(original posted on 06/17/16)
I have been inundated with emails and calls from friends and relatives, offering to help me “resolve the conflict” or “fix the problem”. I feel a need to clear the air. I think posting on FB is an effective way, rather than explaining to everyone individually.
I understand the sentiment and I appreciate it. Some of the people I have known all my life and some I met along the way. I have celebrated with you many milestones together. We have shared, cried and laughed over picnics, potlucks, dinners, birthdays, anniversaries, festivals. Our children grew up together, signed up for carpools and schools potlucks. You name it. Yes, I understand the disbelief and surprise, given thousands of years of cultural conditioning of arranged marriages and its dictum: ’Once married, forever married’.
You ask me what happened? Why such a drastic decision and if there is any way you can help resolve the issue.
I want to assure you that there is no “conflict” or “problem”. It is simply a choice where both of us have agreed to go separate ways. There is no abuse or cheating involved as some are speculating.
I am simply activating the gift of choice–choice between maintaining the status quo of my arranged marriage or be my true self. I am giving myself the permission, without any guilt, fear or apology, to step out of the ancient cultural paradigm of arranged marriage and honor my authentic unique self. Husband of eighteen years has agreed to step away, in support of my choice to bring forth the true expression of myself as such.
Eighteen years ago, I met a stranger in a cafe, surrounded by uncles, aunts, cousins, parents and two months later I found myself standing in front of him, donning the esteemed crown of ‘wife’ and he of’ husband’. I was ‘happily’ married to somehow I hardly knew. There was no need to think about emotional and spiritual compatibility. It was enough that we both were of the same caste, had a stable source of income and a mutual family in between. Everyone gave us a roaring applause. It was dignified. It was magnificent.
They tell me it was my choice. On my own accord I walked into the system of arranged marriage.
Or, was I lead to believe that that’s the only choice I had, considering strong loyalty towards the system that I inherited by taking birth in a culture where people love the establishment of arranged marriage as much they love themselves. A set of ideology they follow like a religion and for which they change their opinions, stifle their ambitions and desires, and sacrifice their whole life for it. They become diminished in some way because of it—and yet they defend it with all their hearts, minds, and souls. Yes, no one forced me. It was my choice.
I truly believed that I was making a good choice, the best choice indeed, for it contained the seal of approval from everyone I knew. I was a golden child, a perfect member of the community, following all rules and norms. I saw admiration and validation for me in the eyes of my peers, relatives, elders, parents, teachers when they heard about my pending arranged marriage. And I felt at ease, and pleased that I was walking the right path. After all, it was an expected path charted out by my ancestors for my benefit, time-tested for its validity.The same familiar path they had walked on before me. What can be wrong with it? Of course, it was the right thing to do. In fact, a grand thing to do.
Blessings from elders flowed to me: “Now forget about yourself, your husband is everything” “You are so lucky” “You cannot be very ambitious, after all you are a wife.” “You need to follow your husband” “This is your destiny now” “You will have to adjust, for a man doesn’t” Though the words were dis empowering, everyone was saying it as though it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Maybe, I thought bewildered, there was some unspoken principle that everyone seemed to be aware of that I was missing. So I smiled and nodded and agreed.
That day I lost sight of who I was truly and began to exist solely as someone’s wife.
At the threshold of my new ‘blessed’ life, did he see me as an individual with my unique expressions, ambitions, thoughts and ideas? We both were presented to each other (already ready made) as husband and wife before anything else, hardwired into an established system of do’s and don’t’s, unreasonable expectations and unending judgements.
Everything in my life before marriage was nullified and everything after it was planned based on a single four letter word: ’wife’. That was the central point of reference in my every interaction, every thought and every choice. The true person that I was lost somewhere under the layers of expectations and judgements, flawlessly controlled by the glorious gift of validation and approval of society. And where ‘husband’ had the right of the way as sanctioned and sealed by the patriarch society. Where a woman’s worth is pre-determined by her gender regardless of the level of intelligence, education, openness of heart and mind. Where she is judged as “less than” simply for being born a woman. Where, in the name of tradition, men’s aggressive and patronizing behavior over women is considered respectful and righteous.
