It was the night of July 16th, 2021. My husband and I were sitting on the couch watching one of his thrillers. I usually don't indulge in this hobby- I'd rather go out in the driveway for a walk or workout, write, or read a book. However, our recent binge-watching of The Handmaid's Tale series (a Margaret Atwood masterpiece) triggered nightly conversations and debates about the dystopic world of Gilead.
That night, our children, ages 6 and 3, were comfortably sprawled across our legs, giggling, and occasionally poking at our growing waistlines. I paused.
"Is this what it's supposed to feel like? Is this how I am supposed to feel after ten years of marriage?"
10 years. It's a milestone alright, and I expected this tremendous accomplishment to translate into euphoria. Perhaps a lavish celebration wrapped in Bollywood flair to celebrate our Indian heritage. Something. Anything. But there I was, exhausted; saddled by the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic and a life-altering transition on the horizon. My greying hair was no longer concealed by the TT$33 box of dye; my wrinkles defiant against the Vitamin E oil I started applying to my skin.
In that moment, I reflected on our entire relationship.
In 2007, we connected at our Hindu mandir. I was a broke University student; he was now embarking on his career. Our pockets were filled with nothing but dreams. We were an unlikely pairing. He is a 6ft 2'' giant sporting a stern facial countenance; almost unapproachable. I am petit and outgoing with a permanent smile plastered across my face. Oddly enough, he saw potential in us and became increasingly persistent, whilst I was being the hard-to-get 'mean girl.' We eventually went out, and one of our first dates was at the Pizza Hut near the University. We shared one pizza- all we could have afforded in those days.
Our courtship wasn't the romanticised fairy tale sprinkled with bouquets, gifts, or dinners, but one driven by focus. We both strived for a certain quality of life, one remotely different from the humble beginnings we experienced as children. We saved diligently, planned, and dreamt some more. We became more intensely involved in our mandir's activities, this time as a couple. We talked about the life we wanted to give to our children. I saw the bigger picture.
Four years after, we got married.
So here's the real crux of this blog- lessons from our marriage. If you're expecting to read a happy-go-lucky love story, you may have to hop off at this point.
If it's anything that marriage has taught me, it's that those picture-perfect couple photos we aspire to on social media DO NOT tell the story of married life in its entirety. Marriage entails hard work, difficult conversations, sacrifices, and enduring love.
One of my earliest lessons is the fact that you will never be prepared to live with another human being. Never. Now my husband is the ultimate career-driven male, rarely indulges in alcohol, bars, and clubs, and belongs to a tight-knit group of like-minded friends. These were all crucial factors in my decision to marry him. When it came to maintaining a home though, we encountered our first point of contention.
The honeymoon phase was great, but it came with a bit of parenting. I accepted the fact that I had to be a partner and 'coach' to my husband who wasn't fully prepared for independent living. It was our first time on our own, but I felt that I had better adapted to change. It took endless effort on my part (heated arguments and all), and after a while, change crept in. It came at a painfully slow pace, but it came nevertheless.
The next lesson surfaced when deciding which family members and friends to keep in our lives. Listen- not everyone who shows up at your wedding is well-intentioned, and I learnt this soon enough. There were some particularly toxic ones and after many intense and painful conversations, we had to cut ties with them - permanently. You have to focus on introducing and maintaining positive energy in your physical and mental space, and when you get married, have children, or get stuck in a bind, you finally discover your support system. We are happy to share that our circle of family and friends has been trimmed significantly, and we are protected and loved by a small but powerful group of lifelong relationships.
Learning the 'love languages' was another key lesson. I am a romanticist and master crafter of impromptu gestures, but, I am also learning to view love differently. Humans indeed speak different love languages. His love manifests in phone calls to ensure that I have arrived at my office safely, fixing my every IT-related problem (and now I have even more), spending hours preparing worksheets for our five-year-old and taking charge of most of the schoolwork and parent-teacher meetings, and now, starting the meal prep when I'm inundated with work. When we bought our newest vehicle two years ago, he ensured that it was the color I always wanted, and I got first dibs on driving it home from the dealership.
Sometimes, our love gets lost in translation and we're working on that. But I always go back to the bigger picture, you know, the golden '80-20 rule.'
Then there's communication. Being open, honest, and clear without trying to slash each other's hearts. We hadn't always gotten it right, and admittedly, we've sought help along the way to help improve the way we share those burning issues that if left unchecked, can become the elephant in the room (there's no shame in asking for help). We've made a promise to try to at least spend a few minutes together alone, away from the constant badgering of young children trapped in a house due to a pandemic. I've realized that being a writer means that you're probably the overly expressive and emotional one in the relationship, whilst my husband is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Once evasive, he's more open to listening and sharing his innermost thoughts. I've realised that most of the males in my life aren't open to emotional conversations, but I push (and push hard at that) for us both to communicate reasonably well so that our children can learn to navigate relationships through us.
Marriage also means sharing a fair degree of financial compatibility. Thankfully, for the most part, we're on the same page. Investing in a home is the most rewarding journey a couple can embark on, but it also means meaningfully re-examining your finances and shifting priorities. We prepare most of our meals at home, don't indulge in the name brand stuff, and minimize unnecessary spending. The result- a comfortable life and a solid foundation for our children.
Then there are the highs- ones that take you to the stars. We love to travel, and our decisions and cautious planning have enabled us to experience the world a bit. Travelling is perhaps our sole 'indulgence.' But, a word of caution. When you see our travel photos on social media, know that behind every smile, every jaw-dropping culinary discovery, and every exploration of breath-taking landscapes, are years of savings, planning, anxieties, and working into the early hours of the morning to make this life possible.
And here's my final lesson; self-love. Since the start of the pandemic, we've been trampling on each other's toes, clumsily balancing work, home-schooling, cooking most of our meals, and potty training a toddler. Everyone's mental health has taken a solid flogging. So, for one or two hours a day, I disappear into my zen space to read or exercise. I need this time to recharge, to strip the labels of "employee," "wife" and "mother" and just be "Amrita." Married or not, everyone needs this.
These are some of the key lessons that I've learnt and there will be many more to come. I am nevertheless proud of us, the work that we have put into this relationship, the endless hurdles we've overcome, and the fact that through it all we've fought for our love story to endure. It's not perfect, but no two humans are ever the same. Each day, we just try to make things better.
For our tenth wedding anniversary on Saturday 17th July 2021, we abandoned our plans to celebrate with friends and family and donated food hampers to those most impacted by this pandemic. It was the most gratifying thing we've ever done as a couple.
That night, I stopped trying to overanalyse and went back to watching his movie with a quiet, contented smile on my face. Our children continued to play with us, innocently unaware of the road we've travelled to provide these happy family moments.
Here's to many more years of working on our marriage, making sacrifices for our children's future, and, dreaming.
Taken at our wedding during our first dance, July 17 2011.