In St.Valentine’s Shadow – the other side of romance

There is no pleasure that can equal getting drenched in a full-on rain shower! Not the crackling-thunder-searing-lightning-fireworks kind of shower that I see in my current place of residence, but the rain showers in India that just had good old water pouring from the sky with an occasional thunder in the distance. The extra fun was annoying some elders who had their steady refrain of “At this rate, you will catch a cold tomorrow and maybe fever too! You will see! Don’t come to me then to complain!”

After a while such refrains became token refrains, said for the sake of saying. Of course, on school days umbrellas were necessary but if rain comes on a holiday – ohhhhh, what a pleasure that was! Just go out into the front yard or back yard, throw caution to the winds – literally! – and simply let the big drops of rainy goodness fill your being, drench you to the skin. It is a quintessential joy where the present and future dissolve into nothingness and all that is left is that moment, that feeling of being one with the universe and all its elements.

மழை கவிதை கொண்டு வருது யாரும் கதைவடைக்க வேண்டாம்
ஒரு கருப்பு கொடியை யை காட்டி யாரும் குடைபிடிக்கவேண்டாம்
இது தேவதையின் பரிசு யாரும் திரும்பிக்கொள்ள வேண்டாம்
நெடுஞ்சாலையிலே நனைய ஒருவர் சம்மதமும் வேண்டாம்

அந்த மேகம் சுறந்த பாலில் ஏன் நனைய மறுக்கிறாய்
நீ வாழ வந்த வாழ்வில் ஒரு பகுதி இழக்கிறாய்
நீ கண்கள் முடி கரையும்போது மண்ணில் சொர்க்கம் எய்துவாய்
கண்கள் முடி கரையும்போது மண்ணில் சொர்க்கம் எய்துவாய்….* **

My feelings exactly – how did Vairamuthu know?

Rain and romance have many parallels……They hold within them the seeds of creation, preservation, and destruction. It is possible to totally be immersed in, and to totally lose oneself in both.

***

Back in my middle school years, I remember studying monsoons in Geography class. It was nowhere close to the thrill of getting drenched in an actual monsoon of course! But aside from Science, Geography was the class that kept me in thrall those days. While talking about monsoons, the discussion turned to why there was abundant rainfall in one place, while another that was a neighboring area got so little rain.

The answer was that perhaps there was a mountain or mountain range between the two adjoining areas. So here is how the theory went – the oceans churned up rain clouds, which then ride on some steady winds called monsoon winds. When approaching a mountain or mountain range, the wind is blocked by the mountain range that forms a natural barrier, forcing the clouds to shower their goodness on one side of the range only. As a result, the other side – the rain shadow area, has scarcely any rain – perhaps a few sprinkles, if that. So the vegetation in these adjoining areas can in fact be quite different, and the crops grown – also quite different.

An intermittent lightning, a noiseless thunder

A gentle rain that falls and drenches only two…. 

 An unseasonal shower, this love

In my last post here, I wrote about the gentle stealing from a person – that is love. There is also a stealing away, the quietly slipping away,  that happens without one noticing, but happens nonetheless among many couples who started out much in love. That is distancing.

It happens when a partner quietly but unobtrusively slips away from the relationship, with ostensibly good reason. This slipping away happens more and more frequently as time goes by, and with the passing years, the two partners/spouses don’t feel connected anymore. They are a married couple for practical purposes and in the eyes of society – but the original love that bound them together is but a faint shadow of itself……For, to love someone is to feel connected to someone, to know someone. When a person drifts away, it is no longer possible to know them as they slowly but surely become a stranger to their partner. The partner left behind is clinging to a shadow, a memory of the person, in  the hope that the real person will one day return to them.

Relationships evolve with time – the couple has children, and there are responsibilities of a householder, as well as responsibilities at work. Time together can wax and wane, depending on the responsibilities. Some couples are separated by physical distance as one spouse works in a different town/country. But despite the challenges that life throws, many couples stay connected to each other – and it is not difficult.  Tender gestures, small  kindnesses, consideration for the spouse – and helping them when not asked (and not expected)…..A regular cup of coffee together in the day when anything related to the home or family are not discussed. In the case of couples separated by physical distance, a phone call each day to share about each other’s day; and if one spouse commutes more than the other, an occasional role reversal to give the commuting spouse a break. Doing without asking, and giving from the heart without a quid pro quo….

