Devoted mother, dutiful daughter, caring wife, reliable & compassionate friend, dependable colleague. These are just a few of the masks we wear day in and day out. Never slipping, never falling behind, and never wanting to be seen as anything else but perfect.
While we thrive on getting it right, the glaring truth is that it can get overwhelming and exhausting. We are always in search of a formula to be ‘perfect’- as a girlfriend, mother, wife, daughter, and so on. However, this word has always thrown me for a loop. Perfection is tremendously over-rated – it does not exist. As writer and performance artist Alok V Menon said, “Perfection is a eugenic ideal. Love people for who they are, not what you think they should be”, a fact that we do need to apply to ourselves as much as we do to others.
The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified this, opening up our eyes to what truly matters – how we see ourselves, and who we are in our relationships. Can we be the ‘authentic us’?
COVID has not discriminated against anyone – regardless of age, gender, caste, or creed. No one has been left untouched. Relationships with our significant others have been impacted in different ways. Bonds have been strengthened with partners and relationships have thrived, pushing couples closer together. But many have also struggled. In less extreme cases of conflict, couples have found themselves navigating new problems, which perhaps aggravated existing tensions. Relationships with partners have been significantly strained regardless of the foundation of love, respect, and ideals. Boredom, irritability, and anger have manifested, which have pushed several relationships to feel stagnant and experience emotional exhaustion and burnout.
The pandemic has presented people with the opportunity to critically re-evaluate their relationships, and who they really are – by themselves as well as part of a couple.
I celebrated my anniversary on March 22nd – 13 years and counting! Perhaps that is what prompted me to write this article. It encouraged me to reflect on not only the last decade of my marriage, but especially the last 2 years during which we have pushed boundaries and stepped outside of our comfort zones. My friends have always considered my husband A’s and my relationship as one to ‘look up to’. A common comment is that we are always smiling. If only I had a dime for the number of times I have been asked if we ever argue and fight.
I like to tell those who don’t know us very well that there are various layers that make up a person as well as their relationships, and that we need to peel back the layers to unearth what lies beneath. Like many people, my relationships thrive on having a space between us from time to time – both physically and emotionally. I think this comes from walls that have been formed over the years due to certain experiences – walls that are tiny and almost invisible, but nevertheless do exist.
I truly believe that attachment is necessary to live a completely fulfilling life. It is so easy for us to avoid any form of attachment in the fear of being hurt or the cascading effect of past experiences. But by avoiding it, are we truly living? For me, that attachment to anyone or anything has always been and continues to be less than 100%. There is a little empty space in between, which is like a protective covering that I am always so careful to safeguard. I think that this has proved to be a blessing in some ways for me during the pandemic.
The changes that accompanied the nationwide lockdown in March 2020 hurtled toward us with unrelenting force and we had no choice but to switch gears and adapt to them. I woke up every morning with an immense sense of gratitude for my home, family, and friends, while COVID was ravaging the world outside. I was safe in my cocoon, but I was navigating this new normal of being in close quarters 24/7 with my husband and kids, for an indefinite amount of time.
A and I created our own date nights at home in different corners of the house, spent time watching movies together, and talked endlessly about what the coming years would hold for us. With both of us working from home, we felt like we had an eternity to do the things we never had time for before as husband and wife.
But I could see the challenges presenting themselves slowly as the weeks passed by. Arguments arose between A and me, that in hindsight could have been avoided. We squabbled over how to manage the kids’ schedules during the lockdown, how to divide up our responsibilities as parents while trying to balance work meetings, who would sit with the kids for online classes sacrificing work time, and so on. At one point, smaller arguments started to flare up into much bigger conversations, touching upon sensitive issues of the past. The past should truly be left in the past, and not dragged into the present. Our differences as people were being spotlighted more than they had been in the previous 10 years. But the impact on me was cushioned as a direct result of the tiny wall that deflects hurt and pain to some extent.
There is a sinking realization that hits many couples at one point or the other. We are not the same people we once were, 10 years into a marriage. We aren’t even the same people 3 years down the line. We are shaped by our positive and negative experiences and we constantly evolve as people. Needs, wants, priorities, perspectives, tolerance levels, and the way our brains and hearts are wired change. WE change. So, it is only natural that who we are in our relationships, especially with our partners, evolve.
I have noticed that the kindness and compassion that once used to define conversations as newly married couples, flickers and fades as the years go by. This is often very subtle and almost quiet, showing itself in the most unexpected ways and sometimes not at all. But we experience the undercurrent of it, and this has been magnified during the pandemic and lockdown. Sometimes due to a drastic difference in perspectives of life at home while being locked in, or in extreme moments of mental exhaustion that fueled unkind words. The love still exists, but it shows a different face. Taking each other for granted becomes a way of life because of comfort levels that are established with our partners.
I saw this playing out with A and me now and then during the lockdown. But, at the end of the day, we rarely go to bed angry – a formula we have followed our entire marriage, and continue to do so till today. This immediately eliminates the opportunity for the unpleasantness and sadness to manifest. We wake up the next morning and click the reset button. The question I know many of us ask repeatedly is – is only love ever enough to sustain a relationship?
A and I navigated the challenges of COVID-19 quite successfully and emerged from it, happy. Among all the uncertainty and challenges, I realized that we both considered our relationship to be a very big part of who we were as individuals. When I tried to envision my life without A, only blackness appeared. Our definition of love had changed over the course of the pandemic and there have been moments of weakness. But we were determined to overcome these weaknesses together and turn them into our strengths.
My takeaways have been life-changing. Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know ends.
It has taken a worldwide pandemic to highlight the fragility of life and relationships. It has shown me that what is truly important to us is right under our noses and within reach. And most importantly, we stop noticing what we lack when we start to feel grateful for what we already have.
*Originally published on Women's Web