“My wife,” muttered my friend DP through gritted teeth, “had better have a tumour in her brain, because if this is her being sane…” The rest of that portentous sentence was grumbled down the neck of his beer, then chugged back. I watched DP glug down his misery, and then did my friend’s duty: “What’s wrong, man?”
Six months ago DP had the perfect marriage. He was newly returned from university abroad, and his parents introduced him to the daughter of friends. She was beautiful, educated, accomplished, intelligent, witty. They were the model modern Indian couple. Their wedding was one of the events of the season. They went on their honeymoon to Bali, and that’s where she began to reveal her true self.
It started with oddly vituperative comments about the staff of the hotel. This escalated to direct and increasingly abusive words to the staff. When DP gently brought up this new strangeness, she rounded on him and growled, “What, like you’re going to handle these fools for me?” DP was stunned silent. By the time they came home, his wife had turned into an imperious, menacing, batty woman — and DP into a melancholy husband. Tonight she had chased him out of the house so she could have a hen party with her girlfriends. He was drinking the late hours away until she informed him she was done.
“I don’t know what happened.” DP bemoaned. “She was so sweet before.”
“She played you,” I said.
“What do you mean?” DP asked.
“She’s not really insane, not in the way you think. She knew exactly how to behave to get you, and once you got married she figured she’d won, so there was no need to pretend anymore.”
DP stared at me with dawning comprehension, and so I started him on the torturous road to his own freedom. His wife could have just been eccentric, with a slight memsaab hang-up, which is not necessarily offensive. There’s a world of difference, however, between eccentric and insane. Practically speaking, the difference is that the eccentric is self-contained, whereas the insane spills his issues over onto other people.
What are the tolerable levels of insanity in a relationship? When it comes to dating, the threshold is far lower than marriage. The interesting question is why. Dating is considered not serious. But, what does not serious really mean in this context? It means that the level of commitment is far less than with a marriage, i.e., walking out of a dating relationship requires less justification than a marriage. The problem with the idea of commitment, however, is that it has become tied up with integrity, honour, and self-image. Society has taught us that between honouring your commitment and honouring yourself, your commitment comes first. So you put up with far greater levels of abuse than normal just so you can think well of yourself.
In order to think of himself as a man who honours his commitments, DP came back from his honeymoon and braced himself for a lifetime with this witch. His thoughts were of his family, his wife’s family, what the community would say if he voiced any of his many complaints about his wife. So, he suppressed his own voice, his own feelings, his own identity and played his part in the charade.
No one was fooled, however. Everyone knew something was wrong. DP’s family sensed things were off, but didn’t say a word. His wife’s family, who had always known she was a harridan, were just glad to get her off their hands. The community, for whom DP was willing to sacrifice himself, made casually pointed remarks about their marriage. So, what was the purpose of DP participating in this drama? “If you had been dating and she started behaving like this, would you stay with her or break up?” I asked DP in conclusion. I could see the answer on his face before he even spoke. “Break up.”
I knew that DP would try reasoning with his wife, but it was futile. I had met her, and she was who she was. From this point on, it was just a matter of how soon DP became comfortable with the notion that a divorce is any day better than a bad marriage.