Category Archives: Laws of Attraction
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Every warning is also a plea
But some of us hear an invitation
I know walking into you is dangerous
But in my failing, will be your healing
And that’s dangerous for you, isn’t it?
I did warn you. Don’t warn me off.
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Love. It got so much harder with age. The finding of it, the keeping of it. But mostly, the being okay with it.
We are the generation that’s living life in flinch-decision mode. Swipe Right, Unsubscribe, Alt-Tab, Mute, Disconnect. No wonder our biggest addition to the world of relationships is “It’s complicated” and “ghosting”. Do we give up too easily? An entire generation of us cannot be uniformly more cowardly, weaker or superficial than the generations of humans before us.
No, I think the world is changing faster than it ever has. It’s already a universe different from the ones we were being groomed to enter. Nothing makes sense. And no one taught us how to deal with getting hurt. We don’t even allow each other (or ourselves) time and room to heal. Get over it, snap out, set his letters on fire, flush her pictures away, we say. Quick, quick, instant heal, instant burn, instant crash. It’s exhausting.
I decided not to react but live instead. I decided to hold off on flinch reactions for as long as I could. So I did not write reams of hate posts or heartbreak poetry about the diltoot (well, not too much). I briefly lashed out but I set it right. And before I knew it, we’re already three months into 2017, taxes are being computed and the world is making plans for the future.
In between all that, this nightmare happened. I got rescued, which is a novel experience for me. Nobody was around to even offer a kind word when an asshole was abusing me in college or when a ‘feminist’ fiance was beating me up and collecting accolades for singing about it. I got used to not being rescued, then I got used to being suspicious of anyone offering refuge and finally, I forgot what rescuing or even kindness looked like. This only happened because well, too much happened and I crashed. I would never have set foot on stage again, if it hadn’t been for this rescue. And instead, because of it, I went back onto that same stage and I led the orchestra. (Metaphorically speaking, that is – I opened an event that’s gone viral and then curated and hosted the follow-up event that got such a response that the venue got mobbed). I’m very tired.
I like my rescuer. It doesn’t go anywhere. Should it? Should I? What else? Have I lined up options? Have I protected myself? Am I looking at the big picture? Am I missing any details? Who’s SuperLiking me on Tinder? Is my Snapchat account still alive?
I don’t have to make a decision. I guess I don’t have to do anything. I have to remind myself of that often. I just have to take a deep breath and live through whatever happens. At 37 and single, I’m not really as raw as I was at 22 and abused or 31 and gaslit/dumped. But my reactions come from a place of habit. These habits don’t serve well. I’ve always prided myself on being able to acquire and drop habits easily. But how do you drop your flinch reactions without flinching?
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A few years ago, I wrote about navigating the boundaries of a friendship with a married man. My first guest contributor, The Single Married Man shared a firsthand account of the confusion of being in transition from ‘married’ to ‘divorced’.
I am finding divorce in every by lane of my social circle these days. Over the years, I’ve bemoaned relationship breakdowns with girlfriends and together we have learnt to deal with it. For some reason, when I was in my 20s, we tended to seek solace from others of our own sex. But these days I find myself in more conversations with men about their failing/failed marriages.
Perhaps it’s because the boundaries between the sexes are blurring. Maybe it’s because marriage is a complex universe involving families, landlords and the law so one can’t afford to be picky about where one finds one’s support. Or maybe like I once predicted would happen, the men of my generation are just finding it harder to cope with the realities than women.
They are all men in transition. They have been independent and intelligent, they’ve believed in gender equality and love and commitment. Now with their worlds tattered, they’re rebuilding how they see the world, life, the opposite sex and themselves. I can see them struggling to fit me into relationship models familiar to them.
One of them propositioned me. I deflected him gently so it wouldn’t bruise his ego. “But you’re the one who told me to get out and have some fun!” he said. I meant it would be good for him to loosen up and experience the lighter side of interactions with the opposite sex. That could include casual sex. But I didn’t like his taking it for granted that I was offering myself up.
Married people, especially those who were not single for very long, often tend to take a superior stance on the single life. Marriage is a lot of work, they tell us. What they don’t realise is that being single is a different kind of battlefield. It’s not all days of How I Met Your Mother/Sex and The City style apartments, hitting the town each night and regular Tinder hookups. It’s constant loneliness and never being sure, it’s eating for one, knowing total strangers have the ability to hurt you and constantly evaluating how lonely you are versus how little your options appeal to you. Recently divorced people have a lot to learn, this is true. Welcome to the world of ONE.
One friend threw a tantrum last month because he felt like meeting me for dinner and I said I was busy. I had to be firm, patient but also subtle in conveying to him that I was not obligated to meet all his needs. It really hit me even more painfully then.
