Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 24 April 2016





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

What Padma Lakshmi's marriage to Salman Rushdie tells us about:

High-maintenance husbands

When I saw that Padma Lakshmi had exposed in gritty detail the ins and outs of her three year marriage to Salman Rushdie, I wanted to do things: give her a hug because she went through it and buy her a drink because she left him.

Padma Lakshmi has written an unflattering new book about her ex-husband, Salman Rushdie - Credit: Getty

To say her account of Rushdie's behaviour during their marriage is unflattering would be an understatement.

In an interview to promote her new memoir 'Love, Loss And What we Ate' published recently, the former model, described her ex-husband as a man who appeared needy, who despite wooing her at the beginning of their relationship during a serious illness he appeared disinterested; was also begrudging of her success and wanted her at his beck and call. As their marriage soured, she claimed that he once referred to her as a 'bad investment'.

Love women

I immediately recognised the relationship was described. Most women know these men. The kind of men who claim they 'love women' ("I love my mother!", "I love their smell!", "what would the world be without women?") but what they mean is - they love the remote idea of a woman.

They love women as a figment of their imagination; vanilla-scented and stress-free.

There to listen to and nourish them. This figment doesn't have problems or goals of her own. She doesn't bleed or cry or complain. She is merely an accessory to his life; an extra in his film.

And - here's a sentence I never thought I'd write - we have all dated a Salman Rushdie. A man who showers you with attention at the beginning - a man who makes an art of courtship when you're nothing but a dazzling appendage on his arm, but seemingly loses interest when it isn't all about them.

I watched a friend have a serious stint with a man like this. A couple of years ago, for six long months she was entangled in a thankless romance with her own Salman Rushdie.

Drawn to him for all the reasons many women wind up with these kind of men - he was creative, clever, interesting, charming, well-read, knew more about music and literature than any man any of us had ever met. He'd dated famous women; he'd befriended famous men. For her to have 'earnt' his gaze felt like an achievement.

"In Rushdie, she apparently found a man so riddled with insecurities, he needed consoling every year he didn't win the Nobel prize for literature."

Initially, he could not have been more attentive. He bombarded her with texts; he wanted to see her all the time. He immediately involved her at the centre of his life; always introducing her to his friends or inviting me to dinner parties. But after a few months, things started to unravel.

He saw her drunk for the first time; being uninhibited in a crowd in a way she hadn't been before. She told stories, instead of listening in awe to his. She made people laugh, instead of giggling on cue at his jokes. He was cold and distant the following week and barely returned her calls.

He also got 'freaked out' when she wanted to talk to him about a problem at work she was having and said he 'didn't know what to do', as if a crying woman is as confusing as a crying baby that you don't know whether to feed or burp.

He also forgot her birthday. And not only did he forget her birthday, but he asked if she could make dinner as he'd run out of cash, so she made steak béarnaise and spent the evening talking about an issue he was having with a particular creative project.

He was reluctant to meet us, her friends. She was always heading off to his home at the end of the night, he didn't even know what postcode she lived in.


This type of man may sound horrifying, but behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings tells me it's not an uncommon archetype.

"It's quite often a narcissistic character. He likes the thrill of the chase- people with short attention-spans are often very bright. They also often have a sense of entitlement and very fragile egos. Older men, in particular, can't seem to leave behind is this idea that their young and successful partner doesn't park their success at the door of their relationship."So how and why on earth do otherwise bright and intelligent women fall for them? "In those early stages men like these re captivating, because they are seen as an interesting man; a complex man," Jo describes. "But if they can't maintain that, it will turn in on itself and a like this will become a needy, demanding, badly behaved person."

"The guys I have dated who have ever been needy, narcissistic, insecure, self-obsessed - in their minds - loving them means we have to love all of them without question."

The most disturbing behaviour Padma Lakshmi describes is how her ex-husband reacted when she became severely ill with endometriosis - a condition affecting the womb lining - that prevented her from having sex. While the condition left her ‹balled up in bed' for days she said the wrier felt rejected and suggested the ailment was a ‹convenient' excuse.

This language peels back the annoying, narcissist behaviour pattern and, I believe, reveals a grim form of misogyny that can chip away at a woman slowly over time. It is a belief that a woman is to be loved in part. That we are Barbies; that only look good in a certain range: bride Barbie, hostess Barbie, great-as-a-plus-one Barbie, good listener Barbie. Women occupy a space that requires an ongoing performance to stay in a perfect state for responding to their needs and must never slip out of character. We should remain a good investment - reliable, presentable, funny and clever - but only in the context of a certain narrative. We absolutely can't let our stock plummet.

The irony of this notion is that men who are demanding like this are often the most fallible of them all. While the woman's character is in a constant state of assessment during the relationship, theirs is allowed to grow in any which way without any form of appraisal.In Rushdie, she apparently found a man so riddled with insecurities, he needed consoling every year he didn't win the Nobel prize for literature. The guys I have dated who have ever been needy, narcissistic, insecure, self-obsessed - in their minds - loving them means we have to love all of them without question. But, of course, Not All Men. Imagine the relief meeting a man who, when I had a bout of severe anxiety a few months into our relationship told me: "I can't like all your fun, sexy stuff and not accept your wobbly moments. You're only human".

Midnight's Children

And this is true - most adults understand that every wonderful personality attribute may come with a pay-off. The woman who is the life and soul of the party might have a drinking problem. The high-flying career woman may have anxiety.

The funny girl might be the insecure girl; the clever intellectual might suffer from depression. But these are things we accept and help them work through when we love a whole human.

It seems appropriate here to quote from Rushdie's booker-winning triumph Midnight's Children : "I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by understand me, you'll have to swallow a world."It seems a shame that a man who, on paper, has such a developed understanding of the complexities of human nature - of the millions of flecks of experience we are made up of - can reduce a woman to feeling like she is a two dimensional presence on the sidelines of his intricate existence. It is perplexing to think in his own life he would try to create a central character with a two-word description and nothing else: My Wife.


Seylan Sure
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