How to Deal with Mother-in-law: 9 Steps

Oh yes. That eternally perplexing question of married Indian women, “How to deal with mother-in-law?”

Before we dive into this explosive topic, here are a few disclaimers. ;)

Disclaimer 1: This is not about all mothers-in-law. Only the kind which made you google “How to deal with mother-in-law”. :D

Disclaimer 2: If you’re a guy, this is not about your mother but the mothers of all those other married men you know. :P You can skip today’s post – and refer your wife/girlfriend to it instead. ;)

How to deal with mother-in-law – Rule 1. Familiarize

The first and most important step you can take to improve your relationship with your mother-in-law is to spend ample time with her before marriage, both in the presence and absence of your fiancé. I’d recommend you start interacting regularly with her at least a year prior to your marriage. Go shopping with her, watch a movie with her or accompany your boyfriend’s family on a holiday at home/day trip. This will ensure the two of you get to know each other in a relaxed, no-pressure environment and set expectations accordingly.

How to deal with mother-in-law – Rule 2. Detach yourself

Irrespective of how much you like or don’t like your mother-in-law, you may not always be in a position to choose how much you interact with her. In such a situation you need to deal with your mother-in-law in a way that’s healthy to both of you. And the first step to that is to detach yourself emotionally.

  • Do not try to look upon her as your “other mother”. That perspective is guaranteed to lead to shock & disappointment. Not necessarily because of any fault of hers, but because our parents are our parents. Expecting an in-law to be “like them” is unfair to the in-law.
  • Let go of unrealistic expectations from her. There would be aspects of her you won’t like. Do not expect her to change.
  • Look upon her as an acquaintance, a bit like a professional contact – someone you do not need to like as a person but still need to treat with respect.

How to deal with mother-in-lawPhoto by Daljeet Mayn

How to deal with mother-in-law – Rule 3. Boundaries

Define clear boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not, both for her and yourself (if required, also for your husband). Once you’ve committed to certain boundaries, it’s your utmost responsibility to honour your side of them.

Do not discuss these boundaries directly with her – coming from an earlier generation she might misunderstand. Agree on them with your spouse instead.

Boundaries should be objective and specific. For example, “I guarantee I’ll treat her with respect at all times, irrespective of her own behaviour. In return I must have the guarantee that she’d not stay with us for more than xyz days/weeks per year/month.” Note the level of objectivity in the condition. Do not accept a boundary condition from her side that is open to interpretation, e.g. “She should treat me with respect.” 

How to deal with mother-in-law – Rule 4. Show respect

You don’t need to like her as a person but keep your judgements to yourself. By virtue of your relationship, she deserves respectful treatment from you, just as you deserve respectful treatment from her. Maintain your distance but treat her with respect, even if she does not return the favour. Sounds like a typical Indian male chauvinist from the 19th century speaking? :D Read on to find out why.

How to deal with mother-in-law – Rule 5. Safety first

I suggest you refrain from showing anything but respect to her not because I believe that’s the “right” thing to do irrespective of circumstances, but because I want you to steer clear of the consequences of doing otherwise. For example if her verbal remarks hurt you and you retort, she’s likely to talk to your husband about it. When she does, you’ll have no ways to prove that you were “provoked”.  It will become a subjective battle of your words against hers and no one ever wins those. So the key is to not give her any opportunity whatsoever of badmouthing you to your husband.

How to deal with mother-in-lawPhoto by abhishek_815

How to deal with mother-in-law – Rule 6. Don’t be a punch-bag

Does this mean you should become meek and accept everything your mother-in-law does? No. A funny thing about human emotions is that, when people attack others they expect response, and feel powerless if there’s none. If you feel your mother-in-law is deliberately trying to disturb you, your strongest defence is a complete refusal to respond.

This does not mean you patiently tolerate everything she says or does without protest. That will give her the impression that you accept her position of superiority. If she says/does anything so provocative that you feel unable to control yourself, excuse yourself (tell her you’re suddenly feeling unwell or something) and leave the room.

How to deal with mother-in-law – Rule 7. Assert yourself

Even if you don’t protest against her not-so-friendly actions, your mere refusal to be a punch-bag might come across as an insult to her. In case she discusses this with your husband and you find yourself facing accusations from him, you need to assert yourself. Tell him these exact words: “It’s not within my rights to treat others with disrespect in my interactions with them. But it is within my rights to decide who I interact with and how much, right? I left the room because certain things she said made me feel bad, and I didn’t want to hurt her by protesting. You’re not telling me that part of my responsibility is to willingly let her hurt me, are you?” No self-respecting man worth his salt would say a “yes” to this. (If he does, you’ve married the wrong man. Flash him your most charming smile and say “Goodbye.” :D)

How to deal with mother-in-law – Rule 8. Don’t try “ideal”

Does your mother-in-law unwittingly set unrealistic standards for you? Do her criticisms make you feel like you can never be “good enough”? For example, are you made to feel like you’re never doing “enough” of the household chores, or “adjusting” enough, or showing her enough respect? If you let yourself be affected by others’ perceptions of you, you might be eroding away your self-esteem dangerously. She’s entitled to her views. But you’re extraordinary the way you are, and how you compare with her idea of the “ideal daughter-in-law” is in no way a measure of your worth as a human being. So do not try to change yourself to earn her (or anyone else’s) approval. Go back to point #3 and let go of the rest.

