Category Archives: Relationships
The ties that bind and gag!!!
I’m finding that there’s something extremely transactional in nature, about the Indian man’s love. Let me explain ‘transactional’. Indian men can be loving and supportive. They can be romantic, soulful, understanding, patient. They’re protective, chivalrous, generous even. They can be all of these as long as it is within a defined universe, to a very specific kind of woman.
As Indians, we live in very tightly defined social structures, even today. It doesn’t actively occur to us in our daily lives but we are governed by a complex maze of social norms, conditioning and rules. I realize this fully only because I question and defy a lot of them. Doing this is a fulltime job, practically a lifetime, an identity by itself.
How do other people react to someone who doesn’t live by their rules? That’s the oldest story in human behaviour, of course. The thing is Indian society is mired in a labyrinth of heavy, conflicting, sometimes obsolete rules. It’s like being caught in a house full of naked wires, broken steps and crumbling ceilings. A single misstep could be fatal and there are so many possible that the living is no more than survival, just barely.
Snapping out of that gristly metaphor, how does this translate in everyday life? People do not treat you well if you do not follow the strict rules. Deviations are seen as aberrations.You get treated badly, not because you have behaved badly (lying, cheating, being mean or rude to, being selfish). You may treat people around you with respect, gentleness and affection. But none of that is considered if you do this while breaking a social rule.
It is considered perfectly acceptable to be mean or rude to someone who has defied a social convention (“What does she think of herself, dressing that way?”). It is fine to treat a woman less than respectfully if she does not dress and behave the way a ‘good Indian woman’ should behave. It’s not that a woman who makes different choices about her life, does not need affection, love, support and yes, protection from unsavory elements. But since she chooses to flout those rules, all of these get increasingly restricted to her. Affections and respect are paid out in direct proportion to the adherence to social norms. That is what I mean by transactional.
This may be as seemingly minor as the major she pursues in college, never mind that she is getting an education, a conventional one at that. It may be as inconsequential as choosing to keep her hair short in a family/community where women usually keep their hair long.
It may be a little more complex such as refusing to sit in a certain seat or room because of her gender. Doesn’t this last one sound ludicrous? After all, the Indian law does not see us as a gender segregated country. But family functions, even wedding banquets appear to be places that you must only socialize with people of your gender. Down to today’s modern-day get-togethers and dinners, notice how the women crowd into the kitchen or into bedrooms while the men sit in the living room and discuss politics, sports, business and work? I’m talking about Mumbai in 2013, not Madurai in the 1800s.
It may be something as personal as her own beliefs, not even as major as the religion she follows but that she chooses to not let religion get in the way of her political views or her friendships. How do you think an agnostic woman who believes that Muslims are being mistreated, is treated in a religious family? Or if she is vocally supportive of gay rights, why does that affect her prospects of being in a (straight) relationship?
Now certainly both sexes are equally guilty of this kind of a rabid reaction to defiance of convention. Female cliques are alive and kicking and the terror mother-in-law remains very much a key character in Indian drama. However, I am thinking about an emotion that goes beyond logical distinctions, defined rules and intellectual discourse. We love people for who they are, for who we become when we are with them, for that unique something that they and they alone bring to the universe. It may be harder to love someone who is different from your notions of what a human being should be, but it’s not impossible. What’s more, those notions being so tightly, suffocatingly defined, are any of us likely to find real love?
In the many patterns I see in the men around me, there is this. I’ve experienced love and loyalty and friendship, all my life. But they’re all contained in these tiny spaces of time when I’m being who they expect me to be. Put one foot out of place and all these things appear to vanish. They are supportive (extremely so) when they see me falter and fail. But they are nowhere around when things are fine and I am not a tender creature that they need to protect. They are there to chastise me when I slip up but almost never to bounce ideas off as equals and hardly ever to applaud me when I’m successful.
