A sea of beautiful big eyes looked into mine. They were all eager and waiting to hear what I had to say and also to share a trillion thoughts running in their minds. I was sitting amidst 1st year college students – girls all on the brink of adulthood, in their last teen year. And the topic under discussion was ‘marriage’! With dreams in their hearts and sparkle in their eyes I thought they would speak of romance. But here they were in absolute clarity saying the most important thing to look for in a spouse was companionship, trust and love – in that order. It was an insightful discussion for me, for they were not from an age of ‘needing’ a marriage to prove they were getting on with life but from a generation of aspiring professionals, independent thinkers, contributing individuals who were looking to partner for a greater celebration and shared experiences. Marriage in their dictionary was not a necessary step to be an adult in life. It was more an optional exploration to enhance one’s life experiences through shared moments for mutual growth.
Within a few weeks of interacting with those tender hearts, I got to experience the so-called-happily-married women folk. While there wasn’t any one on the verge of calling quits, nevertheless there neither was anyone who thought being married was easy, magical or effortless. But one common thread among young and old alike was that the entire institution called marriage was going through such a huge transformation in terms of ideologies that it was very difficult to find the right partner to whom marriage meant the same thing as the proposer. Each one had their own definition and expectations from a relationship they knew had to be worked upon – the common denomination being it had to last for a lifetime!
There was a time when marriage meant security, companionship, friendship, partnership, even just someone to be there as you grow old. Marriage meant love, romance, courtship, togetherness. Marriage meant shared ideals, common dreams, same values, joint vision, a willingness to grow together. Marriage was the foundation of society, the building blocks of civilisation, even the very basis of evolving as human beings. But so many unhappy marriages later, so many extramarital affairs later, so many suicides later, so many murders later and so many many many divorces later there has come a point in human history to try and redefine the very institution.
We live in a world of abundance. The entire world is available literally at our finger tip. One has a group of friends to relate to about dance, yet another to discus politics; a bunch to intellectually analyse life and yet another to ponder parental issues. We want the cream of everything so we want to know from the best or the opinion of the most successful. We want a book on parenting, a theory on how to handle the opposite sex, a psychological understanding on how to build relationships and enough and more discourses on becoming stress free. But as a society we have only complicated everything more. If we could and knew how, I am sure we will analyse each DNA sequence and ‘manufacture’ our offspring with the exact qualities we believe to be optimal for being successful in life. But so what? The number of people dissatisfied with their own lives and therefore with their relationships is only increasing. We did this check list to see where we stood with regards to marriage. Most successful independent women of today or in the making will agree – the first reason to look for a spouse is companionship. But with so many friends willing to be there on different occasions to satisfy so many different needs how can you be sure that one will do for life? After all we don’t think of marriage as simply licensed prostitution!
Today’s generation and science suggests it is healthy to have as many friends of both the sexes and that such interactions help the persons to be themselves without needing to project an image. If each such need finds expression grounds in different sets of friends, what is this companionship we are looking for in marriage? Values were said to be the binding force of any marriage. But values are not a set of dead end rules that weigh you down with horrific compulsion. Values are dynamic, energy-giving, core beliefs that strengthen the very ‘I’ness in you. And very often they come to light only when confronted ! So clash of values or binding by common values cannot be foreseen with full maturity at the time of entering into a marriage.
Marriage should not be a set of rules governed by law that can as easily be rewritten when convenient. It certainly cannot be a lifetime punishment to endure in pain when you get just one chance to live. None of the teenagers were in any hurry to get married. They were not averse to it but neither were they actively processing it. With so much going on from all quarters of life, girls have begun to ask this question what part of my life will be enhanced by a marriage for, if it can be easily compensated by other means, why bother? To the young men, with satisfaction of biological needs being readily available, the question of why get stuck into a lifetime commitment looms large in their minds. The next generation, or may be you already are a part of it, truly believe in ‘living together’ to assess the relationship long enough before needing to commit to marriage. In fact many even ask, if we already ‘live together’ and follow the rules of commitment, why at all marry?
When I was in my last teen year, I got the opportunity to perform the lead role in several short stories for a Tamil TV serial titled OORARINDA RAHASIYAM by Krishnaswamy Associates. In one episode with dialogue written by my dad, the protagonist would read aloud words from Erich Fromm’s book ‘The art of loving’. I was and still am enamoured by the beauty of these words and the depth of their meaning. Over the last two decades I have also been experiencing the reality behind the profoundness of that strain of thought. Fromm writes – “Most people believe that love is constituted by the object, not by the faculty… Because one does not see that love is an activity, a power of the soul, one believes that all that is necessary to find is the right object – to be loved by or to be in love with, and that everything goes by itself afterward. This attitude can be compared to that of the man who wants to paint but who instead of learning the art, claims that he has to just wait for the right object – and that he will paint beautifully when he finds it.”
