Thursday, December 22, 2011

How Do You Love Me? Let Me Count the Ways...

The poem from the title is quite fascinating to me now that I'm married to an Indian. I must say this is one of the main differences I see as a challenge in our relationship. Let me see if I can explain this well to you all.

In my thinking as well as most relationships I see in the US when two people are in love they try to work together without being too much trouble for each other. We still maintain some sense of independence when we marry and thus most women like to assume their role in the household. In some households this could be as a financially contributing worker or as a managing member of the home (aka housewife).  Each person in the relationship has well defined roles which vary greatly between couples and while being part of a team, each one still has their own identity.

Some examples would be how in many homes the man is expected to take care of the heavy work (aka "mans work") like mowing the grass, putting things away in the top cabinets, etc. He does this because he doesn't want his wife to have to be trouble with work that is hard for women. (That may be archaic thinking but I needed ideas to highlight what I'm trying to say.) The housewife does most of the grocery shopping and housework because she doesn't want to bother her husband to have to do it if he works all day. In a dual worker household these chores may be split up more so but in general the man does most of the harder tasks and the wife does the more menial tasks. Life is fairly well balanced and both parties tend to feel equal and both contribute to the household in a way they feel is mostly equal.

Love is shown through hugs, kisses, intimate moments cuddling up on the couch or time spent together after a long days work.

**There are exceptions, I'm only talking majority.** Living like this makes both parties feel loved and respected by their partner. They know their partner would never create an unnecessary hardship for them or create a lot of extra work because of the equality. I guess it's like an imaginary fence, each person knows how much work things can be so they try not to create extra work for the other person.

Here in India it seems that how much you love someone is defined by how much trouble you will go through for them. They don't seem to even think about how much extra work they are creating for their partner (I'm going to use men/women from this point because those are the only examples I have to give lol.) It seems more understood that the man works and the woman cleans up after him and waits on him hand and foot and that's how she proves her love. He proves his love by taking care of her financially. There's not much more depth than that and it's not complicated by any division of responsibilities. (Yep, I'm sure there are exceptions as India is advancing on this front as well.)

So as long as a man has a job he's capable of loving someone and it doesn't seem to matter how irresponsible he is with everything else. So if he throws trash on the floor (something considered disrespectful in the US) the wife will pick it up as if it was no big deal because this is how she shows she loves him. A wife will disrespect herself by drinking alcohol, eating meat when she is a strict vegetarian and more - all because her husband wanted her to. If she doesn't he will feel like she doesn't love him. A wife spends a good part of her day cleaning the house and taking care of anything that needs to be done for her husband to come home, throw his shoes and clothes around the room and climb into bed and under the covers, take over the TV and become a paperweight for the rest of the day. She's still cooking, cleaning up after him and taking care of things until late in the night, talking to him in passing moments. This is how she demonstrates her love.

Hard tasks are contracted out to workers and the husband oversees the work. There aren't any lawns to mow in my particular concrete jungle so I don't know how this would be handled. I do know that tasks such as fixing door looks, replacing doors and such is done by contractors and in the US this would be the husbands job.

This can cause some tension in a cross culture relationship. Especially since most western wives don't marry so that they can be a maid/waitress/babysitter for their husbands. We look for a partner and often don't realize this equal partner we are looking for is not a universal norm. An Asian man doesn't marry looking for an equal, he marries somewhat out of expectation and usually has strong views about what a wife is that he doesn't realize are not universal.

This causes some discussion (never a fight thankfully) between hubby and I when I won't get out of bed at 10PM to go downstairs and disturb the entire house (most are sleeping by then) to cook him a second dinner. I don't go because a.) it's not healthy to eat 2 dinners, nor so close to bedtime from what nutritionists have taught me and b.) I'm pre-trained not to be such a nuisance to everyone and the fridge is in MIL's room and kitchen right outside their door. **They wouldn't care because he wakes them up at night all the time but I'm not going to do it myself.

I also won't let him mess up my freshly made bed to climb back into it 5 minutes later because that would mean I have to move myself, my desk (which I sit on the edge of the bed to use these days) and then remake the bed when he decides he's done. He doesn't want to be bothered by getting another blanket out of the cabinet to curl up on top of the covers because that would be trouble to him. Sometimes I feel like he defines whether or not I love him enough by how much trouble I go through for him and I on the other hand tell him "no" often so I (and others in the house) don't have to be unnecessarily troubled.

