Saturday, January 27, 2007

"I KNOW this person". Do you, really? (How the "know" word governs marriages and relationships in general)

I over head this conversation between my friend and her dad.
Dad: Have you thought about marriage, now that you are well settled in your career and have had a good 5 years of being on your own, travelling, studying and working..I was thinking of starting to look for a good son-in-law for myself. What do you think?
Daughter: Dad!! Are you kidding me!! "Look for" a son-in-law, you mean an "arranged" marriage! No way! I cannot get married to some random stranger I dont even know!
Dad: Who is asking you to get married to a random stranger my dear. I am just saying I will start looking for suitable grooms for you and then you can meet, talk, understand the other person and then decide.
Daughter: No dad! The thought still gives me the creeps! Today we are in the 21st century. I am an independent career oriented individual and would like to marry someone of my choice, someone I like and can love. Not someone you set me up with! It is so unnatural!
Dad: My dear, why are you getting so agitated? That is exactly what I am asking you to do - marry someone of your choice, someone you like and can love. All I am offering is to help you meet such a person. Think of it as your friends sending you on a blind date with a guy who they think you may like. It is as simple as that. Dont you think so?
Daughter: (A little softened up) Well, I guess..but still..I dont know..I am still not comfortable going out on a blind date, a date with someone I dont know..

This conversation got me thinking. All of us today when we talk about marriage, relationships, etc. scorn at the so called "arranged marriage" system in the middle and south eastern world. Why? We claim that in a "love marriage" (I hate the term..I prefer to call it self-select marriage") we KNOW the person and hence it is better. Is it really? How much of a person can you really know? Parents bring up their kids, feed them, play with them, shape and mould their personalities, but how much of their children do they really know? Can they even imagine that their kid would be capable of not caring for them during their old ages..can they anticipate that their kid might take or offer a bribe and have no qualms about it..can they be sure that their kid will be the most affectionate and caring child, parent and spouse..does that mean they dont "know" their child?

Well, the answer is yes and no. We do "know" the individuals around us, their traits, their behavioural nuances, their likes and dislikes, their many many things. But then what we know is the current snapshot of what that person is. Now what am I saying..snapshot??

Yes..I mean a personality-snapshot. Every individual I believe, at any given point in time is what he is because of what he has gone through in the past, what he is going through in the present and what he anticipates to go through tomorrow. If you give this a mathematical representation what you get will be a complex algebraic equation with multiple unknown variables and complex terms..remeber the a+ib..In this case there will be many terms with "i"s and variables from "a" to "z" and maybe "alpha" to "zeta" and more! I am sure you get the point I am trying to make.

Thus any normal human being not obsessed with the individual in question, cannot claim to "know" the person. Because the person though very often anchored around a base point, moves around a lot, often over a huge radius.

No this helped me in a way to understand why historically "arranged marriages" have worked well over "self-selected marriages". The culprit is the complex algebraic equation "know-a-person".

How?? What rubbish is this girl talking! Well, here is how. Happiness in a person's life is governed by another term called "expectations". We have expectations about everything. What salary we want to feel successful, what level of education to feel good, how many presents we should get on our birthday, how many phone calls, how our parents should treat us, how our kids should behave with us, how our spouses should adjust with us, etc etc etc. If these expectations are met we feel happy, set new (often higher) expectations and move on hoping these will be met. If these are not met we feel sad, set new (often lower or same) expectations and move on hoping atleast these will be met.

So how does "expectations" tie into marital stability?? It is the KEY not just to marital stability but to the stability of any relationship in this world!! Personal, professional, corporate or stock market!! Dont you see that? All around us in our daily life everything revolves around expectations. If a company fulfills the expectations of the stock market, its stock prices go up (happiness), if not they plummet (sadness..even bankruptcy); If the wife agrees to stay at home support the family and the husband's career needs as she is "expected" to by society then the family does well, kids are bright and beautiful, parents and in-laws are happy, if not she is seen as a cold hearted, unsupportive woman and everyone is unhappy (even the woman unless she had her "expectations" right to expect this and prepared herself to face it); I can go on. I am sure you get the point now.

Coming back to the marriage scenario. Let us take the "self-selected marriage" case first. The two individuals "know" each other for a while and identify certain traits that appeal to them in each other, think that the other person will not "change", everything will be as smooth and nice as now and decide to tie the knot. Then what happens? Everything is smooth in the honeymoon phase. As they start living with each other, as they start going through life, its stages, choices, offerings, they start feeling that the other person is after all not the same. He/she is "changing" and is no longer the person they knew. Is it the person who has changed or the circumstance that has changed which has caused the person to behave differently from before? Remember that complex equation I was talking about earlier, that is what governs a persons personality I said right? The variables in the complex equation are what have changed, not the person. He/she is rooted around the same location they were previously rooted to. Just that the movement made away from the previous position is not in the same direction of our "expectations", we feel the pinch. If it was in the same or what we see as even more favourable direction, we would be thrilled thinking 'Oh! This person hasnt changed at all or oh he/she has changed for the better!" etc. If it is for the better we fall more deeply in love and the relationship is on a high. If it is away from our line of expectations we are disappointed and there is a strain that builds up in the relationship. We start thinking 'I thought I knew her, she has changed'.

Remember I am making a broad generalization of the extreme cases here. Most cases fall between the extremes I am talking about above and below.

Now consider an "arranged marriage" scenario. The individual who goes into it most often doesnt know what to expect. It is like walking into a dark tunnel. First you dont see anything and tread extremely cautiously. The gradually your eyes adjust to the darkness and you start moving more and more confidently. However, it is still a tunnel and there are fluctations in the brightness as you move. But since you "expect" that you not only tread cautiously but do not get surprised by surprises. Your reactions are moderated. If you feel happy about something, or you feel bad, the optimism or the disappointment is moderate. And you move on again cautiously peering through the tunnel.

You might be now thinking - This girl looks like she is completely against "self-selected" marriages. How primitive can one get!

Well, no, thankfully I am not against anything. In fact nothing like a self-selected marriage if you can keep it going well. Like I said self-select or arranged, most marriages fall in between the extreme cases mentioned above. Whichever it is, marriage is a game of expectations and adjustments. You have to adjust your expectations, learn not to expect and learn to adjust when the unexpected happens. Then you will be fine in your marriage. This applies to all relationships. Just that marriage is probably the one relationship that involves the maximum interaction and intimacy and intertwinement of two individuals and hence is the one that is talked about the most.

Take aways - Remember, its the complex formula that governs a person's personality at any given time. So if things dont go your way dont accuse and penalize the person for it. Help change the variables affecting the formula and you will see how positive the outcomes will be. There will be times at which the variables cannot be changed. In such times, learn to readjust your expectations. Also remember some expectations cannot be readjusted (again because you dont want to) in such cases let go and move on. Remember it is not the individual but the formula at work. Dont penalize yourself or the other person for the fault of the variables working the complex formula. Life is beautiful with many beautiful variables :)

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