Many of these men, even the most independent, thoughtful ones, by virtue of our Great Indian Family Culture have never been allowed to deal with difficulty on their own. They have been mollycoddled from disappointment and insulated from Nos. They have no reference for what to do in a world that does not have time to meet their every demand. Their families are older and possibly less able to be their shields. Often, the families are showing their humanness in bringing in their own prejudices. What is this boychild in a man’s body to do?
I am also noticing some of them lapsing into cynicism and active hatred of women. It’s a scary thing to be around. Most women know that a man who doesn’t get what he wants, is a dangerous man. At what point do I stop being supportive and decide to walk away? When does one decide that this person, this friend of so many years is more dangerous beast than friend?
Take socially sanctioned male entitlement, sprinkle in a vague flavour of independent thinking, throw in some outraged sense of betrayal and mix liberally with confused East/West value systems — that is the brain of today’s recently divorced Indian male.
I do not intend to fall into the common trap of playing mommy to any one of them. Life and the system has extracted its own pound of flesh from me. But they are becoming different people because of their divorces and our relationships are changing too. I guess I’m afraid of what that could mean for them, for us and ultimately, for me.
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We met for coffee recently. He was my first boyfriend and I, his first girlfriend. We were both 19 when we met and it was instant him-and-me at first sight. We’ve kept in touch and we catch up for a coffee and a chat on each other’s lives every couple of years. We’re exactly the same age, just a day apart. Each time we meet, we have a few more life milestones to talk about. So each conversation marks a checkpoint for me, on how far I’ve come, how my life has diverged and turned but stayed true to who I am (which I continue to discover with each turn).
He is charming but in an easy, non-agenda based way. And it’s easy to be around him. Each time we speak, I feel like he sees me as who I really am, beneath all the trappings and notions I’ve acquired over the years, because that core essence never really changes. It would probably seem more sensible to call him an old friend rather than an ex-boyfriend since he has been more of the former than the latter. And given that the term ‘ex-boyfriend’ comes loaded (especially in my recent experience) with associations of angst and pain and unpleasantness, it doesn’t seem like it fits on him.
But perhaps for that very reason, I choose to hold on to that label for him. It makes me feel a little soothed from the toxicity of my love life — the manipulation, confusion, betrayal and mayhem that ‘love’ brought me, since him. It’s always pleasant to remember that I did have — do have — one man in my life with whom romance happened minus poison.
One of the things we spoke about was the way our love lives shaped up. I guess that’s part of turning 35 (since we didn’t meet last year), this stock-taking of life. In between laughs and onion rings, I told him that I had at some time, dated two classmates. Usually I pause for effect and then clarify that both men knew and each time the guy asked me out. This time, I just said, “Not together.”
He said, “I know. You’re not capable of doing that. It’s just not possible for you. You would be in much more pain than either guy in that situation. That’s how I know you’d never do that.”
This pleased me so much. It still pleases me. I love having someone in my life who knows and believes this about me and it makes me realise what a thorny, paranoid world I live in. I also know that loyalty and fidelity are very important to him and it makes me feel very good that he respects me, on that account.
This pleasant sensation felt unfamiliar till I realised that I haven’t cared about a man’s respect in a very long time. I would feel pained if I thought he didn’t trust or respect me. His opinion of me, matters to me. And I haven’t felt that way about a man, a romantic partner in a very long time.
Along with this came the realisation that respect has no currency in my relationships now. The people I went out with after him, did not care whether I respected them or not. It did not bother them that I thought badly of them afterwards, unless it caused problems in their daily lives. And since I have never really been the vindictive sort, my low opinions of them stayed just that — inconveniences that they shrugged off. That disregard and complete indifference to my respect really hurt. I realised that my respect held no value for the men I was around. They literally didn’t give a damn whether I thought of them as good people or bad.
For many years it was very important to me that the people in my life, even those who were once a part of it and not anymore, knew that I did right by them. In recent times, I’ve come to not care about it. I don’t think my last ex (the one I was engaged to) cares a bit about whether I cheated, whether I lied or whether I maliciously did harm by him or not. Would it matter to me if I discovered he had done any of these? I know already that there was lying and there may have been some semantic cheating. Simply for my own peace of mind, I will myself to not care. This means I must also stop caring about who he thinks I am. And that is how respect loses currency in relationships between people.
The magnitude of this realisation was staggering. Now, I approach men, especially those with whom there is even the slightest romantic context, by first putting respect out of the equation. I will myself to not care about what they think of me with such platitudes like ‘there’s only one thing they’re all thinking about and I’m covered on that front’. I don’t allow a man the right to assess me on things other than appearance or frivolous things like achievement, success and vivacity. But on character, I don’t let it even come into the conversation.
And in turn, I am quick to throw my own respect out of the situation. I practically pore over a man’s character in a bid to find flaws and reasons to not respect him, the person, anymore. It feels easier to not respect a person at all than to respect them and be disappointed — and worse, realise they don’t care.
