To Love & To Ignore

We love watching a romance bloom. We look for signs in couples that seem to be hitting it off. The high-pitched laughter that a (not so funny) anecdote provokes, the stolen glances, the unnecessary teasing, the flushed faces when they’re found out; we love it all. We whisper about the possibility of them getting married, discuss the pros and cons of their respective personalities and gauge their compatibility quotient for no reason. Ironically though, we are equally intrigued and interested in the fading of love. The whiff of dissonance in a relationship sets us off into speculating over the possibility of a break-up. Once again, we look for signs. This time around we can sense discontentment, pick up on a snide remark, mull over the probability of a third person in the equation and await the end of a relationship with half-dread and half- morbid excitement. Romantic films are as popular as films on troubled relationships. Perhaps, both represent our secret wishes and fears. The former explores the anticipation of finding the ideal partner and the latter the very likely disillusionment that follows. After all, we sub-consciously despise those who hold sway over us. The fact is that we miss the freedom when we give it away and miss the bondage when we break it.

Hence, marriage has become a synonym for compromise. After all, when the passion begins to wane, we need someone to pick up a carton of milk with, to fill out boring paperwork with, to travel with, to attend weddings with, to share a midnight conversation with. One cannot talk to a ceiling about a catastrophic piece of news, so we tolerate someone’s preoccupation with their gadgets or television shows for the rest of the time. At least they’re around when we blow out birthday candles or await a medical diagnosis. To this end we are willing to live in the gap between our ideal relationship and our imperfect reality. A long-term relationship dwells in the midst of companionship and loneliness, oscillates between a loving bond and discomforting familiarity and veers between stability and boredom. We often use humour to fill the emptiness caused by the complicated vacuum it creates. In fact, we are all drowning in husband-wife jokes. We’ve heard them over and over. George and Martha Wilson from ‘Dennis the Menace,’ Leroy and Loretta Lockhorn from ‘The Lockhorns’ and Hagar and Helga from ‘Hagar the Horrible.’ Hagar, the Viking who conquers other lands finds it difficult to deal with bossy Helga. Then there’s the occasional strip where they display affection for each other. This intermittent tug-of-war followed by affectionate interludes pretty much sums up a marriage, a good one.

Of course, there are marriages that reach a level of incompatibility that is impossible to regain. Issues like the outgrowing of a relationship, adultery and emotional abandonment have no solution. Yet, it may only be wishful thinking for everyone to be able to start over. Those who can, do so, but for many the emotional and financial responsibilities of a family and the pressures of an unforgiving society are hard to break.  At some point or the other, promises have been made, sacred vows have been exchanged and indelible memories have been shared. We are often looking for simple solutions to complicated situations and ought not to be surprised when they don’t appear. Spiders’ silk starts out in a liquid form and then folds itself and interlaces creating a highly organized structure without guidance from any outside force, eventually becoming stronger than steel. Most marriages are caught in a web such as this. So, while they dangle in the web, people would rather laugh than cry. Hence, the quips about a snoring husband, a shopaholic wife and so on.

I suppose strong relationships are formed by those who face reality. It is when we accept the person for who they are instead of who we want them to be that we achieve freedom from the generic idea of marriage and arrive at a personal understanding of that relationship. We all have our reasons, (unknown, sometimes even to ourselves) for continuing to be with someone. It is perfectly fine for an outsider to not understand our need to be in a relationship. Since the very beginning of human life, we have lived in groups, yet every new generation is increasingly trying to find completeness in solitude. One can’t help but wonder if it is possible to overcome centuries of social and mental conditioning. The key to harmony lies in accepting the fact that one is and can be solitary within the relationship. To develop a sense of detachment without losing the commitment.

A marriage stabilizes when a couple overcomes expectation and accepts that some or the other romantic desire is going to remain unfulfilled. When either age or maturity mellows them enough to stop looking for these missing pieces in another person. The void is internal and cannot be filled by another. Yet, it’s easier to understand life with someone you have known intimately for decades, with whom you may have raised children, who you have alternately loved and hated and who has watched you change over the years. There may have been a time when you detested your spouse’s family or put your partner through hell when you embarked on a failed venture or ignored them when you found success but these have been phases. Many couples successfully overcome trial separations, financial difficulties and promiscuity. Only a person who is married for a long time knows that marriage is not only about romance, love, companionship or sacrifice. Marriage (like anything else which has been around for a long time) is about focusing on everything that’s working instead of trying to fix the parts that were lost and which can no longer be replaced.

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