I met an old friend a few days ago. The last time I had seen her she had a stunning figure, sleek hair down to her waist and a very French sense of style and dressing: tres chic. And then she got married. All I recognised now were her beautiful eyes, albeit shadowed by dark circles and a slightly haunted look. Don’t ask me what happened to the rest of her. I don’t want to relive the sadness of it.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of single women too who let themselves go, and not all married women take the chute down into the dumpster: I’ve seen some wrens metamorphose to peacocks in the flash of a wedding band. But mostly I’ve seen butterflies turn to moths and I wonder at the causes behind the transformation.

Why does tying the knot sometimes leave a woman all tied up in knots? Her grooming, posture, speech, thinking, confidence, growth, personality, hobbies, skills, independence, profession, exposure... any or every one of these facets take a nose dive. What makes her melt in the marriage pot?

Too tired to care

She’s exhausted. Before marriage, her major task of the day was sorting out her closet. Now not only does she have to manage all her own affairs, she also has to care for her partner, children, in-laws possibly, and a whole new domestic and social circle. When she finally calls it a day, bubble baths, power Pilates and ruminating on Rumi are not on the radar.

It’s important for her to enlist as many helping hands as possible, be they family, friends or hired; to do just enough of only what is more important; to take breathers through the day and to apportion ‘me time’ for grooming, reading, catching up with a friend or work etc.

Bad company

Before, she was hanging out with ambitious, yuppy, hip friends who had their pulse on fashion, currency and news, or were even creating it. Now she hobnobs with contagiously cloned Aunties who talk only about house, husband, children, in-laws, servant, lawn sales and garden parties.

The wise woman adapts to her new life and embraces the change, but also makes an effort to stay in touch with her past to retain her identity.

Pull-down partner

Often her energy is sapped by a husband who wants an insecure, dependent, clingy wife who can’t laugh at a joke without first checking his reaction to see if it’s funny or not, instead of an independent, confident, self-sufficient go-getter; he can crush her confidence and erode her self-esteem by bringing her down every time she tries to rise.

This is a bit tricky as she may not always realise she is being pulled down, unless she has good family and/or friends who can point it out to her. She needs to have a vision of where she wants to go in life, and if she is off-track and not able to get the requisite encouragement or exposure from her partner she should enlist friends or family who can help her get back on track.

The Cinderella factor

Many people here still think of a daughter-in-law as a house elf who has to do all the chores for everyone at all times. If she has been taken home to cook, clean and serve her mother-in-law’s army of children, grandchildren, relatives, friends and neighbours, it’s natural that she has to look, walk and talk the part. Some envious and insecure mothers-in-law don’t want a daughter-in-law doing better than them or their daughters in any way. She must never be the butterfly or her wings will be crushed for sure. If her in-laws and husband play tag team with her, she can be knocked out in the first round.

With all due respect to in-laws, her first step should be to establish that she too is an individual who needs her own time, space and freedom; of course, this is much easier said than done.

Identity crisis

She is so caught up in the whole marriage, husband, children, home, school, hired help business she forgets that she is a separate entity. If she is not allowed to work, or does not do anything stimulating besides menial, mundane chores, she may start vegetating.She must remember her dreams and the promises she made to herself and try to honour them, because they are important too.

Mission accomplished, game over

All her teen life she is primed, preened and pruned in preparation for marriage. When she finally achieves her sole goal in life by getting married and producing enough children, she promptly retires from life. ‘Ab to shaadi ho gayee, ab kya’ is an oft-used phrase.

Letting go may seem easier than staying alert and active, but she should understand that it is for herself and not for anyone or anything else. Staying young, fit, smart, employed and independent will provide personal satisfaction and a safety net for contingencies and retirement.

Not dressed up because there’s nowhere to go.

She does not meet anyone new, mostly stays home because of young children, or her husband comes back home too tired to look or care. So what’s the point in dressing up, she thinks and bums out in crumpled, uncoordinated attire and bad hair.

Well, it’s not really fair on her partner to take him for granted. It’s a good thing to make an effort for him and let him know he is still important enough for to her to make an effort.

Role play

It’s part of her culture to play the poor-me victim to emotionally blackmail and exploit people for material, financial, physical and emotional dividends.

Well, if it’s her personal choice to be that way, I guess it’s okay as long as she doesn’t hurt anyone. But she could come out and be a strong, open, honest woman too, just sometimes. She might actually feel good about it, and just might realise that doing one’s own work is often easier and more satisfying than manipulating others do it.

Responsibility and self-sacrifice

She has put herself last, or not at all, on her list of things to do for everyone else in the family. Whether she wishes to or not, she has put her dreams aside to support and prop up her family, ensuring that their lives run smoothly in a stable home environment so that they can devote themselves to making their dreams come true. She forgoes even simple acts like eating right, going for a long walk or having coffee with a friend.

She has to realise that she does not need to fix everything for everyone at a cost to herself. Her family will do just fine, or maybe even better, if she does not play the thornbird.

Not every woman wants to be a perfectly groomed domesticated professional, socialising supermom, happily pursuing her hobbies. Raising her children and bonding with her husband is an overwhelming, completely satisfying and rewarding experience for her and that’s perfectly all right. But even a fulltime mom and wife needs to grow as an individual; to live a life, not just exist as a facilitator. Of course loving and caring for the family is important, but it must begin with loving and caring for oneself.

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