Friday, August 03, 2007

Marriage Anyone?

Megha has a thought-provoking post over here on the institution of marriage. And despite the fact that I am a happily married mother-of-one-hopefully-someday-two, I found myself vigorously nodding while I read through most of what she had written, so I decided to write my version of it, written from the trenches of marriage and motherhood, so to speak.

There is no denying the fact that marriage is hardly a very equal institution and that the burden of the responsibilities arising from it lie squarely in the woman’s side of the court.

Digression begins. It really makes me wonder why men make such a big deal about commitment and refer to it as being ‘tied down’. Other than the fact that they can no longer avail of all the free sex (the assumption being that women are beating their door down, unable to resist the glory that is their single manhood), or atleast not with a clear conscience, it seems like a complete win-win situation. It is, in fact, the woman who is tied down and has to change lots about her life, including but not limited to the very name she was born with. Men, on the other hand, have to change little, if at all and get a free housekeeper in the bargain. End of digression.

Now, I am by no means a brow-beaten doormat when it comes to my particular marital situation and I would not be exaggerating if I said that we have an equal opportunity marriage. The fact that I am equally qualified and earn almost as much probably has a lot to do with it (though I know enough examples of where this does not count for as much as it should). My career has always been as important. In fact, when we got married, we were working in different cities and since I was the one with the more stable and better-paying job, Jai was the one to shift cities and jobs. And it was never seen, by either of us, as a big sacrifice made by him at the time – it was just the most obvious and sensible choice…

But even in this marriage of supposed equals, our daily life is full of inequities. And this is where the fun part (for me) of the post begins and I get to vent and rant...

After years of attempted indoctrination on the absolute horror of wet towels on the bed, piles of visiting cards on my dressing table and used tissues left in trouser pockets, I have to admit that my progress report card looks less than spectacular.

Whenever I nag at him about the messes he creates, I am classified as a shrew, with OCD-like tendencies no less. The expectation is that I should learn to live with the mess or that if I care so much about it, I should clean it up myself. And I do but it really bugs me. Why do I have to be the one who cares about living in a place that classifies as a home rather than a hovel? Left to his own devices, Jai wouldn’t notice if the house turned into an actual pigsty, as long as said pigsty was equipped with a TV (with a remote-control), a comfortable (though not necessarily clean) bed and a functional (though not necessarily hygienic) kitchen. But it’s his house too and he should care.

To some extent, I could accept that were I a housewife, because then I wouldn’t have as many other demands on my time. But I am a working woman and I spend almost as much time away from home as he does. And when I am at home, I don’t want to spend precious time, that I could spend playing with my son, cleaning up other people’s messes.

Also, I love my house and I am proud of it. But if I were to take the ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’ kind of approach to mess-making, the blame for that would be laid completely at my door. I would be judged for the squalor, even if most of it wasn’t of my making because as the ‘woman of the house’, it is my responsibility to ensure that our house looks good. Why must people, including my mother, judge me (and only me) when my house looks less than perfect? And if it is important to me, why can’t my husband invest atleast a fraction of the effort that I do to keep it looking the way it does?

And keeping the house clean is just one part of running and maintaining a household. And while I am not suggesting that Jai is an unhelpful MCP (he really isn’t), he just doesn’t see domestic issues as his responsibility and will help only when asked or hinted at in an obvious manner. In fact, my biggest grouse is that all the to-do lists with their do-by dates are on my already overloaded plate and in addition everything else, it appears I must also play the role of a reminder service…

What will it take for a sensible, fully grown man to notice that the light bulb is fused or that the tap is leaking and for him to fix it without him being asked… multiple times? And why am I always left with a sneaking suspicion that he thinks he’s doing it all as a big favour for me?

And then the scales tipped even further away from being in my favour when we had a baby. Somehow carrying the baby inside me for nine months conveniently made me the expert on raising a child, magically imbued with the necessary skills and temperament. And while Jai helped (and he did help), that’s what it was at the end of the day – help.

