Lyrical yet profound, concise yet conclusive, Khalil Gibran’s poetic prose on Marriage in “The Prophet” is timeless and ageless in its essence. Every word allegorical in its meaning resonates with the spirit of lasting joy in a marriage. As a reader, I find it beautiful but as a follower I find it difficult. It is most natural for two individuals to contradict, conflict and misunderstand each other especially when they are bound in a rather complex and conditioned relationship of a marriage. But living together while sharing every part of you with the other gives rise to mundane and petty differences, where we haven’t even touched upon the bigger issues yet. And it is thus that Khalil Gibran writes, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.”
Look at it this way, when a guest overstays at your place, his presence begins to cram in your routine, space and life. For the first few days you are happy to divert and deviate from your routine to accommodate his interests, food choices and likes but over that you are waiting for his return flight. And this primarily happens because your personal space gets constricted with the guest’s presence, not deliberately though. Initially you want to make him feel comfortable and special, a few days past it is an obligation and if he is still around, all the frills and fancy get replaced by the ordinary.
But the quandary is your spouse is no guest. Nobody gets married with a return ticket in mind. You are each a permanent fixture in the other’s space and it needs enough room around the fixture to navigate through it comfortably. But addressing your spouse, a vital part of your life, as a fixture is rather derogatory. I might rephrase that we are such sparks in our husbands’ lives that blow up their fuses, while they are such high voltage live wires that can cause a short circuit in our brain wiring. Given that we aren’t guests in each other’s life and wreck much disagreement in thoughts, opinions and lifestyle, it is only sensible that we leave enough space between each other to crease out and sync our differences while amble delectably through our togetherness. If you aren’t true to yourself, you cannot be true to the other.
Initially the need for space in a relationship isn’t much because there’s this dazzling excitement and novelty in the new found togetherness and proximity. Gradually, over a couple of years the sheen begins to wane, there is a desire to go back to your original ways and character and usually just then the children step in the picture, and this ricochets the scenario to a great extent. Let me elaborate, I pester my husband to switch off the T.V. every night not because I have anything against it but because the kids keep popping their eyes open every few minutes to catch a glimpse. Same, he complains that I wake him up every morning, while in truth I am trying to wake up my son but just that my screaming wakes up the wrong guy. All I imply is that though I have no intention or inclination to encroach his space, time or pleasure, I end up doing it. This is the kind of personal invasion that happens in your life with time and children. And it is then when the need for personal space is most pronounced.
I love family holidays, couple holidays but it is a different enjoyment altogether to be on your own as an individual without the attachments of your spouse or kids. And I don’t see anything wrong or shameful in admitting this. Doing things or not doing them at all, ticking at your pace without others bearing upon you is refreshingly liberating. I made a trip to Jaipur earlier this year for the Jaipur Literature Festival and I didn’t know a soul there in that prodigious festival. But I felt so alive and thrilled to be absolutely on my own after a long time. Similarly, my husband routinely goes for his birding and wildlife trips with co-naturalists without me breathing down his neck or the kids demanding his time or patience. And I totally realize how much good it does to his spirit. These personal narratives are not for my endorsement but only for perspective.
However, giving space in a relationship shouldn’t be confused with fulfillment or non-fulfillment of expectations because the truth is no one lives upto the other’s expectations anyway. The chase of expectations takes the form of a dust cloud speckled with complaints but the concept of space is a path that you mutually walk to grow rather than confine. This space is so crucial after a few years in a marriage because your roles and responsibilities have multiplied manifold and you need to hold on to something for the love of your individuality. This “me time” unshackles you mentally and emotionally before you might sit down to rue your relationship status. The space is not essentially about making single trips or outings, or doing things separately though in my opinion it has its own healing alchemy. It is about cohesive coexistence, just letting your spouse or partner be. Period. Let me go back to the guest analogy, when the guest has a long stay scheduled, after a week the formality of his stay and your need to attend him at all times will start vaporizing. While you still care for him, you no longer fret about his dinner or entertainment plans. And this letting go of your preoccupation with him in a good way rather eases him better in the setup. He enjoys being himself in the awareness that you are still a caring and dependable host, and you relieve in reclaiming your shared space.
The same goes for lifelong stays where each partner plays the dual role of guest and host. Where silences are sprinkled with words and conversations are smattered with silences. Apartness in togetherness is the quintessence of a breathing relationship. Dutiful but uninspired partners make for a burdened marriage under whose weight your spirit dies. A companionable partner will not let his/her partner’s spirit fade away. And I am fortunate to have married one.
Nothing concludes this better than quoting from “The Prophet” again: “And stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress tree grow not in each other’s shadow.”