When couples play make-believe: Simran Mangharam, on illusions in love
I used to be baffled by those who fake love online even when all their friends know how unhappy they are. I spoke to some; the lessons I learnt were intriguing.
Married for over a decade, a couple friend of ours (let’s call them Dia and Jacob) have had a tumultuous time. They have argued and fought, in public and in private; said awful things to and about each other.
Over and over, through the years, we in their circle of friends have thought it was the end. But they have pulled through every time.
What has felt truly confusing is that, online, their posts and photographs tell a completely different story. There, they are two people filled with love and admiration for each other. Captions say things like “Thank you for your thoughtfulness” and “I couldn’t have asked for a better wife”.
Behind the scenes, there have been times when I have genuinely suspected that they hate each other. But tap on her name, or his, on WhatsApp and one sees a loving couple smiling out of the display image. The mutual affection in these smiles is something I simply cannot reconcile with what we see in real life.
Now, we all mislead our viewers to some extent. That desert odyssey was really far more full of dust than your photos suggest. The glowing portrait of the family at the poolside hides the sunburn the children suffered from for days.
In this couple’s case, though, pretty much everyone in their social circle knows the state of their marriage. So I finally gave in, and just asked Dia what the point is; why they post online as they do.
In a way, her answer made sense: “In that moment, we genuinely feel affectionate towards each other,” she said, adding that when they look at the posts later, they serve as reminders to them both that things really aren’t all bad.
Their social media helps them hang on to the good moments, even build an archive of them, which is particularly important, she pointed out, because of the many lows that they also share. She believes, in fact, that revisiting these posts from time to time is what keeps them together; particularly on the bad days; particularly after the worst fights.
Another couple friend, Preeti and Rohan, have been married for 24 years. The first five years of their marriage were simple and carefree. Now, they find it hard to talk without arguing. They have different views on most things: politics, housekeeping, homework, how to spend free time or how to invest their shared money. They talk less and less, because they don’t want to fight in front of their children.
Nearly two decades after their honeymoon phase ended, they are like two strangers living in the same house. Yet their WhatsApp display photos are full of joy too. They are always hugging and smiling in those tiny circular frames. How does this help, I asked Rohan.
He said it makes Preeti happy when his display photo is an image of them together. I asked him why he thought Preeti was so invested in this. To keep up the image of a happy couple, he said. “And why not,” he added. Neither is interested in seeking another relationship. Why not make the best of this one?
I must admit that it baffled me that both couples seemed so at peace with a decision to present to the world a view that is simply not reflective of their reality. But then again, aren’t there veils hiding at least some truths in almost every relationship? Between parent and child, siblings, best friends; and between spouses? If we can make our peace (and we have, and should) with people exploring throuples and polycules in order to sustain their relationships, why should simple pretence be taboo?
I for one have resolved to set my confusion and curiosity aside. In that most difficult of things, an unhappy marriage, may their alternate lives on WhatsApp and Facebook bring them peace.
(Simran Mangharam is a dating and relationship coach and can be reached on email@example.com)