Big fat weddings to dramatic divorces, this matchmaker/marriage counsellor explains why severing the knot is all the rage these days.
From wealthy women paired with insecure men, to conducting background checks and seeing couples snooping around for their significant others’ bank account details, 58-year-old Saira Hashmi has seen it all: “People have too many issues these days; it is hardly surprising that the divorce rate is soaring,” she says.
Hashmi has been the ‘Ms Fix It’ of marriages since 1998. She not only arranges marriages but also counsels couples who are having a hard time making their relationships work. She charges Rs5,000 for arranging a marriage, but doesn’t charge for counselling one on the rocks. If the couple decide to stay together, she accepts whatever they give.
With the experience accrued over the years, Hashmi has seen times change, and with it, the evolving nature of couples’ expectations and their divorces among the well-to-do classes. The most common reason for a divorce these days, she says, is that both partners are working and simply do not take out time for one another. Add to that the fact that people have become “far too artificial, fall for glamour and glitz, and have no sense of basic values” that are important for a marriage to last.
“To begin with, most unions today are based on flimsy ground instead of the couple’s compatibility. People focus more on who lives where and owns what. Defence and Clifton addresses are preferred to Gulshan and North Nazimabad. The expectation is that a prospective bride should be acquiring a car and a house along with a husband. Mothers of prospective sons and daughters love to brag about the perfect bahu or damaad they have discovered at kitty parties,” she says.
Another trend that has begun to surface recently is the religious association of either party. “After families have met, the date for the wedding has been set, and the mehndi is being arranged, one party wants to have a milad, and the other doesn’t believe in having a milad. Many will be so intolerant that they will call off the wedding and return the gifts. In fact, religion is fast becoming the main criteria in finding the groom or bride. Ridiculously enough, people now want to know whether the other party is a green or a black pagri!”
With social and material pressures at the heart of new unions, few focus on how young Pakistani women have higher expectations from prospective husbands and their in-laws as compared to their mothers’ generation.
“Women today are proud of their background or careers, because of the burdens they have to shoulder on their own. When they take on added responsibility, they are naturally arrogant about their achievements. Pakistani men often suffer an inferiority complex because women are more empowered now. At the same time, neither partner has the patience to understand the other and deal with the other accordingly,” Hashmi says.
In bygone days, the expectation was that a woman could win her husband’s heart by being nice to him and cooking him decent food, but no woman is prepared to do that anymore. With a mismatch of expectations blighting new marriages, it is no surprise that couples run into trouble early on in their marital life.
This is where Hashmi comes in to help out: “Usually the first types of problems that surface are compatibility issues. Extra-marital affairs are rampant too,” she explains.
Many marriages that don’t work are typically marred by respective partners insisting their positions are the right ones, by couples not making an effort to mend their relationships, and by intrusive parents and friends who are adamant their loved ones have been wronged by their partners. The situation becomes particularly tetchy in second marriages, with the man’s children often accepted but not children of a woman’s previous marriage.
“If people want to help the couple save their marriage, they should be neutral instead of taking sides,” argues Hashmi, adding that parents and close friends of the warring couple do more harm when they support their son or daughter to maintain his or her stance. “For example, parents of the married couple won’t spend money to solve the couple’s financial issues that are causing the rift; instead, they fuel the fire,” she explains.
“After couples in therapy break up and file for divorce, the blame game starts. The commonest accusation for men is ‘she was having an affair with another man’. Women typically accuse the man of being impotent. People don’t even understand the meaning of the word ‘psycho’ but it is very trendy to use it to describe the other partner,” Hashmi describes.
What shocks Hashmi is that families today tend to put more effort into arranging a wedding without focusing on the marriage. “Not many focus on the essence of a wedding: staying married by looking after each other’s needs and requirements, being tolerant with each other, and focusing on making up rather than breaking up. They prefer big fat weddings and dramatic divorces, with no expense spared.”
With such odds and finances working against her, it is no wonder that even Ms Fix It sometimes struggles to save a marriage.