Have you noticed how the men in our generation feel all virtuous (‘I’m way cooler than my dad’) about this help that they give their wives. But what’s there to feel all goody-goody about when in fact the help you are doling out is only a fraction of the approximately 50% of the responsibilities that you should be taking on, especially if your wife works. I really think that the current lot of men have it easy – their wives ease the financial burden on them by going out to work but they don’t have to reciprocate in equal measure. They just ‘help’ out depending on time and energy levels and everybody goes ‘Awww…. Isn’t he quite the modern dad’…

And how come men don’t feel guilt about leaving their kids home and going to work? Why is their sense of self-worth still driven by how much money they bring in, rather than the amount of quality time they spend with their kids? Why is it okay for a woman to let her career take a backseat after kids but when a man does that, he is seen as a loser or worse, a wimp? Why is a woman automatically branded as a ‘bad mother’ if she tries to do both?

In fact, this is one area where feminism has made our lives tougher rather than easier. So we are now supposed to go out into the world and be independent women who exist as more than just mothers and wives. And yet we are still supposed to be great mothers and wives as well. All we really end up being is an exhausted bunch of wannabe Supermoms chasing an ideal balance that’s impossible to achieve with just twenty-four hours in the day…

I guess that brings me to the end of my rant. I could go on with more examples and illustrations but I think I’ve said what needed to be said on what’s not so great about marriage. But overall, knowing what I know today, I would still do exactly as I did. Because to not do so, would be akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Because:

  • Unless you plan to live out the rest of your life without a partner, marriage is not all that different from living with someone you are romantically involved with. Most of the pluses and minuses would still apply if you decided to co-habit with said someone.
  • Once you’ve met someone you are fairly sure you want to spend the rest of your life with, what’s the big deal abut marrying them? For me the decision not to would have come with making my mother extremely unhappy about her daughter ‘living in sin’ (yes, she has used those very words) and I don’t think that would have been worth it.
  • The bonds of marriage may chafe at times but they also keep you from walking out at the first whiff of trouble. No relationship is without its ups and down and when you are married to somebody, it just makes the commitment that much more formal and substantive. You atleast wait around to see if the bad times are going to last before running for the door.
  • I, for one, quite like the idea of growing old with someone. The idea of being unattached seems really attractive in the midst of one’s youth, but as you get older, it’s kind of nice to have someone to come home to every night, someone to share your deepest, darkest fears and thoughts with, someone who doesn’t judge you for the way you think and act or stop loving you when you get old and saggy – your husband.
  • Legally speaking, marriage is pretty awesome. You get to pool your money together to build assets that you might not have been able to do on your own. And yet your joint assets are protected in the eventual worse case scenario of a divorce.
  • And finally a marriage is just like any other commitment or contract you might make in your life. Why is signing an employment agreement with a faceless, corporate entity okay but not a contractual promise to marry someone you love. Just like other pacts, this one is not a one-way road (atleast not any more) but gives your life some sort of structure and stability. What’s so wrong with that?

So, in the final analysis, marriage has been worth it, atleast for me and I would highly recommend it to those who have met someone they can conceivably see themselves hanging around with for a handful of decades.

Thanks for making me think (and subsequently post) though, Megha.

36 comments:

  1. What a wonderfully balanced and lucid post! I especially loved the part where you mentioned that what little help men give, it is dutifully glorified as if they were doing you a favor by helping you out. This is especially true. Because men are still somehow perceived as the provider and I personally think that we as a society (I’m including all of us, men and women) up until now have always mixed up providing with caring and nurturing, as if providing is a good and acceptable substitute for taking a greater interest in child rearing and nurturing. It is a disturbing social construct, and we must slowly work towards de-conditioning such an insidious approach to child rearing and heck, marriage in general. But who am I kidding, that is a tall construct. And hard as it is for a cynic like me to admit it, it truly is heartwarming to see change. So damn you, Rohini for lessening the cynicism in me, even if it is miniscule. :P

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  2. Can't comment on marriage at all, but here's the quote of the day.

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  3. Impressed as always by your clarity of thought and expression.

    While you're spot on that society is still less than understanding when it comes to men who would let their careers take a backseat for their kids, I don't believe it's true that men don't feel guilt about leaving their kids at home and going to work. Some men at least, do.

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  4. I am so forwarding the post to my husband !

    And you forgot (or were too bashful to admit) the main advantage of marriage : You are not required to look hot to get sex ! That helps a lot after a long day and after a figure wrecking pregnancy :)

    Jokes apart, that was an awesome awesome post. You made my day Rohini !

