One of my golden relationship dictats is to never mix one’s professional and personal lives. I’m going to add one to that -
‘Don’t confuse your partner’s friends for your own.’
This is not a cynical, angry statement (along the lines of “You don’t make friends in b-school, only future colleagues & competitors”). Indeed, I’ve written about the joys of getting along with the partner’s friend. I’ve also detailed the curious picture of a ‘best friend couple’. I stand by those two, based as they are, on real people and situations in my life.
However, I am coming to believe that in order to keep things clean and simpler for everyone in the long run, perhaps some lines (albeit artificial) need to be drawn. I’ve experienced, firsthand, the heartache of a relationship with a friend and one of the most devastating things about it, was the quandary into which it plunged our common friends. Custody battles for friendship are no less ugly than those for children & possessions of an estranged couple.
What happens when you don’t have common friends? There is a normal process of getting to know each other’s circles and finding a place within them. Here’s where my newfound pearl of wisdom comes in. Friction is an integral part of any relationship and the possibility of parting ways is never exactly zero. In addition, the complex process of building a life with another person, doesn’t come naturally to most people, especially those of us in the uber-individual, nuclear-family society of today. At such a time, the urban family of friends and trusted confidantes serve to provide perspective and even wisdom in handling each situation.
All of this just gets complicated beyond control, if the same people (or person) must be called upon to provide perspective to both parties in a relationship. I think, at some level, anyone in this situation would feel that they need to take one side over the other and the choice is almost always (and should) the person they’ve known longer.
What happens when you’ve become friends with your partner’s friends (or think you have) and then discover that they choose your partner over you? Any fair-minded person would agree that this is natural and above reproach. On the other hand, when you trust someone and they take the other person’s side, it feels like they’ve chosen to stand against you; like they reject you. Another mess that only accentuates any natural conflict you may have with your partner.
Let me turn that around. I am always happy when a close friend of mine gets along well with my partner. However, I must admit, I also need to know that when it comes down to it, they have my back. This is irrespective of what situation I face, and tomorrow (or whenever) that situation may be against my partner. I do need to know that my friends are on my side, firmly and without doubt.
I am going to conclude that this is one of the many aspects of the space that is crucial to any relationship. There are things that it is necessary to retain at an individual level, to not share, for the very good of the relationship. Perhaps close friendship is one of them.
I’ve written about the importance of a girl’s best friend. Here’s when I get to introduce this blog to another important person – the boy’s best buddy. Let’s call him BBB (in the manner of BFFs).
BBB is a classmate of the boy and shares with him those great memories, of people who’ve lived a campus life together. He’s surprisingly (or maybe not so much) different from the boy. Where the boy is a recluse, he’s friendly and sociable. The boy leans to extreme attitudes (burning passion for games, strictly classical approach to literature, loathing for popular music) while BBB seems open to a wide range of cultural offerings. He laughs often and makes other people laugh. In short, he’s almost a male version of me.
My first memory of BBB was when I called the boy during one of his nights out with the boys. Much laughing and shrieking and giggling (?) was in progress in the background. A short pause and the boy said in a flat voice,
“I’ll call you back. BBB is grabbing my chest hair.”
The day I was introduced to the BBB, I was rummaging about in the kitchen, looking for the neat pile of home delivery menus I’d put together for the boy.
“What a mess!! How did you manage to put every one of those menus in a different place in 3 days??”
BBB giggled and the boy, (hitherto unbothered) glared at him and yelled,
“What are you, six years old??!”
Unperturbed the BBB retorted,
“Be a modern man and help the lady around the house! R, I wish you all the luck with that though!”
There have been several entertaining conversations since then, with me and the BBB exchanging titbits about the boy, who tries to silence us by glaring. The best he’s able to come up with is low mutterings about curd-rice eaters. You see, BBB is half-Tamilian by birth and has lived in the South for the better part of his life. The boy has to fall silent when I point out that for all this curd rice phobia, he’s uncannily drawn to the denizens of that school of culinary thought.
The boy and I passed the crucial relationship stage of staying over at his place awhile ago. He bought me a toothbrush (awww, yes) and plopped it next to his own, in the holder. I haven’t had much call to use it but it’s always there. It’s one of those comforting signals, one unconsciously looks for, in a relationship.
Last month, I was refreshing my make-up, when I stopped dead in my tracks. In that innocuous little plastic holder above the washbasin, there was a third toothbrush.
“So who’s part of this merry ménage a trios?”
I asked, pointing to the guilty toothbrush.
The boy’s deadpan reply was,
Guh. My steady ol’ Mr.Everyday gives me no reason to worry about other women. It’s another man I need to be thinking about.
