your name or email id. It maintains a strict confidentiality and anonymity. There is no way that any part of your answers/ reply can be connected to you.
Only your answers will be recorded.