We are not defined by our labels. It’s easy to somehow get so focused on a single label and allow the fog of it to overcome you. One of the labels that I got lost in the most was surprisingly not “mom,” but “wife.”
[Read Related: Housewives and Househusbands of South Asian Households]
Getting married was always made into this big ordeal in my upbringing. Not only the wedding but the “being married” part. I remember countless conversations beginning with “when you’re married…” it wasn’t an assumption that I would be married, it was a requirement. It was just as much of a requirement as going to college and grad school at my house. My future marriage was something my mom dreamt about and my dad stressed about every time I was in the “wrong” relationship, afraid the current catch would become my husband. It was something they thought about and talked about often and they believed it would happen without a doubt. I had no doubt I would be a wife and mom and there was no point in my life where I didn’t want to live the life I’m living now.
I wanted the husband, kids, house — all of it.
I had this vivid idea of what being married and being a “wife” was. From what I understood, it was as if your entire life changes when you get married. When the time came at 25 and I met my husband, I actually allowed my entire being to change to fit this new role.
I went from living in Studio City and doing late-night stand-up comedy, mingling amongst the coolest, most creative people in town to living in an attic apartment in Long Island on a medical resident’s schedule. It is still the most dramatic change I have experienced in my life.
I stopped doing stand-up comedy. I stopped going out alone at night. I didn’t have the constant energy of my creative friends around me. I pulled away from my life in Los Angeles because I didn’t know how I’d fit in anymore. I lost friends who “didn’t get it,” but thankfully, I gained back since. I went to bed at 9PM because I was told that couples who went to bed together, stayed together. I stopped writing.
I lost myself at 25-years-old just when I was at the cusp of finding myself.
The one thing that stands out to me when I look back, is that I felt like I had to fit some role of a dutiful, subservient, Indian wife. I woke up to make him breakfast the day I moved in. I automatically started doing his laundry. I took certain tasks as an obligation to the role of a “wife.” I thought that this is what my husband and in-laws wanted from me and to be honest, they didn’t mind this version of me, but at no point did they put expectations on me to fill this role. They met me as the wild, young, funny girl that lived that LA life and they loved me. Yet I did it anyway.
Several months after I moved to Long Island, I found this coffee shop, The Bellmore Bean. It reminded me of every hipster coffee shop in Studio City. When I sat in that shop with my computer, typing away, pieces of my old self started to surround me, attempting to piece together. I became friendly with the staff, met other creatives who performed at open mics and met one girl, Laurie Anne, who helped me put the final pieces of the puzzle together in order to come back to myself.
I didn’t share the coffee shop with my husband for a very long time. I was afraid if I took him there, it would lose its magic. It’s the ability to transport me back to the girl that I missed.
I was afraid the two worlds couldn’t submerge without losing all of it.
Through this friendship with sweet, sweet Laurie Anne, which included numerous nights line dancing in Farmingdale, drunkenly singing on the streets (she has the voice of an angel), crying through heartaches and the fear of growing up, I realized I had been completely wrong about being a “wife.” I can’t pinpoint exactly why I felt this way because in my house growing up, my dad did the majority of the housework like cleaning, laundry, ironing, etc. My mom did the majority of the cooking. My dad was the house manager and my mom was the CEO. It was a good balance.
Yet my upbringing and conditioning were much more than the home that I lived in and the influence of the people in that home. It was also the community I grew up in and what I saw there. It was the society as a whole and what I learned there. I was conditioned to believe that after I was married, I was to become a subservient, well-behaved woman. I saw this happen to cousins and family friends over and over again. One minute they were dancing in the club and months later, they were bringing dhokla to the next family gathering. It was magical to me.
I was led to believe that I couldn’t keep parts of myself that made me, well, me.
I imagined that I would wake up every morning and make breakfast for my husband and pack his lunch and fold his underwear and have it all done in a timely manner and that this would make me happy, him happy and we’d live happily ever freaking after.
Right before I left Long Island to head to Baltimore for my husband’s two-year fellowship, I told Laurie Anne over bagels at this adorable, local shop in Nassau County that I would go and find myself again; that I would start over in Baltimore. She made me promise and we crossed pinkies and hugged, knowing that even though we would be parting, we were important to each other forever. Laurie Anne, I made that promise to you and I never broke it. I went to Baltimore and within a week of being there, I made brand new friends who were fun, creative and full of life. (Thank you, Alix Sandler, for being the kind human you are and scooping me up when I was broken. Thank you for bringing me into your circle.)
I lived a life that my husband wasn’t a part of for a long period of time including fertility treatments, which is an entire story in itself, because of his demanding fellowship schedule. He wanted to be there, but he couldn’t yet, and I’d learn that a little later.
I stopped playing the role of what I thought I needed to be. I allowed myself to keep living a life that brought me joy and continued pursuing my dreams because these had nothing to do with me being a good wife. If anything, waking up and writing every day, surrounding myself with beautiful souls that uplifted me, laughing endlessly on the uneven bricks of Thames Street actually made me a better wife. A better person. All because I felt whole again.
Now, when I make breakfast for my husband on a rare Wednesday morning, he smiles and his heart full because he knows I don’t do it out of obligation. When I fold his boxers and leave them for him to put away, I do it out of love for him. When I leave the laundry on the closet floor for a week, I do it out of love for myself. My role as a “wife” is to love my husband, through sickness and health, until death do us part. This, I can do. And I can do it all while remaining true to who I am.
Don’t lose yourself into a label. Don’t lose yourself because you’re a wife or a mom or a daughter who has duties that they have to fulfill. You don’t have to change parts of yourself when you get married. You don’t have to forget what makes you, well, you. A label is just another chapter added to our book. Some are shorter than others, and some last forever, but through the entire book, be you.