Monthly Archives: September 2012

Being okay

It seemed like the world was coming to an end and in a way, it was. Life as I knew it, was over, whether I liked it or not. I spent the next few days in utter despondency with a literal dark cloud over my head (monsoon had just begun). It looks like we’ve seen the last of the rains for this year. Well, there might be a shower this weekend (mum says it always rains on the final visarjan day) but mostly I think we’ve ridden out the heaviest of the monsoon. Going back to the metaphor, I think I’m in that place too.

I haven’t forgiven or for that matter, forgotten. But it’s not the number one thing in my head, the one idea I wake up with or fall asleep to. I’m okay that it happened, in fact getting to be happy even, that it happened. But I’m not yet okay with how. And I think, that’s okay. I heal on my own time. I let go in my own time too.

Mostly, I decided I had just been down this road way too many times. I decided to pick happiness over drama this time and funnily enough, it actually was enough. New things are always exciting since they force you to look at the world through a fresh pair of eyes. I have a new job, a new routine, a new circle of people and thus, a new identity. It’s all good. I’ve even crushed a few times and enjoyed them without making too much of them (inside my own head, most importantly). I’ve been healing. I’ve been known to laugh in that crazy, undignified way I used to, before it all went south. And if I’ve found my laughter again, happiness and everything good that life has to offer, can’t be far away, can it?

I think the best thing that has come out of this very bad, very painful, very humiliating, very hurtful experience has been my questioning whether it’s really what I want. The whole husband-soulmate-happily-married thing, I wonder if  that’s really what I wanted or whether I was just being blindsided by the world telling me that it’s what I should want. Yes, really, after all this while I still wonder whether that’s been my driving force all my adult life – a misguided notion that wasn’t even mine in the first place.

I know I enjoy excitement, vibrancy, an abundance of experiences and conversations. I love attention and I love people. I enjoy the challenge of doing something different, something offbeat and I also enjoy the newness of it rather than be daunted by it. I’m doing all of these right now and it feels like my life is a lot closer to complete than it ever was when I was in that relationship. I’m constantly entertained, challenged and thus, happy. When I was a girlfriend/fiance, I think I was terribly bored for most part. Boredom is my kryptonite, it is.

I’m not saying I’m swearing off men and relationships forever. But they’re just not so important to me any more. It sounds cliched to say I really want to focus on my career and that’s not quite it. I think I’m just going to focus on what makes me happy. A man may or may not be part of that. And I’m really okay with that.

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The answer to “What happened?” and other such unanswerable questions

It struck me last night, when I was sitting on the floor of a slight friend’s house, talking to another friend when she asked me,

So how are you doing?

Then she looked at me straight in the eye and pointed to her own heart. I stared back, a fraction longer than my pat-reply habit usually lets me and I knew it was true as soon as I said it.

“I’m okay that it happened. I’m not yet okay with how but I’m actually glad it happened. I haven’t forgiven him but I’ve moved on.”

She nodded, understanding. And we both looked out of the window and began talking to other people, and of other things. But she stayed seated next to me till I was ready to go.

Healing happens when you’re not trying horribly hard, eyes scrunched up and begging it to stop hurting. It starts at that moment when you give up. When you realize you no longer have it in you to pretend that you’re not a mess inside and you don’t care who knows it. That’s when it starts – in that moment that looks like defeat until you’re right at it and then it feels like something quite else. Healing.

I’ve read the phrase ‘Honour your pain’ many times and never understood it. How do you honour something you don’t like, something you fear, something that you do your best to avoid? It hit me with that earlier realization. Just letting yourself think about it, not running away, not covering it up with pretense but allowing it to collapse messily all around you and rain holy hellfire on your world…that’s honouring your pain.

I whined like crazy – to almost-friends and casual acquaintances, some of whom were mercifully unkind enough to tell me to get over it. I fumed and took it out on closer people whose kindness annoyed me with its overt sense of ‘I’m doing you a favour’. And finally I just got bored and decided to look for something else-a new life.

This week has been a telling one. A complete stranger asked me

Are you single?

I hadn’t yet figured out how I wanted to answer that one so I just told him I’d ended a relationship awhile ago, an engagement that broke. Pat came his response,

“That’s okay. Be happy it happened now and not later, after marriage.”

And then we moved on to speaking about other more comfortable things.

A couple of days later, I met an old acquaintance I hadn’t seen since I began the relationship. He asked me,

What’s been happening with you?

I told him about four years in a single line.

