The metamorphosis of two individuals from lovers to life partners, and then to becoming parents, is a slow process that changes each of them in irrevocable ways. Alongside the changes each individual undergoes, it also alters their relationship with each other. Days of romance are replaced with diaper changes, PTAs, tackling raging teen hormones and then, when the children fly the nest, suddenly, the couple finds themselves with ‘each other’ and not just ‘together’.
“It was a college romance. We were happy to be together and had a good relationship,” says Nandita who has been married to Jatinder Singh Paul for 32 years. There was the least resistance from either set of parents, and after eight years of courting, the two tied the knot in 1984.
Recalling the early years, she speaks candidly of the time when she suffered severe post-partum depression after the birth of their first son in 1985. “Suddenly I had become insecure about myself and needed a punching bag, and it was him.” He stood by her, “rock steady”, and eventually, their life regained a sense of normalcy. Soon, their second son also came along.
Over 32 years, Nandita and Jatinder’s marriage followed a trajectory that saw as many downs as ups. Throughout his career, Jatinder kept trying to find his feet and faced some hurdle or the other. In 1993, the family moved to Dubai and in 1996, Jatinder was embroiled in a financial problem (not of his making), which could have resulted in his incarceration. “It was a trying period for us because the laws of the country are very strict,” says Nandita.
Related reading: 10 reasons why Indian couples fight
Life was a roller coaster from then on. Nandita started working and flourished professionally, while Jatinder tried to make a venture he started with other friends into a success. By this time, the boys were growing up too and the older one moved to India to pursue higher education in 2003. The younger one followed a few years later.
This was the first time Nandita and Jatinder were alone together, but it didn’t bring them closer. “Even though we were better off financially, we had no time for each other,” says Nandita. She admits that the troubles they’d withstood between 1996 and 2002 had a role to play in this dissonance; “We were going through our own private hells.”
In the present day, Nandita and Jatinder live in Pune, a city they made their home in 2011 when they moved from Dubai after another financial debacle. Their children were also in Pune. By 2013, both boys had moved out chasing their jobs and dreams and their home was empty again.
But this time around, things are different.
Both are working jobs that keep them satisfied and as a result of the changes that occurred almost simultaneously in their lives (moving from Dubai to India and the departure of the boys), Nandita says, “We have put our relationship back on track.”
They find comfort in each other’s company; they enjoy a movie on weekends, they go window-shopping, or to a restaurant, or go away on weekend trips. “We share and talk, what we were not doing ten years ago. We reminiscence about the past, how we met…” she says, drifting off. “There is no complacency and we are getting to know each other better.”
Nandita’s biggest lesson in coping with an empty nest comes from her parents; octogenarians, who live by themselves, without expectations of companionship from any of their four daughters.“They keep telling us that they have each other.”
As for the periods of tumult in their lives that almost drove a wedge between them, (including the debacle that brought them back to India), she says, “I admire him for not giving up when the going was tough.”
Work is an escape route for both, she admits, and therefore, they don’t miss the boys so much. “The feeling of a ‘full house’ is not there, but we are not lonely. The emptiness stays, but in a positive way,” she emphasises.
When their sons come home, “We have to fit them into our schedule,” she laughs.
Marriages, inevitably, result in the ‘domestication’ of both partners, especially after the arrival of the children, leaving couples no space for the memories of their youth and the love that brought them together. But if a relationship is built on a strong foundation like the Pauls’, braving the storms just becomes a part of life’s myriad experiences, easy to share and ponder over. Most of all, it is heartening to know that an ocean of calm waits on the other side.