I’m a writer and a social worker. My ex-husband lives in Singapore. It’s been a couple of years since we parted ways officially but about nine since my son and I left Singapore and moved back to India.
As an independent woman and a single mother I’ve managed my life well, so far. I owe it to my parents who taught me to be strong and independent from a very young age. Also fortunately, I’ve been blessed with an excellent support system. My husband and I had differences but we parted ways amicably. So much so, that he continues to be involved in almost everything we do as a family. In fact, I’m closer to his parents than he is. Our marriage did not work, but our friendship, formed between us in the early days of our union, still continues. As both of us are headstrong, we still have arguments but that doesn’t stop us from seeking advice or guiding each other as and when sought/required.
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However, for the past few years, I’ve been feeling that for a woman, probably I’m too strong-headed and outspoken to have any kind of intimate relationship ever again, especially in the Indian setup. Women in India are conditioned to be soft-spoken, agreeable and unquestioning. After my marriage, it gradually dawned on me that I’d been brought up differently than most girls.
It’s in my upbringing
Growing up, my brother and I always had to follow the same set of rules and enjoyed the same liberties. So part of how I am today is due to the values inculcated in me by my disciplinarian father who taught me to be independent and a simple, spiritual but non-traditional mother. The rest of it is because of my own inherent qualities.
I’ve always been an expressive person. Not only that, I’ve also never shied away from calling a spade a spade. It has landed me in trouble several times in life. Once when I was about eight or nine and playing outside a friend’s house, an unfriendly looking man came up to us and asked my friend to call her ‘baap.’ I was so infuriated by his disprespect that even before she could respond I sharply retorted that despite being an ‘uncle’ it seemed he didn’t know how to talk.
The next day I saw him again at my new school where I’d gone with my father for admission. I was scared out of my wits when I learnt that he was the school principal. Thankfully I was granted admission after a mild reprimand about my previous evening’s behaviour.
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I always spoke my mind
Even after my marriage, I maintained the same outlook. As a couple, my husband and I disagreed on many issues and I openly voiced my opinions rather than simply accepting his word.
Our arguments would revolve around things as basic as the colour of the sofa to how often we should have sex. Every time we visited the Ikea store to buy home accessories we would end up arguing over even elementary kitchenware items (like pots, pans, knives and forks) we needed to buy. For the first time in my life, I started becoming doubtful of my own abilities.
On the whole, he’s a reasonable man but also a control freak and likes doing things his way. I felt my views and efforts were being ignored. His interference and finicky behaviour increasingly made me feel disrespected.
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Even my choice of clothing was often questioned. Once, I bought myself a lovely traditional Chinese dress (a cheongsam) from Chinatown. He asked me not to wear it in Singapore. His reason was that people might think I was either being touristy or trying too hard to fit in. I thought he was being superficial and judgemental and told him as much. Not only that, I also wore it on several occasions. These constant disagreements, especially on important issues, with neither of us willing to pull back, worsened the situation and distanced us, becoming one of the prime causes for our breakup.
Had it been someone else in my place, probably she would have given in to her husband’s demands or handled things diplomatically. But not I. I could never learn that art. And after all these years, it is still not in me to be subtle about things.
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Being independent has helped me
However, looking back I feel that my uninhibited, forthright and direct approach towards people and life has helped me survive many disasters and downturns in life, including the breaking up of my marriage. I’ve been able to forgive people reasonably easily and move on. Also, I believe when things go wrong and relationships break, it’s best to be honest and be done with the whole thing instead of hiding the bitterness and pain, which ultimately causes more harm and impedes the healing process.
Over the years, I’ve mellowed and now pick and choose my battles. I don’t participate in unimportant or overly difficult arguments that would gain me nothing but a bad name or spoil the situation further. However, I continue to believe that women must voice their opinions honestly, without feeling guilty or apologetic for doing so, especially on issues that will directly impact their life.