My mother was telling me of a fatal accident that her relative and family met with recently. While speaking about the accident and those involved, she told me that the relative’s son lived with her, along with his wife and baby, and so they were always together. As an add-on to that, she said, “She also has a daughter. But she is divorced and stays somewhere else.” I didn’t really bother much about the “divorced” part, until it came up twice or thrice again from her, in totally irrelevant places. By the fourth time, I had to ask her why she kept talking about the daughter’s marital status while talking about a horrible accident that had cost people their lives. Her reply was, “Because the son was the only one having a good life, because he was happily married and had a baby. Now that is also gone.”
While I hated starting off with a social commentary in the middle of a conversation about someone’s untimely death, I had to ask again, “Why are you bringing up her divorce unnecessarily and talking as if she doesn’t have a good life just because she is divorced? You don’t know what happened. She must be very happy with her life, for all we know.” My mother got irritated in a “Don’t preach your liberal bullshit to a conservatively respectable woman like me” style that is typical of elders, and said with all her annoyance unmistakable in her tone and expression, “Whatever! I can only think like that; that’s how I am.” Since I have zero interest or energy in initiating a conversation regarding conflicting ideas with my parents ever, and since I didn’t have any real answer to such a point-blank sort of response which literally meant there was no use in saying anything else, I went about whatever I was doing prior to this conversation and left it at that. But of course, no unfinished conversation is really over until there is a 2 or 3-page blog written about it later. That is what this is.
Years ago I had listened to my parents talk about a much-younger friend of theirs who got divorced from his wife and was sharing custody of the kids. It was a relatively fresh phase post the divorce that they were getting used to, and like in most of these cases, they weren’t comfortable meeting each other or going to the same social events, which obviously led to their friends taking sides and the consequent awkwardness. My parents weren’t there when the divorce came through, and they got calls later from their other friends about how the couple might not have gotten divorced if my parents were there at the time as “wise elders” helping them sort out their issues. My mom’s disappointment in not getting a chance to be the “wise elder” in the whole mess was quite evident. They kept saying that the couple should never have split. But their arguments for wanting the couple back together were so lame, that I finally asked them, “Why on earth do you want them together if they had been so miserable together throughout their marriage?”
This was a couple that was never really happy. They got separated in between when they had one kid, and then decided to give their marriage another chance, had another kid, and later realized that they just couldn’t make it work. My parents kept talking about how the kids would suffer because of the parents’ divorce, which, to an extent, is a valid point. But I was thinking that, if these people really knew that they weren’t okay with each other, and chose to go with their gut instinct instead of listening to their elders the first time, only one kid would have suffered instead of two. At the end of the day, it was good that they decided to split, instead of staying together, using their kids as the reason and making those poor kids even more miserable in an unhappy home. From what I hear, they are all doing just fine after all these years.
That our society has a huge problem with any marital status other than “married and together, happily or unhappily” is not news. If you are single, they will keep reminding you of your “expiry date” and the absolute futility of your life until you decide to get married and have at least two kids (one wouldn’t do) in an effort to shut their mouths. If you are in a relationship and haven’t really thought about getting married yet, they will pester you to either get married, or break up and let your parents find you a “better” partner from a matrimonial site. If you are living together, they will curse you for destroying our culture and misleading the younger generation until you move to another country or learn how to go incognito. If you did get married and are divorced now, for whatever reason, even if it was physical and mental abuse at the hands of your spouse, they will brand you a failure, and make your life hell until you go back to your abuser to escape from the taunts or end your life because you just can’t take it anymore. But if you are someone who has braved all the judgments from every nosy jerk in your life, and live your life on your own terms, then they can’t really do much, and that upsets them deeply.
While my mother’s comments about that girl’s marital status seem to be “harmless information” and nothing else, there is a kind of not-so-subtle reproach in the way it was said and repeated for no reason, probably as a way of seeking validation for that judgment. Most of the time people don’t stop with these. And more often than not, these comments come out right in front of the people who are involved and their immediate families. In our society, where “others” matter more than those who should really matter, such comments – coupled with an expression of strong disapproval, and unsolicited advice and analysis on what might have really happened between the couple, how they should have “adjusted” and “compromised” to save the marriage – are all looked at as a testament to the failure and misconduct from the parties involved. These comments give a sense of personal failure to the families of the divorced couple, especially that of the girl’s. That is why families fight tooth and nail to keep the couple together, even if it is for namesake.
Every time I have read and written about a “dowry death” or a case of murder or suicide of a girl following intense mental and physical abuse at the hands of her spouse and his family, I have seen that without fail, there would be a chain of events involving abuse preceding the final act, which is almost like a culmination of everything that happened till then. And the parents keep crying about how they knew about such abuse from day 1 and demanding the arrest of those responsible. Who are the ones responsible?
Even if it is not a case of abuse, but someone committing suicide after going through extreme depression from living a life of misery in a marriage, devoid of any joy, with someone they didn’t love, someone they shouldn’t have been with, but someone they were forced to live with because apparently, “Come what may, you have to save the marriage” – who all are responsible? Aren’t even the ones who keep passing unwanted comments insinuating that a divorcee is a failure in life also responsible, directly or indirectly? Aren’t the parents who try to please such outsiders instead of thinking of their own kids’ joy responsible? Two people immensely in love, going through a rough patch, and wanting to save their marriage for themselves is one thing. But in any other case, if a marriage has to be “saved”, then it probably isn’t worthy of being “saved”. Do people accept that in our society?
Granted, getting a divorce as an easy fix is not a trend to look forward to. But it is important for people to know that it is okay to be happy in life, even if it means getting out of a miserable marriage. How that is done is important though. Yesterday I saw photos from a newly-divorced woman, supposedly meant to empower other women, in which she is seen tearing up photos of hers with her ex and stamping on his photos with all her might. While I despise the abusive, moral policing kind of comments under the post, bordering on character assassination of the woman, I wondered if the post was a dignified way to empower others. I could be wrong in thinking that way, and she might have her own reasons or a traumatic past for resorting to such an act. But it felt that the whole thing kind of beat the purpose. Divorces need not be glorified or made to look like an ugly revenge, but they sure need to be normalized as a non-taboo subject. I have seen posts from divorced men and women, telling others that there is nothing wrong with putting themselves and their happiness as their priority, telling true stories of survival, strength and finding happiness. Because spending your entire life with a person you feel suffocated with, no matter how good the person is, is not really a good life. I have felt immense respect for such people for standing on their feet when others try to push them down, and also encouraging others to move on in a dignified manner.
To some of the dear ones in my life I’ve seen getting out of unhappy and abusive marriages, reaching the verge of crumbling down and then rising from that with the strength only a true warrior can possess – you rock! Kudos for kicking nosy pokers in the ass and taking life by its horns! May your journey forward be filled with joy of all kinds!
Also published on Medium.
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