There’s the praise that comes my way when it is in a setting that follows convention. An academic achievement in a traditional school/college, a promotion in a steady job – these things are celebrated. But a more unconventional achievement that nevertheless brings joy is not seen as something that deserves acclaim. The new age Indian man may be openly proud of a very educated woman in his life, who has a high-flying corporate job. How often do you catch him boasting about a woman in his life writing a book, going on a car rally or starting up an e-business of her own?
Aren’t love, support and loyalty 100% things? There’s the support you need when you’re down but there’s another kind of support you want from your people when you’re just fine and when you’re great too. I find that severely lacking in the world around. And I think, my world loves me only when I’m miserable and down and begging for help. It’s transactional, indeed.
I said I’d be a mother someday.
He said I needed a man.
I didn’t say I’d be pregnant.
I said I’d be a mother.
You don’t need anyone
But a child for that.
*Earlier posted here.
A colleague said to me,
You don’t seem to be scared of me.
I’m not scared of anybody.
And I spent the rest of the day pondering that.
You never quite realize how much you live under fear until you break free of it. Afraid of your bosses, afraid of the government, afraid of your loved ones, afraid of losing face, afraid of being taken advantage of.
It’s true. I used to be scared of a lot of people. Even if I never admitted it, fear sat like a solid line above my head. It’s not that I’ve learnt courage. It’s that the fear has seeped out or evaporated. Like every experience riddled a tiny hole inside me, through which fear leaked & eventually ran out.
If you’re a woman, you’ve grown up steeped in so much of fear, fear, fear – fear of confrontation, fear of opposition, fear of disapproval, fear of abandonment, fear of a bad reputation, fear of judgement, fear of men, fear of women – this lack of fear is quite exhilarating.
I think the biggest fear most women have, is of something irreversible happening. Loss-of-virginity, marriage to the wrong man, childbirth (or not, since you’ll never be that age again and the bio clock is ticking) all fall under this. The fear looms huge like a monster, keeping you from making a decision. And back to the biological clock thing, there’s the fear that not making a decision will turn out to be just as bad a decision and just as irreversible.
There’s a conversation in Gone with the wind where an older lady observes that Scarlett has lost her fear. She also says that it is not a good thing for a woman to lose her fear. Women’s fears are the foundation of our social order. What when they are lost?
I’m just coming to realize that brashness is a result of this loss of fear. I thought about my last serious relationship. If I had feared hurting him just a little more and cared a little less about things like truth and fairness, things may have been different. Head over heart and all that. Still, that’s bygones.
The upside of fearlessness is really all that. Tremendous power and the energy that comes with it. Fatigue, boredom and ennui are indications of powerlessness. I experienced a rush of power and I think that’s fueled by (and adds to) being able to say just what I want, when I want, to who I want.
When the heady high dies down, however a hollowness returns. Hello fear, old companion, you’re back. It feels different though. This is fear of the world changing, of nothing seeming the way I thought it would be. But losing fear is an irreversible process, one that embeds itself in you. Once you’ve broken through, you know you’ll always be able to, again.
Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, right? And that includes fear.
This wasn’t a perfect Valentine’s month. But then, last February was and look how that turned out. Still, I got through it (this one and last year). The journey back to life is neither neat nor straight. At least it wasn’t boring. Here’s what kept me company along the way:
- A truly howl-a-rious thought in tweet via Chandani Agarwal.
