Friday, March 28, 2008

The Delusion of a Heavenly Marriage

There are women I know either professionally, socially or both. They are in their twenties and thirties, married with or without children. Some are from India, like I am, and others are not. They have very little in common except for one thing: they just can't stop rhapsodizing about their marriages and their husbands. They have stars in their eyes as they recount the many generous, romantic, and thoughtful things their men do for them all the time. They seem to be married to their soul mates and are very naturally beside themselves with joy.

Not everyone has the good fortune to find someone so special with which to share their lives. It brings the kind of happiness that levitates them. They are floating on a cloud high above the ordinary and mundane. You can tell the joy is not manufactured. They really believe they are living in heaven and are married to the most perfect man in the whole world. They are aware of their good fortune and never fail to show their heartfelt appreciation for the man who made their world a thing of such unsurpassed beauty.

I used to be such a woman some years ago. One of my closest friends was also living in heaven just like me with her perfection-incarnate husband. Interestingly, we saw the blemishes and indeed fatal flaws in each other's marriages, but absolutely none in our own. When we separated within a few months of each other, we wondered what all that celestial happiness was about. As it turned out, everything we suspected was wrong in the other person's marriage really was, and there was much more than that as well. Our degree of self-delusion was nothing short of fantastic. Neither of us was willing to accept that our marriage was dead on arrival and that we would be best served by cutting our loses early and bailing out.

Instead we were willing to put up this huge charade of walking on clouds, happy and fulfilled beyond belief, attributing to our husbands qualities they just did not possess. We had turned them into demi-gods who could not do wrong. We continued with this pantomime in the face of overwhelming odds - extreme emotional battery in my case, severe alcohol and drug abuse in hers.

By the time we got a grip on the reality of our marriages, I was calling the local women's shelter crisis line to help me plan my escape from "paradise" with a three-month-old child. My friend was in the emergency room for the second time in a month with her overdosed husband. His social drinking was a very serious problem and so was his recreational drug use.

We preferred to pretend our troubles were only in our imagination and that there was absolutely nothing wrong with our marriages. Our husbands were deliriously in love with us and sometimes delirium makes people act strangely. After all, this was a grand love and just not the ordinary domestic co-existence most married people have. We had found our soul mates, so the experience had to be significantly different from the run of the mill.

When I go back in time to my teens and early twenties, I don't recall any of the older married women in my acquaintance acting like marriage had transported them to heaven. They talked about their husbands in a way that felt perfectly grounded. They saw the flaws and imperfections for what they were and accepted it as their lot.

Many marriages were difficult. The ones that were not were pedestrian at best. It was okay either way. There were no other options. Sometimes, a man would show his loving and romantic side, and his wife would mention that to her friends. There would be some good-natured ribbing over it. Others would share anecdotes in similar vein. Life went on. No one was delirious; nobody's happiness was causing levitation.

Even though most of them had no career or an identity independent of whom they were married to, they did not obsess over marriage and husband. Contrary as it may seem, the independent, educated career women of today cannot seem to get used to the fact they are married, they newness of the idea takes forever to fade.

Our generation seems to have a need to win and win big in the gamble of marriage. It is not good enough to be doing okay to just break even. That is as good as having lost. When you lose, the only honorable way out is to leave, otherwise you deserve every bit of the shit you are getting. If you stay on, it's because you don't have the means or the guts to stake it out alone. Only a spectacularly successful and happy marriage is a keeper. The rest are disposable.

There is very little compassion for those who eke it out in a miserable marriage for the greater good. It is no longer acceptable to whine and complain about one's marriage because very few will commiserate. The only wisdom the crowds have to offer is that if it is not working, get out of it as soon as you can. There are so many other options. Start over.

So a woman who wants to stay on in a marriage that is dangerously wrong for her will invent a paradise in which to house it. She will convince herself this made-up heaven is real, that the man she is married to is perfect deep inside, and that the aberrations are only superficial. He is her diamond in the rough, and she will in time have turned into the Hope. All well be well in time. She will need to talk about her version of truth relentlessly because that gives her the affirmation she seeks so desperately.

In the smiling faces of her listeners — their expressions of incredulity and disbelief at such a perfect union — lies her salvation, but there is only so much distance a myth can travel even when propelled by public adulation for a charmed life. One day the force of gravity overcomes the power of levitation and that is a terrible moment of truth. When I see a woman who cannot stop talking about how gloriously happy she is with her husband and how her marriage is made in heaven, I feel just the slightest twinge of anxiety. Maybe I overreact.


In Want of Being Me said...

Bitter truth strewn around with beautiful words.

"He is her diamond in the rough, and she will in time have turned into the Hope"
- Many women think this way, but unfortunately that never happens so.

Also, most people tend to live with it, listening to the stories which they imagine are worse then theirs. So they stick on. Another main is because splitting is taboo.

Very beautifully written.

ggop said...

I never thought of this delusion aspect. I have seen women who totally adored their husbands, it was really amusing. These guys were our colleagues and we'd marvel at their hero-worship groupie behavior. They'd force themselves to like organized sports like football because their husbands were into it.

letters2d said...

You almost make it sound like all marriages will end up being mediocre, if not loveless at best ;-), so get over it. As far as being delusional, I have seen men equally tickled pink, the first few months/years of their marriage. It's like when you are working at this new place, you want to learn and be on top of everything. But give it a year and you go 'yeah whatever'.

H said...

in want of being me - Thanks ! It seems like the social support system that it took for less than perfect marriages to work out over time is missing these days.

There is an expectation that your marriage must be made in heaven to be worth anything. Like with everything else these days, the standards are impossibly high.

Those who don't quite make it and can't bring themseleves to spilt will resort to delusion.

ggop - That is just the kind of woman that inspires some concern in me. It is normal to develop common interests over time but to go to that kind of extreme is usually a sign of something wrong.

Groupie is the word that does come close to describing it. Delusion is like a high - you don't see reality for what it is.

It usually takes something incredibly painful to snap out of it and become aware of what is really going on.

letters2d - I don't think all marriages are mediocre and/or loveless. I have had the good fortune of seeing some pretty strong marriages that have stood the test of time.

The thing that they all have in common is the sense of being grounded. The couple is comfortable in their own skin and with each other. They rarely talk about how much they love each other but you can tell they share something very special.I have seen crisis bring out the very best in such couples.

Just as obsence ostentation is to a parvenu,so is the delusion of heavenly bliss to those in anything but a good marriage. When you are truly happy you won't need to flaunt it constantly.