I liked where the article seemed to be going (this is how the decision/marriage model has worked so far, here’s why those references are not valid anymore) till it got preachy.
Have you heard of the term ‘friendzone’? I think it was originally coined in the popular US show ‘Friends’. It refers to a friendship between a man and a woman, where a man is expecting things to go further and feels betrayed by the woman because she does not. It has gotten quite popular even in India, among the urban connected generations. Recently the concept has been getting some flak because some women (at least the thinking ones) seem to feel that it points to a certain entitlement among men over what they can expect from a woman once they get closer to her. Here is a webcomic strip that got shared around a lot awhile ago (by me as well) that breaks this situation down well.
The second is something you know already since I often talk about it. Access to education, careers, exposure to digital media (hence international living references) and greater freedom has done a lot of things for women. It has also made the proponents of the old order much more fearful and violent (crimes against women, negative social patterns like the above mentioned friendzone etc.).
Plus, for women, we are a ‘newly liberated’ species. We don’t have the same references/mentors/leaders to look to for direction that our male counterparts do. In a lot of ways we are like explorers of a new planet. Wouldn’t it make sense for us to be extra cautious? Factor in the arguably biological instincts of women being more cautious and less testosterone/impulse driven than men and that makes for less ‘Let’s jump in!’ and more ‘Let’s wait, take stock before moving ahead’
Both of these things are factors in my decision to be exactly the kind of woman that the author writes about. I have a lot of close male friends in my life. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with any one of them. If there was, they wouldn’t be my friends. But I don’t see a romantic relationship as an upgrade over friendship. These are two different things. I do not subscribed to the adage that a good friend makes a good spouse. On the contrary, I see enough of good friendships around me destroyed after they became traditional romantic/matrimonial relationships. Jealousy is one of the big reasons that comes up often as does the inability to deal with each other’s vices. We’re never really that jealous when it comes to a good friend and we’ll put up with his incessant gaming, her endless shopping — but it would be hell to be married to someone like that.
And finally I, and a lot of other men and women (yes, both) like me are starting to think marriage is one of the many lifestyle options, not the big prize at the end of a rapid-fire selection. I think the writer may not have considered either this or the point I mentioned in my previous para. It’s a new world, our relationship references are different, that’s all.
:-) I enjoy having these conversations with you.
I began 2014 fresh from a post-breakup hiatus and feeling ready to go adventuring in matters of the heart again. I don’t have the MARRIAGE agenda looming high over my every interaction and the past is not weighing me down much either. I figured this made for the best possible me to come back into the single playing field.
Now here’s what I find. Like every other aspect of Mumbai life, dating over here is stressful. The big trouble is conflicting agendas. Everyone has one and they are very clear about how they want to achieve it, how to measure its achievement, how much time they want to spend on it and where else they’ll go looking. My result-driven city has made a corporate exercise out of the experience of finding connections!
I identified the model after meeting one particularly focussed specimen (what to do, my professional skills come into play too!). We only met twice. Our first date was at a fancy restaurant, flush with alcohol, good food, uber-cool converations and trading smart retorts. On our second meeting, I suggested doing something non-spectacular, like a walk or just a chat over coffee. He resisted then hung on uncomfortably and finally descended to all the tricks in the book (coaxing, wheedling etc.). And finally, he got nasty when I said NO. Such a pity, he seemed like an intelligent guy that I’d have liked to know better. But his one-mindedness was an instant downer.
From this, I deduce the following popular strategy for date-meetings:
- Establish common ground with pop culture references.
- Exchange intelligent opinions and cool jokes (internet-dictated).
- Meet at a coffeeshop/restaurant/pub in areas like Bandra or South Bombay. (Juhu or Andheri might work for a second date)
- Do all this while not getting personal, emotional, attached or developing any kind of expectation.
I have no problem with sex, immediate or otherwise. But I’m hard-pressed to find the appeal of this model. I’m not sure which bothers me more — the ritualisation of something that I’d like to be spontaneous or the immediacy with which intimacy is approached and expected.
How about the last item on that agenda? I don’t know how one is to approach the possibility of making a connection while shutting away emotion. And also, if I didn’t have expectations, it would mean that the entire human race was presented to me as one uniform, homogeneous mass. I could pick any one at random, it wouldn’t matter. Which brings me to another person I met.
He alternates between so-good-so-close and we-dont-really-know-each-other. One day, he’s full of witticisms and a ‘you and me against this ridiculous world’ attitude. And then suddenly, he cancels without apology, reacts oddly to being asked if he’d like to hang out or worse, doesn’t even respond.
