The Business of Gaslighting

I’m a terrible, terrible, terrible person.

She has been working really hard lately, but unfortunately, my income hasn’t kept up with hers, and now things are off-balance.

For the past 5 days in a row, she talks about money for at least 3 hours everyday, ruining the little time we have for each other, and causing me to feel inadequate at the same time. What I understand so far is that she wants me to comfort her, and make promises about how my income is going to increase, so that she can do all the things that she wants us to do.

I began a new business about five months ago, and it looks very promising. The returns are great – unfortunately I don’t have enough assignments yet. We’re still in the startup phase.

Yesterday was the fifth consecutive day that she began talking about money – her salary is right around the corner, and we’re broke right now.

It was perhaps the worst conversation to have had at dinner time. This time though, I had had enough. I did not entertain her thoughts and considerations. She took out a piece of paper and started doing our finances – out of her paycheque. Here she was assuming I wouldn’t contribute a single cent, and then demanded me to give her a number, at least.

She even said, “why do I have to pay the price for your father not being there all your life?”

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I wanted to tell her how privileged she was to have a father who invested in her career unconditionally. I wanted to try and have a logical conversation with her, but here she was throwing fire at me – touching sensitive topics over what could’ve been a peaceful dinner. My survival instincts wanted to kick in but I remained calm, and reminded myself how physical abuse can never be productive – yes, she said things that made me want to strike her. So I pictured my father hitting my mother and reminded myself about the superiority of words and just faced the attack on my whole life.

But she wanted answers. She had never had to pay her bills, and when she married me, she thought I would take care of it for the rest of our lives. And I would’ve if I was still pursuing a job, but after thinking hard about the future, I realized my own work would be much more rewarding – financially as well as mentally. It is.

I work in the creative industry – I write articles and copies, draft digital campaigns, work with business strategies, and work with visual artists and programmers of all sorts. I enjoy my work. That is, when I can.

To put it simply, I am passionate about what I do, and money has never motivated me. Sure, it’s a great by-product, and a necessary one, but it isn’t my primary aim when I set out to finish a product. Unlike her.

On the other hand, she’s a surgeon – she chops out body parts when they go bad, and she is good at what she does. When these surgeries get carried on for longer, she works overtime and gets paid for it. She fights with herself to find focus when she’s working more than she expected, because it is a tiring job. Then she motivates herself by thinking about the compensation she will receive for every extra hour worked. Therein lies the difference in our personalities.

After moving in together, I provided for both of us for more than two years before she began making a substantial amount of money, but she climbed up the payroll ladder very fast, probably because she works very hard (and is smart too).

However, what was once a partnership has now turned into a competition.

I never wanted this. I never thought it would affect us this much, but it does. It affects her a lot. Me, I’ve lived most of my life barely surviving, but this is all new for her. And we’re not even ‘barely surviving’ now – we got a new car and a house this year, and those things cost an arm and a leg – of course there is pressure!

She complained about how she will not be able to upgrade her phone or computer this month, or those summer dresses she wanted to get. The list wasn’t very long, but lacked the sense of partnership I thought we had. No, she doesn’t want to cover up for where my income lacks.

So I did what a self-proclaimed male feminist like myself should never do.

Gaslighting.

I told her I thought she needed to see a doctor because she’s chronically depressed. I told her I don’t have the energy or the patience any more to do this everyday AND fulfill the role my startup requires of me. I need to sleep for 7 hours and work 12 hours everyday to take my business to the next level, which would also increase OUR income, but I am unable to do it because she gives me a downer EVERY night. Most creative work is done at night, and I need my loved ones to instill positivity in me when I socialize with them in the evening – if anything, and she was doing the opposite. And then I told her I had shown her the door a few times when we had similar fights but I wouldn’t leave her myself because she herself told me her father wouldn’t welcome her back. (Why, hello there patriarchal dad.)

Needless to say, she’s not a feminist. She doesn’t think it makes women worthy. (As if what makes a woman worthy is what a man spends on her, ha!)

Yes, she did tell me I made her feel worthless.

I want to tell her she’s being crazy when she keeps obsessing over the same things over and over, but I don’t, because that’s gaslighting. I want to tell her how life is a bed of stones but together we can make it right, but she’s adamant when it comes to her sense of entitlement.

So I left the room, put my headphones on, and travelled to the planet of rock and hard metal as I usually do in desperate times. I opened some work-related windows on my computer and tried to get some important things done. But I couldn’t.

She came to me after a while to tell me she was going to shift to her dad’s place tomorrow, and I didn’t react or even acknowledge the message. “Go wherever you wanna go,” I told her, and turned towards my computer screen again.

