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.