Incidentally it is the BBB’s birthday today. Last night, the boy and I were over at his place wishing him amidst much alcohol, pizza and cake. The guys bopped him all over the floor in that barbaric boy ritual of birthday bumps. Then they made him down a quarter bottle of neat whiskey. And when he came up for air, I handed him a bottle of cold water. Then the cake was cut and I smushed a piece onto his face, which may have been the start of that mess that was all over the kitchen floor when we left. At one point of time, he grabbed me into a hug and yelled
“Welcome to the family!”
The boy looked pained and said,
“Okay, I haven’t been asked to be a part of that family yet but you’re already welcome?! Hmph!”
I waved around the thermacol light saber-sword that I found lying around (that both BBB and his flatmate claim belongs to the other) and laughed. He took it from me, tapped me on each shoulder saying “Knight. Knight” and said he’d bequeath it to me in his will. As the drinks went down, he also called the boy and me, his favorite drunken couple and promised to take our children to Sunday school.
Unlike the boy, I do believe that it is important to at least make an effort to get along with the friends and family of your significant other. It does make life easier. So I’m really relieved that I get along so effortlessly well with the BBB. Socializing is obviously much, much more enjoyable when you actually like the people you’re with. I know the boy probably spends less time with his friends since getting into this relationship (and so do I with my friends!). But the BBB and his other friends haven’t made a fuss of it. Hmm, guy friends always seem to be a little easier to deal with, in that way.
BBB has known him far longer than I have, so he knows where the boy is coming from. But I also find I relate to him so he shares my viewpoint in a lot of things. It’s a good balanced perspective for the boy, one that is agreeable to me too.
I do think BBB is a great guy. So I’m really happy for the boy that he has him for a best friend. Even if I do have to share a toothbrush holder with him.
Recently, a friend updated his relationship status on Facebook to the now-familiar status of ‘X is now in a relationship’ preceded by the ubiquitous red heart. He received a barrage of comments specially alluding to the fact that he has been in said relationship for years now.
Last year I saw another funny thing on my feed. In the varied flow of interesting links, photo uploads and news of people ‘friending’ each other, two consecutive entries stood out. (As they appeared on my Wall)
(broken heart) A is no more in a relationship. one minute ago
(red heart) A is now in a relationship. three minutes ago
Another barrage of comments followed, referring to the short-lived affections of the Facebook generation and likening relationships to a certain brand of instant noodles.
What had actually happened was this: A had logged into his account from his girlfriend’s computer. He got up to visit the bathroom and she slipped in and changed his relationship status. It was something they had argued about earlier, with her campaigning for an ‘open to all’ status and him pushing for being discrete. When he returned, his sharp eyes spotted it. He threw a fit of course, but not before changing the status back to its former. It was a private conflict in the couple but it caused much mirth among their friends.
I’ve myself been in a relationship for awhile now, a fact that neither of us has tried to conceal from the people in our lives. One conversation I initiated early on, was how we both felt about being ‘open’ about our relationship, on Facebook. I thought it especially important, in the face of what happened with my friends. My significant other shrugged and told me he didn’t really care either way, he was rarely on the site anyway. I still haven’t made up my mind what I feel about this.
It’s not about whether to be open or secretive about my relationship. Everyone who matters to either of us has seen us together, knows beyond doubt that, yes, we are a couple. On the other hand, that seemingly simple act of changing the status is actually a loaded one. It puts the relationship in the spotlight, all of a sudden. Most people on his Friends list and mine will feel nearly compelled to say something in jest or at very least, a congratulatory vein.
There is a certain scary ‘officialness’ about this update. It’s almost like signing a contract together, eerily similar to a marriage agreement or prenuptial. It is not that the thought of a deeper commitment itself is scary, but a relationship has to be ready for that in its own time. And at this stage, it’s not. Funnily enough, by the time it will be ready for that ‘Finally on Facebook’ update, it will provoke even more jest and attention precisely because it comes so much later.
I wonder if the creators of this social network ever thought that their offering would someday become a key reference point in the relationships of connected people worldover. Relationships are tricky enough as they are. I’m wondering, do we really need the complication of yet another question?
“Are we ready to Facebook this?”
Note: A version is posted at Yahoo! Real Beauty
Did you know that The XX Factor was on Facebook? In addition to the posts that come up here, I also frequently link to articles of interest that I find all over the blogosphere. Style, dating, relationships, humour and everything else XX Factor outside the blog find their place in my links. Facebook makes it really easy for me to share what I read with my interested readers. But I realized some of my readers are not on Facebook and I don’t want them to miss out on the entertainment! So here’s what The XX Factor was reading this month:
- How do you know when a relationship is exclusive? (via Lemondrop)
- Bharatmatrimony’s witty insight on marriage. (via Twitter)
- 5 tired boy moves we’d like to see laid to rest. (via Lemondrop)
- 5 romantic gestures that will turn her off! (via Modern Man) Yes, you’re welcome, men!
