Why we have to mock ourselves a bit, reset our methods

Natasha Badhwar

MAMMA, Papa is having abandonment issues, that’s all there is to it,” our youngest child said to us, as she intervened in a mock fight between my husband and me.

First, let me clarify what I mean by mock fight. To the growing disapproval of our three children, my husband and I seem to be arguing more and more about seemingly needless things. Of course, I blame the long drawn out pandemic year, but I will also admit that we are somewhat hooked to bickering with each other like juveniles masquerading as adults. It reminds us of being young and carefree — of the years when we were not responsible and important people and had time to waste on each other. We are grateful for having grown up together, but we also enjoy growing down in the safety of our home.

Second, let me go back to our pre-teen’s diagnosis of what seemed to me to be her father’s attention-seeking behaviour. I was startled by the sudden realisation that she knows how to speak in psychobabble, but I was also struck by what she said. For years, I have nursed my own abandonment anxiety secretly and the last thing I expected to hear was this phrase in the context of my husband. I associate him with security and myself with anxiety.

Suddenly I looked at us differently.

And that is the point of this column today. Change. Vulnerability. Flexibility. Growing up and staying in love. Slowing down for the sake of our intimate relationships.

There has been a spike in public conversation around inter-faith marriages recently and as someone who has written about her own inter-faith family in her books and essays, I have found myself participating in various debates and webinars on the subject in recent weeks. I have often wanted to enter the discussion with the warning that all marriages are difficult. On the whole, I do not recommend marrying anyone under any circumstances unless one is looking for trouble. And ready for a lifetime of conflict.

When couples in love seek my counsel on how to negotiate family and other socio-political barriers, I want to tell them to distract themselves and take their time before committing to marriage. As a decently socialised person, I do not say this because I realise that my role in the conversation is to defend the right to love. Not to escalate conflict, but to reassure.

So I brought myself here to engage in nuance. Love means taking off one’s rose-tinted glasses and accepting each other — with warts, chinks, burps and other unattractive but essential features. Love means watching each other change. Love means getting used to being taken for granted, ignored and sidelined as other passions visit and consume your partner.

Love is supposed to be a safe place, but it isn’t love if it doesn’t challenge you. It teaches you to embrace uncertainty. And we aren’t always good learners.

To grow in love means to become capacious. To create space for the other. To demand, steal and protect one’s own space. Love needs to take time off and shoot the breeze often. It mustn’t be relentless, lest it becomes oppressive.

Love means chipping away at the boundaries and lessons of patriarchy together. It means calling out each other’s biases, prejudices and entitlements. Love can make us uncomfortable.

And that’s where I find mock fights useful in my own marriage. After nearly two decades of knowing each other, my husband and I are now in danger of knowing each other too well. We often find ourselves getting angrier with each other than a situation warrants, because we are inadvertently carrying what is popularly referred to as ‘baggage’.

We need safe spaces to let off steam. We need to mock ourselves a little and reset our systems. When our daughter interrupted what I thought was light banter between her parents, it gave me reason to pause. I had frozen my husband in time and would not have recognised his vulnerability had it not been for our child’s intervention. Her words reminded me to look at ourselves afresh, with tenderness. Change comes slowly but it comes with its own needs. Unmet needs are the original source of all conflict.

True love accelerates the onset of wisdom. Approach it with caution. Stay humble. Celebrate love with abandon and a healthy dose of self-effacement. Do not cage it and perhaps it will set you free.

— The writer is an author and filmmaker natasha.badhwar@gmail.com

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