Monthly Archives: April 2006

Relationships in the new world

I thought I had written everything I could think of, about women and men. Well, perhaps not. I don’t write all that much about relationships. And that’s the whole goddamn can of worms, isn’t it? Well..a new direction for this blog perhaps.

I was in conversation with a blogger…those delightful email conversations where you can say just what you want, whenever you want to and in any order since you don’t really know the person at the other end. Ah, what joy the blogsphere has brought to idle intellectuals too lazy to practice their words!

I was talking about online relationships and realised I should just put it up as a post. Here’s what I think about them: SO?

What is the big deal with people anyway? Who is anyone to dictate what defines a relationship? I have felt a connection to some people. Coldly analysing it, it could be a combination of loneliness, hormones, stress and a whole load of other such seemingly shameful things. But after all no man (or woman) is an island and we are all social animals. I’d say we are all needy animals. We crave attention, validation, security, entertainment, sex, gratification, TLC…oh, so very many things.

Now, does it matter through what medium it reaches us? Isn’t it sufficient that we are having our needs met in a way that we like? Now whoever said that you can’t be in love with a person you’ve never seen..is a jackass. Do the blind never fall in love then? Similarly so about having to hear the person and such-and-such. Okay, physical promixity…and what about sex? Well…I know that’s the reason a lot of people get into relationships, but almost everyone who does, eventually realises that it can’t sustain a relationship on its own steam. Personally I think its nobody’s business where someone else is getting sex, from whom, how often and when and where. Isn’t there a theory about voyeurism having its roots in sexual deprivation? I believe it.

Coming back, I’d say the online world is as alive a medium as any other. We conduct our professional lives, do our shopping, manage our finances even our health online. So why not emotions and relationships? I don’t mean this as a substitute to the so-called real world. On retrospect, what is the real world after all? Most of us in the cities swim through masses of people everyday….how many of them do we talk to, or even make eye contact with? How many of us know our neighbors well? And how much do we know about the people we work everyday with, aside from what they do for a living? I don’t know that we’ve necessarily forgotten how to build relationships. I think we just do it differently from the way it has been done across centuries.

Literature holds numerous instances of grand love stories being conducted on long letters. I really don’t believe the email is impersonal. Maybe I just never was a very good letter-writer and perhaps because I was born to the internet generation….I think the content of writing makes it personal. The same is true of blogs, website, chats, text messages. Some of the really wonderful people I know today, I met them online. These were connections buildt on shared ideas, on wonderful conversations, on common ideals. There are some people I’ve met just a couple of times, some never at all. That doesn’t make them any less ‘real’ to me. They are well and alive and a part of my world and I, a part of theirs. What they think and feel matters to me and I would want to share my emotions with them. Isn’t that what relationships are about?

Who we are is so much more than what we look and sound and feel like. We are more than our bodies, aren’t we? So why restrict our relationships to bodily associations only?

Equality

I finally got around to reading a classic, whole and unabridged. This was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (not to be confused with Gurinder Chadda’s almost-namesake horror show with Ashen-faced Rai in the lead).

Books I like are usually ones that I remember some pearls of wisdom from. Here’s something from this book that will stay with me a long, long time. I quote Mr.Benett, the father of the soon-to-be-wed female protagonist, Elizabeth.

“I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery. My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.”

Wise words of a father, those. A father who encourages independent thought in a daughter even in a time and age that accords them the status of showpieces. Small wonder then, that the daughter is just as ahead of her times as her father is. She’s wilful, headstrong, sarcastic and brash. Also quick-witted, ruthlessly logical and deeply loyal to people who have earned her caring. Thats not so far from the Modern Woman, is it?

Another portrayal of a woman with a strong identity…Scarlett O’ Hara. The pampered, beautiful heroine of Gone with the Wind who displays confusing and contradictory traits of loyalty, selfishness, warmth, cold-blooded ambition, ruthlessness, tenderness, optimism as well as pragmatism. Once again, how far from today’s reality, this one?

There’s a line in this book that says that a woman should never lose her fear. A woman without fears has nothing to hope for….something to that effect. The book is about Scarlett battling her fears, emerging an easy victor and life beyond that. Which doesn’t turn out a bed of roses. She is the society belle toying with the affections of all the men who adore her (and whom she has no respect for) The one man who wins her respect (and her heart) is the one who sees her for what she is and treats her accordingly. With indulgence but not subservience. With firmness but not cruelty.

Where is the connection? Both are women who know their own strenghts and in some manner look down on men who aren’t their equals. While Elizabeth Bennett treats them a dose of her wicked wit, Scarlett toys with them and discards them like waste papers. Each of them finds a man who is an equal in some way, someone they just have to respect. The similarity is in the fact that each of them refuses to or is unable to settle down in relationships with people they do not respect.

Do I identify with them? Yes I do. I think they typify the character I’ve termed Modern Woman (for lack of a better name). Yes, we are all doomed since we lose our fears so early. We will only find happiness in something greater and love with someone better. Or at least equal. Which is getting to be a sticky situation all things considered. The better we get, the more we expect. And the less those expectations are fulfiled, the more dissatisfied and jaded we are. While the pressures continue to mount, stemming from the disillusionment and frustration of the opposite sex.

No surprise then, that the changing gender equations are hitting modern relationships right in the centre. My father asked me once why it was so important to me that a man be my equal at least for me to consider having a relationship with him. Was it, he reasoned, necessarily an indicator of a good relationship? Yes, I told him. Lets leave aside all those biases about the male ego (though that is a major deciding factor, I’d think). A relationship is about understanding, connecting, supporting and growing. It isn’t a one-way street. And I’d think an unequal relationship would be imbalanced…slightly unhealthy.

Men seem to have a better grasp of how to live with someone who is not equal to them. There was certain solidity to the structure of the stronger-smarter-better male and the weaker sex to be protected and cared for. It isn’t working, it just isn’t working any more. Or at least, the ‘little woman’ is growing too big for that tiny shell she’s in. And if the structure is to be maintained, the man will just have to provide a far bigger shell. Or be devoured alive by the female piranha. Don’t tell me about role reversal. Women have started to earn the title of ‘stronger sex’. We just haven’t gotten around to wearing it with grace as yet.

Maybe it is an ego thing. An attitude of “I am this plus this plus this. Why should I care for someone who is not at least this much?” We treat even relationships as status symbols. I can’t resolve this….I do it unwittingly myself. The only way is to seek equality. A relationship without equality just is not stable or long-lasting. I know hundreds of couples do settle down comfortably with people who are less intelligent, healthy, sucessful, attractive or strong. I know no two people are alike. But I’m saying the equality has to be at an overall level. In totality, what one person can do well and contributes to the relationship needs to balance with his/her weakness and that which he/she seeks in the relationship.

You can know an association between equals from the respect they have for each other. Such relationships always work. I’d say they are the only ones that work. In business, in friendship, in sex, in love, in family. You can even see it in people who seemingly can’t stand each other. If they still respect each other, they can live with each other, all other differences overcome. And that respect rises from recognition of the other as an equal.

Is this an unrealistic ideal, then?

Do not lead me, I may not follow.

Do not follow me, I may not be your best guide.

Just walk by me and be my friend.

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