Facts can be facts, but we need to get beneath them to understand what’s really happening.
Their readiness to remarry is surprising since men are rushing into something they had been slower to get into in the first place, and they are doing it despite having to pay alimony.
This makes people conclude that what’s driving them is the men-will-be-men syndrome, which speaks of a certain callousness. But, this syndrome, if it exists, doesn’t answer the question of why the odds of committing suicide were found 2.9 times higher among divorced and separated men than among women.
The statistic leads us to conclude that men are more ready to remarry than women, not because they feel they are free to do so, but because they find the need to do so.
Loneliness probably hits them harder.
Women build supportive networks far more than men do and, for having shared their feelings, women get a patient hearing and support. Men are brought up to hold their feelings in, losing access to critical emotional support.
‘The process of divorce itself is more traumatic for women,’ says psychiatrist Dr. Darshan Shah. This holds women back from setting themselves up for a similar experience in the future given that a large percent of remarriages end in divorce.
And we can’t ignore the impact of the fact that we judge remarried women negatively. We don’t apply the same rules to remarried men.
A feeling of failure is another possible reason. “Men find it more important to measure their life through milestones,” says Dr. Shah. “Education, job, hierarchy, salary, marriage, children, when they miss a milestone, they find it necessary to get back to it.”
Women are viewing it differently. ‘Marriage is not a milestone,’ says Rachna. ‘This is now ‘my time’.’
Add to it the fact that as Dr. Shah says, “Men’s need for a partner, someone to take care of them, both emotionally and physically, is higher.”
Add children to the mix and it gets tougher since child custody is generally given to the mother. Visitation times, when they are adhered to, get over too soon, and can leave the man lonelier.
Yet another reason is that as Dr. Shah says, “Many men cannot tolerate disorganisation. Women are more at ease with it.”
Dealing with that disorganised state at home requires a new learning and patience. Men in our world do not grow up doing housework as a routine. It’s a tedium at any time and when it must be learnt during a breakup, it can bring them to a low point.
‘It makes sense for men to go for remarriage,’ says Anu. ‘With the whole domestic situation taken care of, to them, it is a convenience. Career-wise, women do better when they are single.’ Jessie Bernard had talked in 1972 of ‘his and hers’ marriage, that marriage is more beneficial to men than to women.
In addition to this realisation, women are finding for themselves that they can deal with all those outside matters — property, finances, licenses, big purchases — and they are finding new confidence once they step out of marriage.
Both men and women are dealing with new matters, but what becomes a potential source of confidence to one has turned into a source of loneliness to the other.
Confidence and financial independence are bringing a new sense of identity to women. ‘The stronger the woman’s sense of identity, the more reluctant she is likely to be with respect to remarriage,’ says Dr. Shah. They are reluctant to adjust to the wider expectations we have from women.
To Veena, ‘The entire set of relationships that a woman is expected to build and maintain, with the husband and his family, makes it harder for me to look at remarriage.’
And then a potential shift to the husband’s home, to a different city, moving with the children, and the prospect of what the man’s behaviour will be towards her children, makes her hesitate.
Says Rachna, ‘On hindsight I realise that I am independent and I now have the freedom to take the jobs that are right for me, to move cities or put in the kind of hours it takes. And I want to spend time with people who are important to me.’
All of which is making women question what marriage really means to them.
‘Who would want to be trapped again?’ says Nikita. ‘Especially, when we don’t need to raise children and are financially independent?’
This question is set to gain momentum in the coming years. According to the National Family Health Survey of 2015–16, women having a bank or savings account that they themselves use rose from 15.1 percent in 2005–06 to 53 per cent in 10 years.
This hints at rising personal financial security. Coupled with the physical security we experience today and the quiet delinking of sexual activity from marriage for women for the first time since ancient times, these happenings are making the question of what marriage really means to them more credible.
‘A commitment is far more important,’ says Anu. ‘What does a certificate bring that commitment doesn’t?’
And they are clear about what they want. ‘The only reason I find to remarry is when I ask myself, ‘what if I fall sick?’ which is an instrumental way of looking at marriage,’ says Rachna.
The question is not so much that today’s women are less inclined to make the necessary adjustments that a marriage calls for. It is that the framework of marriage is changing.
The question is of the kind of adjustments that couples need to make to have a marriage that is healthy for both.
Images: Yashasvi Agrawal