Marriages go on and on, with some couples living unhappily ever after. Reasons range from keeping up appearances, not having a solid alternative to current partner, financial fears and sharing child custody. However bad the stakes, spouses stay put so that the outer structure remains. Indeed, some divorced couples share a house just so domestic routine is not disrupted. Change is risky, change is not welcome.
When it comes to marriages one feels once is more than enough. To flee the first time round and then attempt to return to the matrimonial arena a second time requires too much strategic planning.
A lot of wise sayings revolve around staying; words like Fate, Life, Luck are thrown about. It would be cowardly to run out at the first sign of discord, we are told. So many of the married stay on like farmers in a barren land, working their ploughs despite not even a hint of greenery. There is something so sacrosanct, preordained and eternal about the marriage contract that it seems childish and selfish to negate it. Fairy tales too have given second marriages bad press; step-moms mess up the kids. Look at Snow White, Cinderella, Hansel, Gretel, etc.
Couples huddle in their bad marriages, humiliating themselves in extra-marital outings, but proud of how many wedding anniversaries they are clocking in meanwhile. Also, the joy of looking perfectly married to the outside world!
This lack of interest in second nuptial innings is also due to the disappointment, if any, in the first. For anyone who is dazed by how bad things can be, a rerun will look unappetizing. Add to that our utter lack of empathy closer home – if a parent dies, it doesn’t occur to us to gently nudge the remaining parent into finding companionship. Indeed, in India even murders can erupt if a single parent makes any such move, since property issues are most often the root of familial rows.
A cause for levity
When it comes to marriage, the unwritten rule is that you got your chance, live with it, grin and bear it. The simple fact of incompatibility is of no interest to anyone. Only total lunacy on the part of the better half is taken on board with some amount of tch-tchs, but even then the heroic thing to do is pretend you didn’t notice.
Why are first marriages given so much gravitas and second marriages a cause for much levity? After realising the mistakes of the first version and attempting it again with more consciousness and adult awareness, who is to say the second version will also fail? Of course, life comes with no guarantee, but if a married Mr or Mrs is dead sure they prefer another wedding reception, perhaps they should go ahead.
It is happening though, in fits and starts, and to people who know people you know or are related to your relatives… One does hear now and then of a woman who waited a decade or a day after divorce/widowhood and then just remarried. And we, with our understated need for gossip, study her face minutely when we see her next. We wait for the sigh which never heaves, for the cry that never comes. Even then we are reluctant to go out and declare the possible joys of choosing a second mate.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival. Read Shinie Antony's columns