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  6. I agree with Poppin's Mom there... But that is also a con: it's so easy to stop making an effort to look presentable, particularly if you're a SAHM.

    That helping out thing gets to me too. We've discussed this before, and I was always cheered to note that V does more than most -- but I think he should do it because it's there to be done rather than to help me out.

    With Rahul he is finally doing stuff because it needs doing. But with the house he still 'helps' me out. Oh well, not bad progress for a year and a half of marriage.

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  7. Rohini, nicely done post. Made me nod in agreement several times. My husband sees himself as part of a marriage of equals..well above his dads generation etc..but initially, the 'helping out' bit seemed to apply to us. Then, i changed certain behaviours and voila...he's doing stuff that needs to be done in the house- just like me- as we both go earn our bread.

    The stuff i did differently was that i stepped back from filling household chore spaces. If i see the dirty pile of dishes, the unfolded clothes...my first (learned/constructed) instinct is to do something about it. However, if i step back and do and say nothing ...he feels compelled to step in. And he does...to the point now that he knows i won't do more than my share and now i don't have to wait hours and days for him to do his bit in the house.
    Because clearly, if i were doing his bit, he would just use the opportunity to watch more tv or take on an extra assignment at work. And i'm not having that. I am not working inside and outside the house to 'subsidise' you, honey:)!

    Endnote- we have a very fiery marriage, but we've negotiated and learnt a hell of a lot- and we are, i think, on our way to being a marriage of equals.

    Sarah J

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  8. "how come men don’t feel guilt about leaving their kids home and going to work"

    a question i ask myself everyday

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  9. I recently told my husband that he thought he was doing me a big favour by doing the things he did around the house. He was incredulous. And told me that I need to go see a psychologist. Boils down to this- husbands just don't feel the pressure having to work outside and at home.

    And yeah, we're the ones mostly holding our tongue, and maintaining peace in the family over household irritations.

    Superb post, that says just short of ranting, even while saying it all!

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  10. [Megha] Yeah. I hope I can bring Ayaan to be part of further change in his generation of husbands and fathers...

    [Ranjeet] That's a great quote! Thanks for the link.

    [Moppet's Mom] There are always exceptions but what I said applies to the overwhelming majority of men, especially Indian men. And men may feel guilt when they travel a lot or work late on a regular basis, but I have yet to meet one who feels guilt at the very act of stepping out of home to work...

    [Poppins] Hmmmm... you have a point :)

    [Sue] That's a lot more progress than I have made in nine years of couplehood and almost six years of marriage.

    [Sarah] You know the thing that I said about Jai not noticing if he were living in a pigsty - it's not so far from the truth. If I tried what you did, I would have to seriously lower my standards of what I consider a clean and comfortable home to live and bring up a child in...

    [Artnavy] Me too!

    [JLT] Actualy holding my tongue and maintaining the peace is not so much what I end up doing. I am quite the nagging shrew... but most of the time, I might as well just save my breath...

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  11. I admire your clarity of thought and amazing way with words. Agree with every single word of this post.
    I guess the difference in this generation of men from the previous is that they are not MCP's at heart. This might mean that they will willingly support the wife's career, but then, when it comes to daily life, the moral support does not suffice. And I feel that most men of this generation are not yet there. At least the majority of Indian men, it looks like!

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  12. For me, i knew i always wanted to be married. With Ed he wanted to be married as well... for him, being single was the worst thing ever, he didnt care for unnattached sex at all. He wanted someone to stick to in marriage forever.
    I on the other hand was more of a freebird. But when i met him, i changed a ton.. some willingly adn some not so.
    But i know one thin... GOd made marriage. and with HIs plan, He didnt mean that everything would be rosy, but that it was a true test to see how deep or shallow, or how strong or how weak we really would be come hail or typhoon.
    With Ed i have learnt that marriage does have its ups and downs and that it really depends on HOW we react to situations to make it worse or better.
    Ive matured tons after being married. and in a good way i should say.
    i was an extremely career minded person before i got married. but i know this.. a woman's first and most important responsibility is towards her husband first and then her children.. too often women let their kids come before their husband.. and thats not right. Life has been a joy, inspite of the crazy fights we've had.. i wouldnt change it for all the money and singleness in the world. God has blessed us and if couples honor the Lord and put Him first in their lives, blessings WILL come in abundance.

    i dont know why i wrote all of this.. but this really spoke to me.