So she took one of my headphones off and shouted, “Didn’t you hear me? I am leaving you! You understand that right?!”

I told her she can do whatever she wants. Nobody is forcing her to do anything, and I need to get some work done, so please excuse me. She left.

As you can imagine, I got nothing done. In fact, I couldn’t even work today, which is Monday, the most important workday of the week. I am really troubled by all this.

I wish we could go back to the times when we were a perfect couple together. We’ve been seeing each other since some eighteen years – she’s my high school sweetheart – and we began living together a little over three years ago.

I am convinced that she might be depressed and that I should help her through it, and I really hope I’m not gaslighting when I say that. But how can I help her at my own expense? Especially since I have been attending to her emotional needs every single day for so many years. Maybe I spoiled her? I just want her to understand my perspective, sometimes.
At one point in our discussion I even told her, “When your salary arrives, go get your iPhone – first thing.”

“But how will we manage the bills then?”

“I’ll manage. I always have.”

“I don’t want us to be broke again by the end of next month. I will not take it.”

“Well, this is your house. If you don’t want to pay the bills even when you can, that’s something you have to decide for yourself. I do whatever I can.”

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Muslim Dichotomy

DichotomyChat with a Muslim friend:

Me: Oh, did you hear that Mulana saying this rubbish about women?
Muslim friend: But where does it say that in Quran? He is an idiot.
Me: But he is a qualified and respected Maulan.
Muslim Friend: You should not trust any maulana, Quran is the true word of god.

Two weeks later:
Me: Did you read that Quranic ayah which says husbands can beat wives? I saw six translations with words like hit, strike, beat.
Muslim friend: You and I cannot interpret Quran correctly, you should ask a qualified maulana.

Me: *Pulling my hair out and hitting my head into a wall*

Calling for a Secular Pakistan

I appreciate your passion for Islam. I also respect how you think that 1400 years old concepts are still valid today – most of them may be valid but many are outdated (DNA test versus 4 male witnesses). We are mere humans – we can’t decide what is best for us, right? Each one of us has his/her own destiny in this world, and a government has no business in deciding this for us. Most importantly, the government should manage affairs of the state, not interpret our religion for us.The Secular Creed

This country could be so much more amazing if it could become secular, so that religion has nothing to do with government of the state. Dogma divides us, and will continue to do so until we all take a stand or this country will break into tiny little pieces.

Beliefs are a private matter, not a public issue. My mother recites the kalma thrice while washing a new dish for the first time. Your mother doesn’t have to do the same thing, right? Or should we get the government to make this practice compulsory, and punishable by law if not adhered to? Maybe someone sends an SMS about someone who doesn’t recite the kalma while washing their new dishes and then they get tried in court for a blasphemy charge? Dig?

Ode to Salvation

It’s not everyday that the CEO of your company tells you, rather politely, “Okay, from now on, I will CC you in all the email threads.” The privilege of being an account manager was starting to get to my head – I felt like I had arrived.

Here I am!

Credit: frankhorvat.com

Once you go through a transformation like that, you DO look back at yourself, how you started off and how far you’ve come, and try to figure out what the hell happened. How the fuck did things work out – so well? I mean, seriously, you don’t know the shit I’ve been through. You don’t know how much I sucked, and I still do, probably. Things have never ‘just worked out’ for me, so excuse me for being cynical when they do seem to work out. It makes you pause and reflect, and REALLY wonder if God might exist after all, for justice is not something you find in the natural order of things.

On the other hand, if I just sing along the song playing on my headphones, Maynard sings:

“…Eulogy.

He had a lot to say,
he had a lot of nothing to say,
he had a lot to say,
he had a lot of of nothing – to – say!

“Come down,
get off your fucking cross
we need the fucking space
to nail the next fool martyr!”

Followed by a splendid lead that a true music lover like myself just can’t resist bobbing his head to, even if he’s surrounded by colleagues.

“To ascend you must die,
you must be crucified,
for our sins and our lies,
goodbye…!”

I despise religion from the bottom of my heart.

See, culturally, and, socially – in my family life, at least – I have been Muslim since I was born. I was born in Saudi Arabia, in Jeddah – a 90-minute drive away from Mecca. My grandfather, ‘whispered’ the Adaan (Muslim call for prayer) in my ear, and the first thing I ever tasted, was the purest, yummiest, most-hygienic form of honey.

By the time I was 10, I had already completed five pilgrimages (Hajj), numerous ‘mini-pilgrimages’ (Umrah), completed the recitation of the Quran twice and completed my early years of education at an American school. We traveled to Pakistan twice in this time, 6 months each on average, and both times my father cheated on my mother. See what I mean by the natural order of things?

