“I wish I was as strong as you,” my friend laments, stirring her coffee wistfully. “Look at me – mine did it twice and still I stayed but you– you were straight out.”

She is, of course, talking about her husband who was unfaithful. Twice. Unlike mine. Who was unfaithful once (or not depending on who you believe*).

But she’s right – I was straight out. I wasn’t interested in recriminations or mediation or denials and accusations. I was straight out. Because when someone as neurotic, distant and emotionally claustrophobic as me lets you in, you damn well better not expect forgiveness when you screw up. We don’t do forgiveness. We do bitterness, resentment, anger and a whole host of other less-than-charming things. But we don’t do forgiveness.

And so to a late afternoon gathering with a close friend in Costa Coffee, where she continually expresses amazement at how strong I am; a sentiment echoed by all the friends that have learnt of this latest unravelling in my life.

And it’s strange because, even though I like to think that I am indeed a strong person, I don’t think I’ve ever stopped to think what strength actually is. Is it being able to exist without financial and emotional dependence? Is it as facile as ‘not crying’? Is it not feeling the need to weep to the friends you confide in?

One says it’s “not giving up”, but what does that mean? Not giving up what? Your job? Your social life? Your will to live? I mean, people go through all sorts – bereavement, abuse, crime – and they experience all sorts of consequences – depression, apathy, fear, loneliness, sadness – and they survive. So are they strong only once they have stopped feeling those emotions or are they deemed to be so regardless of how they react simply because of what happened in the first place?

What I mean is, if I was crying every day and weeping and feeling lonely and depressed, would I still be strong? Is the mere fact that I’m still here enough to warrant that label or do I have to be as focused, determined and normal as I ever was to earn it?

* Yes, I can hear Ross Geller whispering “Whom, whom”.


  1. I would suggest that she who stays with a cheat may be the stronger one, since that could be a more difficult position to be in. In short, it depends on what each of us consider to be easy... which is probably different.

  2. Really? Well, what if the abuse was physical instead of emotional (because infidelity IS a form of emotional abuse) - is the woman who stays stronger than the woman who leaves?

    I'm not disagreeing with you. I think you're right that it's largely an individual thing but (and this is purely anecdotal) most of the girls I know that stay do it because they're too scared to leave (scared of financial insecurity, scared of the future, scared about being single forever, scared of what their families and local communities will say). They never really forgive their partner (which takes true strength) but they stay because they feel they have to. But (and this is another of my sweeping generalisations) this could mainly be an Asian thing.

  3. Hi Kia,

    First I just wanna say I'm sorry to hear about your divorce.

    We're about the same age and I can't imagine what it must be like to have two failed marriages already at this point in life.

    I remember reading your article in the guardian about segregated weddings recently and then you saying the marriage was over in the comments section. I thought you were talking about your first marriage and was confused about the dates.

    I don't mean to offend you in any way when I say this, especially being a big fan of yours - and I don't mean this in a sexist way, coming from an Asian guy here - but do you think you over reacted?

    Of course, I don't know the details of how it all went down and what actually happened and I'm not saying infidelity was acceptable but do you know what led to his cheating on you and if he could have worked on it?

    I apologise if I seem naive here but this is a heavy topic. Also, after two failed marriages have you been put off marriage now? If it were me, I don't think I'd ever want to get married again. (Not that I ever want to get married in the first place!)

    Finally, will you be writing about this for your next article? I'd look forward to it if you did.