“Moved out. Wrote a book. Got engaged. Broke up. Started a new job.”

Bewildered, he followed me asking for detail, wanting to know how, why, when it happened. But mostly, I guessed he was just befuddled and mildly concerned at how okay I seemed with all of it.

I realized then, what the Landmark Forum calls a story. It’s not about stopping the creation of them. We all do it. There’s that which happens; it just does. And there’s all the meanings, all the interpretations and mind-routes we assign to it. We build stories around it and we tell it to each other and to ourselves.

I am a storyteller, a good one. Just as with the other stories I tell, I just need to start spinning my tale, watch carefully for how my audience receives it and either tie it off or weave a saga of it. It’s who I am. It heals me; it nourishes me; it makes me and curiously, it is what brings me my dignity. Not the stories but the telling of them. I get to pick which stories I tell and usually I do a good job. Where I don’t, there’s always room for rewrites.

Does that make any sense? Tell me, I’m dying to tell you more stories.

The Badness Of Good Boys

I have had a startling revelation that will revolutionize the way we look at relationships and well, men!

Everyone knows Bad Boys are bad news. Meh, that’s last century’s news. And yet – or possibly exactly for that reason – we are drawn to them and spend a considerable bit of our prime chasing illusions of acquaintanceship with them. But of course the Bad Boy breaks our heart. That’s what he’s supposed to do. Then we sigh and move on….to another Bad Boy.

The cycle, seemingly fatalistic has one way out – or so we are told. As maturity (or possibly too much heartache) sets in, we shed our illusions of wild, fast, furious, exciting love and pledge our troth to another kind of man altogether. Enter the Good Boy.

From a love-lifetime of having experienced Bad Boys, we automatically conclude that we know his exact opposite completely. NOT TRUE!

The Good Boy is not necessarily Prince Charming, either. He doesn’t get romance and tenderness any more instinctively than the Bad Boy. The Good Boy‘s connection to mama will be elevated to monumental proportions (in that there will be a shrine to mama) while in the case of the Bad Boy, it was only an excuse for his bad behavior.

What’s worse, I’m discovering, there is a price to be paid, a fee if you will, for life’s lessons. So after going through the Bad Boys, you come to the Good Boy expecting to be healed and kissed and made alright.

Instead you come up against a formidable presence that requires your clearing up your messes before you step onto his carpet, so to speak. There’s no sympathy forthcoming (and I’m about to believe this is the version of sulking that Good Boys prefer). It’s time to play hardball (again!) and negotiate.

These aren’t ruthless. Of course not, these are Good Boys after all. But there is negotiation nevertheless. And there’s the overwhelming sense of guilt and foolishness hanging over your own head for your past mistakes. Obviously you’re coming to the table with a weak hand.

I’m thinking the whole thing is a set-up. The Bad Boy is nothing more than marketing spiel to get our defenses dulled and weakened in time for the Good Boy to close in and finalize a deal that’s sweet to him.

GAH!!! Good or bad, a man may never be what he seems.

good boy!

good boy! (Photo credit: Rakka)

Careerwoman or Wife: Why should a woman have to choose?

Two things happened last night. The Best Friend and I talked. And in bed with a bad headcold, I reached for one of my comfort reads – Henry Denker’s Kate Kincaid. I’ve had this book for over a decade now and I enjoy it when I pick it up again, every few years.

The story of a headstrong nurse standing up for her beliefs and learning a new way to be strong never fails to entertain. But with this time’s reading, it raised a few other thoughts too. This story is as much a blow for feminism as it is about the nursing profession claiming back its dignity.

<spoiler alert>

Kate Kincaid is 27, pretty and in a meaningful relationship with Howard Brewster, an upcoming lawyer. She is also a good nurse, driven by the desire to heal and ambitious to succeed. Her most fundamental conflict is being both these things.

The story begans with Kate butting heads with a doctor, who on previous occasion has propositioned her and then treated her with hostility after she turns him down. The book never makes a mention of it but this is a clear case of sexual harassment. And anyone who wants to point out that the story is set in 1985, I want to say that things aren’t any different in 2012. No, not even in that there are ways for a woman to complain, because realistically there aren’t. In the story (as would be the case even today) Kate is penalized for daring to raise a finger against her offending colleague. True, the case on hand is a professional matter but the verdict as well as everyone’s assumption has to do with, “Why does this pretty girl have to open her mouth and create problems for herself?” Tell me that’s not sexist.