How to deal with mother-in-law – Rule 9. Distance yourself

If possible, don’t live with your parents-in-law. They can be the nicest people ever but everyone needs personal space. Sharing yours with someone who’s not immediate family/partner but holds a purported position of authority is almost certain to create some degree of stress, even if it is not verbalized. If anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, moving out of the family home almost always leads to an improvement in the relationship between a woman and her in-laws.

How do you deal with your mother-in-law? Are you one of those lucky daughters-in-law with a nice and friendly mother-in-law? Do let us know by leaving a comment. 

30 Life Lessons No Self-Help Book will Teach You

After a long, ill-advised absence from the cyber-space, I’m back with a deluge of life-changing advice for the gullible.

Do “life lessons” change lives?

Not unless you’re gullible enough to believe them wholeheartedly. (Hint: The best thing to do with the next 30 bullet points is to not believe them, ’cause if you do, they might change the way you look at life!)  

With that disclaimer, here goes:

  1. Life is not fair. (Yeah that’s #1.)
  2. You can’t change others. Stop trying.
  3. Nothing is permanent. Neither good times, nor bad.
  4. Not everything is under your control. Do your best with the ones that are, and let go of the rest.
  5. There is such a thing as sheer luck, and no – you don’t necessarily have more of it by working harder.
  6. Your “ideal” partner doesn’t exist. Find someone who absolutely, perfectly fits the “must have” bill and tear up the “nice to have” one. 
  7. His/her looks matter zilch in the long run. Not “very little”. Zilch.
  8. Some days are just bad days. Let them pass.
  9. Take a lot, a lot of time to trust.
  10. Life lessonsPhoto by handywallsii

  11. Hard work is necessary, but not sufficient for success.
  12. The only way to get started is to get started.
  13. You’ll never make as much money as you’d like to make. Shift your focus from “money” to “happiness”.
  14. In the long run marriage gives you companionship. If you’re expecting anything more, don’t marry.
  15. Stable relationships are boring most of the time sometimes. It doesn’t mean love has died.
  16.  In any situation, respond. Don’t react.
  17. You don’t have to love your job. Most claim to, but few actually do.
  18. Feel your emotions. But don’t be controlled by them.
  19. Your career is less important than you think. Develop other aspects of your life before it’s too late.
  20. Murphy’s Law usually holds true. Prepare accordingly.
  21. Sometimes the best way of winning someone back is to let them go.
  22. Sometimes there is no way of winning someone back. Accept it.
  23. Life lessonsPhoto by WayneWho?

  24. Being open to new ideas isn’t always a good thing. Know your core values.
  25. “Everything” is NOT possible. Accept it.
  26. A failure isn’t always a new beginning, a learning opportunity or “the best thing that could’ve happened to you”. Sometimes it’s a big, hairy, real failure with nothing but negative implications for your life. In such cases, acceptance itself is an achievement.
  27. Sometimes the glass is completely empty. It’s called life. You don’t always have to hallucinate. :D  
  28. There are exceptions, but in general good things happen to bad people. Get over it.
  29. Don’t always feel guilty about not being productive. Sometimes, live.
  30. You do have a split second before you let yourself fall in love. Use it.
  31. Happiness is the only goal you’re certain to achieve if you chase it. Everything else is uncertain.
  32. Never measure yourself with others’ yardstick. The only real failure is failure to find true happiness in life. 

What do you think? Let me know. :)

For You, O Unborn

For you I wait, O Unborn.

My dreams resplendent with hope.

Tiny shoes, toys, dolls … I hoard it all.

I hoard it all, even though it’s a waste.

Nightmares haunt me.

I see you.

“Why bring me into your wasted world?” You demand.  

“Do you want their jealousy to burn away my innocent face?”

“Their rage to destroy the fruit of your love?”

“Their lust to spew venom inside its tender flesh?”

The darkness is silent.

I forage for answers.

In vain.

And yet you’re my only hope.

In you, I dream to live. 

This is a loose translation of a Bengali poem “Onagoto, Tor Jonyo”, by Abhijit Debnath, originally published on the Prothom Alo Blog. Translated and published here with permission.

The Tale of Four Hearts (Part 2)

[Continued from here.]

Sheetal had never been a very close friend of mine. We had each other’s phone numbers – just in case – and our communication was limited to forwarded SMSs, a few times a month perhaps. So I was taken aback when one of these difficult days Sheetal messaged me asking me to remove all her photos and other traces from Rahul’s computer. “It’s over,” She ended.

“But …what the….???” I was immediately on the phone with her, desperately looking for explanations in my stupid, blundering, bundle-of-nerves way.

“That’s none of your business. Who are you to this relationship? No one! What do you know about what I have been through over the last three years? To you he’s your “best buddy”, your “saviour”, the embodiment of virtue, isn’t he?” Sheetal was on a frenzied roll. The truth that was tumbling out of her was what I’d suspected it to be all of these years.

Rahul was an emotional abuser. Hours of mental torture, extreme possessiveness to the point of not letting her talk to other boys, name-calling her parents – Sheetal had seen it all. In fact, Sulagna, when I read your article on emotional abuse, it was pure déjà vu. Manipulation, lies, presenting a charming face to the outside world and to top it all – when push came to shove, blaming it all on the victim. I saw it, you see. I witnessed it, right in front of my eyes. But Rahul was…Rahul. My best buddy. My saviour. The embodiment of virtue. I had tried to look past it every time I found myself face to face with it. Now I felt responsible. I had failed Sheetal.

Love storyPhoto by *Lie … off for a while … !

“Don’t do anything. We’re OK.J J ;) ;) ” That’s the next message I see from Sheetal, as I scroll down my inbox archives today. I know. Women!!

