My current consulting gig involves a shared workspace because the client is big on the benefits of collocation. It has been a fun experience for the most part because the team has at least one stand-up comedian and several wannabes. The decision makers are within earshot and all it takes is a holler to get their attention and answers. As with all good things, there are some downsides as well. The guy who sits closest to me has been curious about my marital status for the past several months that we’ve worked together .
He is the sophisticated desi who went to IIT but is not obsessed over his alma mater like a lot his ilk are, has informed opinions about things technical and otherwise but is not abrasive or arrogant. V is a competent, courteous professional who has lived and worked around the world and has seemingly benefited from his exposure to different cultures.
A couple of days ago he took me by complete surprise by asking “Does your husband follow cricket ?”. This was the first time that he asked me any kind of personal question – he has never so much as enquired about J. I did a double take before managing to say “I don’t know, I am divorced”. Having known V as long as I have, I expected him to say “I’m sorry” or some such and move on to the next thing. Instead he exclaimed “Divorced ! I would have never thought. You don’t look like it. How do you manage by yourself and raise a child alone ?”
I asked “Why is being divorced a big deal in this day and age ? Lot of people are and they get along just fine – specially in this country. Raising a child alone can be very satisfying and fulfilling. I don’t think of J as a chore or burden at all.” V had apparently still not recovered from what he had heard and repeated “I can’t imagine someone being divorced and raising a child alone”. I had to repeat myself slowly this time so he got it “Like I said, its getting to be very common and raising a child alone is not as difficult as you think it is”. It took him a while to shift gears and find something else to say.
The tension between us is palpable now that the state of my matrimony (or the lack of it) has been fully disclosed leaving nothing to conjecture. The one thing I look away from that conversation was “You don’t look like it”. I am not sure what he had expected to see in a divorced woman that he had apparently not found in me – obviously that had contributed to his shock and incredulity at the news. When I look in the mirror, I sometimes notice tiredness from constantly being overworked and under-rested but other than that I don’t see myself any different from when I was single years ago.
Marriage had drained my vital energy, transformed me into a person that I was not – I no longer looked or felt like myself. My confidence in my abilities was at its all time low and declining. In my pictures from back then, I have this sad expression of someone who has been trapped and yearns for freedom. I recognize that look in many married women around me. It is the look that exuberant new brides unstoppable, unshakable and unwavering in their hopes from marriage sometimes acquire in five or six years.
I think V would have felt vindicated if I looked miserable, frustrated and despondent in a way even trapped wives do not. Maybe he does not get how not having a husband could make so little difference to me – atleast going by external appearances. It must have bothered him greatly that I was getting along just fine without one. I have to wonder if that made him think about his worth to his wife who fortunately stays at home to raise their six year old.