- A year ago, I struggled with the burden of the label ‘fiance’. Now I find other people have felt the same burden of the even heavier label of ‘wife’. An interesting perspective gets added by the gay community reclaiming some of these words.: ‘Labels of Married Life, in a New Light‘ (via NYTimes)
- Books and dating – my two favorite topics!: ‘What your Bookshelf says about you to a Date ‘ (via HowAboutWe)
- This sounds like a relationship-in-denial to me, but what the hell? ‘Flirtationship’ is a great word!: ‘20 Signs You’re in a Flirtationship‘ (via Thought Catalog)
- I’d love to know who agrees with this: ‘What your favorite sex position REALLY says about you‘ (via HowAboutWe)
- In my teens, I’ve been pressurized to wear a dupatta ‘properly’ (read: across both shoulders with the bulk of the fabric hanging down covering torso) in Chennai. In the same conversations, I was also told the value of ‘addakam’ (loosely translated as restraint in Tamil) to a woman’s character. I see the connection in this piece, do you?: ‘Tied up in knots: The many meanings of the dupatta ‘ (via The Sunday Guardian)
- Stereotypes. Entertainment. There’s a connection, isn’t there? This is a comprehensive breakdown of every female stereotype and pop culture examples of each.: ‘The Female Character Flowchart‘ (via Overthinking It)
- A common theme in popular fashion poses is to portray the woman as ‘weak, slightly insane and even deranged’. Yolanda Dominguez’s project ‘Poses’ captures real women in daily situations in these poses to highlight this fact.: ‘What Model Poses would look like in Real Life‘ (via Messy Nessy Chic)
- If it’s written by a woman and talks about love & relationships, it’s ChickLit. And what if it’s written by a man?: ‘Women in Love, Only if You’re DH Lawrence‘ (via Annie Zaidi).
“Women writers could go out and wrench such columns for themselves by building a body of work in non-fiction that makes them difficult to ignore. That would mean hardcore research. That would mean a lot of time and energy taken away from creating fiction. This is not impossible to do. But given that their male counterparts get away with merely having opinions, it is also not fair.”
So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the pattern of my relationships, the kind of men I attract and so on. All my associations with men, the minor flirtations and the serious relationships alike follow a pattern. They’re drawn to my quirkiness, my ‘oh my God, did she just say that?’ boldness. It’s fascination with the hitherto unmet, packaged in a visually-pleasing non-threatening form of a woman.
But it doesn’t last. The same things that drew them, intrigued them, seem to bother them shortly after. In my early twenties, this would be the time they’d start trying to control me, direct my behavior to be more conventional, my thinking more acceptable. And in the ensuing outcry, break-ups would happen. Later, as I grew, so did they and their reactions became subtler and crueler. I believe that’s where the lying, the cheating and the sudden about-faces began.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m the Novelty Girl. Men are drawn to me because I’m different from what they’re used to, a curiosity object. And since curiosity is a kind of interest, they confuse that with attraction. As the novelty wears off, so does the curiosity, ergo the attraction.
Now where does that leave me? Never mind the ‘just be yourself’ attitudes. I have to be myself, who else can I be? But I’ve realized, adulthood is about playing a role in other people’s stories on the condition that they play a role in yours. This is the basis of all the successful relationships I’ve seen (including the non-romantic ones). I am me but the question is who should I be to you?
Novelty Girl was a great role to play in my early adulthood. It was fun, got me a lot of attention and that’s all was needed. But now, I’m finding myself tired and dissatisfied with the results it gets me. I’d rather have two people who like me okay for the rest of our lives, than the awe and admiration of a roomful of people, that lasts about an hour.
Now what kind of person gets that? And more importantly, how does one stop being Novelty Girl? I don’t seem to remember how to be equable.
I think it would be fair to say that in my choices in the opposite sex, I’ve been a ‘brains’ person, a girl who liked geeks. In those personality quiz thingies, my answers have leant in the direction of Einstein & Socrates rather than Brad Pitt & Adonis. My men have all been talkers, thinkers even but not exactly lookers.
This month I tried something different – a good-looking, handsome hunkish, visual treat of a man. He fits all the acceptable norms of male attractiveness. Height – check, long legs – check, sharp facial profile – check, full head of luxuriant hair – check, long graceful fingers – check, nice butt – ooh, check, check, CHECK! Complete nayansukh as the ladies who tweet would have it. Bonus points for a traffic-stopping strut and a deep, warm laugh. And let’s be honest, my brain did the checklist on this long after he was out of sight and after much detailed *ahem* perusal. When he’s around, the most it manages is,
“Ooh, that is one nice looking man, that is!”