My friend tells me he’s very likely juggling. I think so too and really, that’s okay. I’m meeting other people myself. But the coldness of these actions makes me feel like I’m one human object of many that’s being shuffled around on his calendar. I have a real problem with this. For one, people do matter to me. From experience I know that being around someone you don’t really connect to, is a hell far worse than being alone. Secondly, you can always sense when the other person does not really feel much for you. And I think I deserve better than to be someone’s ‘random pick from the human race’. I want to be special and I want to treat people special.
Lest this feel like a rant against men today, let me hasten to say that I see this in both sexes but mercifully not in everyone. I met someone a couple of months ago, in a very different profession from mine. But I liked him because he was nice. We meet from time to time. We exchange texts, emails, chats. We enjoy each other’s company when there is an opportunity to. The word ‘date’ has even come up and passed without any awkwardness. We connect, it’s great and that’s all there is to it. So I know it’s possible to do this without the pressure or ugliness of agendas.
I guess it’s not magical unless there are monsters and strange creatures in addition to superheroes.
The last time I spoke about dating, I was cribbing about Indian men, digital platforms and the world in general. But like the times I rarely speak about, I’m regaining my peace-equilibrium with the world I live in, that fails to please me, on occasion. And as with pizza, beer and brinjals (*aubergines*), I’m learning to enjoy it.
This post by 50DatesInDelhi made me very happy. She clearly had fun. I don’t know this for fact but at least as far as the limited view of her that exists in my life via her blog, she seems to not be overthinking it.
Last week, at an Open Mic, someone forgettable performed a piece that held us spellbound. Manisha verbalised what we were all feeling. And then that person came back to explain why they wrote it, what they were feeling etc. Manisha cut them short with,
“Don’t ruin it.”
Someday I will learn to be as brutally profound as that. But both these instances capture the essential wisdom that seems now in my tenuous reach.
Dating is a way to meet people and form connections. It is an unpredictable, no-results-guaranteed activity. But it is also time spent, pinned on a huge, big hope (whatever that may be for you). Why kill it with agendas that you have no way of ensuring are achieved?
I have actually been going out, between the time I wrote that last post and now. I’ve just not been thinking much about it. What have I been doing? Dinner, drinks, lunch, walk, movie, chat, the usual. Who are these people? They’re just, well, people.
This is not to say that I’m running blindly through men. Indeed, I’m not. I’m too snooty/chronically middle class to go out with just about anybody. Plus, time is everlastingly a constraint in this city and in this life of an identity-juggling sometimes entrepreneur. I have been going out now and then, with people I have found likeable, whose company has been enjoyable. And they’ve stayed that, not turned into fictitious hero figures in my head or co-stars in elaborate real world dramas.
I’ve been having great conversations. With men, with women, with friends, with persons-who-may-become-something-else. There has been laughter, boredom, book talk, awkward moments, romance, disgust, attraction, meanness. And the whole jing-bang has been so much fun.
Yesterday, I found myself in possession of a whole bunch of hours that were not promised to a deliverable, a client, a prospect, a meal, an activity or a friend. It felt like a good time for a bad movie. A message that I sent, got a reply much later. I was on my way to the theatre, anyway. We wasted an hour joking about book titles. Then we sniggered and sarcasmed through a movie that must have been made for just this. And then I came home, had dinner and went to bed. Today was a good day, full of work and feeling at peace because I was well-rested, my laughter glands well nourished and not feeling the weight of worrying about what last evening was supposed to have meant.
I don’t know where I am heading with this. Chronic singledom? A string of meandering non-relationships? I have no idea and for a change, I’m not thinking about it. I’ve tried the relationships models on offer and they didn’t work for me. Maybe the people didn’t but either way, I’m not going to find out by brooding about it.
People can be fun. And that’s a new idea for me. I’m just enjoying it.
I find it strange when men say things like “Women are complicated. They are difficult to understand.” I am a woman, a rational one. And I know I am no more or less complex than an average human being. Some things about the way I live my life are different from the way men live theirs. This is because while I inhabit the same planet, there are restrictions, offences and dangers posed to me, that they do not face. This does not make me harder to understand.