- What is your dating style? (via Facebook)
- A schematic mapping a woman by her behaviour into every single media stereotype ever. (via Overthinking it)
- Do you have all the 8 types of friendships you need to grow as a person? (via The Frisky)
- Where are you on the Hipster Fashion Cycle? (via Republic of Chic)
I’ve had the privilege of being the straight voice of Gaysi for a year and a half now. I’ve listened to coming-out conversations. I’ve met openly gay people. I’ve attended the launch of a book about gays in India. I’ve faced my own conflicted confusion and resolved it. I’ve even been hit upon by a gay person. This is all me and how homosexuality fits into my head.
With Section 377 and Indian Gay Prides, my world mirrors the world around. People are talking now, yes. Some agree, some don’t but at least it is being acknowledged. Ordinarily, I should have been an indifferent observer since I’m not gay myself. But I’ve been drawn into the world of these questions, first by friends closetted-suspected-gay, then the blog and finally all the other people and associations that happened as a result. It’s changing my life.
Being a straight and gay-friendly person is not as easy as it looks. Having sorted out (mostly, I hope!) where I myself stand on the issue, I find there’s a whole new can of surprises (and now, let’s not call them all worms) opening up. Some I resolve, some I rationalise and on some, I’m still ambivalent. The list has the four most important areas of my life, which is a good indication of just how big the question has become even for a supposedly uninvolved bystander.
When I first started writing for Gaysi, I worried about what my parents would think. They could be tempted to associate my still single status, my fiery (often anti-male) behaviour with possible queerdom. It took a lot of self-examination before I could stand by my belief without righteous indignation and only a rational stating of facts. I’m happy to say it went through quite smoothly. It’s possible that they may be thankful that I’m only writing about homosexuality and not practicing it but I’m willing to live with that.
The average Indian male seems to be homophobic, this is true. At some point of time, the question of homosexuality comes up (it has been in the news after all). I’m in a dilemma when I come up against homophobia. I have friends who are gay and to be involved with someone who may not treat them right, doesn’t feel right. On the other hand, I also wonder if this topic is like politics and religion, where differing viewpoints can be respected and need not interfere in the relationship.
That doesn’t sound fair to me.
Before introducing a straight friend to a gay friend, I make sure to mention the gay orientation. It’s not part of the general description to make a person interesting (“She’s a film-maker. He speaks 5 foreign languages”). It’s a veiled safety-clause that says, I’m telling you this beforehand so if you have a problem with it, say so now or forever hold your peace. I hate having to state that since in an ideal world it shouldn’t matter. I know it smacks of underhanded discrimination but I’m rationalizing it as a practical solution.
But even this is complicated by the fact that a lot of straight people are not homophobic as much as homo-apathetic. That’s until they’re faced with a situation and then their reactions could go anyway.
Recently, I introduced a gay friend to my companion at a party. It turned out they stayed close to each other and my gay friend offered my companion a lift. Later that night, he called me in a huff. It transpired that in conversation during the ride, my straight friend had asked,
“Are you hitting on me?”
Now it could be that my companion was just joking. Or he may have been serious whereupon it might have been a deep-seated phobia or just an innocent misreading of signals. My gay friend on the other hand, prides himself on being able to discern the gay strain in others, even through confusion or outright denial. He might have been on track there or he might have been mistaken.
It’s an awkward situation for me in the end, even though I wasn’t even a part of the conversation. They’re both friends and I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to think about who is closer and who I may have to, eventually, let go.
This hasn’t actually posed a problem but I’ll add a ‘yet’ to that. I had a coming-out experience of my own kind recently when I dropped my five-year long anonymity and revealed my identity to my readers. The worlds of social media, writing and work are merging and I’m finding it more practical to consolidate than to compartmentalize. My blogging activities are now ennumerated in my resume. No organisation will openly admit to being gay-unfriendly. But I’ve been a woman in the corporate world and I know all about biases and prejudices that are never acknowledged but hinder you anyway. I wonder whether I’m setting myself up for yet another one of those and I’ve been tempted (several times) to take Gaysi off my list. It’s the easy option but each time I hit delete, I also get that bad feeling in my head that feels like cowardice.
In each of these situations, I’m faced with the question of how important this issue is to me. I’m not gay, I’m not a close relation of anyone who is (that’s to say, I’m not living with or supporting anyone who is). Why then should I bother? Because it’s the right thing to do, this is true.
But there’s just this much I can do. And while I will never endorse discrimination, I often wonder if I can just pipe down instead of crusading for a quest I’m not even a part of. In this world of so many sins, I must pick my battles. Homosexuality is on the list but I can’t honestly say I’ll always have the courage to keep it there.
