Ever wondered why compromise and relationships go hand in hand? I have. And it has been a little unsettling for me honestly that any type of relationship would require a compromise. Because compromise is a big word. Sounds like a liability. Is a mouthful. Doesn’t remind me of rainbows and flowers and tiny hearts on my pillow or romantic dinners or tiny trinkets from my love. This word makes me scared of any relationship that I would ever have a chance to enter. It has a certain unearthliness about it. Like some devout angel somewhere is making a compromise. Or how some people compromise for their life on basic necessities because they can’t have everything. Why would people ask of it from me? Compromise has a very somber connotation to it. It’s not a happy word. It has a dreary feel to it.
But surprisingly the one thing that’s supposed to be all about eternal bliss i.e. a romantic relationship, is punctuated by this word and its implications. No talk of a union is complete without the requisite mention of compromise. And it is usually expected in a one-sided, solitary way that some soldiers have to be in combat. Like if they didn’t save the day, there will be dead bodies left in the field with no one to bring them back home.
My initiation to the word began soon after I got married. Like many young couples we started our life in a country that was unknown to me and little known to my husband. We loved each other and wanted to take things slowly and casually. We had no huge plans for how our life would look three or five years from then. We were happily exploring our relationship and making sure we had loads of time for each other. The fact that we started out in a nuclear set up worked for us. It made us autonomous and independent.
But I think people don’t like seeing autonomous and independent people. It’s not okay to have a life which isn’t interrupted by constant advice-giving, non-stop entertaining and sarcastic reminders of your financial struggles being disproportionate to your careless spending.
But we chugged along. Despite our struggles with our careers and money, we were strong within our marriage and that was affirming to us and intimidating to others. Some people started seeing me as a pampered wife, much like Dora Spenlow in David Copperfield . They thought every whim of mine was met by my husband while I raised the next outrageous thing to him. People thought I was the wife who couldn’t see her husband be at peace. That somehow I had succeeded in bringing a chemical change into him through our relationship and therefore he couldn’t say no to me.
I was constantly reminded, directly and indirectly, how going on vacations wasn’t helping my husband’s budget. How shopping for clothes wasn’t necessary and I could easily wear clothes that I bought last season. I also received some extremely personal advice on when my baby should come into this world. I was also schooled on how left-overs could be made to last many days if only the woman knew her way around the kitchen.
I got scared of the constant harassment. It felt heavy-handed and unnecessary. I couldn’t match my impression that I was apparently making on my surroundings with who I truly thought I was. I didn’t know where I was giving off the vibe that I was an extravagant, silly, careless, rambunctious person.
My husband would try to minimize the insult by buying presents, planning vacations and taking me out more. This wasn’t the affirmation I needed. I was starting to question my ability as a wife and if I was a liability for my husband. I had also started hearing the word “compromise” a lot from people around me. They kept reminding me that my husband was extra careful of not making me upset because he was scared of me and because he knew I wouldn’t compromise on my lifestyle.
But what is this “compromise” that’s expected of me? In my defense, I asked several people what this meant and why they thought I was a difficult person and why they thought that the way we lived life was all my planned entertainment and had nothing in it for hubby.
People gave me weak definitions and examples of compromise. Some said that they could tell that I wasn’t a particularly easy person because my husband never made plans without running them by me. Others said that they saw how my husband helped in the kitchen before and after a party when he should’ve just enjoyed the dessert like other men. Some asked if I didn’t see how my ever-growing wardrobe posed a stark contrast to my husband’s limited clothing choices? And then there were some who just “knew” my parents had spoiled me and that I wouldn’t compromise on anything, particularly my lifestyle.
These observations confused me. I couldn’t quite qualify them with any answers but they left me more puzzled than before. I wasn’t comprising enough? But Adnan has never asked me for a compromise or a sacrifice or a favor or a hand or assistance or help. He has never asked me for any of them. Why do people think he isn’t happy with me? He looks so happy.
When you’re young and impressionable, sometimes all it takes to have a low opinion of yourself is what others think of you. No one is above this phenomenon. This is a rite of passage for most human beings and all women. Women almost universally have a coming of age story that they can look back on and feel proud of. I had that too. Many times. In many ways. This was one of them.