Couples who stay connected evolve together – when the nest is empty, they plan joint activities and  travel together. One can see the synergy and the deep, abiding friendship between them, the shared interests nurtured for a while, the way they predict each other’s responses, the easy conversation and banter and the knowledge that they have each other’s back. Such couples are totally relaxed in each other’s presence and the warmth of their mutual affection is a delight to see.

One can just as  easily spot the couples who are not connected. They are the ones who have trouble starting a conversation when the children leave the nest……for, other than as a fellow parents, they don’t know who their spouse is. They have lived  like roommates and led parallel lives. Where there was once a tender romance that caressed them like a gentle rain, some barrier has blocked that monsoon wind, casting them in a shadow. An old memory of their shared romance may bring a smile once in a while – but for all purposes, the feelings have died without the nurturing that they deserve.

***

Distancing happens when consciously or unconsciously, the couple stops spending  quality time together. Or this time together is perpetually deferred in favor of other interests and activities….A spouse may request a connection, but if perpetually rejected in favor of other interests, the connecting spouse stops asking. Sometimes the connecting spouse may demand together time out of sheer frustration, in which case the distancing spouse may react by distancing further.

Some spouses distance by becoming workaholics. They put work and all that relates to work – working after hours, using any and all free time to network and get ahead in work, partying with workmates – above everything else. The other spouse manages the home, their work and childcare responsibilities. The workaholic spouse may or may not help – perhaps they may contribute more financially and justify that they are working for the good of the family and the spouse is supposed to understand this. I remember watching Mitr – My Friend. Despite the predictable ending, the film had many poignant moments where one person’s desire to connect is continually thwarted.

Some spouses distance as a way to run away from issues that they don’t want to face. For example, let’s say X and Y are married. X has an immediate family member living with them who sees Y as a threat. So the relative continually creates drama forcing X to choose between the spouse and themselves (of course, the spouse may be threatened by the relative too). So X may create a deliberate distance to get away from the family drama. They may find a hobby or interest – or several of them – outside the home and continually immerse themselves in it, leaving Y to fend for him/herself. They may suddenly embrace religion in a big way, for example, volunteering at their place of worship, networking with fellow volunteers, creating a private circle of friends that does not include Y. They may not even be religious – it is just that their social needs are met in this way…And when they get home, the insecure relative rushes in to fill the need for love and affection, leaving Y feeling invisible.

Or alternatively, X may find one or more joint activities for themselves and the relative, leaving Y all alone – because ostensibly Y is the more mature one, and can “understand”….. while the relative (who came first in life, Y is reminded over and over again) is not able to for any number of reasons – they have had a  recent personal loss, for example; or they may have no one else. In the interest of harmony, some adjustments need to be made, Y is told. And it is a perpetual adjustment – not a one-off or two-off thing that one can chalk up to a family having members of differing needs, and the need to make everyone happy. The problem is that Y is not recognized as a person with human feelings and needs…..When Y has finally been pushed aside too often and protests, X may argue for a while, repeating that Y needs to be more understanding, or be understanding for some more time – which is of course a moving target. When Y one day throws up their hands and says that they have been understanding enough and they are tired of it, X may then paint Y as a bad person simply for requesting time with their spouse.

At the root of this is X’s inability to accord quality time to the spouse for fear of hurting their relative, and an inability to draw healthy boundaries that enable all relationships to thrive. An inability to face the issue makes X turn to gaslighting instead, putting the blame on Y.

It is impossible to have an honest conversation with those who gaslight, and issues will forever remain unresolved in such cases. Third party interventions will not help either – and eventually it becomes a case of who will bell the cat.

At this time, Y either leaves, or to save themselves from further pain, detaches emotionally from X. They now find their own interests to pursue, because all their efforts to connect with X have come to naught. But at the back of their mind is the frustrated attempt to connect and the scars from that experience. And the nagging, dull sorrow of being in a shell of a marriage.

Some distancing spouses – usually men (forgive the stereotype) – may argue that their spouse refuses to have a physical relationship with them, and thus thwarts their attempt to connect. But the root issue is that the spouse has been so alienated by the distancing that they find a physical (only) relationship preposterous.

***

There are those who disrespect their marriage by having an affair, or abusing a substance like alcohol. While this wreaks havoc on the union, the not-so-dramatic neglect, can slowly erode away at the foundation…..Just as a house neglected, slowly falls apart. The couple may still reside together under one roof – but what a waste of all the years they could have spent as a thriving, joyful couple!

