Well, that didn't take long: I got into a surprisingly intellectual conversation -- and that's the word he used: "intellectual" -- with Shobhit's brother last night. Mostly because, get this, he really thinks Shobhit and I should get some children.
Also, it turns out I need to offer some clarification on the phone conversation I had with Puneet back in the summer of 2016, which I mentioned in yesterday's post, and I wrote about how much nicer and apparently accepting he had been than I expected. I did not realize this at all, but Puneet revealed last night that it was that very conversation, specifically, that actually turned his attitude around about me.
As in, prior to that -- and certainly at the time Shobhit came out to his family in 2004, the very summer we first got together -- Puneet, like the rest of his family, could not accept it. And the impression he gave me in our conversation last night was that he was basically refusing to accept Shobhit's gayness, and specifically my place in his life as a legitimate spouse, until that first phone conversation he and I had in 2016. Let's do the math! That's twelve years. And what changed his mind? Well, that weekend in 2016 it was clear to everyone close to him that Shobhit was in some serious mental and emotional turmoil, which he was refusing to explain sufficiently even though he clearly had information he was withholding. It was making his brother and me worry about him very seriously, and that was what prompted Puneet to ask Shobhit to put me on the phone -- so we could confer and perhaps glean something together that we could not pry out of Shobhit directly. And the way Puneet characterized it last night, it was that conversation that made him realize how committed I really was to Shobhit and making sure he was getting taken care of. That conversation, to Puneet, finally illustrated how I provided the very same love, care and support as any legitimate spouse, regardless of gender.
As with many a conservative and/or ignorant American, the assumption among many straight, cisgender Indians about gay relationships is that they don't hold the same weight, and therefore are more likely to be "a phase" somehow to be gotten out of someone's system. I get the feeling that's basically how Puneet, and indeed Shobhit's entire family, looked at Shobhit and me for well over a decade. And this just occurred to me only as I was writing this very sentence: Puneet, being the oldest child in a family with no other father figure (because their dad died in 1990), and also being male, in all likelihood holds a lot of sway and authority when it comes to changing attitudes about something. Puneet suddenly deciding it's okay that his brother is gay will likely quicken the process of opening their sister's mind, for instance, and perhaps even their mother -- although I'm certain their mother will be more difficult, as I think Shobhit's often insane stubbornness comes from her.
Even Shobhit learned something new last night, though. Shobhit made reference to Puneet's wife not knowing about me, and Puneet told him, actually, he recently told her. Shobhit was like, "Oh. I did not know that." So, beyond just the rumors apparently flying on the other side of the world among his extended family just as a product of more and more people getting on and connecting through Facebook over the years (increasing numbers of relatives in recent years have asked questions after seeing Shobhit tagged on Facebook in posts I have shared), it seems that, finally, Shobhit's status as a gay man -- and one in a long-term, stable relationship at that -- is becoming increasingly common knowledge.
Anyway. My basic point is this: until last night, I thought that 2016 phone conversation with Puneet had revealed that Puneet was more accepting of me that I realized. But, the more truthful characterization, it turns out, is that conversation is precisely what made Puneet more accepting, and my impression of his lack of acceptance prior to that was still actually pretty accurate. Either way, it seems, things are better now.
Things are so much better now, in fact, that Puneet initiated a conversation with me last night while Shobhit was in another room: "You guys should have a child." Eventually this turned into a full-fledged conversation about how much lonelier and lacking in support systems he thinks we will be in old age without having had any children, an expectation both Shobhit and I very much dispute; the perspective on Shobhit's and my part that there are already too many people on the planet and we don't have any need or indeed any business making more; and the fact that as far as I'm concerned, we're already too old and our time has passed. Also, Puneet clearly thinks having children fills a void in life, and neither Shobhit nor I feel that there is any void now that needs to be filled, certainly not with children. I kind of felt like this could get into somewhat dangerous territory as far as Puneet's perception of our marriage is concerned, so I did not mention it, but this is an equally important part of my conviction not to raise children with Shobhit: I don't think we would be very good parenting partners. I actually think Shobhit would behave in ways toward our children that I would find abhorrent, which means we have no business raising children together, because no child deserves that.
I mean, okay, sure, plenty of children are in such dire circumstances that if we adopted them they would be far better off even under the above-described circumstances. Call us selfish if you like, I'm frankly fine with that. This is my life, it's the only life I get, and I fully intend to enjoy it to the maximum in all the ways I see fit. And that means not raising children, particularly not at an age where I would still have kids at home when I turn seventy. Fuck that noise. I'm perfectly happy with my movies and my travels and my cats, and my ability to pay for things I enjoy that I would no longer be able to afford if I had kids. Kids aren't for everyone, which was one of the points I made to Puneet.
To Puneet's credit, he was always completely respectful in this conversation, never forceful, and frankly better at debating a difference of opinion than Shobhit tends to be. In fact, Puneet later told me last night that he used to worry that Shobhit would never find a mate, precisely because of the intensity of his feelings and opinions. When we got to talking about the longevity of Shobhit's and my relationship, it seems that has been part of the pendulum of Puneet's opinion swinging quite far in the other direction: "If you've been together fifteen years," he said, "you'll be together for another fifteen years." That's a dangerous thing just to take for granted, but in this context, from this particular person in the context of cultural differences -- I'll take it.
And that's a big part of the expectations of relationships in India, which come together in wildly different ways than they do in the West. Shobhit is literally the only person in his family not in an arranged marriage. Puneet talked about how he and his wife had never met before the process started for arranging their marriage. And then they got together, and in India, divorce is not common at all. The default expectation is that this is just the way it will be for the rest of their lives, no matter what, and so instead of thinking about being happier without each other, they resign themselves to being with each other to the end, and adapt accordingly. There are actually some valid arguments for that model as a means for more successful marriages, so long as a match is made well. I would still never do it in a million years, of course, but I also think it's a mistake to dismiss the way other cultures do things just out of hand.
And there did come a point, in the conversation about children, where differing values came up in conversation. When I said, "Well, we have different value systems," Puneet truly seemed to get it. He even said that, as long as the way our lives are now is what makes us happy, that's what matters. He even also agreed with me, pretty vehemently, when I repeated what I have told people many times -- that every relationship is different and we make our own rules. He really seemed to be pretty honest and open to learning and understanding Shobhit's and my (and I do mean also mine, individually, not just as Shobhit's spouse) perspectives and how different they might be, even as he tried to encourage us to get ourselves some kids -- which he basically kind of laid off of by the end of the conversation.
We didn't go out anywhere last night; Shobhit and I made us all taco salad bowls with tortillas he deep fried. It was quite good. Eventually we watched an episode of Sex Education on Netflix while Puneet zonked out on the love seat. He drank multiple glasses of wine; he even asked us to open a second bottle. I had one glass from each bottle, so Puneet probably had, maybe three glasses. When Shobhit called their mom briefly, as he does every day, he asked Puneet if he wanted to talk, and Puneet said no. Once they hung up, Puneet said, "Mummy will learn that I am drunk, and so will my wife," which kind of cracked us up.
It's pretty nice, so far, actually getting to know a member of Shobhit's family, which I have done much more so in two days with his brother than I did in two different 6-7 week visits with his mother a decade ago.
[posted 12:21 pm]