We got pregnant without any plans for it. We were excited. Unfortunately we didn’t have a ton of money to throw on things that weren’t essential. We never saved before we found out about the pregnancy and therefore weren’t motivated to save much after. We lived in blissful abandon. Us and our tiny bun.
I showed my first pregnancy much much late. I was almost 28 weeks. We were planning a big move to another country and we had loads of expenses. I felt bad asking for clothes for myself when I could see that most of my husband’s money was going into our move. We had put up our furniture for sale and a woman who had come to see it commented on my pregnant belly. She blessed me and wished me good luck. After she left, Adnan surveyed my body.
Adnan: I didn’t realize you’re showing now. Those clothes sure are tighter on you than I remember.
Me: yes! For about a month. And they are tight. This is why I’ve been sleeping in your T-shirts.
Adnan: why don’t you get some clothes for yourself?
Me: okay! But I don’t want to spend a ton of money.
Adnan: why? Is money a problem?
Me: isn’t it? You’ve been working overtime and we have a big move coming up. I don’t want to spend irresponsibly.
Adnan (looking a little nonplussed): What has a big move and me working over time got to do with your clothes?
Me: I want to be supportive and work with you in saving money. I’m not working to earn right now. I feel bad about that. I really want to learn how to make small compromises because you make such huge ones for us.
Adnan (incredulously): I do? I compromise?
Me: don’t you?
Adnan: not that I remember.
Me: hmm. But I don’t compromise either. How is this marriage working?
Adnan: but why does anyone have to compromise or sacrifice? Our marriage can work without it.
Me: can it? I’ve been told that I’m very demanding and the reason why you have to be responsible is because I’m so irresponsible and babyish.
Adnan: I don’t know who told you this but you do a lot for this family too. The biggest thing that anyone of us could do for our family was to carry this baby which you gladly are. Can’t say that about myself. When I compare the adjustments that I’ve had to make for our marriage, they are nothing to what you’ve made. You decided to join me in my life of self-discovery and independence. You made it your life. You then took it upon yourself to make this apartment a home for us. You were inexperienced but you learned through trial and error. You have been insulted on your cooking many times by people but you work on it every single day. You have had to quit wearing your beautiful Pakistani outfits to spend many months in jeans and snow pants to combat the brutal weather of a place you weren’t naturally acclimated to. You have preferred walking around the neighborhood on foot instead of me giving you my car while i take the bus to work. You have kept your studies up and have never complained about managing a household and developing a career together. Even now, I know you aren’t feeling a hundred percent but you have been meeting with prospective buyers for our furniture and other belongings and you never frown or show your discomfort. You don’t notice it but I do. I have mental images of all the things that I knew were difficult for you, but you pushed through and did them just to comfort me, just to be my partner. I don’t know if either one of us compromises or sacrifices or lets go or settles or bargains but I know this much that I don’t like the sound of those words and I don’t want to be a person whose marriage is defined by them. I have no problems with you not actively engaging in those acts. What I do have a problem with is that you are shortchanging yourself just as I always saw my mother shortchanging herself and just as I see my sisters shortchanging themselves. Don’t pass this trait to our daughter. She should know her worth. She should know that she has to be a man’s pride and pleasure. Her glory isn’t in being his ladder to success, his route to physical satisfaction, his punching bag for his emotional and physical outbursts. Make sure you tell her what her worth is everyday because I know that along the course of life she will meet the same people that you have, who will make her question her worth. They will make her see her worth in how beaten up she looks, how tired she looks, how lined her face is, how scared her demeanor is, how egoistic her husband is, how slave-like she is because that’s what people tell women their glory is. The more abuse a woman takes , the higher up on the pedestal of piety and well-roundedness she is . The more a woman “compromises” the more heavenly she becomes. But do you think this is a way to develop a healthy human being?
Me: I don’t think so.
Adnan: good. So don’t fall for misogynistic women telling you what makes a marriage good. They’ve figured out a formula for easy survival. But it’s not the most elegant way to be. And I don’t want my wife and daughter to be anything less than elegant in the way they live.
Did I say I love my husband? My mom found him for me and I’ve kept him since 💕