In some ways, neglect seems like a lesser form of cheating.  It is marrying someone and never being available for them – effectively abandoning the spouse in an emotional sense. The options for the spouse are to leave, be treated like they don’t count except as roommates and fellow parents, or to find their own interests and pretend that  the distancing doesn’t hurt.

Monsoons rarely change course, nor does time stand still. One day there may not be enough time in the world to make up for the perpetually deferred connection. The spouse subjected to continuous distancing may have changed in very fundamental ways and it may become impossible to bridge that gap.


* Song from the Tamil film, En Swaasa Kaatre

** Meaning: “the rain brings poetry, don’t shut the door against it. Don’t hold an umbrella to it like a black flag and protest its arrival. This is a gift from the Gods, don’t turn away from it; you don’t need anyone’s permission to get drenched anywhere – in the middle of the road, even. Why deny yourself of this bounty from the clouds – you will be losing a big part of life’s joy by doing so. When you close your eyes and melt in the rain, you will achieve heaven on earth”

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4 thoughts on “In St.Valentine’s Shadow – the other side of romance

  1. Sad piece. Sad because it depicts reality in some relationships. Communication is supposed to the panacea, but is a flawed mechanism since people hear what/how much they want to hear.

    Recently a somewhat related conversation came up with a friend. This friend was of the opinion that people are romanticizing/idealizing relationships more and more these days and setting themselves up for failure/disappointment/angst.

    I have heard similar views about how Americans expect excessive perfection in their lives and have a tendency to want to pound various parameters in their environment into shape – as opposed to the oriental notion of samsara which necessarily is a mix of happiness and unhappiness.

    Some “adjustment” between X and Y is called for and therein starts/lies the trouble – How much ? How long ? Who ? When ? Why ?

    When I see so many broken relationships – not just spousal – siblings, father-son, father-daughter … : I feel like screaming, “It is not at all supposed to hard folks !”

    It is not at all supposed to hard, but I know best of brothers who haven’t spoken to each other for 20+ years, a daughter who hasn’t visited her father in 45 years including for his funeral …

    As for communication being the panacea: I read somewhere that the brain centre that is responsible for “empathy” can differ quite a bit in size, capacity, activity/function between individuals. As an extreme case, narcissists have a very underdeveloped “empathy hardware”. There is only so much “communication” can accomplish it being “software” – if the hardware is not adequately equipped, software cannot bridge that gap.

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    1. True that people maybe romanticizing relationships and expecting perfection. But with families dispersed and time being short, spouse is the one person they have. Somehow I think our and subsequent generations are trained to be competitive and achieve “success” but not trained (or trained to that extent) in the art of sustaining relationships, and accepting imperfections in people. One of the things I did not say in this piece is that sometimes distancing happens because it is impossible to communicate with a person. Let’s say that a person never forgives any foible the other may have done, and keeps adding to that baggage as time goes by, and never fails to bring it up. One cannot be sorry enough. This is really self-sabotage of a relationship – but with we ourselves pushing ourselves to be perfect in whatever we do, we are less forgiving of the imperfections of others. The sad stories of siblings not communicating, are more common that should be :(. True about the empathy quotient too. With some there is none – in India especially mental illness often goes undiagnosed. I have suspected that some women who have difficulties in social settings (and who keep their spouse on an unbelievably inhumanely tight leash) are probably on the autism spectrum – if a person especially woman does well in school and college and is “quiet” this is considered a good thing. Until a husband comes and discovers that they are tied to someone so insecure and (genetically) lacking in an ability to put themselves in another’s shoes, that everything in life has to be tightly managed to prevent a meltdown. Of course, there weren’t diagnostic tools available in earlier generations too.

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  2. The “When I see so many broken relationships” … “I feel like screaming” … “It is not at all supposed to hard folks !” part is said from the point of view of one who has been one half of at least 3 broken relationships that were absolutely worth preserving … but the one half that was/is willing not to give up and continue to work, but unable to as it takes two to tango !

    Not said by a know it all of sorts …

    “But with families dispersed and time being short, spouse is the one person they have.”

    “Somehow I think our and subsequent generations are trained to be competitive and achieve “success” but not trained (or trained to that extent) in the art of sustaining relationships”

    Can’t agree more. With opportunities opening up like never before, not going after the opportunities would amount to laziness or shirking of responsibility as per everything
    we have been taught – It takes an unusual person to stay grounded.

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