Getting married is oft romanticised as the ultimate goal of a relationship/dating. Films, TV series often end with the couple getting hitched, especially animated films of the disney variety tend to end with marriage and a promise of happily ever after and we rarely ever see this magical ‘ever after’.
Back in 2003, I remember watching a film titled ‘Chalte Chalte’, the first half revolves around the usual tropes of boy meets girl, they get off to a rocky start but gradually become friends and fall in love, there’s a love triangle and family resistance but they surmount those obstacles and get married. I thought it was romantic, the songs were good and the humour spot on. I also though the film was over but turns out we were only halfway through and it surprised me as I was thinking well they’re married so they’re gonna be happy, all good, all sorted but when I realised they were going to show ‘marital problems’, I distinctly remember feeling my heart sink because subconsciously I didn’t want to have this idyllic picture ruined but was also morbidly curious as to which direction they would take this in.
The main characters go through financial problems, family relationship breakdown and slowly drift apart. This crushed me, I couldn’t comprehend what was happening.
Bear in mind that I hadn’t exactly been around healthy examples of marriage while growing up, my parents got close to divorce multiple times and were unhappy, other wedded couples in my immediate family had more than their fair share of trials. So why was I so surprised at seeing Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukherjee going through the same issues?
In spite of all the bad that I had seen in real life, romantic comedies gave me hope and built this idea that if you found the right person, you’d be alright, you’d always be smiling and happy and you’d sing and dance around the house together. Until you had kids that is…THEN your kids would sing and dance with you and repeat the cycle!
That film gave me pause, I related it back to my parents’ situation then brushed it aside. Fast forward a year, I watched Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam(which actually came out 2 years earlier but I was a poor student in London so I only caught it when a friend lent me the DVD, or was it VCD still then?!)
Now this plot started with a similar premise, the couple get married but the husband doubts whether his wife is just being a dutiful wife rather than actually being in love with him and her friendship with a male friend adds to the drama and self doubt. Those feelings of lack of self worth, doubt, needing constant reassurance really hit home for me. Having had an ‘unstable’ childhood due to a traumatic event at age 8/9 and having a controlling father as my primary male role model hadn’t actually turned me into him but instead made me feel unvalidated and unworthy on many occasions, the surrounding patriarchal society also had a lot to do with that. I related more to the women around me who were at the whim of their partners and has to ask for permission to go outside than I did to the men, who had money, resources, flash cars, seemingly owning the world and the women in it.
I examined my own life and relationships and noted a disturbing truth, as much as I rejected the controlling behaviour that I had seen, my lack of self worth made me seek validation in others and that constant need turned into somewhat demanding behaviour towards people I was in a relationship with, I would need a text or a call regularly, I would ask for reassurance, confirmation of their feelings regularly. I saw it as something that was essential in the relationship, that need to be told and reminded that I meant something to someone, that I mattered.
It took me nearly a decade to work through this(I’ll probably delve into that decade in another post, should there be an apetite for it), counselling, breakups, health scares, depression, a lot happened on my way to discovering who I was when I didn’t have anyone with me. Who am I without my friends, partners, family? I remember the moments where I felt whole for the first time since childhood. I was in the pre-production phase of a short film, was still refining the script and getting a crew/cast together, work was especially heavy during that period, lots of unpaid overtime. I had just saved up enough to help my parents buy a house and get out of the rental market. I got home after a production meeting, having found my crew, met a huge deadline at work and made the bank transfer which brought me back to zero savings and I remember feeling…good. It was alien to me at first, I had so many responsibilities, people counting on me, goals I wanted to achieve, classes I had signed up but for the first time, I didn’t feel overwhelmed, I looked at it all and thought to myself ‘I’ll only do this if I want to, not because I have to, I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do or be anyone I don’t want to be’. I allowed myself to stop feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders and to just let it all go, to care less about what was expected of me by others but more about what was healthy for me.
I met someone creative, active, kind and joyful. I did not seek her validation, she just gave me her support and was my biggest fan as I was her’s. We dated, were in a relationship, moved in together and were married not long after. Armed with the knowledge of what we’d seen around us growing up and not wanting to repeat the mistakes we had witnessed, We talked at length about what we each wanted from a life partner and dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s, agreed the no no’s and we compromised. 2 years later we got separated while expecting our first child, no amount of reading or relationship counselling could repair the rift between us. I was the first to say it out loud, its over, I cried. It seemed like life itself was ending, we wouldn’t get a house together, build a tree house for our children, get a scooter and go for picnics at the park on sundays, have quickies before going out on fridays, travel the world hand in hand while we grow old.
Now I could say that it was the upcoming birth of my child that got me through it but it would only be partially true. What got me through was the memory of that moment where I felt…good. Knowing that I felt that way once without anyone, and as dependant as I’d become on my life partner during our time together, I would be ok without her and she would also still thrive without me. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t an instant feeling of ‘yay i’m gonna be alright’, it took time, self reflection and mindfullness, we each had to work through our feelings of anger, abandonment, betrayal and pain, we mourned the relationship but we continued living for our own sakes and our child’s.
Divorce does leave you dissapointed and struggling to reconcile things for a while. Thinking of a life beyond the next 24 hours was impossible for a long time. But slowly that feeling of hope came back, armed with more life experience, I refused to be brought down and made even more cynical, I choose to love life again with all its wrinkles.
Unnecessary metaphor: Two people sow a seed in the Soil, both must water the plant and keep it protected from outside conditions for it to grow and blossom. If it gets too much water but not enough sun, it may well wither…