Where love has gone

Before one can say congrats to a newly-wed young couple, it is splitsville. Expectations from marriages have changed. Moving in and out of marriages is not seen as very different from switching jobs. It is part of a lifestyle where mobility is the mantra for success, writes Aruti Nayar

SHIVEN, mechanical engineer, and Persis, an air hostess, flouted tradition and family opposition to marry in haste but parted within two years because it was intolerable and a "living hell." She found true love with a friend, while he is embittered and can't think of marrying ever again.

Sumathi was sure Rahul was the man she could spend a lifetime with. A software engineer, she loved his artistic temperament. That he would never quite settle down dawned on her after an empty bank balance four years later. The glamour of being a painter's spouse dimmed and before she lost more of her money and balance of mind, she called it quits.

It was the mother of all weddings from designer wedding costumes to custom-made arrangements with the creme de la creme gracing the festivities spread over three days of unabashed display of money power and social clout. Before memories of the honeymoon in Switzerland, captured on the digicam, could fade away, it was splitsville. What went wrong? He, an executive with an MNC and she, with a degree in fashion designing from a top-of-the-line institute, parted due to "irreconcilable differences."

Why are marriages between upwardly mobile youngsters in high-pressure jobs cracking up sooner than you can say "congrats"? That marriage is neither an indissoluble sacrament nor a social contract is crystal clear. It no longer has to be "till death do us part." What is the form of agreement that replaces the traditional format? Try asking some of the youngsters and the cocky answers will vary from "a partnership" "beautiful friendship" "not a bondage but a bond" to "we clicked from the word go" and "he/she turns me on." It is for sure that the old framework has been junked. What replaces it is not hard-core pragmatism or business-speak which often defines a business contract but an ambivalence. The hazy romantic and dreamy idealism has surely given way but the substitute remains undefined. Youngsters may no longer see marriage as a life-long commitment but they have not logged on to the zone where pre-nuptial agreements and acceptance of infidelity and multiple partners are a part of the deal. "After all we are Indian" is a convenient refrain when the situation becomes dicey. Ditto for the aspirations and expectations. If he still expects her to be a perfect bahu and ghar ki rani, despite a high-pressure job and deadlines to meet, he should be ready to move more than he would as mama's moppet, where even getting a glass of water for himself was a project.

On her part, she expects him to be "everything rolled into one." He has to be sensitive, funny, intelligent, emotionally tuned in and, of course, his money is "our money while her money is hers alone." He is also expected to sever the emotional umbilical chord and forget he has certain duties as a son. He is also not expected to be a spoilsport and police her interaction with her friends and family or force her to toe his line.

If he is no longer the lord and master of all he surveys, she too is much more than the queen of his heart and hearth.

The boundaries of sex-specific roles have expanded and demarcations blurred but they both are fighting for the remote, refusing to see the bigger picture. If one invested the same amount of time, energy and effort into working at the marriage as one does to move up the career ladder and network, the divorce rate might plummet and counsellors could become redundant. With conflicting expectations and aspirations, there is very little "we" left in the marriage, it is more like "I love me and you'd better love me." Having junked the traditional edifice, it is nowhere zone for most couples because there is nothing to replace the "outdated" structure that they have discarded.

Outwardly trappings of modernity and affluence -latest gizmos, mobiles and fancy pay packages-coupled with the desire to work overtime to update lifestyles as well as acquisitions. There is very little time or desire to update the emotional wherewithal required to make a relationship work. Emotional intelligence and quotient might be stuff that corporate success stories and boardroom brainstorming are made of but the personal zone is taken for granted. "Most youngsters do not know the difference between being married and becoming married. Nowadays every role requires preparation, we are living on such fast-forward that we have to run faster to remain in the same place. Refusal to change and become modern beyond the dress and outward acquisitions kills many a relationship before it can blossom. Despite all symbols of progress, to a great extent, minds need to be liberated.

How problematic modernity can be is evident in relationships.

"I thought he was a sensitive soul but he expects me to slave it out while nothing has changed for him", bemoans a young executive whose spouse expects her to cook fresh food after a gruelling day at work. She wonders where the "modern" man she dated has vanished, while he wonders why the fun girl he knew and wooed has transformed into an insufferable nag and is perhaps more "modern" than he bargained for or can manage to handle. While many girls refuse to be "merely glamourised cooks-on-demand", which they find "sapping and a waste of time," the guys expect a wife to lend a personal touch and the sheer joy of being married is to be looked after and revel in the feeling that "she is there for me." We can afford to eat out and entertain in the most expensive restaurants but he insists I play the homemaker. The retort is: "I am so sick of eating out 15 days in a month that I just want to eat daal roti and she grudges me that."

What seems so trivial becomes a major issue that cannot be brushed aside or worked out. It is not that they do not want to work at the marriage but, more often than not, both partners keep schedules that drain them out. Stability is no longer such a virtue in times of virtual reality and increased mobility. With the focus on better packages, it is mobility that certainly is the new-age mantra. You move on to wherever you get a better deal. In an extension of this world view, even when you get married you never close your options. If someone better comes along, it is no big deal. It is just one life and who wants to waste it in a dead-end relationship that stagnates and suffocates. To be in a no-win situation is not done. Sanctity went out a long time ago and who wants to live in a time warp? It is only natural for relationships to be based on the view that mobility makes for a better life.

Today when a marriage is on the rocks, there are no fireworks or melodramatic scenes. There is not much shouting, yelling, swearing or trading of charges. "That only happens if you are stuck together by choice or tradition. If you know that you can walk out without a squeak, there is no need to waste energy. Unlike in the past, when the entire biradri was involved to resolve marital discord, there has been a sea change in the mode and manner of showing and dealing with conflict. The ways and means of showing anger have become more civil, more veiled and therefore also implosive. You may not kick and scream at each other but you might also be fearful of long-term commitment. Like in the market, in marriage too there are expectations of visible returns if it has to remain a long-term investment. "Preoccupation with mutual funds and portfolios might have blunted my sensitivity, according to my wife, but I just have deleted these five years from my life and logged on to another site" says a just-divorced computer engineer, while an architect on the verge of separation laughs, "We have the option of redesigning our lives. It is not cast in stone." One just wonders whether programming oneself to react in a certain way works when a relationship fails. Can one become atrophied and keep pushing the hurt and anger out instead of just confronting it and resolving it. A software engineer, wise beyond his 24 years, says "This generation is into evasion because you want to be happy at all costs." So this unbridled quest for happiness and unabashed pursuit of feel-good-at-any-cost principle operates with an utter disregard for sensitivity to the other-husband or wife. The children of the flower power generation that rebelled without a pause have children who want to script their lives without any charter. Lucky to have had an upbringing that was more liberal and which has made them more narcissistic and self-focussed, they did not have to chafe against rigid parental control, unlike their parents, the sandwich generation. Probably in this age of rapid splice images, they will remodel relationships and create their own shock absorbers. Meanwhile the price of flux will have to be borne by those who can't handle the consequences of conflict.

(Names have been changed to protect identity)