Chandni recently wrote an interesting post about space, which was triggered Rambler’s thought-provoking post. Both posts got me thinking because some of the issues they discuss have preoccupied me for a while. I had similar discussions with MinCat about this some time ago, and I think my post on the relevance of marriage does cut to the heart of this discussion. But so that I don’t go off into that discussion again – since I’ve decided to view marriage as haute couture, remember? – I’ll frame this one a little differently:

Does your spouse/life partner have to be your best friend? By “best friend”, I mean in the 16-year-old-schoolgirl sense. The person you’re emotionally closest to, who you tell the most important things that happen to you, and probably everything, first, who you do most (I’m not saying all) stuff with. I think fundamentally this is the question that Rambler is asking in his post.

Chandni makes some good points in her response. She talks about the importance of both partners having the space to develop as individuals, in order for the marriage to be healthy. One of the things she says is that her relationship with her spouse is just ONE of the important relationships in her life.

This makes sense.

However, questions still persist.

It’s true that one’s spouse cannot match one’s every interest and it’s silly to expect that. And it’s also true that even if one’s spouse does match one’s every interest, it’s just healthy to go out and spend time with other people anyway (there is such a thing as too much of a good thing).

But it’s a question of proportion. Are we assuming here that the spouses share most interests and so a minority of time would be spent with other people on interests that one doesn’t share? If not, wouldn’t that lead to situation in which either one sacrifices some interests or ends up spending more time with miscellaneous other people, or in some cases, that one other person who shares the other interests?

The question of interest, however, is generally more easily resolved than the more tricky emotional issues that collating the discussion of “space” into a discussion on “interests” won’t resolve.

What Rambler’s post is about (I think) is about the shadow line between compensating for what’s lacking in your spouse/ what your spouse cannot offer you and cheating (ie- betraying your relationship with your spouse) .

This is not about whether you choose to dedicate time separately to different sports, have independent friends or go for the odd holiday separately.

Rambler’s post uses the question of interests and hobbies only as a starting point.
The real question relates to less concrete “lacks”. To use his example, if you like to talk about what happened at work every day (which most women do) but your spouse doesn’t (generally the male here), would it be fine to find someone else to talk about this with? Sounds harmless enough, right?

In fact, some time ago, V actually quoted this exact example to me. He was watching this show on TV where a counselor was brought in to help a couple having marriage issues. The wife complained that her husband never listened to her talking about her day in the evenings and this really bothered her. The counselors told her that this is how guys are, get over it and find someone else to talk to.

I think this is a slippery slope. I can say this with conviction because I’ve seen the results firsthand. Talking about our day, our life, our worries and our joys is something women (I’m generalizing here) like to and probably need to do. We need this in the same way that guys (again a generalization) need to not talk about their day.

One could, of course, through much discipline learn not to talk about one’s day but it could lead to a lot of pent up stress. Or one could find someone else to talk to. One could, say, start a blog (ha ha!)

As someone who has tried the above, here’s why it’s not ideal. Women form emotional bonds with those they talk to and share their lives with. Men too, but they tend to need to share less.

Let’s assume that one decides, as the counselor suggested, to restrict oneself to sharing only the important stuff with one’s husband but to distribute the dregs of their day among other people. The other people could take the form of numerous other friends/family who are available for this kind of listening or could be just one person.

The danger with this is, one finds oneself slowly becoming more emotionally close with this other person/persons than one’s spouse. From here, it’s a short leap to telling the other people the important stuff before one tells one’s spouse and then, to skipping telling one’s spouse the important stuff altogether. When one no longer feels the need to tell one’s spouse either the mundane or the important, one’s relationship with one’s spouse becomes pretty much that of a roommate one has sex with.

Believe me, it’s quite easy to fall into this pattern. Frankly, this is how marriages have traditionally functioned and probably why they were so resilient. Before I got married, one wise aunty actually advised me not to be bothered if my husband didn’t want to do stuff with me. “Just do your own thing,” she said.

And this brings me to the heart of the matter. Which is, why be married at all then?
1) For stability in child rearing. Good point, though challenged by the stability of single-parent households. What if you’re like me and don’t really care about kids?
2) For financial security. Another good one. However, why not just get a good investment advisor or form a business relationship with a trusted friend or sibling.
3) For unlimited and free sex, conveniently available. Also good point. Though sexual drive does seem to decrease with age so seems like a bad reason to bind oneself to someone for life for.
4) For some to be with in good times and in bad (emotional capital). Aha! But example above is arguing against this one.
5) Others – religion, duty to one’s parents, desire to fit in with society. Excellent reasons if you subscribe to these beliefs. I don’t.
6) A bit of all of the above. Probably.

Why not just get each of points 1) to 4) from different people as suggested in example above. That is, why not have a separate sperm donor, bank manager, sex partner, friend one can talk to instead of a spouse who fulfills part of the above and leaves you to forage for the other parts yourself? And why elect to live with this one person for most of one’s life?

Curly thinks (I think) 6) is the key. After drawing pie charts and venn diagrams and making many many notes on paper (really, I did all this), it seems to be that this is pretty much right.

Modern marriage is the romantic version of a supermarket. I could go to ten different quality niche shops to get what I want but it’s more convenient to get everything of decent if not stellar quality under one roof. Hell, the convenience of it all does make us rather fond of the supermarket, now called spouse. And soon, it’s this convenience, brand loyalty, whatever that keeps one coming back.

Thus, unlike in the past where 5) was the glue that held it all together, today it’s 4).

And part of 4) means that one’s spouse is the one that one mainly tells one’s stuff to and does stuff with (ie – the 16-year-old version of best friend). “Mainly” does not mean “always”, but it does mean “mostly”. The reason one lives with this person is because it’s convenient but also because it forges an emotional bond. But an emotional bond that has to be fed, not assumed to exist because you sit in front of the telly under one roof together.

The line which demarcates how much time and space you dedicate to the other important people in your life, in my mind, should always be drawn in favour of your spouse. Where exactly this line is drawn really depends on the couple.

Whew! Ok finally it’s out. That’s my two (very long cents). What do you think?