We believe humans are made of several different personas that integrate to create this identity called ‘me’. When physical needs get satiated within the marriage, even when other psychological needs weren’t, society believed that it was a good enough marriage. The world even today operates on the basis of action. So as long as physical fidelity is maintained, physical force never used and actionable intent never perceived – (though even these are not yet attained in many a society), the laws cannot intervene nor society support to suggest an escape. Many a marriage has killed its proponents on the sheer impotence of action! But not anymore! Today society screams that needing psychological companionship is a far greater necessity for a good marriage than mere physical satisfactions. When an individual wanders to different groups for identification, he gets his intellectual, emotional and spiritual quests fulfilled by these interactions. If the couple gets to do them together, they stay connected with each other, building common grounds for interactions and growth. However when the needs are different, the maturity different, the understanding different, the expectation different – it creeps in to separate the two from common grounds. Yes we are individuals before and after we marry. But if we remain individualistic even after marriage, why at all marry? Only when the identity called ‘I’ expands to include the ‘you’ into it, does it even make sense to propagate matrimony.
When you hear the personality differences and wonder how can these two beautiful individuals ever stay together because they look at the world from opposite ends – you will be the first to suggest a happy separation from daily interactions. Society believes when two individuals can look at things from almost the same perspective, they hardly ever clash opinions and therefore are likely to have a great partnership. But that is so not true for, the very idea of a marriage is to explore opposing view points. You never marry your sibling in any culture because you are likely to have had the same exposure and experiences in life. Traditionally, you never marry your own gender because you have to explore and understand the workings of the opposite gender. Marriage is not to help you remain who you always were – it is meant to help you become who you can be.
The Indian concept of a marriage is a lot more spiritual than mere society building. It may have degraded to become a war contract or a business deal, but the ideal was never that! Even if physical, intellectual and emotional needs are taken care of, we ultimately are spiritual beings. Seeking completeness from the outside world by interacting with a large number of people will certainly keep the psychological aspect of the individual healthy. But as long as you are dependant on others, you will wait for the ‘right object to paint’ or perhaps keep switching to a ‘new object’ to paint. As Fromm put it, the relationship with a spouse is to help you move from ‘many’ to ‘one’, to be able to move from ‘needing’ others to handle our incompleteness, to becoming ‘complete’ – initially together, the foundation stone to becoming Ardhanareeswara, before attaining the completeness within oneself.
When marriage is a result of a ‘feeling’ called love, however strong the feeling may be, it does not guarantee that you will always feel the same way. On the other hand, if marriage is purely based on judgement and promise, it is merely an intellectual transaction – perhaps a business deal that could go wrong, entitling either parties to pull out. ‘The truth is neither this nor that’ writes Fromm. ‘The idea of a relationship which can be easily dissolved if one is not successful with it is as erroneous as the idea that under no circumstances must the relationship be dissolved.’
Recently in an event the speaker said ‘Don’t tell children to always be happy! Tell them to have a purpose!’ That made a lot of sense. To have a purpose is a much greater promise to happiness. It has vision. It has longevity. And it certainly has the propellant to strive. Similarly if only marriages were not entered into for ‘happiness’ but for the purpose of developing self-actualization, of course by both parties, it has greater merit in its long decades of striving. In the Indian context, many a doctrine promotes this very idea though it has been lost in the dreary rules of society.
We say ‘Matha, Pitha, Guru, Deivam’ – all one without a second. They are all equally revered because they are basically ‘non-negotiable’. You don’t judge your parents, teacher or the Divine. But they are all natural extensions of your identity. A parent loving a child unconditionally or the child loving the parents unconditionally is a natural phenomenon. A guru accepting a disciple unconditionally is the benevolence of the exalted consciousness of the guru. Even a friend being unconditional is beautiful, but limited to the scope of intimacy / transparency shared. But none of them are exclusive. They are universal and apply to many children, many disciples, many friends. A spouse being unconditional is the true hallmark of conscious love. For its very spiritual purpose, it is restricted to one person. As Fromm writes, “If I truly love one person I love all persons, I love the world, I love life.” If you have such a spouse, bow down in gratitude… If you are truly mature, be such a spouse so that humanity can truly evolve consciously. The only purpose of marrying ought to be in learning to love you, through loving you unconditionally, I love the world, I love life!
Written by Gita Krishna Raj | Published in infinithoughts in May 2016