Over the last four weeks, I’ve had a lot of deep conversations with women from different walks of life, homemakers, entrepreneurs, doctors, artists, consultants, and daily wage workers etc.; some friends, some family and some random women, who shared stories of the hardest challenges they were currently facing and also about some of our cultural belief systems and it’s impact on their lives.
I have weaved all of that into one story, a conversation a between a woman, Maya and her mother. Maya is in her late 30’s and is mother of 15 year-old twins, a boy and a girl.
Mom: Maya, what’s really bothering you?
Maya: I am not happy Ma. It feels like something is missing in my life.
Mom: What do you mean, is everything okay at home? Is it your health?
Maya: No, besides my occasional headaches, my health is just fine Ma.
Mom: Then what’s the problem?
Maya: I am not happy in my marriage anymore.
Mom: I don’t understand Maya, What aren’t you happy about? He has a well paying job, you have your own house, the children go to a good school, and he let’s you work, among all the other luxuries you have in life.
Maya: Yes, I agree, all that’s true. But I still feel a void. It seems like I am leading a mechanical life. I also have this nagging thought that it’s not fair! I feel like I don’t have a voice, and that I am doing more than my share of work.
Mom: What do you mean?
Maya: He and I both work, we leave home around the same time; get back home around the same time. Yet, before I leave, I have to make sure breakfast and lunch are packed for each of us including the children, and once we are back home in the evening, my day is not over still. I have to supervise over the dinner even though its being cooked by maid, spend some checking the children’s school work, and make sure clothes are sorted for the next day. All the while, he’d be relaxing on the couch, watching TV, or gone to the gym.
Mom: What exactly do you want from him, Maya? He is a man! Do you really expect him to help you cook, wash the dishes or help with the kid’s schoolwork? Are you out of your mind?
Maya: I don’t understand Ma, aren’t we both equals? We are working the same hours. Why do we have separate standards for men and women?
I am actually willing to put up with most of that but, what bothers me the most is that, I don’t feel we have a connection anymore. We have become strangers living under the same roof. When he has time off from work, he is either sleeping or glued to the sports channel until late into the night, or stuck on his mobile messaging or out with friends. When I bring up my need for connection, intimacy and conversation, he feels that I am asking for too much. That’s not a priority for him.
I feel we are growing distant. The only conversations we have are around the children, errands that need to be run for the home and kids, about our parents, or his work. I don’t see the space to have a conversation about each other, our day, let alone spends some quality time together. Apart from that, he complains that I am not interested in sex anymore. How does he expect me to be, when all of this is falling apart?
Mom: The whole thing about connection, love and conversation, I think you are watching too many movies. He is doing the best he can. He supports the family financially. He comes back home to you every night. The fact that he takes care of the family is proof enough that loves you. As for conversations and intimacy, men are not like that. Men aren’t emotional like women.
The problem with you women these days is that, since you are more educated now, and have started taking up jobs, you have too much exposure to the outside world, and have begun to expect more from life. You aren’t satisfied with what you already have.
This is one of the reasons that girls are urged to marry young, because it’s earlier to mould and shape their ideas and attitudes before they are exposed to the world, else, they become rigid, self centered and unwilling to make compromises in their relationships. They can always explore and do more after they marry.
Life is not the way you fantasise it to be, dear. Remember you are a woman. It’s your duty to take care of the family. Consider yourself lucky to be where you are. A lot of women, some of your own friends face worse problems.
Maya: Ma, this is really frustrating! I don’t get this. Why is it a privilege when man let’s his wife or daughter work or doesn’t physically abuse her? Aren’t these her birthright as an individual?
It’s sad Ma, I hear you are saying that I should consider myself lucky that I wasn’t married in my teens or that I don’t have to live with my in-laws or that I have an education and am allowed to pursue my career, all of which should be a given.
Am I also not earning and contributing? And even when I wasn’t working for a couple of years, I was still at home, working. I was taking care of the home and the children. Who says managing the house is not a good enough job. You should know that it’s as good as taking up a job.
Moreover, the more I do, it’s assumed that I have the capacity to do more or that it has been tagged as my role in the family. I don’t like that I am taken for granted.
Mom: You weren’t or still aren’t doing anything that’s so special, Maya! You are doing what you are supposed to do. Your duty as a woman is to do that. No matter how successful you are in your career it doesn’t mean anything if it’s at the cost of your family. You don’t seem be grateful for what you have.
Maya: You know Ma; I am tired of this role! This makes me wish I wasn’t born as a girl. If nothing changes, I fear for the plight of my daughter and also my son. Is this is part of our culture that they will inherit from me? This is not what I want for them.
I am grateful for what I have. But, do you really think that it’s enough? It certainly isn’t enough for me.I yearn for more. I want to feel loved; I want to feel cared for. I want to have quality time with him. I want us to have conversations. I want to feel like I am important and I matter. I want to feel valued. Not just as a wife but as an individual. Do you know what it feels like to not be consulted with on crucial matters with regard to the family or finances? I feel like I don’t have a voice anymore, and that my opinion doesn’t matter.
I need more but I am given the impression that I don’t deserve to ask for more since everything I already have seems like a privilege.
We’ve been married 15 years now. Soon the children will leave home. I wonder what will be left of this relationship after that because the children won’t be around to distract us anymore.
And the conversation continues between them………
This definitely is NOT a portrait of all men and all women, yet we have all experienced some shades of this, in some form or the other in our lives. On a global level, women from different cultures and races have similar experiences similar too.
But this definitely raises many questions …
Why have men defined their identity primarily from being the providers and protectors for the family? What parts of them get shut off in the process?
Why have most women defined and derived their self-worth from the measure of how well they can nurture, how good a wife and/ or mother they are?
Why is the need for intimacy least important in a relationship, when that’s most required to nurture and sustain the relationship?
Have you ever wondered why people have relationships outside the marriage? Why marriages fall apart? What need are not met in the relationship that causes that?
What makes individuals / couples not work of on their relationship even though they are unhappy and can complain about it for years? Why do they resign to it, as though nothing can be done about it?
What happens when one person in the relationship feels unsatisfied and it doesn’t seem important enough to be addressed by the other?
What is the stigma that most families have towards getting help in working on their relationships? What are the fears it brings?
What are the norms that we have been following with regard to culture and relationships, that aren’t working any more? What shift needs to happen?
There is no one-stop solution to these challenges. Our cultural beliefs are deeply ingrained is us. Even though some parts of it don’t work for us, it is also what make us and defines us. So in trying to find a solution we most often adopt a modern views or approaches, radically different from our own, which might or might not serve our needs.
There are many ways approach this, but from an individual perspective, one best place to begin is with “OURSELVES”. Take a good look at our lives. What do we want from lives? What are the challenges we are facing in our lives where we see ourselves as victims? How are we contributing to that? What are we allowing into our lives, which not serving us? How can we take responsibility for what we have created in our lives rather than blame everything and everyone outside ourselves? What can we say NO to? What is the kind of relationship we want in our lives and what are we willing to do in order to create that? How passionate and proactive are we about living and creating our best lives? What is the story we want to write about the rest of our lives?