In spite of being ineffective in splitting up the couple, which I knew – and still know – is what Sheetal needed, this hiccup in their relationship holds a huge significance to me. This was the genesis of a deep friendship between me and Sheetal. My depression wasn’t getting any better. I was desperate to trust someone, to open up to someone, to have someone croon me a few words of sympathy. I held on to Sheetal like a drowning man to a straw. She didn’t hold back. We became the best of friends, sharing everything about Ranja and a tiny little bit about Rahul. (Sheetal is a Bharatiya Nari, remember? ;))

Months passed by. Our exams ended. Rahul travelled to another university in a different city for his internship. And then one day I received a call from him.

It fills me with anger, pain and shock as I relive that call even today.

“You think I’m a fool, don’t you? You think I don’t know anything about what’s going on? I’ve checked out all of the messages that were exchanged between you and my girlfriend you son of a b***h! You see, I had plenty of time when you were deep in sleep, probably dreaming of her naked body. I can’t stoop to the level of “battling this out with you,” so to speak. So let me tell you this once and for all – you’re free to get as close to my soon-to-be-ex girlfriend as you want, but do not contact me ever in this life again. For you, I never existed.”

I sat on my bed, shaking, with tears running down my cheeks even long after he’d hung up. I had no idea what had just happened. I had never, ever thought of Sheetal as anything other than an understanding, trusted friend. How could I? Ranja – and the pain of losing her – occupied every square millimetre of my heart. More than the pain of losing my best friend of three years – the pain of feeling wronged overwhelmed me. I wailed and wailed for what felt like hours but was in reality 15 minutes. And then I popped two Avomine tablets and slept the whole day.

“Tujh se naraaz nahi zindagi, hayraan hoon main…”

Yeah life is ironic sometimes. That’s the painful tune which woke me up next morning as I peered at the screen, barely recognizing Sheetal’s name through my groggy-eyed haze.

One more deluge of tears. Rahul had used up his entire dictionary of teenage slangs in an hours long call he had had with her the previous day, Sheetal informed.

“I almost hate myself now. Even though it never crossed my mind that you could be anything but a very close, very dear friend to me, maybe he’s right. May be it’s impossible for a male and a female to be just friends. I’m sorry for everything Rana … ” The trauma had left her out of her senses.

We talked. For hours. Sharing our sorrows. Our pain. The hurt we felt for being misunderstood by someone closest to each of us. And in the end we agreed he was beyond us. He had something in him that was tearing him apart. And honestly, neither of us had the capability to handle it. From this point, we started avoiding him.

Love storyPhoto by jacobblack_luver

“Missing you…” That’s the next SMS from Sheetal currently showing up on my phone.

“Rana you understand me so well…I feel I’ve known you for many lives…” Reads the next.

I smiled. To my utter surprise I started feeling the first few puffs of that sharp, heady, intoxicating thing inside myself again. It all fell in place. Sheetal?? But of course! We were both survivors. We both wanted the same things in a partner – truly-deeply-madly real love, a pure heart and absolute honesty. And hey – we could share anything and everything with each other, even our deepest fears, pains and stupid hopes. I did it again.

Sulagna, you know, sometimes such tiny things affect our lives in such immeasurable ways? Like you couldn’t find your wallet in the morning, so left for work 5 minutes later than usual and when you arrived at the station you found out all trains were running an hour late because your usual train – which you missed because of the delay – has just met with a terrible accident?

Sometimes, it’s the reverse. Something huge happens and shakes up your tiny, mundane life in ways you never expected. Or deserved.

Rahul’s dad died in his office of a sudden heart attack just a few weeks after we fell out. Long story short – Sheetal went back to Rahul. “I’m sorry, but I can never forgive myself for what happened. I feel guilty. The least I can do is be by his side now…” She sobbed into the phone.

I pretended to smile.

What could I do? I know the world is not fair. Good things happen to bad people.

But still I stay awake at night. I haven’t been able to make peace with myself. Not yet. What should I tell myself? Any suggestions? What can I tell myself to make sense of what happened to me? Am I being oversensitive? Like most people should I pretend emotions don’t exist and the cruder aspects of life are its only real aspects?

I don’t know. 

The Tale of Four Hearts (Part 1)

[I won’t waste any more of your time by apologizing for the hideously long break in posting, than I already have by taking it. So just help yourselves to this instalment of a freshly-baked teenage romance.]

They say love at first sight is not real. May be it isn’t. But boy it’s heady.

Have you ever been on LSD for months, or years?

Forget it. That was a joke. And anyway, you wouldn’t know what love at first sight is even if you had.

That’s what Ranjini was to me – a psychedelic disorienting taste of first love.

We were neighbours in our sleepy town of Dhanbad. I used to watch her from my balcony as she made her way to the temple with her mother every Sunday. One day I smiled at her. She smiled back. Before I knew it we were scrapping each other away on Orkut (Facebook wasn’t around since beginning of time, remember?). That was back in my Higher Secondary days.

Good times don’t last forever. For us it ended as college life approached. It was time for me to go join my engineering course somewhere in the Southern part of the country, and for her to join hers in the East. I panicked. I proposed her.

Four HeartsPhoto by Our Enchanted Garden

As I look back today, everything that happened thereafter looks all normal, all too predictable. She was instantly the quintessential Indian good girl – “haven’t thought about that thing ever”, but would love to remain the best of friends. What choice does a hapless, smitten teenager have but to agree with the enthusiasm of a puppy at the first sight of its master after a month of separation?

