Archive for June, 2021

Confessions of an Educated Wife

June 10th, 2021

When I fell madly in love with my fellow student in management school, it felt like the beginning of the fairytale I had only dreamed of. I was 22. My heart knew no bounds. I could hardly wait to start our ‘happily-ever-after’ life.

Growing up in the heart of Calcutta, in our family certain rules were quite simple. Daughters were raised to be someone’s wife someday — cook, sew and clean, as all ‘good’ girls must. Most of all, we must adapt and adopt, be modest and moderate in thoughts and opinions, needs and desires, never too assertive, lest others are inconvenienced.

My grades as a ‘good’ girl were pretty solid till I brought home the man I would marry. My mother went into shock. This was unthinkable, outside the rules. He was a Christian from up north — wrong culture, religion and language. We must find our mates among Bengali Hindus. She turned to my dad for comfort.

My dad was not much help. He was, by my mom’s reckoning, at the root of my audacious behavior. My dad had raised me as he would a son, with great aspirations. He opened my window to the world with a western education, encouraged me to go to a professional school and filled my head with all kinds of dreams. “With a good degree under your belt,” he would say, “there is no reason why a woman cannot succeed in any field.” He was my greatest champion.

So, two polar opposite messages constantly barraged my young impressionable mind during my growing years. I was going to be the world’s greatest wife and caretaker of my family at home – certainly better than my poor undereducated mother, after all I had a master’s degree. And out in the world I would compete eyeball to eyeball with the guys, and beat them at their own game in the corporate world. I became assertive and really good at competing.

But the seeds of conflict and confused role identity were already firmly in place. I developed two distinct inner personalities — the pliant woman, eager to please ‘mama’s girl’ on the one hand, and the sharp, confident ‘dad’s dream’ professional on the other. These two parts of me communicated with each other about as much as my parents did in their latter years – not a lot.

As in all great love affairs, our honeymoon waned. Little problems in our relationship gradually turned into big ones. We each adopted our own strategies to get past our conflicts. We focused on raising our two wonderful children. What we could not resolve happily went under the carpet, and we looked the other way.

Over time the unresolved issues took up all the space and left us none. With the children grown, there was nothing to bind us either, so we politely laid our marriage to rest and parted company.

The mind, once past the anger and blame, wondered curiously as to how something that started so beautifully could get so sour and stale. Slowly, with introspection, the unhealthy patterns that came to roost between us became crystal clear.

Our relationship had reduced to a struggle for power. I switched between my two inner personalities, confusing both my partner and myself. I could easily adopt my ‘good girl’ role, bend over backwards to please my mate and then with a sense of self righteous entitlement expect him to give into my every wish and whim. I would try every manipulative mechanism in the book to have my way. I had mastered the art of passive aggression. The women in my family would be proud of me. And when all that failed, I would crumple into a hapless and helpless little girl and weep over how terribly I had been wronged. My man could not resist rescuing me from my wretched state; protect me under his wings, as men love to do. It would last only a while before I would feel utterly stifled.

At other times, the strong, competent, wise and educated me would take charge (read ‘control’). I was ambitious, certainly more than he appeared to be, and derived pleasure in rubbing that in. I would take a stance of great superiority. I would argue and win. Of course, I was always right. And when he did not rise up to support me, I would just shrug my shoulders and move on to find some other means to accomplish my ambitions anyway. And I did. I was very resourceful. But the gulf between us grew wider.

Role models of men relating to empowered educated women are rare. Stuck in the old patriarchal pattern, my husband would have gladly provided for me had I stayed put at home. My emotions bewildered him and he certainly had no desire to compete with me. Even if he wanted to, he just did not know how to connect with my educated self.

Somewhere in the milieu, I realize now, I completely lost sight of the most precious thing we had – love. I had sacrificed love in my quest of empowerment. I had let it flow out into the chasm between my two inner personalities.

It has taken me years to return to love. I realize now that being ‘right’ does not always lead to being ‘happy’. That love cannot bloom without internal integrity or respect. I know now that relationships can no longer be contained in the old mold. Educated women desire and deserve liberating relationships. But can we retain our inner power without sacrificing love? Can our ‘minds’ make space for our ‘hearts’? These are uncharted paths, and we get to make up the rules as we go along.