  4. Kia,
    Im sure it's not pity u want or even need (judging by what you've said in ur blog). But I just want to say.... life's a bitch sometimes but truly..... everything always happens for the best... Allah does know best... and even when it seems life seems to get shittier and shittier and ur break... it feels like it'll never come.... suddenly one day... it'll be there. I see so much of myself in you, when i read ur book life, love and assimilation.... i swear it could've been me who wrote that book.... and when u write of ur inner turmoil i feel every nuance of it.... indeed i sense a kindred spirit in one who i have never met...

    i got married around the same time as u and i know how devastated i'd be if my partner was unfaithful to me. but truly.... we can never predict the future.... i am probably as neurotic as you sound, having had a depressed mother who made me and my siblings feel worthless and never good our whole life and making us feel like we were not worthy of love. so i have some sense of ur feelings at this point in time.

    but my lesson in life.... never need anyones love or approval... just ur own and allahs. masha allah im pretty sure my husband does love me... but in my heart i always want to know that i can live without that love.

    look beyond urself at this difficult time and always count ur blessings.... no matter how shitty life gets, there is always someone worse off... and im sure ur life is full of blessings big and small.... so please dont forget them xxxx

  5. Yeah you would still be 'being strong' - feeling and processing emotion is not about being weak.

    I think what your friend probably meant was that you were strong in as much you actually made and carried out difficult decision. A lot of people feel the need to do something/the craziness that staying in a situation involves, but lack the strength to actually make changes. Making a decision is really hard, because you have to deal with the consequences, requires strength to choose. A lot of people often envy this kind of strength - because they don't have it themselves, or they recognise the cost is high.

    Being strong is about being true to yourself, deciding what works for you, and actually carrying it out. It takes strength to stay in a relationship - if that is what you want - it takes strength to leave a relationship - if that is what you want. Its not about the specifics of the decision, but the actual making and carrying out of a decision.

    Particularly for asian girls - we are expected to not make decisions, never mind difficult one. So it does take 'strength' to do things for yourself..and other people pick up on it.

    Hope you're okay, its a lot to go through. its ok to admit bad shit happened, and its ok also to try and pick up the pieces !

  6. "
    I don't mean to offend you in any way when I say this, especially being a big fan of yours - and I don't mean this in a sexist way, coming from an Asian guy here - but do you think you over reacted?"

    What a question. How is Kia meant to feel about that? Over-reacted?? No doubt that is what the 'community' is saying! Ah, don't over-react, men are like this..give it time. Ish. We don't know the ins and outs anyway, and neither is it really for us to ask is it? Each relationship is different, and who can tell when it is right or wrong to cut it off, over giving it time. Not an easy decision to make obviously, naturally someone is going to think hard before they do.

  7. > Rambling Man

    "We're about the same age and I can't imagine what it must be like to have two failed marriages already at this point in life."

    Well, thanks for highlighting it! (Kidding) It sucks, sure, but c'est la vie and all that. As for the over-reacting, I guess it's to do with individual boundaries. I know women who have experienced marital rape and have stayed with their husbands. My situation pales in comparison but it crossed my personal line. When I went to see my best friend the day I found out, she told me what people would say - it's a Bengali phrase 'Sabbur Kor' which means 'absorb it' because that's what women are meant to do. But my line had been crossed and so, no, I don't think I over-reacted.

    And, yes, I have been utterly put off marriage. My little sister joked about "third time lucky" (and there's been the odd Ross Gellar joke) but no, I don't think there'll be a third time. To answer your last question, I don't think I'll be writing about this disaster again for a while now!

  8. > Sonia
    Thanks for the comment. As I've admitted before, I've got a bit of a Superwoman Complex going on, and I guess I'm (slowly) starting to learn that it's okay to admit that sometimes I'm not okay. That's exactly what I did in my column in The Docklands this week so that's progress!

    And, don't worry, I wasn't offended by Rambling Man, especially since he wrapped it up in the 'I'm not being sexist' disclaimer. And I did kinda put this out there so I guess it's natural for others to comment and/or be curious.

  9. Sonia - I had a feeling my post was gonna come out all wrong and make me out to be the archetypical asian pig but that ain't how I meant it to be.

    I could give a shit less about the community. I wasn't sympathising with the ex-husband out of some kind of dick solidarity or anything. I said what I said for Kia's sake because I thought the last thing she deserved was another divorce (but of course, tolerating that kind of behaviour would probably be worse).