I arrived in college. So did Rahul – the only other chap from good old Dhanbad – and was made to share his dorm room with three local students. He came running to me. He needed a quiet room for studying. Would I not help him out, coming from Dhanbad and all? If I didn’t let him share my room he’d have to go back to Dhanbad, and God knows whether he’d want live at all after that. I saw tears.

I melted. I went to great lengths to ensure he was allowed to shift to my room. Thereafter we became best friends.

Enter Sheetal – meek and shy, fresh out of a girls’ school and mortally afraid of boys. She just wouldn’t talk to a boy. What if he tried to make passes at her?? :D

Rahul fancied Sheetal inside his heart. But he knew she wouldn’t talk to him. So he came up with a cunning plan. He made her tie a Rakhi to him. (In most Indian cultures Rakhi is a symbol of sibling-hood.) For good measure, he also told her he was madly in love with some other girl from his school. I was aghast when I came to know what Rahul was up to. It was just wrong. He was just … fake. I felt I couldn’t take it.

When he finally proposed Sheetal confessing the whole story, she was as disgusted as I was. Rahul’s excuse – “You won’t talk to me unless I was your Rakhi brother. Or some sort of a brother. :D” When Sheetal turned her back on him he came up with a new plan.

When Sheetal was out with her friends in a local market, Rahul drove up to her in a motorbike – tears running down his cheeks – and literally begged her to come to a quiet place with him and talk things out. The entire locality was swelling with glee as they watched “real-life drama” unfold in front of them. It was too much for Sheetal. She hopped on to his motorbike without a word.

I would never forget that evening. When the door to my room burst open, I was playing Prince of Persia at my desk. Rahul’s terrified face was just about enough to jolt me back to reality. He and Sheetal had been to a park known as the “secret haven for lovers.” Soon a gang of local louts surrounded them, making rude remarks and threatening. Rahul somehow managed to send Sheetal back. Later the goons roughed him up and wouldn’t let him go until he gave them some money. While I felt sorry for him, I couldn’t but loathe him for leading Sheetal into this. Three weeks later Sheetal and Rahul were dating. Don’t ask me how or why.

Four heartsPhoto by oline221296

In the meantime I was happily chatting away with Ranja. Every phone/chat conversation with my girl would light up my day/night. But for Rahul it was the exact opposite. The more he’d talk to Sheetal the more negative, irritable, stressed he’d become. This puzzled me, but I let it go. Through Rahul I got to know Sheetal. We’d share funny texts. She’d tease me regarding Ranja. It was friendly and warm.

But good times don’t last forever. I started feeling ignored by Ranja. She almost stopped replying to my messages. I’ve never felt as hurt in my life as I did when she didn’t even open a beautiful slideshow of photos I’d created just for her. I lost control. I panicked. I proposed her on Valentine’s Day through a wall post on Facebook. I knew she might not have liked the gesture. I knew she might get angry for me taking it out in the open. But what I couldn’t anticipate in my blackest nightmare was to be ignored completely. A cold refusal to acknowledge the whole thing.

Something snapped. I did something which even today I don’t believe I’ve done. I called her up told her she had a black heart. I’ll never forgive myself for that moment of madness. Needless to say, we lost touch after this. There was no way Ranja was going to take c**p from me. In hindsight I feel she might have fallen for someone else at this point, but … anyway.

I entered the first phase of depression of my life. The numbness was a real thing. It really was. I’d open my eyes in the morning and find it impossible to leave my bed. Rahul would almost drag me out. He’d force me to eat. He’d coarse, cajole, scold me into attending classes. I’d never be able to repay him for what he did for me over this period. In spite of what happened thereafter.  

[To be continued…]

Q&A: My Live-in Boyfriend Goes Out with Another Girl (Part 2)

[This is a response to a Q&A query. Please read the original question here.]

Sarah, are you or are you not Jake’s girlfriend as of today?

The main issue here is that none of you have a clear answer to that question at the moment. You’re both confused.

Jake breaks up with you. He stops having sex with you to impress this point upon you. And then he has dreams about you cheating on him and drinking again. If he’s truly let go of you, why does he care? If he’s truly let go of you, why does he need to tell you that Sally is only a friend and not a date?

On the other hand you sometimes feel it’s over. You feel you’re living with him just because you have nowhere else to do. Then again you feel helpless about not being able to make him believe that you’d never drink again. And you feel uncontrollable pangs of jealousy for his new “friend” Sally. Why Sarah?

Live in boyfriend cheatingPhoto by romaaaaaa

This brings me to the question of the mysterious circumstances of the “break-up” itself. Your boyfriend of three years broke up with you because you went out and got drunk one evening. One evening in three whole years. Really? I’m sorry Sarah, but let me tell you – that wasn’t the reason Jake tried to end this relationship, it was the trigger. Things have been there on Jake’s mind for a long time, nudging him, pushing him to reconsider your relationship with him. I suspect there isn’t one but several reasons he’s been feeling this way. The incident of your night out in the town was just the trigger which excited him into taking action.

It’s these real issues which you need to find out Sarah.

What are these issues?

Why didn’t he discuss these with you?

Can you do anything to allay his worries about whatever the issues are?

Do you want to?

These are questions the answers to which both of you will have to work out together. Have an open discussion with Jake. Ask him directly about what is it that’s bothering him. And most importantly – emphasize that you want to make this relationship work and you’re ready to put in all necessary efforts for it. At this point there’s a significant communication gap between the two of you which needs to be bridged if this relationship has to move any further.

