My friend Aryan was in love. He’d been talking to a girl for about three months, and he was ready to take the leap.
We expressed our joy at his decision but our boisterous discussions ceased abruptly due to one question.
“Did you…tell her about that secret?” Mathew asked.
All of us collectively inhaled nervously. Aryan chuckled and replied, “Ha, what do you think?”
“Of course not!” Mathew cried out. But at the same time, Suhail said, “Obviously!”
And that’s when I knew we had a problem.
How much of your past do you share with a potential partner before marriage? If you and your partner have been dating for a long time and have had many pillow talks before marriage, this question isn’t necessarily meant for you. Please continue enjoying your lucky lives.
But if you are someone looking for an arranged marriage, this question becomes tricky.
Also Read: Why I No Longer Oppose Arranged Marriages
Let’s start with the easy scenarios and work our way up.
If you’re a guy who drinks with his buddies every weekend, you definitely should tell that to your prospective bride. Can we agree the same goes for smoking as well?
What if you stopped smoking just before you got to know this person? Would you then have to disclose that? There should be no harm in doing so unless you think that disclosure will make the person suspect you’ll eventually relapse. After all, quitting a bad habit is extremely difficult. Isn’t it reasonable for your partner to fear that right after marriage you’ll pick it up again? Either intentionally or through a mixture of complacency and the stress of navigating life’s pressures?
But that’s not even the worst thing you can admit to using your mouth for. Would you tell your partner that you’ve had relationships before?
We’ve all heard versions of how this has gone down. A friend of mine warned me never to tell my future partner that I’ve had relationships with women, not because that would repel her, but because it would come to haunt the marriage years later. My partner would be paranoid that she didn’t live up to my previous girlfriends.
I took his warning to heart. Perhaps too seriously, which must be the only explanation for my lack of Tinder matches.
Are all women like that though? Would you want to know if your husband had ever been with another woman? Whether he’d been in love before?
Or are you happy with not knowing? Or is there an even more sinister reason for your apparent indifference? Is it because you’re hoping he then won’t ask about who you’ve been with?
Also Read: Oru Pennu Kannal Kadha
Progressive PinkLungi readers (by which I mean those who fall on that end of the spectrum because remember, this readership is as diverse as Kerala is), will scoff at this whole portion of the debate. They hate the idea of inquiring into a person’s romantic or sexual history because it’s deeply associated with the regressive idea that a bride has to be a virgin.
Fair enough, but there are plenty of other scenarios to trip up such progressives. Would you want to know if your future partner used racist language during their college years? Or is that as irrelevant as their sexual exploits? You might say ‘no’ because the former speaks to their character whereas the latter is just the natural impulses of a human being.
A shrewd conservative would argue the exact opposite is true, but let’s leave that discussion.
If you were the person who used racist language in college, would you tell your partner? Or would you fear that they won’t believe you’ve changed?
There are two seemingly quick ways to conclude this discussion.
First goes something like this: if you are honest with your partner and they are not able to handle it, then they were never meant to be your partner and you’re better off with someone who will accept you for who you are.
The second goes along the lines of – What’s in the past is in the past. We are both starting a new life together, and I like you for who you are right now, and if you like me for who I am, then let’s get married.
Also Read: Getting Married in 2021? Here’s a Guide!
Whenever I hear someone convey the second idea, I can’t help but laugh thinking of a scenario where they find out years later at a dinner party that their husband or wife used to eat human fingers. And when they are horrified and about to puke, their partner should look confused and say, “I thought we agreed we were starting a new life together?”
It’s an extreme example, constructed mostly to amuse myself (though I hope at least some of you appreciated why it was chuckled worthy). Dial it down to whatever level you consider realistic but problematic. Attempted murder, domestic abuse, sexual harassment, stalking, bullying, stealing, hell, even plagiarism (For the record, if my future partner is reading this, I’ve never plagiarised in my life).
Proponents of the “past is in the past” idea might object, saying it’s predicated on shared values. It’s not something you say to a suspicious-looking homeless man with a stained shirt, it’s an agreement with a partner who has the same moral, spiritual and cultural values as you.
But what if they only believed in those values after transgressing them? What if your wife is as devout a Muslim like you, but she used to drink a lot. Or your husband was a born again Christian, but only after sleeping with several prostitutes dressed like Catholic school girls?
How far are you willing to test your principle of the “past is in the past” against the possible depravities life can shower on your partner? Even if you believe in the theory that people can change, are you willing to sleep next to a live example of it day after day, without feeling doubt, suspicion, paranoia or revulsion?
Then there are the honesty proponents. They’ll advise you to put all your cards on the table and be happy whether your prospective partner stays or leaves.
It’s a sound idea, but like most elegant solutions, rarely implementable in the real world.
The reason why many women are shocked to learn their husbands have ugly secrets is not because the husbands never thought of telling them prior to marriage. It’s because arranged marriage puts two terrible burdens on a person: time and space.
Time as in how many times are you going to tell the truth to a potential partner and see them walk away before you start amending it?
Space as in what you tell a potential partner is often never going to stop with them. The possibility, or even the perceived possibility, that your secrets will be split to your rapidly retreating, former future mother in law, who will then start the chain of transmission that will decimate your reputation in the community, might make you hold your tongue.
I do not have any third act resolution for this article. Much like my proposals so far, it’s a huge letdown. But from what I’ve observed over the years, I believe Malayalis who’ve settled into comfortable marriages often did so because they got lucky. To find a partner who was as blemished or unblemished as them. Or to live in a time and place where they could learn to look forward together, rather than dwell on the past.
But for many, the situation isn’t as sweet. It’s a game of musical chairs, with each Facebook post from a friend and snide comment from an aunt reminding them that they need to find a partner or risk being alone or worse settle for someone they are indifferent to. That is when the lies, the planning and the plotting begins.
Also Read: Would You Marry A Woman Older Than You?
It’s not always born out of malice.
In fact, I think it’s often out of sheer desperation.
Because Malayalis, like people everywhere else, don’t want to die alone.