On a visit to Mumbai, I SMSed a couple of pals I’ve known for 22 years: “Want to meet tonight? Without spouses.” I can feel you wince, but seriously, it seemed like a perfectly natural SMS to send to old friends.
I had only one evening free, the husband wasn’t around and I wanted to hang out with my buddies. I love both their wives but let’s face it—the conversation is different when you meet old friends with and without their spouses. And since I had only one evening to spare, I was reluctant to dilute the opportunity for a long overdue heart-to-heart.
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Alas, one of the wives read the SMS meant for her husband (now that’s a whole different column) and my silly wish became an unnecessary controversy.
Then, I didn’t have the energy to explain why I wanted to meet her husband alone. But I’ve thought often about it these past two months. When couples meet, everyone’s so much more polite, pleasant and better dressed. You have to discuss four lives, not two. And pause to provide context. Besides, old friends are usually less judgemental than spouses—partly because they’re not the ones who have to live with you, and partly because nothing you do surprises them any more.
With spouses, you feel compelled to fill the awkward silences—with chaddi-buddies you can people-watch silently if that’s what you feel like doing. Then, there’s the fact that you can’t discuss secrets. These may be mostly irrelevant secrets, but hell, whether you admit it to your spouse or not, your old friends often know more about you just by virtue of the number of years they’ve logged by your side. Besides, God help you if your friend’s spouse decides she’s going to utilize the meeting to air her frustrations about your friend. The beer is guaranteed to taste different.
In my case both the friends were men, but it’s not about gender. Friends need alone time and that’s no reflection on the quality of their marriage. For instance, you may want to chat with your girlfriend about the way her husband treats her mother. Or discuss, in intimate detail, the way your bodies are ageing. Or bitch about your spouse’s family—or your own— knowing that she will understand that you’re not an evil person, but that you just need to vent to feel better. Involving spouses in such discussions invariably complicates things.
Besides, while married couples might easily make new friends with other couples, being friends with your best friends’ spouses is only a bonus. So many of my girlfriends married men with whom I will never share a connection. “How’s your daughter?” one such spouse asked me recently over the phone. “What daughter?” I replied. “How’s Sameer?” “Samar,” I said reminding him of my husband’s name.
And, sometimes, a spouse can do the unforgivable. It’s been years but I will never forget the time a friend’s to-be-husband told me on the eve of their wedding: I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing by marrying her.
How was he expecting me to respond?
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