Mommy Diaries: Divorce, Possibilities, and Lessons

I came across a post that asks the same question that I – a feminist – asked for a while. Why aren’t marriages lasting like our grandparents generation – what changed?

A very smart person from America replied: This is answered weekly and no one is listening. You might also ask, “Why didn’t women have bank accounts until the ’70s?” or “open a bank account without a man’s signature up until the 70s” or “Why couldn’t women get fired for being pregnant until the 70s”?

Let’s analyse that for a second. A man can also be your father, not particularly your husband – you could open bank accounts with the help of your father’s signature. Then what stopped women from divorcing?

I’m going to take India as an example here.

In India, even today, women are less likely to have a bank account than men, particularly in rural areas. One of the reason why it was such a hullabaloo when India opened its first state-owned bank for women (in 2012/2013?). In North, North West, Western India and rural India for example, under kinship regulations, women are prevented by cultural practice from inheriting property titles, and by practice her husband inherits the property from the brides father if she’s a single child with no male siblings. This prevents women from gaining financial independence and makes it harder for women to offer collateral to take out bank loans in order to establish any sort of business. While in metropolitan cities, women who are economically independent are the ones who would open their own bank accounts without needing a male chaperone for their finances. Unless underaged. Of course that can’t be the case for rural women living in extreme conditions and still supporting their families by working as vendors, selling farm-yields, crafts, working as domestic help (work in homes, getting paid by the day or month according to arrangements), etc. The problem with these lower class or lower middle class women is that the money they earn is too little and thus not the type that will be deposited in a bank account but rather used immediately to support the family. Note, here women are still working to financially support their families and not limited to staying at home or doing nothing. Most of the time they support abusive husbands who waste their money on drinks and pleasures. So what stops her from divorcing?

You would say – ha! The American was right. I would say. Wait. Not so fast.

In India it is almost a cultural taboo to divorce. If your wife leaves you then your manhood is quested, and if your husband leaves you then you have questionable morals. Many women actually stay separate from their husband – even when that means they have to store their money in tin cans instead of a bank. Many living in the same household have their own little piggy bank where they save up. Then why not divorce? What we forget is the cost of divorce. Both economic and social. They do not have the means to afford lawyers to get a divorce or master up enough courage to be called an easy woman thus falling prey to rampant rapists and sex offenders cause she is a divorcee. Let alone sex offenders – women would bad-mouth women who divorce in India. Even when the abuse is evident, many women would consciously chose to victim-blame.

So no. It is not about finances and financial independence as much as it is about mentality, social acceptance. The pressure of having to live as a pariah in your own community is not everyone’s cup-of-tea! Overtime in America that mentality of what is a loose woman changed and thus gave women that independence to move out of abusive marriages. It is yet to happen in India. Many would argue that in the metropolitan cities it is different. Which is only partially true. The mentality of cornering divorced women into seclusion is very much still seen in Gujarati communities in Mumbai, and Marwari communities in Calcutta. To the point (if they never had children) many would pretend not to have been married in the first place after getting an annulment rather than a divorce. And believe it or not, there’s an actual visible status of relationship (including “Divorced”) in the OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India). Which enforces the taboo that goes with that social status.

It is indeed fascinating how taboos and communal pressure can make us function in a social situation. This brings me back to the question of why aren’t marriages lasting like our grandparents generation – what changed?

My parents are married 43 years. They have gone through some big turbulence through their wedded life. My mother is financially independent, she has her own property, her own inheritance (North East India and Eastern India function very differently when it comes to inheriting property titles). Then why did they not divorce? Was it just the fear of society?

My mother replied: I did-not marry your father to whimsically leave him cause we got into disagreements. We decided to stick through and work through it.

(Which was a straight jab at me, as I did get divorced).

I asked them both: So what about those who go through abusive relationships? Husbands who cheat? Husbands who don’t want to have a family – as at children? Should they remain in such marriages?

My father replied: No one loves continuously in the same pace. That is impossible. I often hate your mom and your mom hates me but that doesn’t mean I will leave her. Overtime love reflects through family, togetherness and years of perseverance. Of course cheating spouse means – the one cheating is causing lack of trust, showing that marriage to them is simply validating what is carnal. It’s hard to come back from that. In such cases best not to marry. If you don’t want children – why marry? Have a live-in. Be independent. Don’t waste money. You never know how your situation might change later. And if you both are on the same page with open relations and no children etc., and want to marry knowing that the situation will remain so for good – then go ahead. Marriage is at the end of the day life long companionship.

My very conservative mother replied to that with: That is not very Indian. Such things are frowned upon in India.

My father bickered: Good that she is not in India then. She has her financial and sexual freedom.

Then he said to me: Just remember that with freedom comes power and with power comes responsibility. Use your freedom responsibly. So that it does not hurt another.

I asked: Is that what you would have told your son too? If you had one that is?

He replied: Oh no. I would have told him to practice saying “yes dear” more often than I did. Happy wife equals happy life.

I had to laugh but this stuck through “with freedom comes power and with power comes responsibility”. Most of us do not know how to use our freedom responsibly. I know many men and women who ended their marriage cause “the spark is gone” only to discover that the spark is never constant. And once the idea that the spark isn’t there prevails then the whole ego aspect comes to play. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me.

I believe that is what our generation suffers from. The answer to why marriages aren’t lasting like our grandparents generation is very simple.

Possibilities. Too many possibilities. We lose focus. It’s like a buffet and we want to try them all – irresponsibly.

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