I know a lot of women who say things like this too. I believe every single one of them has been conditioned to allow herself to be subjugated. Being deified or mystiqued (yes, I made that word up. Consider it the opposite of ‘demystified’) is just as disrespectful to women as abuse and chauvinism. Saying ‘You are special’ is saying ‘You are not normal like me’. There is even a term for this. It’s called Androcentricism. I think of it as ‘Male-normative’ or ‘Being male is normal; all else is special cases’
Every human being tries to navigate their way through life, living it as close to what they want as possible. Women’s lives have numerous disruptions and barriers, because society does not allow us control over our lives. So a lot of women don’t believe they have any way to get what they want other than under the garb of mystery. And some of them are just comfortable enough with doing this because it doesn’t require them to apply themselves further and be direct. Women are just as selfish, lazy or petty as men are. It’s a human thing and I don’t see why it should be denied to women on account of their being women.
I think for most men, it’s easiest to slot women into narrow definitions — the whore, the homebody, the airhead, the vamp, wife material. And anything that doesn’t fit into these structures gets written off as the feminine mystique. It’s easier to do that than take the effort to understand why they behave the way they do. Perhaps it is also avoiding the fact that acknowleging a woman as an equal, nuanced human being will have mean recognising the unfair world that she lives in.
What’s interesting is the kind of men who say women are complicated are the same ones to deride me for how unlike a woman I am, how I’m ‘too direct’ or ‘too aggressive’ or ‘think I can just say anything’. Ever heard anybody tell a man that?
It’s not that women are difficult to understand. It’s that some men don’t want to acknowledge their gender privilege.
I heard someone describe three other people’s interaction as ‘ritualised’. It made me think of the forced inanities that people thrust on each other, the scripts that we impose on each other and that we find ourselves following. The delighted welcomes, the whine exchanges, the mutual enabling of vices – aren’t these the traits of many long-running relationships? Some of us find security in it; some find it oppressive. Either way, there is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, and performed according to set order, which Wikipedia tells me is the very definition of ‘ritual’.
Do some of us exist in RITUALISED RELATIONSHIPS then?
I know most women are unaware or misinformed about their rights. The right to say no, the right to birth control, the right to a woman cop’s presence. Then I just came up against a conversation started by a woman who talked about her right to have her bra strap peek out without having to be harassed. And a man asked “So you can show but we can’t look? Just asking.” And it made me realise that men are just as misinformed about their rights.
So here is my attempt to dispel some misinformation for men:
- You do NOT have the right to harass a woman, no matter what she is wearing.
- You do NOT have the right to stare at her in a way that she considers offensive.
- You do NOT have the right to insinuate that it is her fault.
- You have the ‘freedom of speech’ right that we all have. But ‘freedom of speech’ means that you have the right to speak your piece as long as it does not hurt anybody. Insinuations like these do hurt women.
- Women have the same right to that freedom of speech as you do. If you feel you have the right to tell me I’m blowing things out of proportion, I have the right to tell you that you’re wrong and a misogynist.
- The statement “Just asking” does NOT automatically waive the ‘does not hurt anybody’ clause in ‘freedom of speech.
*I apologise for this not being a comprehensive list. There is much misinformation and I’m doing my part to dispel it.
I was with a friend last evening, driving around within a residential area’s bylanes, when we saw something. A couple was standing by the side of the road, clearly arguing. The guy, who was much taller and broader than the girl, was holding both her hands, while the girl seemed to be feebly protesting and trying to shake him off. They were both dressed well and looked like they were in their 20s. The girl was not shouting, screaming or crying. But she was not smiling or laughing either, which is what made me think that this wasn’t friendly fooling around.
My friend noticed it as well and after a few seconds hesitation, we doubled back. As we watched from a slight distance, the pair seemed to join in a hug, after which the girl broke free. I saw her push him back roughly and quickly cross the lane. The guy didn’t seem perturbed and the girl didn’t run. But she turned several times and the look on her face was one of fear. It was past 11 at night. There were several autorickshawallas on the road as well as stray pedestrians.
My friend had a brainwave. Instead of outright butting in, he stopped and asked her for directions to a restaurant close by. She seemed startled, then collected herself and shook her head and said she didn’t know. The guy, who had been watching this, crossed the road immediately and demanded to know what happened. My friend repeated his question. The guy just turned and walked away. We waited till the girl walked on and turned into one of the gates in the lane. The guy continued walking further down the road.
My words don’t prove conclusively that the guy was harassing the girl. But I know what I saw. I know the sense of danger I felt emanating from the situation. I know that unmistakeable instinct that women develop, that I felt, about trouble. There was definitely something off about the situation. The girl’s expression and then the look of relief on her face even in answering a simple question were one clue. The guy’s instant intrusion, demanding to know what was going on and then his turning and walking away, as if he had only wanted to check we weren’t interfering and that done, he could walk away – that’s another clue.