I don’t really know where I go with this insight. Knowledge of what is, doesn’t give you the ability to change what is. There is plenty to prove that my way of doing things keeps me safe. After all, a staggering majority of men I know see me as a collection of visually appealing bits & bobs that could give them something they want. The minute the possibility of that diminishes, most of them lose interest and don’t care to even pursue a conversation, let alone treat me with courtesy or respect. Why should my respect even be allowed to them, when they don’t care either way?
But then I put my onion ring down and I look at the man across the table from me. Once I thought I loved him and that he loved me. I’ve known love to be cruel, selfish, controlling and untrustworthy and he has been none of those things. But in a single conversation with him, I feel the kind of peaceful serenity that I have never felt with the other men who have been in my life. Mutual respect must have something to do with that. It’s very tiring holding it back and having it withheld. I don’t know whether it’s better to be exhausted and safe or whatever the alternative to that is.
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.
I went out with an older man, recently.
The last time there was an older man was way back when. He didn’t add much to my life, except some invaluable professional wisdom (I was a new manager and in agony over it. He told me it wasn’t a popularity contest and that I needed my team to respect me, not like me. It was solid advice.). Then he dumped me over Facebook, proving the male stereotype that men never really grow up. But that was a long time ago, when I was still in my mid-twenties. Post thirty, the men I’ve gone out with, have almost all been a few years younger than me. It’s been an interesting experience of all sorts.
Now, an older man again, about 7-8 years ahead. He’s tasted 40. Professional disillusionment, social impositions – these aren’t new to him. Breaking free of forced labels, struggling with diverse identities – he has experienced all these grand adventures of life that I have, as well. He’s rather nice looking, especially for his age, well-groomed and fit. It’s nice, no, who am I kidding, it’s wonderful to know that there are men like that too. Age, steadily creeping up on me, doesn’t seem as scary if it looks the way he does a few years from now.
*Image (without text) via Victor Habbick on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Then again, there’s the uncertainty, the drifting which is still there and THAT is an incredibly scary thought. You always think that you’ll have figured it out by such-and-such age (and that age keeps shifting as you get to it). You vaguely imagine that people older than you are ahead of you on the life learning and making-sense road. It is always disconcerting, unpleasant even, to remember that’s not true.
I’m not going to say that it was nice to be able to have a real conversation for a change because that would be doing a grave disservice to the younger men I’ve gone out with in the past. Every person I’ve dated has been intelligent and articulate, age regardless and their lives, whatever point they’re at, have been of immense interest to me. For the same reasons I mentioned above, a 28-year-old may have figured out things that I still haven’t. And the pressures of closing in on 25 are different now than they were for me. It’s not that.
I wish I could pretend that it was comforting to talk to someone who had experienced what I have. But that was minor. Does commiseration matter less to me now than it did, in 2008? Yes, perhaps. He was kind, helpful even, but respectfully. I guess he has lived long enough to be generous without needing a payback in the form of control. This, I liked very, very much. I didn’t take his proffered offer (something professional) but I appreciated it greatly, anyway.
What surprised me was how thankful he was, for my time and attention. Younger men are not that. They’re in awe, sometimes surprise, even fear but rarely thankful. Appreciation without obsequiousness is learnt over time, I guess. At that moment, I felt disheartened. It made me think that men and their relationship with me would always be that way – awestruck at that beginning, gradually cooling off to indifference and then, bad behaviour. But a little later, I realised it was different. It was ‘I’m very happy you agreed to come out with me and now we can both have a nice day.’ rather than ‘OhmigodohmigodOMG you said yes can we do this now can we do that wait I’m awesome tell me I’m wonderful no you can’t say that no I don’t like what you’re saying no no no you’re horrible go away I don’t like you anymore’. It was graciousness and it was graceful. I liked it.
But you know what I liked best about going out with him? That fact that I did not fall in love with him or feel the need to. I didn’t do the female equivalent of that desperate emotion diarrhoea either (yes, I realise I’ve done that too in my past). I liked him, he liked me. We laughed, we pontificated, we both talked and we both listened. And I didn’t feel the need to put a deadline on caring. I didn’t assign any metrics in my head to the various components of each date. And I didn’t run complex equations with these to figure out ‘Will he love me or not?’ I didn’t do any of those things and it was a good date. I actually spent the whole day with him on the 14th of February and it was fun untainted by the pressure to make it more than it was. That’s not just a memorable Valentine’s Day, it’s a personal milestone for me.
Where does it go from here? Oh, nowhere, I think. He has moved to another country, following a different destiny. And I’m going my way. Hail good person and well met. I’m pretty sure this is all part of why life only gets better post 30. Older men may be just as interesting as younger men. And they don’t necessarily have more to teach you than anybody else. After all, the only real lessons are the ones you learn about yourself.