The second issue is that of your total emotional dependence on Jake. Yes Sarah. You’re overly emotionally dependent on him. His approval means the world to you. Him going out with another girl – who he doesn’t even call a date – makes you completely out of control. You’re still extremely guilty about the drinking incident. And you feel desperate because you have nowhere else to go.

That’s not the way any healthy relationship can work, Sarah. Every relationship requires some space. Emotional intimacy is great. But too much emotional dependence on your partner makes them feel suffocated. It makes you completely out of control. And so it gives your partner two reasons to start feeling a bit wary about you.

Hence you need to find yourself. You need to find your strength. That’s your Priority #1 in life at this point. And for that you need to be self-sufficient. Yes, it’s a long-term goal, it can’t be achieved tomorrow. But what stops you from spending every waking hour in pursuit of that goal? Focus on your job search. Put that as the #1 item on your daily to-do list, because it is. No matter whether this relationship survives or not. Jake is right – even if it does survive, some level of material independence on your part will take certain pressures off both of you (e.g. guilt on your part for feeling like using him, consequent lack of trust on his).

Also, as a direct consequence of your excessive emotional dependence your boyfriend, you’re letting him take you for granted. At the moment you’ve put him at the centre of your life. That’s not where he belongs, Sarah. There’s one, and only person who belongs there – you. If you’ve been regular around here you’d know that your partner is a very important part of your life, but not your life itself. One more important principle that’s relevant to you is – you can’t change others, you can only change your own response to them.

Sally, for example. You’re letting her affect you so much more than you should, Sarah. You’re way too worked up about her role in Jake’s life. The only message that this conveys to Jake is, “I’m desperate and unable to function without you.” Jake may not be conscious of it, but this message signals to his brain that you’re “safe”, that you can be taken for granted. Which makes his brain think it’s OK to not reply to your message while he’s out with Sally at 1 in the morning.

This is a never-ending vicious cycle Sarah. The only way – if at all – of making Jake take you more seriously is to let go. When he comes back tonight don’t even wake up. Tomorrow morning ask him pleasantly how his evening went. Never ask him about Sally. Never make angry comments about Sally. If she ever comes up in conversation, be warm and positive. You’ve told Jake you’d be “mad” at him for having a night out in the town with Sally. But ironically, your message to Jake would be a lot clearer if you don’t get mad, than if you do. If you’re all cool about the whole Sally thing, Jake will slowly realize you probably need him less than you once did. Trust me – if Jake still loves you, that can be just the wake-up call he’s needed for so long.

All the best Sarah. At Love in India we’re all there by your side. :)

Q&A: My Live-in Boyfriend Goes Out with Another Girl (Part 1)

I’m 18 year old, American, female, living together with my boyfriend of 3 years. He’s 20. Let’s call him Jake. His dad had problems with alcohol abuse when he was a child. As a result he’s promised himself never to drink in his life and expects the same from me. I’m not a great fan of alcohol either and had no problem giving him my word on this. However one evening about a month back I got drunk with a couple of friends. He was mad and broke up with me.

Now Jake is an extremely responsible, smart, good guy and I’m completely dependent on him for all my practical needs. Like a place to live, for example. I had a job earlier which I left for further education. I’ve now completed my degree and I’m looking for a new job. Ironically, I don’t even have a car which I can drive to my interviews, apart from the one his family has lent me. Even though he’s “broken up” with me, he’s promised he’d never abandon me, so I can continue to live in his house and use his resources as long as I don’t have other options.

Q&A Live in Boyfriend CheatingPhoto by davemmett

It’s emotionally very stressful for me to continue to live with him, with his family thinking we’re together, when he’s totally stopped hugging me or showing any kind of affection. I was used to a lot of hugging and cuddling. Nowadays he just comes home and sleeps and tells me to make plans with my friends in the weekend. And there’s no sexual intimacy between us anymore. He says he can’t get intimate with me as he’s “broken up” with me.

Since that fateful evening out in the town it has been an uphill task trying to convince him that he can trust me again. He’s started getting upset about me visiting even my family and friends. He says whenever I leave the house he feels stressed and worried about what I might do when I’m out alone. He says he feels betrayed, he feels I don’t value our relationship. Apparently he keeps having dreams about me getting drunk and cheating on him. It breaks my heart when he says he can never think of me in the same way again. I haven’t been able to make him understand how I genuinely regret whatever I did and can’t imagine doing it again.

Jake has suggested I take a break, go live with my mum for a few weeks and see if we can work things out. But my mum is part of the problem. Right after my parents’ divorce she started drinking a lot, had a lot of boyfriends over to our place and wasn’t really a great parent. Let’s just stay going back there, even for a few weeks, is not an option for me. Frankly, she doesn’t want me there either.

Recently Jake has started being all friendly with a girl who he had a sexual relationship with earlier. Let’s call her Sally. Jake says she’s just a friend. But sometimes they go out together to eat at night and Jake doesn’t come back till well past midnight. That crushes me every time. I yell at him when he comes back. But the pain doesn’t go away. Even as I write this, at 12:50 AM in the night, he’s still out with Sally and isn’t replying to my messages. It’s such a horrible humiliation, but I’m stuck and don’t know what to do. I don’t even know how I should react when he comes home tonight.

I’m confused, hurt and stressed. Please help me. 

-Sarah,

San Fransisco

Love in India Reader Survives Break Up and Achieves His Dreams – Interview

There are those days when you feel like nothing is going to work again. Like the world is over. Like you’ve lost everything.

