I am Nalini, a daughter, a wife, a mother. I am well educated if education means what you study and where you study. I used to have opinions, conversations, a career, albeit a haphazard one. But I preferred being with my husband to going to an office. So, I went wherever he went. Tagging along like a tail. And, what’s more, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I stayed wherever I was expected to stay, from barrack-like quarters to ill-furnished apartments. I was content trying out new, exotic dishes, inviting people over, attending to ‘wifely’ duties that were part of my husband’s professional requirements, and even bent over backwards to please my in-laws, always unsuccessfully. The best part was that no one asked me to do this, not even my husband.
He was quite proud of me. Initially. And, then slowly, over the years, I lost my way. Don’t get me wrong. I still voiced my opinion and often had a captive audience comprising both men and women. But, I made a blunder. I love my life around my husband. I didn’t realise that I had slowly turned into a bedraggled, irritable and nagging wife, who was mostly in the kitchen when guests came, while my husband chatted them up in the living room.
I didn’t realise that my husband stopped spending time with me and would leave the room when I walked in. At social dos, he would often interrupt me and change the topic of conversation. If I phoned, he would put me on hold to attend to someone else, but if someone else called while I was trying to speak to him, he would take their call instead. If someone said something to hurt me in his presence, he would not support me, or if our son was rude, he would not admonish him, but left me to rave and rant and then simply shut the door on my face.
I started feeling bad when I stumbled upon salacious messages exchanged between my husband and other women. I hadn’t even realised that my husband was solving other women’s problems and was visiting them while I languished at home getting clothes washed and ironed or arranging for food. I didn’t realise that over the years, my husband would communicate with me only if some domestic requirement arose.
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I didn’t realise that it had been a long, long time since we had touched each other and he never expressed the need to come close.
I had stopped looking into the mirror and had no idea what my body looked like. Or what my husband’s body looked like now. I had no idea what was going on in his life, his job (he no longer required me for his professional protocol as he had switched professions), his family, or his plans.
It doesn’t matter to him if you are hurt, sick, lonely, ugly, or content, happy, healthy, whether you have grey hair or dye your hair, whether you want to share your innermost thoughts or your fears or tell him that you don’t like seeing him holding another woman’s hand.
It doesn’t matter whether you want to know what he’s thinking about or what plans he’s making, whether you want to share your dreams or simply share a drink, whether you want to be part of a conversation or be praised by someone, whether you worry for your child or have spent the better part of your married life rustling up his favourite dishes and waited and prayed fervently for his return. It doesn’t matter to him that while you have let go of your looks, health, desires, and are totally spent looking after his home, which you mistakenly thought was yours too, for two decades, and that while you are busy arranging the logistics for the child’s dinner and what needs to be done for the next day, instead of dressing up for that party, he spends the better part of the evening with that attractive woman in a cleavage-showing gown who didn’t do any of those things. And, what really hurt, you know? Not one person ever asked him where I had gone, where I had disappeared.
You don’t need a husband who beats you up, or insults you, or engages in extramarital affairs to ruin your self-esteem, to crush your identity. You just need a husband who looks right through you as though you don’t exist. You have ceased to exist as a woman for him. You have ceased to exist as a companion. You are simply a housekeeper and his body language is dismissive of you. He simply ignores you.
It hurts when your spouse no longer respects you as his partner. I am Nalini, nobody important.
(As told to Moupia Basu)