In our grandparents’ age, why weren’t there more stories of people separating after decades of staying married? And why is it now that couples, who look seemingly happy, announce separation? What has changed in the last few years?
Mehr Jesia and Arjun Rampal are “not a couple anymore”, read the headline. My ever curious 75-year-old neighbour, who was sitting beside me in the park, asked me what my heartfelt sigh was for. I read out the statement about their separation. Now, it was her turn to sigh. Especially when I read these lines, “We have always been solid when it has come to us, we will continue to be solid for each other and our loved ones, as we embark upon a new journey”.
“What new journey?” she exclaimed. “They think after 20 years they can restart and have a new journey,” she asked me. I might be wrong but I heard a tinge of jealousy when she talked about their imaginary new journey.
I remember how she had once told me that even after two weeks of being married, her husband never touched her, let alone slept in the same bed. She was petrified and being the Delhi girl she was, her dreams of flowery romantic sweet-nothings were all shattered.
“And then one day, out of boredom and frustration, I was cleaning our room. Hidden behind his clothes, I found a book for dummies about you-know-what!” I still remember those hands that were firmly grasping mine while she narrated the incident to me that had happened almost 45 years ago.
“So that was the problem. He wasn’t just shy. He was clueless and I had to do something now. That day I realised that to save this marriage, I had to take the first step. I had to initiate everything,” she had said rather proudly. I had then teased her and asked her how often she had initiated, considering over the next ten years they had six children. She would always laugh and give me a light slap.
After our many conversations, I knew that she wasn’t a very happy married woman but she and her husband were together for over 50 years. And then her husband passed away of old age.
So, today when she had vehemently rubbished Arjun and Meher’s idea of a new separate journey for themselves, I asked her, “why didn’t you ever think of it too nani?”
“Because…,” she smiled and replied.
“Because”. That incomplete all-encompassing reply set me thinking. What should follow this because? Why weren’t there more stories of people separating after decades of staying married? And why is it now that couples, who look seemingly happy, announce separation? What has changed in the last few years?
Choices, choices and more choices
When I say choices, I don’t just mean choice of a different life partner. I mean choice to move on. Earlier, the idea of a “happily ever after” was so embedded in our social system that any tangent was a sacrilege. But with financial independence and awareness, people don’t believe in staying together years after the love is lost and companionship eroded.
We have all grown up hearing the dialogue during the bidaai scene when the mom tells her daughter, “We are marrying you off and now that’s your only house,” or “come back in your arthi only”. These dialogues reflect the societal pressure on girls when they are married off. They are expected to never come back, except during vacations and with a return ticket. They basically cannot leave their husbands because they don’t always have a place to go.
But times are changing. Girls are better educated, have jobs and know how to fend for themselves. With financial freedom, comes the confidence to severe the wedding vows before they turn into woes.
Now, here I would like to add that men didn’t have it any easier. The pressure to be “the man” who had to take care of the wife and the kids was too much to handle. A society that doesn’t allow its men to cry isn’t very merciful when it comes to him “abandoning” his wife of many years.
Lessons from the parents
Indian parents have some very weird ways of parenting. They will not show love or affection to each other in public or with kids’ around but would not take a minute to scream and shout in front of the children. How many of us have seen our parents hugging each other and how vivid is our memory of them fighting with each other?
Children who grow up in such environment often promise themselves that come what may, they would never let their partner make them cry or make their lives miserable. Studies show that children who see their parents fighting often, grow up to believe less and less in the institution of marriage and so their patience and tolerance threshold is much lesser than their parents.
Let children grow up
“I wanted to leave him but I could not. I didn’t want the children to suffer. SO I waited,” is a statement I have heard from a lot of people who separated decades after staying married to each other.
“Marriages are not made in heaven. They are made by two people or may be two families. And people can go terribly wrong in their judgments. A lot of marriages are a result of wrong judgment. SO what do you do? Stay married and stay unhappy or move out. I would say move out but make sure your kids are well settled and mature enough to understand the separation,” says Anju, a close friend who separated from her husband of 15 years and moved on in life.
Awareness of emotional abuse and marital rape
Yes, this sounds strange but a lot of couples in olden times didn’t even know that they were victims of emotional abuse or marital rape. Though these two terms are still looked and discussed quite uncomfortably, the fact that they are being discussed make for some awareness. We get counselling queries on both the subjects and as you must have guessed, they are mostly by the women readers who are the victims.
With more awareness and validation that what they are going through is neither normal nor acceptable gives them the strength to call it quits.
We are not here to comment on whether it’s a welcome change or not but the fact that in this world, when partners can’t even decide on the same menu, if couples can sit together, decide to end the relationship with dignity and poise and make sure that there is no mudslinging, I think it does call for some praise.
Whatever caused Mehr Jesia and Arjun Rampal to end their marriage of 20 years, we wouldn’t know. In fact why should we know? They looked happy and beautiful while they were together, and they look happy and beautiful while they issue the statement announcing their separation. May they never feel lonely or regretful, is all we should pray.
(From the Editor’s desk)