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  13. Well written rohini. Questions that I'm sure all of us have asked ourselves. Why is the home just the woman's responsibility? Why does a woman feel guilty leaving a child behind when a man doesnt??
    I guess the benefits equal it out in the end, dont they? ;)

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  14. Great post, Rohini. I agree with so much, here. My one comment--and I'm not saying this applies to you, it's just something I see played out in the relationships of some of my real-life friends--is that I think sometimes, men only "help" because we seem so able to handle it all on our own, so confident in child-rearing when they are not, and so efficient in managing the household without their help that they don't feel the need, or don't feel needed enough, to take responsibility in those areas and usurp what we so obviously are doing well at on our own. Whether it is because they don't want us mad at them for taking something away from us that we wanted to do, or whether they are just not as confident as they perceive us to be, they will sit back and wait until they are asked. My own husband made a comment along these lines when I was complaining about how un-involved he seemed to be in daily care and feeding of our first baby. After that conversation, we both made concerted efforts to change--him with his level of voluntary involvement, and myself in making sure I let him know I needed his involvement, that I didn't want to be a solo act.

    Just food for thought for the mommies out there that might be experiencing similar frustrations. Sometimes we just need to hear their side of the story.

    Thanks for your very balanced take on this, Rohini. Have a good weekend, friend!

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  15. okay,
    point 1 - like I commented on megha's post, I think marriage is more about the 2 ppl involved than society. If Jai were the clean conscious type of person (and they do exist), your first complaint wud be put to rest? I think we r wrong in generalizing that all men ignore a leaking tap or fused light bulb. "husbands" do not become untidy and "wives" do not become clean ppl by virtue of being married!

    about feeling like he is doing the wife a huge favor, now that is again his own fault. the fact that society or someone outside of the marraige wud sanction this kind of behaviour shud not justify it. And again, not all men are like that.

    point 2 - I don't want to seem like a joke on the blog community saying this again and again - but Feminism is not about becoming Supermoms!!! Its about empowering women to do what they WANT to do with their lives, opposed to what they SHOULD be doing becoz they are women. and that want cud be either work/family/kids, whatever. The concept of a supermom is just marketing hype.

    Women feel guilty leaving the kid behind becoz they still see themsleves in the gender role where they r the primary caregiver, whose career shud not be equally important to child rearing. That is where feminism says do not feel guilty about doing wat u want to do just becoz traditionally thats not how things were done. A step forward wud be learning to deal with the guilt, not wishing that men felt guilty too!

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  16. oh, wait! that was about your take on wats wrong with marriage. about the pluses, i agree with everything u said :)

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  17. [Minerva] Hopefully we can mould the next generation of men to actually be there... I certainly plan to try.

    [Grafx] I am not as religious as you are but I do agree that marriage is a good thing, as I finally did conclude in the post too. It just isn't, like everything else in life, very fair...

    [Something to Say] Yes it does... once you accept that it's never going to be fair, atleast not in our lifetime

    [Talena] Unlike you, I am a nagging fishwife so Jai is under no illusion about the fact that I wish he would do more...

    [Sudha] I have obviously generalised based on my experience - I am sure there are exceptions but I have not come across too many of them. And I never meant that feminism = supermom. Just that becoming a SAHM is often seen as a step backwards in the emancipation of women in general, and that creates the pressure to be a supermom. Lastly, I don't mean that men shoudl feel guilty but only that they feel the drive to share the pain and work of parenting equallly.

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  18. *giggle* Still love your brutal honesty. I should have figured the bluntness would be equally as apparent in your marriage!

    Love!

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  19. Having established that, I would still ask you to consider this -- V and I both work from home all day so we are constantly in each others' hair. Then even the smaller things can get so big. Like not hanging a wet towel out to dry. Or switching the lights off. Little things.

    Jai and you have a little more space, I hope, and you have lives outside your house that help you cope with the frustrations. V and I do have our own lives, but they are still pretty limited.