Well, it is true that he also is a good conversationalist and has an interesting opinion on everything from movies and food to quantum theory and religion. That certainly explains our great conversations. But when I ask myself what I like best about him, I have to admit that it’s that he’s so darn easy on the eyes.
For the first time in my life, I’m completely okay with it. He is so much *not* my usual type but I think I’ve had enough of heartbreak and drama from that type. Well, actually never mind the justification, who needs one to marvel at a piece of human beauty? It’s infinitely pleasurable and damn the accusations of shallowness. My eyes need as much nourishment as my brain, I’ve decided, and my brain gets more than adequate stimulation.
I wonder if I’m being disrespectful or condescending. After all, I would not like a man to think of me this way. On the other hand, I’m utterly frank in my open admiration of this man, not the kind of behaviour most women exhibit to most men. Is that not a sign of being treated differently, even specially? This association is too nascent and we’re too new to each other at the moment. But I could learn to savour this beauty; I am a lover of art after all. And then my interest which turned to admiration may turn to worshipful devotion too. Why should that be any less meaningful than the respect of the intellect? Both are things that human beings are born with, after all.
We are with other people because ultimately, they fulfil some need in us – companionship, boredom, respect, relatableness etc. If one can be entertained, charmed and even made happy by watching a movie, if one can be inspired by great art, why may it not be plausible that a perfectly satisfactory time may be spent with someone who pleases your eyes instead of your ears?
I’m still trying to decide whether my behaviour is decidedly regressive or aggressively feminist. Do tell.
I’ve really spent 2012 so self-absorbed, haven’t I? In my defense, I got into the utlra hot-and-heavy of commitment, did the deep soul-searching that everyone does after getting engaged (don’t they?), hit rock bottom with a break-up, wrote plenty of mournful stuff, bored myself and got back with the ‘Really now, are you over *all* the drama finally?’ and here I am. So yes, I haven’t really spent much of the year looking at other people and their relationships and what they think of them. But a new year is here with new people, new problems and adventures of the heart. And I’m promising to bring back the social butterfly that I and this blog have always been. Let’s start with a round-up of interesting reads:
- “When a woman is the sum total of her headscarf and hymen – that is, what’s on her head and what is between her legs – then nakedness and sex become weapons of political resistance.” A thought-provoking article on the objectification of women’s bodies. ‘Nudity, Niqab and the Illusion of Free Choice‘ (via The Express Tribune Blogs)
- I’m most intrigued by no.4. We never seem to think of condescension & sarcasm as would-be abuser traits. These seem to be cool & attractive behaviour, drawing us in like flies to honey. ‘Are You Dating An Abuser?‘ (via Psychology Today)
- ‘The Subtext Of An Entire Relationship In 4 Minutes‘ (via TheFrisky)
- Some surprises here on what guys do on Facebook before dating the girl: ‘10 Ways Guys Use Facebook For Their Dating Lifes‘. (via HowAboutWe)
- A great answer to ‘What Do Guys Wish Girls Knew?’ (via Quora)
- When do you google your date? The obvious answer was ‘before the first date’. But I’ve been meeting so many familiar strangers on account of social media that I find I only google after a couple of dates now. ‘Poll: When Do You Google A Date?‘ (via HowAboutWe)
- Ever notice how Satan’s head bears an uncanny resemblance to the female reproductive system? (via 10 Daily Things)
- Cosmopolitan’s hilarious and terribly wrong sex advice (via Uptown Magazine)
- What the dating guide has to say about Facebook: ‘When Is It Okay To Friend Someone You’re Casually Dating?‘ (via HowAboutWe)
- A study says bisexual women are likelier to be abused/raped. This article points out a few holes in that theory. (via Thought Catalog)
- 25 Things You Wish You Could Ask Someone On A First Date (via Thought Catalog)