Starting Over

Discovering myself, my family and friends in a foreign land, second time around


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My husband is (not) my best friend

“Who is your best friend?” I ask.

“My husband” answers a good friend whom I have known since we were 10. It’s easy for her say this confidently; she is the one who has a 25th anniversary party lined up this weekend.

Another friend who completed one year of marriage a few months ago has a different response. “My husband is not a friend,” she says. “He is my husband, he doesn’t have to be my friend.” This is a woman whose first husband was a friend, a colleague who then became a spouse and later, an ex.

“Is it necessary for your spouse to be your best friend?” she counters.

I don’t know. It would be nice if he was, is what I am thinking, although I don’t say it aloud.

I have no BFF. I have many friends.

I have friends, who once sat next to me on the school bus, wearing the same blue uniform and shared their candy.

I have helpful friends, who were once my neighbors, who collected my mail and watered my plants when I traveled.

I have good friends who used to be coworkers and suffered similarly with deadlines and bosses.

I know there is friendship in families, the kind related by blood.

My mother brought me into this world and has been my biggest influence on how I see it today. We started with a typical parent-child relationship; she said, I did; I rebelled, she nagged. Once I grew out of my teens, she moved from authority figure to adult, I graduated from child to friend.

My older brother drove me around in his tricycle when I was two. My younger brother taught me to ride a bicycle. I developed social skills and practiced basic survival techniques, trying to hold my own between two boys under the benign supervision of our parents. Today I connect with my brothers because we are friends.

I have gained family from friends too, bonds forged by tears and tribulations.

A friend welcomed me into her home when I left my (ex) husband’s home. Another drove me to doctor’s appointments when I couldn’t do it on my own. Other moms picked up my child from daycare on days I had to work late.

What about the relationship between a husband and wife? We are family. But are we friends? Is friendship essential in a marriage? Is it even necessary?

A part of me thinks it is. Of all the people who came into my life, either as family or through other means, I have chosen to cherish the connections that endured beyond our initial reason for meeting. Erstwhile classmates, colleagues and neighbors continue to merit attention because we are now friends. For an association to endure, friendship seems key. Shouldn’t the same hold true of marriage as well?

Beyond the initial attraction and euphoria, sleepless nights and long discussions, a spirit of openness and vulnerability that underscores a deep friendship is important. A friend need not know all your secrets; he needs to accept you knowing that you have them. A friend may not share your enthusiasm to run the marathon but will show up to cheer you along the way. A friend doesn’t need you to stay the same as when you first met, he holds your hand as waves of change cascade on you.

My husband takes off from work one afternoon to watch a movie with me. I gamely attend his office parties. He puts up with my whiny self. I let him have his space when he is in one of his moods. We discuss our shared goals and debate the best way to reach them. I hope he will continue to accompany me on our nightly walks, even if I slow down with age. I would like us to take selfies as we do now, regardless of the wrinkles and lines we accumulate. Looks like friendship to me.

twin-spiresWe have been married for a year now. My husband is my friend. Does he consider me one? Maybe. Does his ambiguity bother me? Yes. But I try not to mind. Like other lasting friendships, this one will take time.

For a marriage to endure, friendship is key. Until our friendship matures, I have to endure.

To answer my own question, my husband is (not yet) my best friend.

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Girlfriends – one is not enough

I promised I would not watch the new Hindi movie next week. I gave my word that I would wait until the following week when we could do it together. I didn’t see anything wrong in this. But HH was upset.

“My wife doesn’t want to watch movies with me anymore” he complained to his friends.

“Why?” they asked me.

“I already promised someone else for this movie” I responded.

“Who is this person?” they replied in unison.

“My girlfriend.”

Huh? The men were disappointed and confused.

I was choosing to go on a movie date with a girlfriend instead of my husband.

Is this so unusual? Do I need to defend myself?

In “Lots of candles, plenty of cake” author Anna Quindlen says this about Girlfriends –

..if you push her (any woman) on how she really makes it through her day, or more importantly her months and years, how she stays steady when things get rocky, who she calls when the doctor says “I’d like to run a few more tests”. She will mention her girlfriends. The older we get, the more we understand that the women who know and love us –and love us despite what they know about us- are the joists that hold up the house of our existence. Everything depends on them.

Friends pic

I have many friends, all women, who form the bedrock of my life today. Once I moved out of my parent’s house, my girlfriends enabled my life.

There was a time when I had very few female friends – I typically hung out with fellow graduate students initially and then with colleagues. But somewhere in the busy but lonely early years of mothering in California, I turned towards women like me. It was the most self-nurturing gift to myself, the soothing company of women who were not my competitors, just fellow travelers on the same path.

We talked about teething troubles and terrible twos. We traded diaper rash remedies and strategies for handling tantrums in public. We gave and received used clothes, toys and books. And in the natural ebb and flow of life, I moved away from this circle when I returned to India.

Once more I found myself surrounded by a girl gang who sustained me when I was piecing my life back as a single mom. Into their willing ears, I vented my fears and frustration. In their undemanding company, I laughed. With their help, I rebuilt my life.

My girlfriends accompanied me to the lawyer’s office and to family court, took care of DQ when I travelled, helped me move into my own home, visited my Dad after he returned from hospital and travelled to see me get married to HH.

Like all vibrant relationships, my equation with my gal pals is one that wavers between seemingly contradictory but exciting states. My girlfriends provide support but also challenge me. They comfort me and inspire me to do more. They question, they pester, they send naughty jokes and gifts. We share clothes, quotes, exercise routines. With some I share memories of school days when we wore our hair in two braids. With others, I have created unforgettable memories of exotic holidays in places like Spain and Switzerland. Many others have helped me professionally.

It’s hard to say who is my best friend. Almost as difficult as identifying the best item in a delicious buffet. Your meal is perfect when you have some of each item and pair the flavors. Each of my friends appeals to the different parts of me that coexist though not always in harmony. One friend is great for relationship advice while the other is a spiritual mentor. I love to travel with one while I discuss books with another. One is a super mom while another never wanted children. I have over-achievers, homemakers, doctors and decision-makers who are my friends. My friends add variety and spice to my otherwise bland life. While the past binds us in many ways, it is the promise of growing (older?) together that keeps the bond going. We are at a time in our life when we are coming into our own, finding our voices, loving our bodies as they are and acknowledging the wealth of friendship that we share.

I wasn’t surprised at the innocuous-looking message on a Whatsapp group this morning that said “one of the best things a man could do for this health is to be married to a woman whereas for a woman, one of the best things she could do for her health was to nurture her relationship with her girlfriends”. Spending time with girlfriends boosts serotonin, combats depression, improves physical health and mental well-being. Need I say more? I have all the scientific information I need to back my stance.

I insist on watching that movie with my girlfriend. We will then have a lingering conversation over a cup of coffee or perhaps some ice-cream to reduce stress and boost immunity.