I know I do.

It might just be the traffic. Or a tiff you had with your mother in the morning. An exam you failed.

Or it might be a break-up.

The end of a significant relationship is one of the most life-altering experiences one goes through in one’s life. It breaks a lot of people. Makes cynics out of the rest. But for a tiny fraction of people this painful and heartbreaking experience becomes the catalyst to a new life, new dreams and a renewed belief in their own abilities.

Subhendra is one such individual. Subhendra had had a devastating break-up some time back. I first got to know him when he wrote to me asking for help with the what he was going through. We kept in touch. A few weeks back I received a happy surprise in my Facebook inbox – Subhendra had got himself a seat in a prestigious management school – something he’d always dreamt of.

I was completely blown away. Here’s a guy who was a crushed, heartbroken mess only a few months back. And today he is an epitome of success – having achieved his dream through sheer hard work, dedication and willpower. I felt proud to have helped him. I also felt eager to share his secrets of this mind-blowing turnaround with all of you. Here are some excerpts from a recent chat I had with Subhendra.

#1. Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a very simple person and I like other simple people. Chatting with friends energizes me like anything. Well, I’ve got only a few. But the ones who I call friends are a true life-force to me.

I take success seriously. I want it. I do what I can to achieve it. The more successful I am, the more confident I feel. The more confident I am the more motivated I feel to do more. That’s the recipe for my success, really.

Oh and btw – did I tell you about my new girlfriend? Here she is.

interview - moving onPhoto by victor.lavrentev

Oh yes. She’s the curviest, sexiest, most romantic and most caring thing on earth. I love the way she longs for my touch. When I’m with her, I forget everything else. J

#2. You were in a relationship. How long was it? Tell us a bit about it.

Ah yes, my relationship.

We started as friends really. And surprisingly, it was she who took the lead in turning it into something more. I gave in. I fell.

Love is every bit as crazy, euphoric, beathtakingly happy as they say, you know? I’m glad I’ve tasted it, if only for 4 short months. Oh yeah – that’s how long she stayed. Then she called it off. Just like that.

#3. Subhendra you had a shocking break up some time back. Tell us how it happened. 

Needless to say I have no words to describe my feelings in the months that followed the break-up. For a long time I couldn’t believe it, really. Especially because she never offered any explanations. I begged.

Eventually I came to know that she had gotten engaged to someone else. I felt may be it was the lack of a formally spelt out commitment of marriage from my side which had broken her trust. To make up for this I confessed everything to my family and got my father to talk to her over the phone. I even invited her to my home to meet my parents (yeah I know how lucky I am). She said she was embarrassed and of course, never came.

I’m crazy I know.

#4. How did the break up affect you? 

It has been more than a year since then. I used to feel very lonely. I’d force myself to date other girls, but my past would block everything and my heart would grow cold as I got to know them. I had become a bit of cynic. I felt every girl I met was pretentious and driven by ulterior motives.

I was tired of the so-called positive “pep talk” from people around me. “You can choose to be happy”, and “one day you’ll meet the love of your life” had become meaningless dry platitudes to me. There was no strength, no happiness, no stability in my mind.

#5. What all did you do to cope with your break-up?

My friends were a great support system, to a certain extent. But tell you what – no one can really know what you feel. Hence deep in my heart I was walking alone.

Interview - break up

I’ve learnt a lot from my past. I’ve learnt about myself, others and the “real world”. I’ve learnt to focus on myself, to care for myself, to value myself. If I hadn’t started appreciating and believing in myself more, I would be nowhere near where I stand today.  All in all, I daresay I’ve learnt to be a bit more selfish – it always helps. :D

Needless to say, Sulagnadi’s counselling and articles gave me some very good guidance. They helped me ground myself in reality, to see life for what it was, without any rosy or pessimistic lenses. They helped me think of life in a rational, structured way.

Also Sulagnadi, I know you don’t recommend forcing yourself to hate someone you want to forget, but that’s what worked for me. Hatred is the exact opposite of love. I mean – just like love is that magic potion which brings two people together, hatred is the one that draws them away from each other, naturally. Well, to tell you the truth she’d given me plenty of real reasons to hate her too. I found out many of the moves she’d made during the break-up (and also during the relationship) were predetermined – all part of her plan for her own life. It was bizarre. In hindsight I feel maybe she wanted a guy who was better settled (financially). She knew I was not going to take up a job within the next few years. May be that’s what put her off. At least that’s what I believe. And that has helped me deal with my own feelings. You know, I even called her once and said, “I’m glad you’re not with me anymore. Breaking up with you has taught me a lot, it has leased me a new life. I’m confident I’ll get a better partner than you one day.” ;)

#6. I’m really happy to know you’ve overcome your mental turmoil and have scored a major achievement recently – namely, cracking B-school admissions. Tell us how you feel.

I’ll never forget that moment. The one when MAT results were released, that is. 94 percentile. I almost couldn’t breathe when I saw that number against my name.

It took some time to sink in. All I could feel was, “Is this really happening?”

As of today I’m glad to know I’ve been able to create something for myself worth creating. That’s a huge confidence booster for me. This achievement tells me that I’m finally free of my past. That I’m ready for the future. The institute I’m about to join is a really great one. I’m looking forward to the start of a new life.

#7. How did you get back your zeal for life, your motivation and your desire to be happy? Most people reeling from a recent break-up struggle with these and would benefit immensely from your answer. 

It was not easy, to say the least. Depression has been a constant companion to me for the last one year. Life would feel meaningless from time to time.

