There are two ingredients that go into making us who we are, the personal and the social. The social comes through our family and community, who nurture us, show us how to connect and help us to construct a public persona that enables us to face the world. The personal begins at the time we learn how to think for ourselves when adolescence sets in. Integrating the personal and societal is an ongoing struggle where we attempt to balance what we perceive to be the truth and all the voices of our family and community. In India the height of this struggle is often found in the tension between love and marriage. Marriage is something we do for society, but love is something we do for ourselves, not the self that wants to be comfortable in front of the television set, the self that thinks it’s better than everyone else, but the self that is on a voyage of discovery towards its full potential.
To be fair, there are many marriages in India where the personal and social are in harmony, and when it does happen, the couple become a source of strength for each other and for the community. However, we naively believe that this harmony is achieved through sacrificing the personal, by doing what our family wants rather than what we want. But this isn’t so. Where there is harmony, you will find partners who are confident, know themselves and whose love for each other is very personal. It’s just that they have found a way to be in the community that doesn’t come into conflict with their feelings. This requires clarity with oneself and cannot be achieved through a sheepish submission to the wishes of others.
When we fall in love with someone of our choice or when we discover love for our partner in an arranged marriage, we carry along with us plenty of baggage because of our strong connections to the family. The outcome is that we may rebel and get into conflict with the family, but more often we give in and impose constraints and expectations on our partner that come not from us but from members of our family. We feel justified because after all, we are simply expressing our love for the family. We may not even bother to find out how our partner feels about it. I have a friend who every time he visits his family, his brother says something to insult his wife. My friend says that’s just the way his brother is and doesn’t want to hurt his brother’s feelings by bringing up the matter of his rude behaviour. Consequently, his wife feels betrayed and my friend feels she is over-reacting. After all it’s only once a week. Why can’t she adjust?
One of the major causes of conflict in our relationship with our partner is that we mix up the personal with the social. Our mixing up the two is not surprising as we are so intimate with our family that we are often not even conscious of their influence on us. We fail to realize that what may appear perfectly natural to us, might be unacceptable to our partner. If our relationship doesn’t meet the approval of our family, the thought of our family’s displeasure might be too much for us to bear and we end up doing things to regain their pleasure but end up hurting our partner. When we succumb to the family’s wishes we may feel we are doing it for love’s sake, but the fear and self-doubt our family’s reactions trigger in us are not symptoms of love, but the outcome of our social bonds.
Be it for our partner or for a member of our family, love is a personal and free-flowing exchange between individuals. When our concern shifts to getting the approval of others or what the neighbours think, we are no longer operating from the place of love. We are doing what we have to do in order to maintain our place and position within the group.