Thaw (n) – A very brief positive moment in a troubled romantic relationship often causing individuals involved to get high on the ephemeral goodness and galvanizing them to go all in for higher stakes without directly addressing underlying deep-seated tensions
“It was the bloody thaw!” said a woman just coming out of a two-year long divorce process, when asked why she married him in the first place. “But after the thaw comes a long ice age.”
Drinking a warm cup of tea with me at a corner table in Yangon’s Acacia Tea Salon, she did not seem bitter. She had since landed her dream job, working for a cause that was dear to her. She was dating someone new and attending swanky parties in town, surrounded by many friends and family. As if the dissolution of a 20-year marriage were not enough hurt, the nastiness that surrounded the divorce had left her with financial burdens. How could anyone be so callous to a loved one? Yet, there she was, sipping her drink strongly, calmly and parting me with wisdom in the cool ambiance of a Yangon winter night.
It was a love marriage for them, each ticking the other’s check boxes at the time. Issues which finally led to their downfall were always there. The couple was cognizant of them, and yet they were genuinely in love and didn’t dwell too long on these signs. Communications and more commitment would straighten out the differences in time, she had thought. I have heard of women in troubled unions choosing to have more kids, hoping this would soothe the differences. I have heard of people moving in together to resolve issues, or getting married to fix a particular kind of tension. We always live in such different realities, yet in this particular case, more commitment was not the answer.
With the benefit of the hindsight, she admitted to having picked the wrong filter: these check boxes thought to lead to the kind of companionship desired. The fluff changes over time. You change. Your parents change. Twenty years later, she says that the only critical check box is if, behind all the fluff, your partner is still kind to you and can remain empathetic in times of conflict and disagreement. Your partner maybe a great parent, a wonderful boss, and a kind neighbor. But the real personality that counts is not how the person presents him/herself to the outer world, but how he/she relates to you intimately and internally. The personality X is the one that matters.
I really needed to hear this insight from a more experienced Burmese cosmopolitan woman who was modern and professionally-driven. We tend to be complicated beings. In her case, at the time of marriage, she had felt she needed her husband to be “Burmese” in certain ways – to be able to taste ngapi, wear a longyi, or exude a certain kind of Burmese charm – to get along well with her parents. But as she learned 20 years later, your Burmese parents only want you to be happy in the long run. This is the kind of checkbox to be pondered with more care, depending on the larger context. Probably “nice to have” but not critical.
Oh, my mentor lady adds. Your partner also needs to be comfortable with himself.
- Does your partner remain kind and empathetic to you in times of conflict? What happens when you say no? Do you act kind to your partner when you disagree with him/her?
- Is he/she comfortable in his/her own skin?
- Personality X is the one that counts.
- Fluff changes over time, rethink your “filter,” develop your romantic intuition.
- Be mindful of the “thaw.” Throwing in more commitment will not fix underlying tensions.
I have felt an immense level of gratitude that she sat down with me to discuss her divorce, something so personal, and took time to warn me against the dangers of picking wrong filters. Prior to this tea, I had only recently reconnected her at a birthday party, and we met through a work assignment when I was a summer intern. She did not need to tell me about her divorce, but she did, and it gave me some guidance to questions I was grappling with as a professionally-driven Burmese woman in mid-twenties.
In my twenties, I do not know what I do not know. I have not seen enough of the world or people. The best anyone can do in their twenties is to find a fine balance between being intentional about relationships, coming up with meaningful check boxes, and not getting too hung up, too dogmatic about them all at the same time.
Also, I have started a new tradition to donate to a cause of choice in honor of or in tribute to all former lovers during Valentine Week. Join me.