How things change! I am writing about Valentine’s Day! My feelings about this day have changed from excitement to derision to a yearning over the years. I remember being excited during school days and secretly hoping year after year that some anonymous admirer will drop a card in my bag – sadly that never happened!!! And then in college when I finally discovered love, I remember how we totally looked down upon Valentine’s Day as being just a cheesy marketing gimmick and that WE, the ones in “true love” would not stoop down to celebrating it. After all who needs a day once a year dedicated to love when all 365 were full of it! But now here we are – 6 years of courtship and 15 years of marriage later, with 3 kids in tow, living in separate countries, away from each other. Perhaps it may not be such a bad idea dedicating a day to just love and nothing else!
Anyhow, all I am trying to establish through this long rigmarole is that after being in love for 21 years, I feel there is a thing or two I can share with you. I believe some relationships can be liberating and others could be restricting. Some could be indifferent. Needless to say, a liberating relationship is one which helps each partner grow and is perhaps the most fulfilling and nourishing. But it is easier to say than achieve. A relationship that is open, supportive and based on mutual respect requires us to let go of our egos, our fears and insecurities and be honest with ourselves and our partner.
Let me distil all that I have learned in 5 key essentials of a supportive relationship:
If all that sounded like a lecture – then let me tell you about my cousin and her husband. They are a couple I immensely admire – who have managed to retain their individuality and maintain their collective identity at the same time. Married for 25 years now, Sanjana and Ajey have two lovely daughters and are a very close-knit family. At any point in time the four can either be found together or could be scattered across four continents pursuing their dreams.
So how did they do it? I asked Ajey. Ajay told me that they met each other the old school way – through a newspaper matrimonial. After a few meetings, they decided to get married. A few years after their marriage, they faced their first challenge.
While their daughters were quite young, Sanjana got an opportunity to pursue a masters in public health – she received a fully paid scholarship from the US. At this time their daughters were still small and Ajey could not move to the US. After all, while Sanjana studied, it would be his job to keep the two kitchens running. It was a difficult decision, but they also knew that this was an opportunity that Sanjana could not pass. This was when Sanjana’s parents stepped in and decided to move with her to the US and supported her through the entire duration of her program. Ajey visited them often.
This was perhaps the hardest decision they took, but thereafter there have been many shifts. When Ajay decided to leave his full-time job as the head of business at a leading pharmaceutical company to start an NGO, many people questioned his decision. However, Sanjana fully supported him in this decision and today he is content in following his calling.
I ask Ajey how they managed – what was their secret key?! He gave a beautiful response, which I will just quote verbatim, “We always visualized and worked at the larger picture that we wanted in life – what we called the life goal and went about getting ‘life ready’. We are very different from each other. I am the no nonsense, grounded guy; Sanjana is the dreamer, the visionary – always planning for the larger picture, thinking out of the box. Sanjana developed the larger vision for their lives while I ensured we remained grounded.”
“There were times in our life when one took a back seat or a break to support the other’s endeavors. We were prepared to sacrifice but did not miss a single special occasion to be together. We created tons of good memories as the two of us and together with our girls. At that time there were none of the modern gizmos to help us remain in touch, but we managed even then through long letters and every day hand written faxes. (then it was illegal to keep a fax machine without informing the telephone company!) We even bought a video camera (unheard of, super expensive and one had to pay customs duty to get it in the country) to record our girls, because they were with Sanjana in the US and I was in India.”
“But most important was listening to each other and being honest. Agreeing to disagree. And meeting each other half way. An important aspect of our life has been giving each other the space and the strong support system to fly and soar. We are strong individually but together we are a unit with a powerful invisible bond”
“And we are best friends! Being silly together is one of our best past times!! Bottom line though is LOVE and TRUST. Then you are not competing but celebrating in individual successes together.”
Today Sanjana is based in Abuja, Nigeria, managing the health portfolio of UNICEF and Ajey is running his NGO based in India. Their daughters are pursuing their dreams and are studying in universities of their choice.
As Ajey related their story, I was delighted to see that he mentioned each of the essentials I mentioned earlier – friendship, respect, space, encouragement and safe space. So this Valentines, resolve to be the wind beneath your partner’s wings and help them soar!
I hope you liked what you read. Do share and comment. And do let me know what has worked for you in your relationship?
Let me end with one of my favourite poems from Kahlil Gibran.