I see very similar and worse things happening with his friends and their wives and some other family members. Hubby has even told me when describing these things that "she loves him so much she...." and then describes some action she's getting brownie points for enduring just for her husband. Personally I can't say who's wrong on right. I myself have changed recipes, cooked foods I don't want or like and such just because he wanted them so I know some of these things that he relates to love are more about compromise. Some I do because I don't feel bothered, etc. I also see him trying not to be trouble sometimes so I think in some ways both cultures are right....it just can cause some tension while you mix the two.

**disclaimer: this post in particular is not just about some of the things I see in this family, it's things I see common across the many families (not all related to us) that I have met here.

11 comments:

  1. "Here in India it seems that how much you love someone is defined by how much trouble you will go through for them" --

    And this highlights the reason why the word "thank you" isn't used often amongst family members and friends in India -- because people see it as their duty to go to trouble for others. It is expected. If you say thank you, it inferrs that they really didn't have to do what ever it was they did. A "thank you" implies there's not enough love/closesness to create duty/obligation.

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  2. This is my first time commenting on anyone's blog, but I just had to for this post. I am an American from the midwest, married to a Punjabi-Hindu from Delhi for almost 18 years.

    After less than a year of true exposure to the culture, you have truly captured the expectations of marriage that both Indians and Americans have. Had I read this post before I got married, I surely would have been better prepared to deal with some of the issues that came out only after being married.

    I really enjoy your blog! Thanks.

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. I seriously mispelt my post so removed it to do again! Bhabhi Ji can i ask how you and Rohit met? This question always comes to mind when I read you. if you dont like to say thats perfectly fine

    p.s love the page makeover xx

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  5. I definitely see some of this in my husband's family! We had big talks about this around the time we were getting engaged. This post would have come in handy then! The issue we ran into was that in my family, you only ask for things that you think are very reasonable (i.e., not big inconveniences, or if they are, it's because the benefit to you outweighs the high cost to another person), so you generally don't ask something that someone would say "no" to. So, when someone asks YOU something, you feel very uncomfortable saying "no." So A. would ask me to do ridiculous things, and I would feel angry but wouldn't want to say "no." When we talked about it, he said that he didn't expect me to say "yes" every time -- in his family, people ask for the moon, and sometimes get it but usually not. Also, he might have to go out of his way for his mom for no good reason (like her calling him to drop what he's doing and come downstairs to get something off a high shelf, instead of just using the step stool right next to her), but she in turn would do the same for him later (like take a day off work just to go shopping with him), and he liked it overall.

    I told him that my big fear was that if he asked me for all kinds of stupid stuff, I would tell him "no" when something was actually very important to him. We've settled into something that works for us and that feels pretty equal. I think we're much closer to an American norm/ideal than an indian one, but who knows? I might be surprised what has become normal to me now. :)

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  6. So for some reason Disqus is not working and isn't importing comments so I'm replying the old fashioned way lol.

    @Sharrell - yeah...it's just sad because it's a one way street most of the time with women on the suffering end.

    @Lora - I'm so grateful to be your first comment and that you enjoy my blog! Thanks for reading! I too wish I had known before getting married that things would work this way because I could have cleared up a lot. In my defense though, I told Rohit before I came here that I had no intent of being or taking the place of his mother and I expected him to take care of himself in some ways lol. He's done pretty good so far.

    @Surinder - We met online. The first things we ever typed to each other was how we weren't "looking" for a relationship. I should have known better lol. We were online gaming partners for a while and that's how we got to know each other. It's amazing the things you discuss when you're getting beaten severely at online billiards lol.

    @Sara - Rohit and I are getting there....one dirty look at a time! In my family we rarely ask each other for anything, big or small. We usually only ask if we know the other person wants to do something for us (like when I go to my moms I do all the cooking and she cleans up so she'll ask me what I'm cooking that day) and it's only big if necessary. In Rohits family it's just implied and expected for the women or kids to do everything while the adult males rest in the bed after work. I on the other hand am very demanding, needy, etc. and Rohit ends up doing a lot for me as well. We drive each other nuts quite frequently but it's mostly fun and a lot of laughs (now anyway). I understand your fear of saying no too much though. You start to feel so mean and rotten when you have to say it.

