12 comments / Posted by Amena Khan

Marrying a man with the hope of changing him.

As a teenage brown girl, I was used to hearing the “aunty chatter”. My sisters and I mocked most of it, and, to be honest, I’d need a session with my sisters to recall all the nonsensical stuff they said… but some things stuck with me through the years. One of those things is the idea that after marriage, a woman could “mould” her husband into what she wanted him to be.

 

This idea was first planted when they were trying to convince my older sister to marry a doctor who was several years older than her, living in India and - well, let’s just say my sister was not attracted to him. I mean, I suppose he seemed like a nice enough person, but I couldn’t understand how these women were asking my sister to put aside her lack of attraction, merely for the prospect of marrying a doctor. They called him a golden match. Apparently, my sister and he would be a match made in heaven. They said he seemed a bit old fashioned, but that she could “mould” him over time, and make him exactly what she wanted from a man.

 

Looking back now, the idea is just as ridiculous as it seemed back then. I mean, we laughed our heads off at their reasoning. In retrospect, I think we mocked their idea to distract from the pain we felt at being treated this way. The idea that we were fully educated, independent women who didn’t “need” to marry for survival is a side point. What made them think we'd be convinced? Maybe, as part of our Desi culture, it was assumed that we would nod along. But we didn’t. We didn't just nod along for the many proposals that came our way. Maybe I’ll cover those episodes in separate posts one day, but for today, I want to discuss the notion that women should "mould" their partners.

 

Firstly, the idea of not accepting someone as they are at the time of marriage is horrible. It sets up the precedent for conditional love, where it’s assumed that the man can and will change, and that only then will he be deemed worthy of your love. The basis for a healthy, functioning family is unconditional love. Unconditional love is, for the most part, super easy. At other times, it’s hard, requires commitment, patience and compromise. But it’s the only kind of love that’s healthy.

 

A conditional love is one that says, “I will only love you when you are the way I want you to be”, instead of, “I love you no matter what”. It reduces a person’s worth to how someone on the outside sees them, which means there's a chance that person is not “worthy”. Take away an individual's sense of worth, and what results is a deeply painful sense of emptiness... and that will seep into any marriage, even if it’s a “match made in heaven”.

 

Secondly, I think it’s pretty shady, marrying a man with a side plan of changing his entire self over time. Would you trust a life partner with a side agenda? It’s bizarre. In today’s modern day, busy lifestyles, who has time to hatch such plans? Also, in the mean time, whilst this man/project undergoes the “moulding” process, you’re supposed to put aside your dislike of this person and sleep with them? It makes no sense!

 

Arguably, cultural habits might be changed or adapted over time. Both husband and wife do, to some extent, grow together and begin to adopt each other’s little quirks or ways of doing things. But many cultural habits are so deeply ingrained that they merely get a superficial coating of a new culture. For instance, my parents have been British for about 30 years, but still uphold the “log kya kehenge” style of thinking. (This is a Desi saying, where people become overtly concerned with “what people will say” and become entrenched with shame at the very thought of people thinking negatively about them. This is inherently flawed because it’s impossible for 100% of “the people” to be 100% happy with you 100% of the time. So you set yourself up for feeling like a failure most of the time).

 

Maybe to an extent looks could be altered (think the movie “She’s All That” where the “geek” turns into a “hottie” within a matter of hours), but to what extent? Attraction goes deeper than looks and chemistry can’t be faked. So how does this idea of moulding even work? The truth is, it doesn’t.

 

See, I think this idea is fictitious and manipulative. It’s disrespectful and unfair to the man in question. Even if he’s fully aware of the circumstances and agrees to be, essentially, a puppy up for training, it’s a risky plan for the woman. What if he doesn’t change, or that it’s not enough? What if the change is temporary and all an act? What if you become exhausted by all the moulding? What if, in the end, you still end up with a person you don’t feel you belong with? Then what?

 

Then you cue another Desi concept of “nibhana”, which means, “to bear with”. That’s the word they use when you’re in a painful, long term situation, which you could get out of… but you don’t. You assume the stoic, emotional-martyr role and stick around in a loveless marriage. Let’s not even go down the path of children and the long term impact of their witnessing a loveless marriage.

 

Of course, if there are harmful habits like drugs and any kind of abuse, that’s something that needs professional therapy and/or formal intervention. Unconditional love doesn't mean to accept being mistreated. But things like personality traits, attractiveness and cultural quirks often don’t just disappear… and why should they? These things make us who we are - complex, ever evolving human beings that deserve to enter into mutually loving relationships.

 

So, ultimately, this idea of “moulding” a man into what you want him to be is horribly unfair to the man - he deserves to be loved as he is. But it’s equally as unfair to feed a woman false expectations and set her up for disappointment. When it comes to marriage and relationships, even the strongest willed women can become vulnerable. Loneliness is a time where she needs support - not manipulation by other, supposedly more wise women.

 

The aunties didn’t succeed with their case for the doctor, by the way. Twelve years later, my sister married a man for love. And nothing else.

 

Have you ever been on the receiving end of this logic, or given this advice? What are your thoughts? Share them in the comments below.

Amena x

 

 

 

Comments

  • Posted On November 02, 2018 by Aneela

    This is true for girls too, I spend almost 4 years trying to change myself in order to please the husband and his family.

    It was emotionally draining and I didn’t know who I was anymore

    It’s been a few weeks now and I read a book by Laura Doyle “things will get as good as you can stand” and she really helped me realise where I was going wrong, neglecting my needs to please

    I have been asking for what I want and have accepted my husband and family for who they are. But I have stopped trying to conform or agree with their way of doing things.

    There is no wrong way to love somebody and there is no wrong way to live your life.

    I feel like I did in my single years and those passions I had, I feel them too. My husband is growing with me and supports me.

    I allow him to be himself and he in turn appreciates me. Such a good feeling. When you be yourself and accept/love yourself truthfully… the world moves with you, even if people don’t; you don’t mind too much because you are behaving in a way that is authentic to you and there is a huge relief and freedom that comes with that.

    Thank you Amena for this article
    Much love ❤️ ❤️❤️

  • Posted On November 02, 2018 by Laiba

    What if you intend to change a person for good?

  • Posted On November 02, 2018 by Salma

    To be fair – i dont’t think a single comment section is enough to fill a desi women’s experience in this area. So I will say this, times have a changed and the desi culture has not adapted accordingly and to be honest has affected a lot of people’s mental health.
    We need a bigger collective platform to speak about this issue.

  • Posted On November 02, 2018 by Zee

    I have had multiple proposals over the years and every single time I shared my concerns about the potential guy I was given the exact same reason. Just change him after marriage. Which is the most ridiculous thing ever. Not only is it disrespectful to me as a woman going into the marriage for unconditioned love but as for the guy!! I also got a lot of “this is the best you’ll get” bullying me into saying yes. Its best a painful journey but also extremely eye-opening. I now know my true worth and what I deserve as a person. And i won’t settle for less. Thank you for sharing my exact words. It’s weirdly comforting to know I’m not the only one that has experienced this. Much love xoxo

  • Posted On November 01, 2018 by Anonymous

    I love this and completely agree with what you have said. I also think the same goes for women as we are also expected to ‘change’ after marriage to please our in laws. So the same should apply to families accepting a girl into their family and there shouldn’t be this expectation of how a daughter in law should be

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