Broken Vows

By Sonya Rehman

Over the past few years, as the outer skin of Lahore has undergone a colossal metamorphosis, so has its society…on a very deep, subconscious level. As the branded stores, foreign food chains, multinationals and buildings have burgeoned, there has been an equally rapid shift in mass consciousness.

Long gone are those condemnatory days where hushed remarks, lingering trails of gossip and malicious whispers of so-and-so being a divorcee and so-and-so’s daughter calling it quits and walking out from a half-baked marriage as a single woman ready to face the world, head-on.

The hypocritical tittle-tattle may well, still be there, but it floats about mindlessly as it remains tinged with boredom and a certain amount of acceptance and recognition as one of the major options for a stale marriage.

Honestly, I never thought I’d see the day. Belonging to a single-parent family (I loathe calling it a ‘broken home’) most of my life, I witnessed my mother being judged on a daily basis for being a ‘single woman’.

And whilst judging my mother, they would in turn judge me – by telling each other that I too, would wind up being divorced and single. Why? Because oh, I was my mother’s daughter after all.

But the past five to seven years has inked out those disparaging days. For a majority of those very men and women who labeled divorcees as ‘bad’ people, have wound up with their very own divorced children back on their doorsteps – suitcases and toddlers in tow.

This is not to state that every Lahori family out there has truly ‘evolved’ in the marriage department, but a majority has.

Sure the city still retains its pockets of conservative, orthodox (and some backward, judgmental) families, but divorce, I reiterate isn’t taken as an earth-shattering family calamity anymore. It’s taken in stride.

Karachi may well have had its fair share of societal issues, but regarding marriage, divorce and the firm resolution to stay single? It has fared better than Lahore.

Only now, over these past few years has Lahore truly come to terms with it being ‘okay’ to be a divorcee, and that being a divorcee does not necessarily mean a dreadful thing.

So now, while parents across the city encourage their daughters to take up solid careers and become financially independent, the rate of early divorces and late marriages has shot up.

These days it’s not uncommon for a young woman to get married in her late 20s and sometimes even, her early 30s. In addition, the disengagement from a marriage after barely a year or so hardly comes as a shocker anymore.

People may well still talk, finger-point and wrap their dim-witted social banter with sympathy for the “poor” young divorcee, but give or take a week, and it’s shrugged off.

But the rapid increase in divorces amongst young couples could mean many things such as; the media boom in Pakistan (and the awareness that it has brought with it), the stress for a good solid education for young women (by families) – and the gradual build-up of a feeling of empowerment which follows, and so on.

See, divorce isn’t a bad thing. It stands as a good option, but only if one party finds himself/herself shoved into a corner with a point of no return – such as; bearing physical/emotional abuse at the cost of one’s partner, infidelity, etc.

These days, young couples (and young people in general) are rather flippant. Forget the whole theory of ‘wanting to be married for the love of the idea of marriage’ – that stands as one reason too, but the main reason right now is the empowerment of women in Lahore and the inherent flippancy of young adults.

A mix of flippancy and far too much pseudo-pragmatism if you will. A “let’s see how it pans out” pragmatism.

But coming back to the alteration in a woman’s place in Lahori society, I recently came across a paragraph in well-known Erica Jong’s best-selling novel, ‘Fear of flying’: “Back in the days when men were hunters and chest-beaters and women spent their whole lives worrying about pregnancy or dying in childbirth, they often had to be taken against their will. Men complained that women were cold, unresponsive; frigid…they wanted their women wanton. They wanted their women wild. Now women were finally learning to be wanton and wild – and what happened? The men wilted.”

Jong was right. Female empowerment in Lahore may well be a very good thing, but why is it that some of the strongest women I know marry some of the most emotionally impotent men out there?

And on the flip side, why is it that men these days prefer a strong-headed, career-oriented woman yet begin doing cart-wheels after the marriage vows are exchanged? What really is wrong with this picture?

Nancy Friday, another best-selling author subscribes to the notion that empowered women in the workforce don’t really know how to play the dual role of a wife and a career-woman.

Somewhere along the line they fall short – while on one hand they may appear tough and cut-throat at work, but on the other hand they may become too clingy and emotionally dependent on their partners. Why? Is the empowerment just a façade? Has society drilled it into our heads for decades – that a woman without a man is nothing but an empty shell? Is divorce these days a self-defense mechanism to cut one’s losses before they begin hurting? Does consumerism in Lahore really have a role to play in all of this no matter how far-fetched it sounds? The notion that there’s so much ‘choice’ out there that it drives one a little wonky? The silly belief that one can always ‘do better’ and possess someone better in the marriage department?

Have we really begun changing our partners just as swiftly as we would change our brands?

Marriage always comes with a bit of compromise – I mean that’s a given, it’s never a Mills & Boons novel from start to finish. But young adults in this day and age follow an almost zero tolerance policy for anything that would/could rub them the wrong way in the marriage/companionship department.

I admit, I have my hang-ups too – but I’m working on it. Just as it took us years to be conditioned this way, it’ll take us time to gradually re-condition ourselves to view love and marriage in a balanced way. Without presumptions. Without bias.

The Friday Times

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