Later in the story, Kate’s struggles with chauvinism continue with her being forced to choose between her career and relationship. Just before she leaves to take up a course offered by a remote, mountain hospital, a well-meaning friend tells her that she can’t expect her fiance to give up his career and follow her. This, in a story which is largely about the said fiance wanting her to give up a fulfilling and successful career to follow him around.

I’m afraid the times have not changed in the least. Very, very realistically, how many men do you know who have changed their careers or put their dreams even on hold (if not permanantly) for the sake of their women? I don’t know a single one. How many women do you know who’ve done the same? My answer is, almost every single married woman I know.

Many, many years ago, I was in a relationship with a boy (that’s what he was) from Delhi. I told him I never wanted to live there, that what I wanted was all here in Mumbai. He frowned and said, “Well someone is going to have to make a sacrifice.”, his expression making it very clear that he was not going to be that someone.

A few years later, I met a guy from Chennai on a set-up (yes, I’ve been there too). In all the hours that we talked, his only question to me was,

“How do you feel about relocating?”

Another potentially fulfiling relationship ended because the guy was offered a prestigious assignment in Hong Kong and at that point, I wanted to stay in India.

And finally, last year I considered going back to work. But I made the decision not to, for a number of reasons. One of them (admittedly only one reason but a big one nevertheless) was that I was planning to get married and my then-fiance was still exploring his professional options. I figured it would be easier for us if at least one of us was flexible on location. Writing was fulfiling but it didn’t earn much; at least it was something I could do anywhere. When things turned ugly a few months ago, I think one of the cruelest, lowest blows that he delivered was a taunt that I was wishy-washy about my career. This is the man that I put my career on hold for over a year, for – I regret doing that especially when I always knew that he’d never do anything for that sort for me.

Pre-emptively, let me add something. One of the most common retorts I receive when I raise this issue is that there are lots of women around who’ve managed to balance career and home. But the fact is, not really. I know some of those women, closely. I know the sheer heart-wrenching agony they go through each time they have to leave home for a meeting and their little one begs them not to. I also understand the pain they feel in having to give up something in their career because it would mean they can be better wives & mothers. Nobody acknowledges these very real daily battles they fight with themselves, least of all the men for whom they do this all.

At this juncture, I wonder why I should even consider making the slightest compromise in my career, for a man. After all, my career has always been rewarding. I’ve had my achievements and I only forsee more. The returns have been great too – much confidence, accolades and money. On the other hand, all that has happened only tells me that a man will expect me to give it all up without question, as it were his birthright and not a very big gift from me. At the same time, he’d never consider doing the same for me. And given the track record, he’ll feel no qualms in ending it all, regardless of my sacrifices. Who loses?

The Best Friend said this yesterday which made me proud but also a little sad. She said,

“You are an achiever. It’s very clear that you’re doing well. Most men can’t handle that.”

My identity comes from my sense of achievement, my sometimes uncompromising attitudes and the acknowledgements I receive for work well done. But it does make me sad that I can either have this or a relationship. The general attitudes of even well-meaning people suggests that I should be too strong to let that matter. But it does. The ex distanced himself from any situation of having to stand up for me by telling me that I was a strong woman and should not need this.

Really? If strength means you don’t need compassion and understanding, why do even the most well-accomplished people have friends? If achievement automatically precludes you from human warmth & consideration, why do successful men get married, and to women who support them well? And why should I expect any less simply because I’m a woman?

I get retorts to this all the time, but let me tell you, no real answers. Not one.

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Here’s my review of the book:

Kate Kincaid by Henry Denker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a story of an ambitious nurse who resents the social hierarchy imposed on her profession. After a falling out with her hospital, which is both personal & professional, she decides to attend an offbeat but worthy education program offered by a remote mountain hospital. The book tells of her experiences in that year and the rustic people she meets and how they shape her.

True to Denker’s style, the story moves quickly and doesn’t make your attention snag on the somewhat mediocre writing. What really interested me what that this story is as much about a strong woman’s fight for her own identity as it about a nurse standing up for her profession. Kate Kincaid is ambitious, even cold sometimes, condescending, judgemental and egoistic. But her fight is also about these traits being punished on account of her gender, instead of lauded as professional achievements, as they would be in a man.

While the word is never used, this is a feminist of the 80s. Her story is one that many of us can relate to, even today. The choice between the ‘easy’ life of being Mrs.Somebody and taking a risk of creating an identity for oneself – that hasn’t gotten easier even 15 years later.

View all my reviews

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