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Sometimes relationships do fail

Updated on: 08 July,2022 06:30 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Rosalyn D`mello |

And yet, the image of a divorced woman is so threatening to our society, even to this date, because she is the embodiment of going against convention and prioritising her own interests and needs

Sometimes relationships do fail

I am frequently shocked by the levels of abusive behaviour most women have to put up with and the glaringly unequal share of parental and domestic obligations, and yet leaving is not an option because there is no sense of a sure-footed self. Representation pic

Rosalyn D’MelloThis week I’ve been thinking a lot about the institution of divorce. Not because of my personal circumstances, but after having read an Instagram post of someone I know announcing such an alteration in her relationship. Some months ago, another person I follow had similarly posted about their changed status. What I found intriguing and commendable in both instances was the dignified nature of their language. Neither felt the need to offer the world explanations, or get into specifics. There was an acknowledgement that the marital situation was not ideal, but no airing of intimate laundry, no partner bashing, no defensiveness. I even wondered if there was something empowering about their posts for others who may be on the fence about their relationships, if it could offer the push some of us sometimes need to stop inhabiting a space of inertia just because it is comfortable and familiar.


I thought about the divorced women in my own life, whom I respect enormously for having had the courage to make an informed decision about their relationship, who went against the grain and acted in a manner that expressed a loyalty towards their personal happiness. It is challenging, to put it mildly, to arrive at a point at which one finds the resolve one needs to make a life-altering decision to move forward independently and begin anew. It really ought to be celebrated.


Even though we were never equipped with the agency to make informed choices about the people we want to spend our lives with, as women, we are conditioned to bear the emotional burden of endurance. Those of us who are compelled to consent to arrange marriages have often to put up with the continued infantilisation of our needs and our will. A friend who had decided she wanted to separate from her asexual husband was told by a counsellor to have children instead! This isn’t new, this suggestion of children as some sort of ‘fevicol’-like arrangement that could hold together something that’s not just falling apart but was perhaps not meant to be a unit. The pressure feels different depending on whether you had a ‘love marriage’ or ‘arranged’. In the first instance, you feel even more compelled to put up with the state of crisis because you feel like it was a choice you were allowed to make, and seeking a divorce feels like acknowledging a failure for which you alone are to blame. In the second instance, when you make your displeasure known to anyone you are told to either stick with it, things will get better once you get to know your partner, or to have children. In both cases the biggest casualty is frequently our sense of self which is chipped at on a daily basis until there is no longer any trace of it and we become shadows of our once-beings.


Despite all my reservations with the patriarchal nature of marriage as an institution, I chose to sign papers with my partner because I was aware it would ease our situation. Nurturing a long-distance relationship was challenging because it had become clear we wanted to be together. Marriage was the most effective way to circumvent visa fees and bureaucracy. It was not easy for me to decide to give up a certain share of my autonomy. But a darling friend gave me excellent advice when I asked her if she also felt it was simply too soon. She had, by then, been married for some years. She told me I didn’t have to think of this as some permanent arrangement. If it didn’t work out, ‘part ways’, was her two-bit. Her saying that gave me the permission I felt I needed to take the plunge. But beyond that, it helped me re-programme how I had been conditioned to think about couple-down, about the ‘eternal’ nature of relationships.

Sometimes we’re simply not the same people we were when we began our journey with another person, and to decide to leave someone shouldn’t have to feel like a saga. I much prefer the notion of choosing every day to be with someone rather than feeling forced to because your lives are entangled by various dependencies. So many people, particularly women, put up with so much shit from their partners and abuse from their in-laws in the name of endurance. As I navigate motherhood through my membership of certain Facebook support groups, meant specifically for Indian mothers, I am frequently shocked by the levels of abusive behaviour most women have to put up with and the glaringly unequal share of parental and domestic obligations, compared to men. For many, leaving is not an option because there is no sense of a sure-footed self. For many, sharing a child with another precludes the possibility of divorce, as if a child was a life sentence. I have so many friends who wished their parents had respectfully separated rather than continuing to live together passive-aggressively, scarring them for life. No good can ever come from martyring one’s sense of self and surrendering one’s agency.
 
As I thought about these recent posts I felt I understood why the divorced woman is so threatening to society. She is so clearly a figure that has somehow dared to go against convention and act in her self-interest. I have been wondering what it could be like for children to grow up, instead, in an environment in which they learn that sometimes relationships fail, sometimes people part ways, and it is perfectly respectable to recognise when a partnership has reached a dead-end, and that sometimes the decision to leave is actually a way of preserving its glory. 

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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