Thursday, January 02, 2014

Happier - Then or Now?

If you are blessed to be in a content and happy marriage, read on...

Are you happier now than you were before marriage? (i.e., before you actually tied the knot, took the vows)
What would your answer be and why? I would love for you to share!

During a recent gathering amongst our close friends, one of our friends dropped this question on us just before the dawn of the new year. 

To my surprise, all the married men in the room immediately stated that they were much happier and more at peace after marriage. I thought they were joking or being sarcastic, but since the conversation moved into serious realms, I realized they were all giving their earnest, genuine responses. 

I was touched, of course.  I thought men silently resented the institution ;)

But, here lies the rub. All the women fell into a deathly silence (for once). Some of us didn't have a clear, definitive answer, and those who did answer felt they were more carefree, stress-free and much much more blissful before marriage.

Eventually all the women (except me) answered, and all their answers matched the consensus that life was way more happier and peaceful in terms of lesser stress, lesser responsibilities and obligations before marriage. Note that these answers come from couples in healthy, happy marriages.

What a contrast between the men and the women! I never expected the responses to be this similar within all the men and women. But, given that all of us at the gathering were Indians, there is obviously a cultural effect. No matter how progressive your spouse and family is, one thing still remains true - Indian women bear the brunt of family responsibilities after marriage. The number of people they need to appease and constantly oblige, the kinds of PR initiatives they need to take up to maintain relationships within and between the two sets of families, the pressure of balancing the load of expectations to always, effortlessly manage work and home, the number of questions they need to answer (and the number of people they are "answerable" to {one of them mentioned the frustration of having to always defend & justify her parenting techniques}), and the ease with which they get criticized for every misstep - everything doubles after marriage. In contrast, almost all Indian men have zero expectations from the woman's family (how common is it for a husband to remember the wife's parents' anniversary? But what a catastrophic scenario would ensue if the wife forgets the husband's parents' anniversary?), they are easily forgiven, their responsibilities with regards to relationship-maintenance between family members is again close to zero, and they don't have to go through the emotional and stressful experience of balancing two families whilst making oneself as likeable and uncontroversial as possible. They are a bit pampered compared to the women, aren't they?

All the women (and most of the men) came up with the above differences and agreed that the emotional and mental load is indeed disproportionally distributed between the man and the woman.

It is such a pity that chronic emotional resentments and stress can cause most women in happy marriages to still prefer that period of time in their lives when they were pampered and carefree. Our social attitudes towards women & marriage still need to reform - no surprises there.

If you are wondering what my answer is, I am not sure I have one. Happiness is a subjective measure - it's hard to encapsulate so many different aspects of life into one simple measure or term. And I don't want to view marriage as such a sharp delineating marker. My life can't be segmented like that. But I do realize this - despite the challenges that accompany any marriage, I have no regrets today. I wouldn't give up what I have today. I have grown as a person and have a companion to keep growing with, and that to me is invaluable. That said,  I don't think my happiness has increased necessarily, but it hasn't diminished either. Every phase of life comes with its own unique experiences, joys, and challenges - ups and downs, happiness and disappointments. So my emotions always get neutralized in every phase...there is no perfect phase or time period in my life that I am nostalgic for, because they are all imperfect. You gain some and you lose some, always. In that regard, my happiness quotient has been constant and satisfying... no spikes and no abysmal dips.... and I am blessed and grateful for that constancy.


Anonymous said...

Well written. Although, I think that answer would change depending on how many years of marital bliss or misery (from a different perspective) that one has been subject to. Marriage becomes companionship in a few years. When the essence of balancing families, relationships and the management of expectations changes over the years,you don't care about pleasing everyone and being likeable. You are what you are beyond a point, irrespective of how much you have tried in the past and your true personality will always prevail. Marriage is an institution that should be enjoyed and cherished like you said, because unfortunately,some people are not fortunate enough to be blessed by a concordant and harmoniously committed relationship.

Anne John said...

Interesting question. I am surprised at the men's answers too! Wow! I have only heard men - especially young men - crib about life after marriage!

I think that nostalgia has the power to colour almost all our memories in rosy hues. For instance, when we were kids we couldn't wait to grow up but now when we look back we think childhood was much better because we don't recall most of the difficulties or challenges that we faced as a child (I mean what about all the homework, eh?!?). Similarly, before getting married so many things in my life made me feel unhappy and I thought that I would be happier after marriage. Now, I look back and wonder why on earth was I unhappy before marriage - forgetting about all the times I felt lonely or had to face unnecessary questions about my relationship status!

Plus, as the saying goes, "Happiness Is A State Of Mind". There are days when I feel extremely happy, blessed and even relieved to have married by husband; and then there are days - especially after a spat - when I feel miserable and think that I was better off by myself!

As much as I enjoyed my childhood and think today that it was the best phase of life, I don't really want to turn the clock back. Similarly, I wouldn't want to give up what I have now and go back to my unmarried state even though I do think that there were fewer worries back then.

Neeraja said...

Anonymous - Thanks for sharing. You're right - the answer will definitely change if one has been in an unhappy relationship. But what surprised me was this - the group of friends that discussed this topic consisted of couples who have been happily married for 2-14 years, with and without kids. Yet, despite the range in marriage "length" and the presence/absence of kids, it was striking that all the responses were identical within each gender.

I agree, Marriage is all about companionship for me. It is nothing less from the start. I guess managing expectations and walking the tight rope between families is a small annoyance to be paid in light of the bigger picture, and like you said, it (hopefully) fades into negligence if you are fortunate to be blessed with a companion that commits to a harmonious relationship.

Anne - I know! How did these men turn so sentimental?! ;)

I agree! I dread to think back to those miserable high school and college years! Yet, we did manage to make good and happy memories even then! No phase is without worries... and as we grow up, our responsibilities and consequently, worries do grow with us. It's all part of our human existence. But the grass always seems greener on the other side when we are bogged down by the present.

Srishti Krish said...

Good one... An important point to note is that women generally want to be accepted by the family and the society while for the men it's not a factor they burden themselves with... This matter of adjusting was easier for indian women of previous generations because it was drilled into them from childhood. Our gen with its stamp of individuality finds it a little hard

Neeraja said...

Very true Srishti. Nice to hear from you :)