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  7. I love this post so much, I can't even tell you how much. Especially this line:
    "I see very similar and worse things happening with his friends and their wives and some other family members. Rohit has even told me when describing these things that "she loves him so much she...." and then describes some action she's getting brownie points for enduring just for her husband." I can't tell you how many times I've heard stuff like that. Thank God not much anymore, my husband knows I'm not going to respond to that. Ugghhh! I have stopped wanting to hang out with some of hubby's friends because of that very reason though. It's not some wifey competition.

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  8. @tulika - You're right, it's no competition and I got disgusted! Once we were out with a friend and he tried to get his wife to drink alcohol and she clearly didn't want to. I stood up for her in front of him and told her she didn't have to give in (I wasn't drinking either) and she still did it and he just laughed. He's such a freaking pig. We don't hang out with him anymore either. It was a great example for Rohit to see how wrong that kind of behavior was and I didn't even have to say anything to him lol.

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  9. um... i think.. lets suppose a case where husband works and wife doesnt coz thats the case you will identify with.

    Husband does all the outside work as in Job, getting groceries and supplies, filing forms and bills, getting repairs done, helping the kids in the homework etc.

    Women do most of household chores as in supervising the maid who cooks and cleans, sometimes the wife do dusting and picks the meal menus and preparing the kids for school... watching lots of TV and of course.. gossiping :D

    Yeah.. its a tough.. work being a housewife but somebody gotta do it.. lol

    I am just kidding. Yes but whatever I said above the last sentence is more or less true. Thats how the work is divided in most middle class families.

    Yes we dont say "thank you" to those who are close to us (thank god for that). In fact its mostly considered as an insult if your friend or family says that to you. Because it is assumed that this is only said when you are being formal.

    "No sorry no thank you in friendship" is very popular phrase.

    Yes its a different world out here. It would take some time but things would settle down and people adjust to each other.

    Love is considered deeper than what you can see. Its more about devotion and understanding. Thats why parents go bankrupt educating their kids, thats why kids dont take plush jobs in other city to remain close to their parents. Thats why you miss that movie with ur friends to take your mum to walk. Thats why you miss that meeting in office coz you wanna spend the day with your wife.

    Indians have so much problem saying "no".
    They always say yes, even though they never mean it. Just like in west, people say thank you even though they dont mean it. Thats how cliches are made .. hehehe.. anyways, Hows ur health these days ??

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  10. Comment from Naren: um... i think.. lets suppose a case where husband works and wife doesnt
    coz thats the case you will identify with.

    Husband does all the outside work as in Job, getting groceries and
    supplies, filing forms and bills, getting repairs done, helping the kids
    in the homework etc.

    Women do most of household chores as in supervising the maid who cooks
    and cleans, sometimes the wife do dusting and picks the meal menus and
    preparing the kids for school... watching lots of TV and of course..
    gossiping :D

    Yeah.. its a tough.. work being a housewife but somebody gotta do it..
    lol

    I am just kidding. Yes but whatever I said above the last sentence is
    more or less true. Thats how the work is divided in most middle class
    families.

    Yes we dont say "thank you" to those who are close to us (thank god for
    that). In fact its mostly considered as an insult if your friend or
    family says that to you. Because it is assumed that this is only said
    when you are being formal.

    "No sorry no thank you in on....

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  11. Naren, somehow your comment won't display on the page and Disqus won't import it so I had to repost it. WTW. Okay, anyway Rohit doesn't do half of that lol. His dad oversees all the maintenance though Rohit would surely step in if he'd let him. He also doesn't fill out any forms.....omg, I won't touch that subject but Rohit is more spoiled than I am to sum it up lol. I did work, now I'm spending more time looking for work than actually working. (Except over the holidays because I was just not fit to get anything done.)...Lol, speak of the devil, I just texted Rohit to pick up some fruit for me and he in turn sent the message to his dad to get them...that's how it goes in this family.

    I still say please and thank you and it's not that we use it for everything, it's mainly only for special requests. It's not so formal in the US to use them and I don't actually use them much in formal situations. I like hearing them though. Every little bit  counts lol.

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