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  20. Very well written Rohini. Rest assured Jai is not the only man to behave that way, the husband will not even change a bulb or put a battery in a stopped wall clock...and this is with me running between school pick up and drop and therapy and into the office and such like. Thankfully I live with the MIL so she manages the house and the grocery shopping, so thats a major burden off my head.
    Anyway, this is a never ending story...but mail me at kiranmanral@gmail.com, for the Mumbai Mommy Bloggers Meet. Surabhi is out of town till the 11th, so we'll try and keep it after then...

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  21. very well balanced.. for most of us marrg is for keeps therefore so much thot goes into it likewise in a corporate contract, one has an option of walking out..
    btw for hindi font.. in the compose mode of the post, there is an icon on the top- with the hindi letter "a". u just hav to click that and type in english. as u complete each word it converts to hindi

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  22. ro, your clarity of thought amazes me. your rants are also well thought out and methodical :)

    i agree 100% with everything that you've writte. and i'm SO going to show P this post coz he think i've turned into a "shrew with OCD-like tendencies". i swear! his defence is that his room back in campus was always messy and i should have got the message then :) sometimes he says i'm trying to "change" him.

    when my younger cousin got married, my advice for a happy trouble free marriage was "get separate closets"!

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  23. very very beautifully said..theres nothing more to add to it that request you the permission to link..quote..and read it line by line to my husband!!!! Do say its ok!!

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  24. [Talena] You bet!

    [Sue] You win! We have always said that we would avoid working even in the same organisation!

    [Kiran] I think someone else running my house would drive me equally crazy so maybe I deserve my lot.

    [Itchy] Thanks

    [Aqua] I think a lot of husbands must be hating me right now :)

    [Priya?] Of course it's okay... link away

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  25. How well written and how true. An excellent post, Rohini.
    After twenty-eight years of marriage, I still hate the soggy towel on the bed, but have learned to live with it. The house is mine to keep tidy, and for my husband to decorate, according to him. I have now announced a blanket ban on all possible dust collectors that he may wish to bring home from any of his travels. He remains the on-going project of my life, never to be completed- he works professionally at energy-saving, but is incapable of switching off the lights in the house. He has learned that removing just his half of the bed cover is taken as a major insult. Knows that he shouldn't leave me sitting at the dining table, but has to get up as soon as he finishes his meal- sometimes remembers to excuse himself, but only sometimes. Utterly selective deafness.
    The list goes on. And yet, there is so much much more to him that makes all these stupid irritants just stupid irritants- part of the much greater package. It is still definitely a privilege to be married to this wonderful guy.
    Life isn't fair, but you win some, you lose some. We can and do try to make our sons' default settings more gender sensitive than their fathers'.

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  26. Well written! But I have to brag here :D My marriage seems to be the opposite of what you have described. Sometimes I wonder if I am pulling my weight in this household or not! Made me realize how lucky I am to have J as a husband. He was exactly like you have described (or almost) but over the last 8 yeasr (ever since we moved to the US) he has changed a LOT. Maybe the family's influence is gone :P

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  27. Staying single has its points too. Like not having to adjust.

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  28. Loved this post. Personally, I feel the "wanna be SuperMom" deal is the biggest con there is. SuperMoms are vastly overworked - us normal Moms have a much better life :-) . Over the years, self and husband have influenced each other - he's become more clean, and I less so.

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  29. M,
    I like this conversation. As I am barely married--mostly separated, I can see over the fence so to speak. I do know that marriage is grossly unfair to women and you hit the nail on the head. But women tend to ignore these little inequities for the sake of harmonious coupledom. I am growing into my aloness as if I was awaking from a coma and I am beginning to enjoy this new sense of FREEDOM.
    Love,
    Babz
    www.lovebabz.blogpsot.com
    my life. my journey.

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  30. Hi Rohini, please add your blog to our new directory of Indian Blogs and pick up an Indian Independence badge, thanks!

    http://www.indiblogger.in

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  31. Beautifully expressed! It has given me so much to ruminate over.

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  32. every one of your bullet points resonates with me - makes me want to write my thoughts on this....

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  33. Good blog...all true.. yet one side of the picture.. Will try and put my thoughts on this... check in a few days...

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  34. Great post! Thank you!
    I think the signif. other needs to see this, maybe then he'll understand what exactly it is that I've been trying to explain to him!

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