The answer is simple. If you are truly sympathetic and supportive, you let it show. You can do it without saying a thing. Just for posterity, I’m going to tell you about two ‘coming-out’ conversations that I’ve been a part of. Each one is a sweet memory, a verbal token that a friend trusted me and shared something deeply personal.
He’s a pal, a friend from the times when ‘chaddi-buddy’ was both a literal and figurative description of the relationship. He’s family in that way where I can call him over to cook for me when I’m hungry, make him sit through a rerun of an old Tamizh movie he doesn’t understand and he cribs and complains all the time but does it all anyway.
One Sunday morning, I called him and demanded that he meet me for an early morning movie. He cribbed but he turned up anyhow. And since we hadn’t talked in over a year, I tossed out a ‘what’s news’ line. It led into an unexpected conversation.
How are things?
You know…are you dating anybody? How’s the dil ka haal, that kind of stuff. I haven’t heard you talk about any women.
I haven’t liked any women.
Turn left here. What were you saying?
It wasn’t nothing. Tell all!
I said, I haven’t liked any woman.
Then the movie started and we were both absorbed in it. Later, over lunch, he referred back to the conversation and asked me what I thought. I said,
I think you’re going to pay for lunch. I paid for the movie after all and I’m broke now.
A Silly Girl
The second time was a chat converation with the girl in this post. At the time of writing it, she hadn’t said anything but I knew she had read the post anyway. She went off for a pee-break and when she returned, abruptly typed,
You wrote one post about your gay friend.
Trepedition. Fear. Mischief. I decided to play safe and just replied,
Who was that about?
Ha! I thought and I typed back,
A very silly girl I know and adore.
Then I went off for lunch. A month later, we were having coffee when she suddenly piped up,
And I told her that you wrote a post about me!
My turn to grin.
Who says laughter and fun can’t be a part of important conversations?
Facebook brought it into popular parlance. The first time I saw it on someone’s profile, I thought,
That’s such a guy thing to say.
All the women I know (self included) were always perfectly clear how we felt about a relationship. We always had completely solid, sure answers to “Do you like the guy?”, “Love him?”, “Is it just attraction?”, “Could it grown into something more?”, “Do you want it to?”. We were not always right but at least we thought we knew, the key words being ‘we thought’. Yes, I think that certainty came from having explored each eventuality in our heads.
Contrast that with,
Can’t you just picture a guy shrugging his shoulders, looking away and taking a swig of his coffee/beer/whatever before moving onto another topic of conversation? I can. Those diabolical words would strike a chill in the heart of any commitment-seeking woman because they sound like a multitude of other things to her.
“I don’t know.”
“I haven’t thought about it.”
“I don’t want to think about it.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
The thing is, ever so curiously, lately…I’ve caught myself using the very same phrase. It startled me the first time I did. Was I turning into a man? Was I discovering latent commitment-phobia? Mercifully not.
It is just that the relationship, the whole jing-bang, with a balloon-festooned ‘happily ever after’ at the end of it, seems to need so much. What’s more, the chances of finding it seem no better than the cynics tell me. Even if I ignore them and go with my own flow, there is jut too much happening for me to be able to invest that much emotion in one person.
I don’t mean that we’ve all become multiple-daters. But our lives are full of so much to see and do, that a relationship just becomes another small part of our universe. Hell, I feel like ‘It’s complicated’ applies even to my career. We are after all, a generation of options and I am nothing, if not a hard-nosed seeker of the best there available to me.
A friend of mine is in love. They’ve known each other several months. He wooed her well and strong, she reciprocated and they were the hottest couple in their crowd. They even took a vacation together, a rare occurance even in the most liberal of Indian circles. Now they’re at an uncategorizable impasse. They don’t live together as each of them has a place of their own. They go out sometimes but not as much as before; the need to impress each other with scintillating social lives is redundant now. They meet and talk and share some part of their busy lives with each other. He travels worldwide, on work and pleasure. She runs a successful enterprise on her own and pursues her many interests with her friends. Are they a couple? Well….it’s complicated.
It seems to me that there is more commitment and desire to be together in these two than in most other modern couples who opt for the very strange ‘open relationship’ or break up (amicably, of course) when it comes to a point of choosing each other over the other things in their lives.
And yet, these two spend most of their lives, emotionally and physically apart. They don’t depend on each other, they don’t share a space or family or even a common set of friends. A relationship is finally about building something together, isn’t it? And what these two have is…so intangible. There is caring of course, I can see that. But it is sort of like having a sack of cement, unmixed and a pile of bricks. The house is yet to be built as is the relationship.
It certainly is complicated.