It’s possible that they might have been a couple and arguing. The girl did not ask for help. And none of the people around offered or even seemed to notice that she might need it. But this is a problem. I have been in that very situation. Just because a man is your boyfriend, friend, lover, colleague or acquaintance, does not mean that he might not pose a threat to you. In all the autorickshawallas around who were watching the ‘tamasha’ when it got a bit louder, I saw the same thing. I sensed it in my own self in those few seconds before my friend and I decided to turn back to see if the girl needed help. It was this thought:
“Why interfere in a couple’s problems?”
I am glad that we did. I am glad that I had a male friend with me. I don’t know if I would have had the nerve to interfere otherwise. If I had done so, I don’t know if I might have courted further danger for myself and for the girl. And finally, I’m very glad for my friend’s diplomatic but careful management of the situation. His action registered in a non-threatening, unobtrusive way, that somebody was watching. I’d like to think that’s why the guy rushed to find out what was happening and then bolted, albeit feigning nonchalance.
I’d love to believe that all of this was in my mind and I was seeing evil where there was none. Unfortunately, I see too much violence on a daily basis and too much unseeing all around. Something else occurred me, right when this was happening. I remember seeing this video about a social experiment, which revealed people’s unequal attitudes towards violence against each gender. It showed how people noticed and offered help when a woman was attacked by a man but didn’t care or laughed when a man was being attacked by a woman.
What struck me even then, was that in India, it wouldn’t happen. In India, people do not interfere even when they see a man committing an act of violence against a woman. It’s not even equal opportunity violence tolerance in India. Violence against women is actively encouraged (what, you haven’t seen the latest Salman Khan movie?) and nurtured. It’s cherished as a show of masculinity. And the reverse, no, I’m afraid it’s not tolerated. The same all-influential Bollywood movies also show how a hero loses his head, after he is slapped by a woman, in a justified manner since ‘she must be put in her place’.
I have been beaten, slapped and punched by men, men who were supposed to be close to me. Some of these have happened in public. Not once has a person ever interfered. I’ve even been told that I should not be such a feminist, that I should learn to forgive and forget. And memorably, two so-called friends badgered me for a month about my hostile attitude to men. When I told them that I had been subjected to violence by men, both of them shrugged and said, “So?”
I don’t want to end this post as a rant. But let me propose a few ideas instead.
- If you know a woman you believe to be strong, do not assume that she is invulnerable to threat. Do not judge her for needing your help. The world is not an equal place. I might go so far to say that the more openly ‘strong’ a woman is, the greater her chances of falling victim to violence. There just are that many men around who are threatened by a woman’s strength or independence.
- Do not feel that it is not your place or job to interfere. A crime is a crime, regardless of who commits it. Rough handling of a human being, without their consent is a crime. If you see it happening and you allow it to pass unchecked, you are accessory to that crime.
- This is one place where you can, should, err on the side of caution. If you interfere, the worst that happens is you are insulted or ridiculed. If you do not interfere, a human being might suffer violence and damage, something you could have prevented by didn’t.
- If you are not in a position to interfere for some reason, don’t give up. Be innovative like my friend was. The ‘Bell Bajao’ campaign was based on this idea. Disrupt the situation, make it clear that somebody is watching. At least, it should diffuse the situation at that moment. It always helps to have the police station’s number. Call and report what you’re seeing. The police do respond. They will not make life miserable for you, for reporting it.
- If it feels rough, it is violence. Don’t overthink the boundaries. It’s not that difficult. If the person does not seem to be enjoying it or looks distressed, assume it is an attack. Here’s an indicative list I found on ADaring which defines domestic violence: You are facing domestic violence if your partner:
- Calls you names, insults you, puts you down and does not allow you to go to work or school.
- Prevents you from seeing your family members or friends.
- Is too possessive and jealous and constantly accuses you of infidelity.
- Gets angry every time he consumes alcohol or drugs.
- Threatens you with weapons or violence.
- Hits, kicks, chokes, slaps or torchers you or your children or pets.
- Forces you to have sexual relationship with him/her.
- Blames you for everything and says that you deserve being punished.
I ask you this, as a woman who lives in a world that is dangerous for her. I am asking to share in the privilege you enjoy. I am asking you to help me have my basic right to safety. And just in case you need a reminder of how ‘normal’ domestic violence can look, here’s a Violence Awareness campaign that Norway is running: