The Game Face of the Amicably Divorced

The perfect divorce, just like the perfect marriage, takes time. But our new-age couples are determined to rub their post-parting sangfroid in our faces.

I

knew a ridiculously talented piano teacher who was known for her fiery temperament. She, apparently, was so sexy in her youth, that when she played concerts on stage, there were whistles galore, to which her father once said, “You should cover up a bit and let the men concentrate on your playing.” “But Daddy,” she reasoned, “if I screw up my notes, at least they’ll still be watching.”

Anyway, she fell madly in love, got hitched, and had a child before anyone could say, “Beethoven”. But over time, the passionate love story began to unravel. Eighteen years later, she found herself holding her divorce papers and an angry teenaged offspring. Instead of shaking her husband down she decided to go all zen on him, much to the chagrin of her daughter.

She decided to “forgive” him in high condescension when he remarried, saying that the “poor thing needed someone just as average as him”. In her pseudo-Osho way, she decided that every second Sunday of the month, her ex-husband, his wife, and their two children would have lunch with them. During these disastrous lunches, she would passive-aggressively joke with him for not feeding his wife and kids adequately, even as she would make a spread large enough to feed all the stray cats and dogs of Mumbai.

Her daughter, cutting savagely into the grilled chicken, wanted to hack the dining table in half. Her mother’s, “Darling, we must be kind to those less fortunate than we are,” didn’t help. The hideous truth was that her parents’ divorce was a mess of nasty and resentful statements, slathered in bogus coolness, which made her want to slap them both into reality – and get them to admit that the only truly amicable divorce is when both parties swear never to breathe the air of the same room.

But she kept silent. Her mother had her game face on and nothing was going to crack it.

***

Now that Gwyneth and Chris have “consciously uncoupled” perhaps after a million similar passive-aggressive, Zen fights (possibly due to her pro-biotic/macrobiotic diet), the world has decided to follow suit.

The latest entrant in The Art Of Divorcing Amicably field is actress and pop star Hillary Duff, whose marriage with hockey star Mike Comrie recently ended, “but we still laugh a lot together.” As settlement, he received $2.5 million, the Mercedes, Bentley, and the jewellery. Mike should be the only one laughing here and Hillary’s lawyer should be fired.

Closer home, we have Hrithik-Suzanne, Farhan-Adhuna, Kalki-Anurag, and Konkona-Ranvir pulling the desi version of conscious uncoupling. The mainstay of these public partings is politically correct statements generated by an efficient PR machinery that has phrases like “decided to mutually and amicably separate” ready in their divorce boiler plates.

Which is not to say that statements like “we’ve grown apart over the years” are untrue. People decide to split for all kinds of reasons; some even wake up one fine Sunday morning and decide that they no longer want to be in a marriage. But the truth is that invariably, it is one person who wakes up. One person sets the ball rolling. The other one simply rolls out of the marital bed and toes the party line. Their confusion, broken heart, and battered self-esteem are now, thanks to Gwyneth and her tribe of Goopies, hidden behind their game faces.

The game face is a good face. It may even be a great face to show friends who no longer have to take a side, in-laws who can bump into each other at social occasions and not cringe, children who can flit happily between both worlds. The game face is also intensely useful if you share a business, or house help, or cars and drivers. The game face could take you through Sunday breakfasts, brunches, and even push you (God forbid!) to holiday together, but one fine day this bravely put-together, heavily made-up face, is bound to crack – the day when one moves on and the other is still single and left holding the lit candle.

That’s when, as they so eloquently put it, the shit hits the ceiling and the competition for who wins the break-up begins. Can I move on faster? Is my partner hotter than his? Am I thinner than her? When the passive-aggression comes seeping out and the “jokes” double up, the seamier side of divorce begins to show.

This is not to say that this whole amicable divorce thing is as fake as Salman Khan’s claim to virginity. The amicable divorce may yet happen. There may be a time, many, many years down the line, when passions have abated, when the gag reflex at the sight of your ex’s current has subsided, when both parties are safely hitched to better halves, when the mess of money and real estate is settled… in this distant future you may fondly clink your wine glasses over happy memories and no longer give a fuck about who won the break-up. The amicable divorce, just like the amicable marriage, takes time.

Unlike my piano teacher who fashioned herself like Gwyneth Paltrow, a healthier (pun intended) aspiration would be to grow up to be Elizabeth Taylor, who, after a rich life of no fewer than eight divorces, was asked how she managed to be so cordial with her ex-husbands. She replied, “Well, darling, what do you expect me to do, sleep alone?”

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