Relationships are supposed to help each other grow and evolve, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Instead I merely fulfilled a set of expectation and blindly followed a way of being that was already blueprinted for me. I could hardly call it a relationship. Perhaps, portrayal of a role is fitting.
We grew to love each other, just as two people grow to love each other with time, connected by the bond of marriage and children. We were whole-hearted and sincere in our devotion to each other and meant everything we said and felt. But like everything else that is based on a shifting foundation, this must also fall away, so that the person underneath, the unchangeable, the imperishable, authentic aspect of a living being can be expressed fully.
I’ve wondered a thousand times: Why is it so important to live in the same way others have lived? Why is it so important what others will say? A person’s integrity is to follow one’s dreams. Everyone is unique. Then why is it necessary that everyone should fit into a single idea of what they should be? Why is it so important that I do what others expect of me?
No! I mustn’t think such things, I admonished myself. It is wrong. Quick. Hide your true self behind your poker face. Shrink your uniqueness down, make it small, safe, normal, comfortable for others.
My ingrained fear of judgement from my loved ones held me back all these years. “What will people say” froze me to a point that it shrunk my ability of rational thinking to fit into a predetermined box of cultural norms and agreements. I had invested so much in this shared construct of arranged marriage that it felt inconceivable to even think anything beyond it.
After two decades, and with a certain sadness, I have embraced the truth that I do not share with my culture the same view as them about the system of arranged marriage. I do not share the society’s fierce pride in it, people’s sense of sacrificing everything, their identity, their dreams, and, most of all, their freedom at the altar of an arranged marriage.
There is no blame on anyone. As part of my cultural conditioning, I agreed to this system. It has worked for hundreds of years for generations of people, perhaps, thousands even. They have inherited this system and trying to make the best of it in their own unique ways. I understand, but I no longer wish to feed it, I no longer wish to make it stronger by continuing my agreement to it, a system that is in dire need of an upgrade.
“What gives me the right to disturb the intricate balance on which our society is hung,” as so keenly pointed out to me by a close family member.
(An actual conversation)
FM: You can be or do anything you want to. It is your choice. Who is stopping you to be true to yourself?
Me: Well, as long as my way of being does not conflict with the fact that I am a wife and everything about my life has to adjust around this central role “wife”.
FM: Well, who are we to judge the well-tested method of our ancestors? We can,only, attempt to repeat.
Me: How about being a complete person first? How about honoring yourself first?
FM: What are you saying? You are first and foremost a wife.
Me: How about not borrowing your ambitions from your husband?
FM: Not allowed. Don’t forget you are a wife.
Me: But I have choice to be my true self.
FM: Well, yes, within certain conditions.
Disturb the intricate balance of society. Really. Aren’t our expectations unreasonable if we wait for the society to evolve. Society is not outside us, like a building we can visit and admire. People make society. I do. You do. We are its building blocks. To think that I will wait for the next man or woman to become more conscious, more aware and alert, then I will join in the dance of evolution. Don’t you think it is absurd, for we all are in it together.
“You must be the change you want to see in the world” as Mahatma Gandhi had said. The inbuilt process of evolution is automatically going on whether we are aware of it or not. But consciously we—as parents, teachers, workers, friends, inventors, leaders, mostly as human beings—all carry equal responsibility to hold the space for an evolved society, for our children to show up as aware, authentic individuals. And that is possible only when we show up as aware and conscious individuals, when we honor the true authentic self that we are, before we fall into an agreement with anything else, be it a thought, an idea or a full-fledged established system.
People who see me on a regular basis know how my physical health has taken its toll in my effort to maintain the status quo. Cultural reflex, I suppose. And it is exhausting. As I write this and I know I will post it for the world to read, I feel a great relief, a kind of unburdening. I sense a heaviness lift from the field of my body and mind. I notice as it begins to go into a healing mode. And I know I will be okay. No longer can I hide behind any kind of personal or cultural excuse, and finally I can be I as I am.
Number of estranged family members and friends have skyrocketed in the past six months and I suspect the number will be on the rise. But that’s okay. I don’t mind.
I am at a place where there is self-love to stay in the field of my true, authentic Presence. With loving energies pouring on our beloved planet at this time and space, there is a deep knowing that Universe is moving us all, as individuals and collectively as human species, into more abundance, love and joy than we can ever imagine.
Sending love to all