So, how did I find out? Well, my mother told me. Sort of.

She told me my father always opened all his suitcases right in front of her except for this one Samsonite breed. That one, she said, he opened only after locking the room, in complete privacy.

So one day when my father was out, at work I guess, my mother tried to open the suitcase, and after some time, gave up and sat down, frustrated. That is when she thought it might be a good idea to ask ME to try.

I looked at the Samsonite case. It had 3 digits. Using simple logic (that the number had to be somewhere between 000 and 999) I started from 000 and kept checking every number one by one.

It was somewhere near the 200s when it snapped open. Both locks had the same code, and viola! Papa dearest was pictured with a hottie in our house – and then there was another one too amidst a separate stash of pictures! The third stack of pictures featured a third hottie, this time wearing my mother’s night-gown in one of the pictures. It was surreal.

For some reason I knew then that my mother would be upset with this. And reluctantly, being my obedient self, I went to tell her I had opened the suitcase and gave her the code on a piece of paper.

What followed were crazy times. They fought. A lot! Then after a few weeks they just started to co-exist without talking to each other all day.

Except when she called on our home phone. I didn’t know what to call her, so I called her ‘auntie’.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” would be her response if my mother picked up the phone. And then she’d just laugh at her, for several minutes sometimes, pitying her all the time.

“Tsk, tsk.”

At least, that’s what my mother told me. But if I picked it up, she would talk to me, ask me where my dad was, and tell me to ask my dad to call her back.

Like an obedient son, I would always pass her messages to my dad when he returned from work, only to be met with a slap or two, perhaps for breaking the news in front of my mother? I don’t know.

Shit hit the ceiling when he became abusive to my little sister as well – somehow girls get really attached to their fathers and my sister was no exception. Every morning it was a huge deal for her that he had to go to work. On one occasion, she hugged one of his legs tightly and refused to let go. My father jolted his leg violently, oblivious to where she might bang her head when she landed. Needless to say, my mother had had enough.

That episode marked the end of the fantastic mirage of a life I had lead in the kingdom. It was time to return to Pakistan.

The problem with getting your moral code from a religion is often the lack of guidelines it offers for all the grey areas. So you chop a thief’s hand off because Islam prescribes it in the Quran? Well, does it explain how a person with one hand will survive in this world?

Nope, there’s nothing.

Similarly, Islam goes at great lengths about the way husbands and wives should live together, but what does it say about divorce and separation? You guessed it, not much. All advice is aimed at reconciliation, and there’s not a word about how to go about life beyond divorce.

My mother had waived her right to divorce when she signed the marriage contract (Nikah) with my father, but she had no knowledge of it at the time. She had to file a law suit to obtain a ‘Khula’ in order to get divorced by my dad, but my father, aware of his privilege in the patriarchy, refused to sign it. He knew that she might be able to get married again if she got divorced, so he pledged to never sign it. He told her, “you will keep sitting in your parents’ home for the rest of your life,” as if to drive her to comply and return to him.

Of course she didn’t. I was above seven years of age, so I had to appear in court twice during the three years of court proceedings to confirm that I wanted to live with my mother. My testimony was to affect my little sister as well, since she was below 12 years of age and her testimony couldn’t count in a court of Islamic law. She would go wherever I went.

My father threatened to abduct us but twice we narrowly escaped it by hiding at a neighbor’s house.

Survival instincts tell us who we really are, as humans. There is no book of guidance that teaches us to hone our survival instincts. We simply adapt to our surroundings and try to make the best of them as we go through life.

And through life we went, albeit an endless stream of pitfalls, one after another. There is no easy way to imagine the life of a single mother trying to give her children the best while living in a male-dominated society. That too a woman who wasn’t designed to function as an independent woman in the first place.

We have survived, but we still have a long way to go. Fighting a patriarchal system as a man is a lot easier than fighting it as a woman. Sure there’s the occasional tinge of guilt as I feel I betray my fellow men. But what do they know about male privilege – it was passed down to them by their fathers, and they take it for granted everyday. I, on the other hand, never received it. But no, I don’t desire it. In fact, I reject it. The sad part is how the very people who suffered from it the most tell me to make use of my privilege.

So yes, I won the MNC’s account that my female peer did not, even though she has an MBA and works harder than me. (I only have a fancy bachelor’s degree and a talent she doesn’t have.) I also managed to gain our CEO’s trust. But this was not an act of misogyny – it was mere survival instinct.