x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Marital bliss and a single's freedom can both be illusions

Single in the city For me personally, it is not really about grass being greener on the other side, but rather, that the family house beyond the fence, even with all its difficulties, sure looks more cosy than a tiny bachelor apartment.

In a village resembling many others along a barrier that divides two nations, stood two cows. They were looking at each other through a fence of twisted metal that separated their worlds. They were both brown and looked identical in size and shape. One could almost call them a mirror image of each other, except for one tiny detail. "Their grass is greener and thicker than ours," the farmer of the cow on the Lebanese side said to me that day as we watched the scene from a distance.

Zooming in with my camera, I saw no difference in the colour or texture between the grass field on the Lebanese side, and the one on the Israeli side. Politics aside, the important point for me was that I was pretty sure the farmer on the other side probably had some comments about the patch of grass that was beyond his cow's reach. On inspection with the naked eye, the grass on the other side of the fence did indeed appear a tad greener and more lush. The old proverb, "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence," - and its many predecessors and versions - probably originated in a setting not unlike the one I observed that day.

Sitting with a group of friends, the single ones can't help but ask the married ones what it is like on the other side: "So, how is married life?" "Eh, as expected," one of them would say, joined by others who go on to list the great challenges in marriage and having children, and not having enough time for themselves. "You singles are lucky, living it up for yourselves," they would say. Of course, the singles would respond: "Oh no you are wrong. It is you who is lucky to have a partner and to be surrounded by family and not feel lonely."

The conversations would go back and forth, with the different characters trying to assert their positions on how their life "really is" and how it appears to them that the lives of others are "better" or "less stressful". I guess we can't help it. We all do it. At some point we can't help but think that it is better on the other side of one of life's most important fences. As I watched my old classmates get married one by one, I have had a chance to learn a lot from their experiences. There are just two of us remaining. Both of us happen to be in a somewhat stressful line of work. Or at least that is the excuse we keep using as one of the main reasons we have not yet settled down.

But then again, when was the last time you heard anyone say: "Nah, my work is not stressful. It is relaxing and fun and I get paid too much." Even bankers don't say that. Every time I visit one of my married friends, whereby I bring gifts for them and their children from my travels, I get to hear about how "lucky" I am to be free to do this and that and not to have the weight of responsibilities and life changing adjustments they have had to manage since getting married.

What I see when I visit them - and this is a somewhat biased account I'll admit - is a comfortable and beautiful home with a garden and a swing. The home is bustling with life, laughter and plenty of wholesome meals. They have assistance from both their own families and maids to help them in preparing meals and treats. On my own, I can't afford this kind of house nor the luxury of having food cooked in a proper kitchen and served on a real dinning table (which also seems to be a luxury these days).

Then I see a sweet husband who happened to drop in as a surprise with roses and gifts for everyone in the house, including me, as he heard that I, his wife's childhood friend, was visiting from abroad. They sort out the bills and house and life chores together, sharing the good and bad that life throws at them. But then again, troubles also double with two different minds and characters who live under one roof.

I saw cracks in this portrait I painted of a married life later in the day, when the children became a bit naughty. It was one of the few times I noticed how children end up hearing a lot of orders and lectures throughout the day. I felt bad for them. Then there was a problem with the car, with each of the parents pointing the finger at the other, and then, finally at me. If they didn't have to pick me up from the airport, the car would have had some petrol in it instead of standing empty and immovable in the garage.

For me personally, it is not really about grass being greener on the other side, but rather, that the family house beyond the fence, even with all its difficulties, sure looks more cosy than a tiny bachelor apartment. rghazal@thenational.ae