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The fine art of faking
Seema Mukherjee says she forces herself to look "terribly interested" in what her husband is telling her about his day at the office. She manages to come across as "a keen listener", she jokes. You cannot really accuse Mukherjee of being dishonest in her 17-year-old relationship with her husband. A lot of marriages use small pretences to tide over emotional bumps. "There is a lot of love and respect too. Pretence is a small price to be paid for the happiness I can give my partner. What's wrong with that?" she asks.
What indeed? Love is an elevating experience but sustaining it is not a cakewalk. You need tact, effort, patience and some acting skills to ensure that it does not dwindle and die.
When William Shakespeare spoke about the world being a stage and men and women being merely players, he was of course talking about the many parts a person plays in his life. "He should have also spoken about the pretences essential to keep your relationship going - not just with your partner but with everyone around, " says Mukherjee who juggles many roles - wife, mother, sister, daughter and daughter-in-law - with êlan. "Pretence is not uncommon in anyone's life. It's often needed at every step. Look at me, I pretend, for instance, to enjoy the incessant chatter of my sevenyear-old son about an obscure football match he won or the details of a puja that my mother-in-law was part of, when I'd rather be sleeping. I pretend to be excited, encouraging, supportive, sympathetic - depending on what is expected of me at the time. "
Talking about pretence, Dr Vijay Nagaswami, Chennai-based psychiatrist, relationship consultant and author says it's "not unusual to put on your Sunday best in the early stages of the relationship. At that stage, one is hell-bent on making a good impression on the other. After all, those are the foundation years of a relationship. However, if this faking continues, even after declarations of love and commitment have been made, then we have a communication issue that, unless checked, can spell bad news later. "
But it often becomes difficult to love someone who, at times, displays traits and behaviour that border on the appalling and, to some extent, even disgusting. How does one handle that? Karthik Srinivasan, an independent consultant and a self-professing cleanliness freak, admits he finds it impossible to get his wife not to leave her clothes strewn on the bed. "Why can't she manage her wardrobe and the house in general in a more decent way?" he asks. "I've tried talking to her about it. She knows that I find of some these habits of hers fairly disgusting. I have told her in so many words but she doesn't really seem to be bothered. So, over the years, I've learnt to make my peace with it. I try and put on a smile, pretend to be happy when I really want to scream and do my best not to notice the mess around. Why? It's not a big enough reason for me to walk out of a relationship. "
Dr Nagaswami points out that it is perfectly normal to feel put off by the personal habit of your partner but love is about accepting another person, warts and all. "The other problem is, you can't continue to fake feelings forever and pretend that everything is hunky-dory. However good you may be at that, discovery is always just round-the-corner, and that's when the other person could feel hurt, " he adds.
In a way, as Jean Hannah Edelstein, columnist at The Guardian says, "Enduring love always involves a modicum of pretence".
For Preethi Sreehari, a Mysore-based academic, there is a subtle difference between pretence and controlling your emotions in a relationship. "You have to learn to be patient when you are extremely angry about certain things. You need to learn to love when you are tempted to hurt, and learn to give space when you need intimacy. To sustain a relationship, you have to be mature and handle things accordingly. "
But there are a few lucky ones who enjoy a pretence-free relationship. A fitness instructor based in Bangalore, Satya Srinivasan, who has been married for over two years, says, "I don't have to pretend at all in my relationship;in fact, I'm sometimes brutally honest about things. Fortunately, for me, both my husband and I share the same points of view on most things. When we don't, we hear each other out and arrive at a solution that suits both of us. "
However, Srinivasan does insist that those who do admit to don the hat of pretence are being dishonest with their partners. "I see nothing wrong with that. In the times we live in, pretence has come to be a way of life. Tell me, can a 16-year-old youngster tell his mother he'd like her to keep quiet when she's nagging him about something? He cannot - so he pretends to listen. And that's how it all starts. Look around, look within. There are examples of pretence aplenty, " she adds.
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