When I told my (male) friend I was writing on men and divorce, he did a double take. “Why?” he asked me tersely. “Why not?” I asked in return. He then took a deep breath and informed me that men don’t like to hear or read about, leave alone discuss, topics like divorce. Unless it’s a funny piece, he added hopefully. I forbore to tell him that unless one is a professional satirist, the tongue usually gets dislodged from the side of the cheek when writing about divorce.
But he`s right. Men don’t like to discuss topics like love, marriage, finances (except in a bragathon), the division of household chores… or divorce. This doesn’t for a moment mean they don’t involve themselves in matters of the heart, in matters of matrimony, in matters of trying to keep their fiscal end up ostentatiously, in ghar ka kaam, light or heavy. It just means that they dive grimly into the matter concerned, do it swiftly and emerge, shaking off any lingering aftertaste. Then they move on. As swiftly as they can.
Before the irked (male) reader castigates me for being anti-men, or worse, throws that once-respectful-now-disgraced-epithet ‘feminist’ at me, I hasten to add that I like men. I truly do. They are mostly a fun lot, handy with power tools and wonderful chauffeurs besides. It’s just that — PG Wodehouse alert — men are forever trying to tap into the Bertie Wooster in them, and behaving like genial but totally irresponsible asses. This may work when they are 21 or 22 but at 30, 35, 42? Nope. After a point, genial asses do not endear themselves to women. And, if the men keep at it, it frays that lute called marriage, too.
When a married man behaves badly, he is quite oblivious to the fact that he is behaving badly — a golden cliché, but sadly true. All his life, he has behaved badly and his indulgent mother has murmured “There, there”, cleaning up the metaphorical and physical mess deftly, unobtrusively. Now he cannot, for the life of him, fathom why all women in general and his wife in particular cannot be like mummy.
So he continues to behave the way he has always behaved. Then one day, the woman who is not his mother leaves him. Shattered, he heads to the nearest pub, drowns a few stiff ones, turns maudlin and goes home to moan into his pillow. She has broken his heart, irretrievably damaged his ego. What is he going to tell his boss, his colleagues, his buddies and, most importantly, his mummy? It`s going to take him ages to get over this.
You will notice that I’m not doing the comparison thingie here. I`m not, for a minute, telling you how a woman would react in the same position. What I am pointing out is that while men hurt as hard, as deeply as women, introspection has never been and is not part of the game. Ten-to-one odds are that the woman who walked out pleaded with her man to go with her to a marriage counsellor. Ten-to-one, he scoffed at the notion of talking to a stranger about their personal affairs and averred that there was nothing they couldn’t fix by themselves. Except he was wrong, they couldn’t fix it and that’s why he is watching an IPL re-run on TV all by himself now.
It seems to be hardwired into his genes that playing ostrich in situations like these is the only way out. Other instinctive reactions run the gamut of going into stout denial, looking the other way, permafixing a stiff upper lip, riding it out with fake cheer and hoping it will all go away. In other words, doing anything but sitting down and thinking about what happened, why it happened, whether it could have been avoided and whether it can still be salvaged. There’s a word for this: introspecting.
Sudden enrolment into this far-from-exclusive D-Company forces men to face the inescapable fact that they cannot continue to be Bertie Woosters, because real life has suddenly intervened. They know what they have to do: draw up a working strategy. But, life intervenes. There’s that outstation project to steer to a conclusion, there’s the new Terminator film to catch, there’s info on the Suzuki Hayabusa to Google… a zillion things to do, dashitall. On cue, mummy steps in and assures him that whatever happened took place because of that weird woman who until recently had been his wife. Because of his fifth house being in shani, ensuring bad times till next February 30th. Because of the impending double lunar eclipse. Because of everything else.
After this, time does its little number. Soon, all’s right in our man’s world again and introspection be damned. Now I need to go appease my aforementioned male friend because, as I told you, I like men. And, I don’t hold it against them that they have not been endowed with the introspection gene.