Whenever mother phones, she asks if I don’t feel lonely and sounds surprised when I say no. She asks me if I have been in touch with my husband. I haven’t, and it irritates the hell out of me that she should even assume I may have. Perhaps she is hoping we will get back together again.
Mothers are funny. They would rather see their daughters married unhappily than not married at all. Marriage for women of her generation implies financial security and someone who will look after their offspring when they are no longer here. If she lived in the UK and had seen us more often while we were married, she would have seen for herself there was no chance of either.
My mother was betrothed to my father for an arranged marriage. The last of five girls to leave the family home, a family with much prestige, as my grandfather was a high-ranking Navy officer who died a hero during the Second World War, but my father’s family used to have the kind of money they could only dream of and wanted a “girl from a good family”. The families obviously thought it would be a perfect union.
Mum, who is Japanese, always told me marriage is not just about love, that sometimes a feeling of ‘jo’ (情) follows even if you weren’t deeply in love at the time. “It translates roughly as “Marry first, love will follow”. I find it significant that jo’ also means compassion/mercy and the proper word for love, ‘ai’ (愛) is not used in this context. I interpreted it as meaning that if you marry a man, you will eventually feel compassionate for his need for love, and that itself will feel like love.
Well, it doesn’t. It didn’t.
I have read stories of couples in arranged marriages in other Asian cultures saying they eventually fell in love and lived happily ever after, but I must lack the Asian gene for patience and “compassion” (?) in marriage.
Marriage is hard work, ask any married couple. But it does not always have to be an uphill battle if certain basic points are cleared before you get to the alter, or the registry office.
Seven golden lessons I learned from my failed marriage:
- If your gut instinct says there is something not quite right with the guy, believe it. Your gut always knows best.
- Sometimes your friends can see things more clearly than you, when you are blinded by the excitement of getting married (despite problems). Introduce him to your closest friends well before marriage (I didn’t). If they say, “are you sure?” it will be their polite way of telling you “we don’t think he is right for you.”
- If you have been intimate with him, and the sex doesn’t feel right, it will not get any better just because you are living together or you have a ring on your finger. If anything, it will get worse. Unless lie back and think of England works, and sex isn’t that important for you. I used to think it wasn’t. I was wrong: sexual compatibility is crucial.
- Ask yourself: do I actually fancy him rather than just finding him “a nice guy”? Do you look forward to touching him, kissing him, undressing him, doing naughty things to/with him? I would never marry again unless I fancied the pants off the guy.
- If he comes from a dysfunctional family setting, if his parents split up early in his life, or if there was an alcoholic in the family, if either his mum or his dad abandoned the family when he was a child, look for signs of deep-set psychological scars, which may manifest itself in the form of anger, aggression or violence within a relationship.
- Watch out for signs of a love-hate relationship with his mother. Boys’ relationships with mothers usually end up shaping the way they will relate to women as grown-ups. Watch out for casual misogynistic comments or jokes he may have made. You may have brushed them aside at the time, but once you are married, you will see he is not able to trust women and expects every woman in the world to let him down sooner or later. And he will make sure they do.
- Do you have shared interests? One of the things that most bothered me about my ex is that I struggled to find any interest in common. In music, he liked heavy metal or country/folk, I like classical, jazz and blues, which he couldn’t stand. I love theatre, he couldn’t care less. I am rubbish at sport but try to keep healthy by swimming and doing taichi; he did zilch exercise and loved fatty food.
- Is he interested in your personal interests? I am passionate about writing, and he had always known that, but he never once took an interest in reading any of my blogs, even when I excitedly told him a post I’d written had “gone viral” on Twitter, or that it had been mentioned in a newspaper. I had to specifically email him a link and ‘force’ him to read it. When you love a person, you have respect for what they love. Don’t you? I could not even reciprocate: he had no interests or hobbies whatsoever; none. Zero.
- Is he a telly addict? I do not have anything against people who like to watch TV, and I will myself watch an occasional thriller or documentary but, as a rule, I dislike TV (I do not even own a set now) and find TV addiction disturbing. Every single meal I had with my husband at home was in front of the telly, with the remote control by his cutlery and his eyes glued to the screen. He would comment on the programme or laugh out loud at it, but when I complained there was no communication between us, he said talking about the TV show was communication. TVs can break marriages, be ware.
- Do you feel comfortable being yourself when you are with him, without the fear of judgement? One predominant sentiment ruled my entire married life: fear. Fear of disappointing him, fear of being told I was just like all his despicable other exes, fear of being labelled a bad wife, fear of being shouted at in private and public, when I did not behave as he wanted me to do. I never again want to live in fear.
Is that fair? What are your rules for a healthy relationship? Feel free to share in Comments.