There is always some research going on about interpersonal relationships. And some of us cannot help ourselves. We have to read the conclusions that are drawn from this research — and we have to apply them to our own lives.
So, when I read that couples who refer to themselves as “we” and who think of themselves as a unit are likely to be happier than others, I had to sit up and think.
The man of the house has been, I thought, a happy retiree, and I too am pretty content. He does not venture into my space and I do not barge into his, making for peace and general happiness all around.
But now I am forced to look back and ask myself: Has true happiness actually been elusive because of the missing “we” in the relationship?
During the years of courtship and as a newly-wed, I heard a lot of “We” from the man beside me — and I loved it!
“We’ll have a great time at the reunion,” he said when he talked about old friends meeting after a long time. “It’s going to be a wonderful experience for us,” he exulted when he was assigned a two-month course in a town close to his home. I listened to those inclusive words and I was thrilled. I was going to be a part of that big happy gang of friends and the even bigger happier family group ... But I soon found out that I had not been included in that “we” and “us” he had been talking about. He meant him and his friends, he and his family — and off he went on his solo trip into that giant cocoon that had kept him happy for three decades of his life.
It was a shock of sorts. Apparently, until then, in my case, love had not only been blind, it had also been deaf!
Eventually, after quite a few such experiences over quite a few years, the scales dropped from my eyes. The plugs fell out of my ears. My tongue loosened enough to express my expectations and he was urged to rethink his concept of “we” — and include me in it!
The next best thing
Creature of habit that he was, it was almost impossible for him to imagine a “we” in which someone who was not of the same blood or who had not shared experiences with him from his kindergarten years was involved, so he did the next best thing.
He began to speak for me.
Yes, sometimes even when I was right there and had a tactful answer ready. So, to my horror, an invitation could be turned down with an overly detailed: “She thinks picnics are a waste of time. She would rather stay home with a book.” Or a casual inquiry whether we had liked the latest movie in town — that I would have responded to with a nod and a smile — would get an unnecessarily revealing: “She was bored out of her mind because the Hindi dialogue went over her head!”
“Speak for yourself! Don’t put words in my mouth when I’m right next to you!” I lashed out — and the next thing he did was clam up.
Suddenly, he had nothing to say: To others or to me.
So now, in the quiet that surrounds me (that I had been convinced was a happy silence), I am busy marking “must reads” for him and circling relationship articles in red and blue.
Maybe one of these days he will actually read them.
And maybe then “we” can move on to the next stage of life and do things “our” way.
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.