What helped me really … was the desire to feel better, to move on, to be happy. I wanted to find a solution. I took to reading inspirational literature. One of my Favourite books is The Secret. It helped me gradually break free of my negative attitude. It helped me hope again, and to believe in myself. I came across the concepts of Dianetics. It helped me immensely in truly believing in my own power to control my life. When you control your mind, you control pretty much everything in your life.

#8. How did you discipline yourself into doing what it took to crack the admissions? Give us some tips. 

This is really ironical, you know. I have never thought of myself as a good student, and never expected to be giving out study tips. This is really amazing.

You see, I just had to prove me to myself. I had lost my strength, my confidence, my belief in myself. So I was really, really determined to give myself a new opportunity for the future. I set myself the goal of getting admission to a good institute of management studies.

After that it was the usual rigour to get the MAT score I needed. Solving previous years’ papers regularly, setting aside time for specific practice activities everyday etc. If I had to share just one principle of success with an aspiring student it would be this – manage your time well. Effective time management is the key to achieving any goal you set your mind to.

#9. Any message for Love in India readers? Especially the ones struggling with the end of a significant relationship?

A couple of things, really.

  1. A break-up is painful. But it’s a part of life. Be aware that you’re not alone.
  2. It’s a great opportunity to learn about life, about the real world and to change yourself for the better, if you want to.
  3. Tough times don’t last. Tough people do. Yeah the old adage is damn true.
  4. Your significant other is (was) a part of your life, not your life itself. Trust me – your purpose on this Earth goes much, much beyond finding happiness with him/her.

Lastly, I want to wholeheartedly thank you, Didi (Sulagna Dasgupta), for doing such awesome work for all of us. Your help means a lot to a lot of people like me. I wish Love in India becomes ever more popular. My heartfelt best wishes are always there with you.

Why “The Groom’s Side” Will Continue to Act High-Handed with You

An acquaintance of mine is now in the process of having her marriage arranged. She meets a new prospective groom every other day (and becomes ever so rich in the Hilarious Life Experience department).We were recently chitchatting about one such experience she had a few days back. She seemed really annoyed with the way the guy and his family treated her in their first (and understandably, only) meeting. Apparently they said they’d like it if she discontinued working after marriage, acted rude all along and to top it all – the guy’s mother took her to the kitchen where she had to demonstrate her cooking skills by preparing a few dishes of her choice under her probing gaze.

“But wasn’t that expected?” I wondered aloud. I’m not sure whether it was my reaction or the groom’s family’s actions which outraged her more.

“What do you mean?” She exclaimed.

“Well, you’ve chosen to have an arranged marriage. We all know that the bride/groom selection within the settings of an arranged marriage is a process which has been traditionally disparaging of women. It’s a patent fact that it is still thought of by most Indians – like this guy you unfortunately met – as the man’s privilege to pick and choose the women he’s presented with. If you wanted to be treated with the respect and equality you deserve, shouldn’t you have chosen the more natural way of getting married instead?”

“What do you mean??”

Arranged MarriagePhoto by Praveen_Verma

I realized the short version of my views on this had confused her more. So I explained, this time in detail.

“Let’s start from the A, B, C, shall we? Marriage in general is understood to be a way of giving legal validity to a bond of love between two people (and when I say “love”, I’m NOT talking about crazy, head over heels infatuation but a deep, stable bond between two people built over time, and based on shared values, beliefs, personalities etc.). So marriage is understood as a consequence of two people wanting to be with each other. Here the partner is primary and marriage is secondary because the marriage is a consequence of the existence of the partner. 

Only among certain specific communities (like the majority of people in the Indian subcontinent, some parts of middle East, some parts of China, a few thousand followers of the Unification Church in the US & Europe etc.) it is thought of as the exact opposite of that – a lifelong contract between two people based on various factors, which may or may not culminate in love (again, by love I don’t mean an emotional state but a bond based on compatibility). Here the marriage itself is primary. The partner is secondary, and hence easily replaceable.  

What happens when you’re easily replaceable?

Let’s take an example. Let’s say someone hires you for your unique qualities. They’ve got a job which you – and only you in this world – can perform. What salary would you ask for? As much as you want, right? Because no matter how much you ask for, the employer has to hire you because no one in this whole world can perform your job. In this case your replaceability is zero – you’re irreplaceable. (Think of superstars. They’re paid so highly because they’re unique – completely irreplaceable. Amitabh Bachchan doesn’t get paid for doing his job – acting or whatever. He gets paid for being him.)

On the other hand if you go to someone and offer to wash their floor, what salary would you ask for? Not very high, right? In this case you don’t get to name a price you’d like because yours is a relatively low-skilled job. Hence you’re easily replaceable. The employer is looking for enough skills to get his floor washed; he’s not looking for you specifically. If you don’t want to work for the price the employer is ready to pay you, someone else will.

Hence, the more replaceable you are, the less is your bargaining power.

