If a lot of the old marriages are stable, it is because they lack emotional investment, prioritising convenience and mutual tolerance over companionship.
I am not any more surprised when young urban Indians tell me that they don't think of marriage as an absolute necessity in their lives, and that they'd much rather stay single than be trapped in a loveless marriage. For, marriage has moved from being a ‘stage of life' phenomenon to a commitment that requires more forethought, application and responsible mutuality. But I'm always pleasantly surprised when older people who've been through all the tribulations that marriage has laid at their doorsteps, also seem to increasingly express the same opinion. They hasten, of course, to clarify that they have no regrets about being married, but don't seem overly perturbed when their grandchildren of ‘marriageable age' express this sentiment.
Admittedly they are still a small tribe, even if a growing one. Admittedly, the large majority of Indians are still obsessed, not just about mileage, but also about marriage and start planning for their children's weddings, about a week or so after they are born. Admittedly also, most older Indians still believe that their younger counterparts place too much of premium on the mystical emotion of love rather than approaching their marriages with responsible stolidity as generations of their forefathers have done. After all, weren't marriages more stable in those days, is their argument clincher.
Reasons for stability
However, what I find promising is that over the last decade or so, more people are beginning to realise that an important reason for this apparent stability is that large numbers of couples settled into ‘marriages of convenience', wherein, regardless of the lack of connectedness between each other, they didn't want to break away from each other. Equally, they were not prepared to make the effort to get their marriage to a more companionable platform. They led their own independent and parallel lives, neither questioning what the other did, neither making any demands of the other, and neither evincing any great interest in the life of the other. They were pretty much like roommates who have learned to give each other a wide berth (take it from me, this is not giving each other ‘space').
Such marriages of convenience are not necessarily an ‘olden days' phenomenon. Just look around you and you'll realise that they are in abundance today too. More often than not, there is very little bitterness, hostility or acrimony in such marriages. There may have been in the past, but not any more, since couples in marriages of convenience have chosen not to have any real emotional expectations of each other. They have worked out how to have their basic needs taken care of. Their conversations are limited to practical realities of day-to-day living. They come together around the children and do engage in some joint socialisation. However, they have their own individual lives which the other is not privy to, and is in fact, not even interested in. If there are any peccadilloes, neither wants to know about this. Discretion is the primary requirement of each other.
I'm not for a moment suggesting that all stable marriages of yesteryears or today are based on convenience. I am perfectly aware that millions of couples have had, and continue to have, loving and companionable relationships after having worked through whatever issues bedevilled the early days of their married lives. But, it simply cannot be ignored that a significantly large number of marriages last the long haul because both partners prioritise convenience over companionship and may come together only to discharge the responsibilities of marriage, in an almost fiduciary manner.
You might well ask me how convenient such marriages are and why people stay in them. The reasons are pretty complex. For starters, such people subscribe to a basic belief that whatever happens, one must hang in there, and divorce can never be a serious option and often use the ‘known devil' explanation to rationalise their marriages. Sometimes, the reasons are economic. Put simply, neither partner can really ‘afford a divorce', so they plod on together, doing the minimum required for each other to ensure that the marriage still chugs along. Oftentimes, couples feel that they have to live with each other for the sake of the children which, as I have argued ad nauseam in this column, is arguably the worst thing they can do for the kids. But the more important reason is the vague sense of security we feel with something or someone familiar that counterbalances the fear of the unknown.
You might also well ask, what's wrong with a marriage of convenience? After all, there is no hostility or resentment. Both partners seem to be sufficiently satisfied and everybody seems okay. If this is the question that springs to your mind, you obviously believe that marriage is just one of the many responsibilities that are placed in our paths as we struggle through our lives — just one more role we have to play in our lives. However, if you believe, like many younger, and some older Indians do, that marriage has a greater purpose than mere responsible procreation, then you'd probably like to get more out of your marriage by creating a platform of mutual companionship and harmony, rather than settling for mutual tolerance and lack of disharmony. If this is the case, you'd probably feel that close up, a marriage of convenience isn't really as convenient as it may appear from a distance.
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