    Kia - I just thought you might write about it because you hinted at it in the comments section on the Guardian article. Nevermind, maybe all this could go in your memoirs, hey?

    You're a tough lady. Tougher than me and most people, which leads me back to the issue of strength. You got some balls on you. It's very inspirational to see how far you've come literary-wise too.

    By the way, the Docklands website hasn't posted your new column entry yet. Will it be up soon (or on your website)?

  10. I've always thought being strong boiled down to making your own decisions, for your own reasons, believing them to be right, in the full knowledge of what the consequences could be and how it would make both you and others around you feel.

    For different people in different circumstances those decisions are going to be different.

    But I think you already said this in your reply to Shak's comment.

  11. > Gordon
    I think the "full knowledge of what the consequences could be and how it would make both you and others around you feel" part of what you said is really important. I think a lot of us stop ourselves from doing something we want (or do things we don't want) to keep other people happy. That can be a very worthy thing but I also think it slowly destroys you. Some of the worst things that have happened to me happened because I was trying to keep other people happy instead of listening to myself. (And I'm one of the most selfish people I know so I can only wonder how much others sacrifice.)

  12. > Rambling Man
    Thank you for your lovely comments.

    I think you have to register with the digital edition of the paper to access the column, but I'll just post it below. It's really sweet because I've got quite a few replies from people telling me their stories.

    DOCKLANDS COLUMN - 30/09/09
    I’m feeling a little bit low today. That’s not exactly ‘news’, but the thing is, I rarely admit that, or even give myself time to feel it. I crash headfirst through things so that I won’t have time or space to acknowledge the fact that I’m not ok.

    Take the recent separation from my husband, I was so intent on finding a new flat and sorting out my finances and redirecting my mail and comparing quotes from storage companies, that I convinced myself that it was all fine. And it sort of is. But it also sort of isn’t. Because, while I’m happy about my newfound freedom, I’m also a little bit scared and a little bit alone. I’ve started to think about THE FUTURE and to question where I’m going and how I’m going to get there and, wait, isn’t it time I sorted out my pension? I mean, I’ve always INTENDED to take care of myself, but I didn’t think I’d HAVE to. So, yes, I’m scared.

    And I feel ashamed of admitting it. I know that it’s partly because of my self-constructed Superwoman Complex, but it’s also partly because of the times we live in; times in which we are rarely allowed to admit that we’re not okay. After all, we’re British – we celebrate Charlie Brooker-esque cynicism and get on with life unlike our emotional, self-indulgent counterparts across the pond that are always banging on about their feelings. But sometimes, it helps just to stop and tell someone.

    So here I am, telling you. And, in return, you can tell me: kia@kia-abdullah.com.

  13. I don't think strength and selfishness are necessarily analogous, perhaps it's just easier to see someone's strength (resolve might be a better word here) in the face of pressure from others - and it's in those situations where our strength is vulnerable to accusations of selfishness.

    From your writing, you don't strike me as selfish, if I were forced to apply a single, adjective, I think it would be 'particular' and being 'particular' about fidelity when entering into a marriage seems pretty reasonable to me.

    Anyway, thank you for your writing, I always find it thought provoking, and I hope your words and my imagination have a long and provocative future ahead of them.

  14. Hi Kia

    very sorry to hear about your marriage? I'm going through a similar situation, if you dont mind me asking can i ask you how did you find out about his infedility?


  15. Bals wants you back Kia. Please call him X

  16. you haven't called, but he is still very sorry and willing to try again.

  17. > Molly
    It was a mixture of things. Lies, female intuition and then hard facts.

  18. Hi Kia,

    Sorry for the late comment to your post. Just ran across your blog today..
    My idea of being strong is having survived. When you go through difficulties it's easy to play the victim and blame the world for conspiring against you.
    Not all people face their trauma, so although they may appear to have survived they are still in the denial stage...

    Having the courage to face the pain, deal with it and come out the other side alive despite the battle scars is the biggest achievement. Or that's what I tell myself..


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