Coming back to the marriage scene in the Indian context – marriage has been traditionally considered the ultimate achievement of a woman’s life, but not so for men. Even though in a sufficiently large pool of single people (as large as the population of a country/state/city) there would always be roughly equal no. of men and women, for cultural reasons the perceived risk of not being married is much, much higher for an Indian woman than it is for an Indian man. Hence the woman (and/or her family) becomes the “weaker side”, so to speak, in the Indian arranged marriage market. (Think of the earlier employer-employee example. Theoretically speaking both of them need each other equally. But practically, it’s an employers’ market.)

wife sex before marriagePhoto by VishalSinghx

Because of the partner being easily replaceable to followers of the second school of thought on marriage, the bargaining power of the weaker side goes drastically down in case of marriages among these people. As a natural consequence, the stronger side gets to call the shots. This can lead to all sorts of consequences like the stronger side taking an obvious upper hand, treating the weaker side disrespectfully (like in your case), expecting the weaker side to compensate financially in return for the “favour” they’re doing them. (“Since you’re easily replaceable, if you don’t pay someone else will.” That’s what’s called dowry. ;) )

Compare that with a natural process of marriage – “Love marriage”, as it is called in India. Someone wants to marry you because they love you. Hence you’re unique – they want to marry you, not just anybody. You’re irreplaceable to each other. Hence both of you are on equal footing. None is in a position to take an obvious upper-hand.

Anyone is free to choose either of the two interpretations of marriage for themselves. In a patriarchal society like India, in the context of arranged marriage, the various unkind gestures of the guy’s side which you’ve described are all very logical, easily deductible, natural consequences of following the second process of marriage. Particular families can of course be kind and gentle people who choose not to use the privilege which is logically theirs. But in general it’s surprising that these acts can come across as surprising to people who’ve willingly chosen to follow this process of marriage. 

That’s all I meant. :) ”

Well let’s not go into what happened next. Let’s just say … she was a very nice person. ;)

What about you? Irate? Angry? Hurt? Happy? Vindicated? Completely confused and decided never to come back?

Whatever is your reaction, I want to know it. Do pour in the comments. Let’s find out the truth. If it exists. :P 

On Sex Before Marriage (Again) – Part 1

Yeah. Again, after Q&A. My Wife Has Had Sex Before Marriage!

Because sex is serious business.

Especially if it happens in India.  

Especially if a woman is involved. ;)

And totally, if the woman is not married to the man.

Well we all (should) know these petty facts, but I felt the need to repeat them here as I was reminded of these once again (quite forcefully), after I wrote that piece

As you can see, there are 46 comments on that piece up till now (thanks so much guys for taking out the time to share your views :)). Let’s just say not all of those friendly commenters did me the favour because they wanted to convey their unqualified support of my views (the piece contained none, but more about that later).

moving out of homePhoto by Sephiroty Fiesta

These comments let me see how strongly the youth of this country feels about sex before marriage. That was quite an eye-opener. So much heated discussion started around this that I thought it’s time I gave it a little more prominence. In the form of actual posts, to be precise. So starting today I’d post my responses to some very interesting comments and questions about sex before marriage from time to time.  

I’ll start with one of the very commonly raised questions:

It’s the girl’s fault to have not disclosed the facts about her past affair before marriage. Why are you silent on that?

“It’s the girl’s fault to have not disclosed the facts about her past affair before marriage.” Theoretically speaking you’re right. But knowing the practical reality of India, I think we need to go a bit deeper here before coming to a conclusion. If a prospective groom doesn’t enquire specifically about a girl’s virginity – and I’m sure you’d agree – the girl would hardly have any reason to take the initiative to convey this info to the guy. So in this case unless the guy had asked this question specifically, she had no way of knowing how particular he was about this issue.

You’re right, telling the truth is undoubtedly the right thing to do under all circumstances. But I believe if you expect anyone to tell you the truth about anything, you should provide them a safe environment for it (unless we’re talking about illegitimate activities, or activities which violate others’ rights etc.). If a person knows they might be compromising their own safety, security, mental peace etc. by telling the truth, is it really fair to hold them fully accountable for not telling the truth? (Don’t get so angry just as yet. Read on. :D)

Think of it from the girl’s perspective. With the vilification of premarital sex in the Indian society, would it have been safe for her to tell a prospective groom about her past? What if the guy announces it to her family and walks away from the relationship? What kind of consequences do you think the girl can expect, from her own family and the society? How easy do you think it would be for her family to get a guy for her subsequently?

arranged marriagePhoto by The People Speak!

Given the realities of our society, if a guy is too particular about his wife’s virginity pre-marriage, the onus lies on him to find out the truth without hurting the girl’s dignity. Here’s a suggestion for how you can go about it.

At a very initial stage, find a way to have a discussion with the girl alone. Tell her, “Marriage is a life-altering decision. I believe we should have a clear understanding with each other before such a decision is made. I’m sure you understand the gravity of the mistake that we would be committing if we take such an important decision on the basis of incomplete information. Given this context, I want you to know that there are certain things which are unacceptable to me when it comes to my future wife. I respect your privacy, hence I won’t ask you any questions about these aspects. I’ll just tell you what these factors are and request you to cancel the marriage from your side (telling you don’t like me) if any of this applies to you. The list goes:

1. She should not smoke/drink…
2. She should not be a non-vegetarian…
3. She should be a virgin at the time of marriage… ”

The list here is just an example (I’m by no means supporting or opposing the values espoused here). The point here is, you need to provide her a list instead of a single criterion like virginity, so that her privacy is protected. If she cancels the marriage you’d know she ticks one of your “strictly prohibited” boxes, without knowing which one.

I’m sure you understand, as one of the several prospective grooms the girl would meet in the process of her arranged marriage, you have no right to ask for private information like whether she’s a virgin. (If you don’t become her husband, you’re just another guy on the street, remember?) However, you have a right to cancel the marriage if she doesn’t satisfy your criteria (which, in this case, includes virginity). The only way to protect both her rights and yours is through mature and respectful dialogue, as suggested here.

What do you think guys? Bring on your views. I’m waiting. :)