Category Archives: Relationships
The ties that bind and gag!!!
Play a game with me. Ready? Pick any one answer:
QUESTION: What do you call a guy who makes a call at 1:30AM stoned and drunk to a girl who said she was having a bad day at 11:30PM?
A. A thoughtful, considerate, caring person who is taking time off partying to help someone in need.
B. A booty call.
If you picked A, you’re either a) a guy or b) a girl who has been told by a lot of men that you’re a princess who will be looked after so long as you’re patient because all men are brave, thoughtful and here to serve you.
If you picked B, you’re a woman. You may have once been the princess detailed in A but you’ve been disappointed too many times.
There is a fundamental difference in how men and women construct a story based on the same sequence of events. The thing is the women who pick B are doing so based on undeniable patterns they’ve lived through. While the men who pick B are doing so, wilfully ignoring patterns they’ve themselves contributed to because it’s inconvenient. Well, maybe I’m just biased and that’s not a good thing for a game designer or a quiz maker.
I’ve had a few conversations this week with men I’m close to – articulate, thoughtful, intelligent men. One of them insists on tailoring our interactions to contract-level precision, complete with ‘Clause B states this’ style references. This is how he understands boundary-setting. He’d be appalled if I called it a loaded term like ‘tone policing’ but that’s how it feels to me. Another apologises every time he doesn’t have a solution for something I share. He thinks this is how he should be a feminist ally. I don’t know how to explain the distinction between empathy and blind agreement, between taking a stand and playing hero.
All of them say “I didn’t realise you’re waiting for me to do this.” about while also asking me to trust them. How to do this without opening myself to accusations of being controlling and mistrustful? I thought we’d agreed on this, now I’m supposed to deal with their disbelief that I’d actually expect them to follow through?
When I talk to one of them about the communication breakdown I’m having with another man, thinks that man is immature, emotionally limited and other such things. It wasn’t till I heard this denigration of the same behaviour in other men that I realised these statements were being made only to please me.
How do you talk to someone who is eager to please you but can’t hear a word of what you say? Me? I’ve screamed and yelled and raged. It is frustrating, especially when it feels deliberate. How is it possible for intelligent humans to completely miss what you’re saying? It seems like that can only happen if they’re not listening.
And yet, why does my validation and pleasing me matter so much? Please don’t comment telling me that these men want to sleep with me and will say what they have to for that. For a fact, that’s not true of some of them and I don’t care to explain how I know. Oh and also, that’s what one of them says about every other man exhibiting the exact same behaviour as himself.
All I know at the end of this frustrating set of interactions is that men and women don’t understand each other at all. It’s like we’re speaking two different languages that just happen to have the same alphabet. We’re coming away with entirely different conversations in our head. How then, can understanding happen?
Anybody? I’ll wait.
I met somebody recently. Someone who has known me for nearly a decade, only I can’t remember them at all. All the references check out, the dates line up, the stories match. And yet, there’s a gaping hole in my memory where this person should be.
All I can find to explain this is, that when we first connected, I was sunk deep in a toxic situation. I could barely keep my head above water and also put on a cheerful front (because it always feels like the world is full of vultures waiting for a chance to pounce). I have a way of buckling down to the business of survival when this happens. And clearly this happens often enough for me to have a way, a system even and one that happens on autopilot. It involves minimising contact with other people, including what I let into my mind because everything, everything hurts so much. I still haven’t gotten over the shock, the grief of losing so many years, so much to such painful experiences.
A friend and I talked about how surviving an abusive relationship can involve a form of PTSD. Disjointed memories, feeling violated by things that happened years ago and you thought were long resolved, confusion when you know fully well you’re a very intelligent, high-functioning person — aren’t these signs of PTSD? Yes. I struggle, I still do. I probably always will.
I’ve run away. It’s too hurtful. This person’s existence is a reminder of horrific things in my past. It’s a reminder of how badly I fail to erase a monster from my narrative, how ridiculously I crash in my intention to not let it define me. Trust feels dangerous. I never want to enter a minefield again and it doesn’t matter how many times I’m told it’s a crop field, not a minefield.
I made the mistake of watching JOKER last evening. It’s a mistake because I’ve been more careful these past few months about steering clear of triggering stories. And this one came gift-wrapped with all the forms of toxicity popular media has — toxic masculinity, white male privilege, glorifying rage, escalating abuse cycles, violence. I’m so tired. I just thought it would be nice to watch a movie.
It’s time to go to sleep. I don’t know if there is anything else one can do with shell shock. For now, while I can still fall asleep, I will.
Some admit it’s a thrill to be desired by one who isn’t supposed to feel that way, to feel wanted despite knowing it’s wrong.
Cheating is rarely about the person being cheated on. The world abounds in people cheating on attractive, intelligent, popular, successful partners. “Because they make me feel bad about myself” is about the cheating person’s feelings and how they deal.
Cheating is not about love or sex. It’s not about the boredom we inevitably experience in longterm relationships. When the price for entertainment is so high but someone is willing to pay it, that’s not the need they’re seeking to fulfil.
Cheating shows poor impulse control. It has to do with unwillingness to take responsibility for one’s own actions & emotions. These are traits of people who haven’t evolved beyond rudimentary emotions. Things happen to them; they don’t create or cause anything.
We are all driven by a desire to control because it makes us feel safer in a world of uncertainty. Adults express this by anticipating the future & preparing. Control is an illusory idea. There are too many variables, too little truly possible to manage. The ones who try believe they have no choice – that the alternate (to surrender to not knowing) is harder.
A person who cheats either failed at their attempt to control or never believed they had in them to try. They feel small, weak, powerless and finally resentful about it. A person who cheats is effectively punishing the world for their bad feelings about themselves.
Cheating is about power. There is a kick in knowing one can cause hurt. It’s the instinct that makes small children stomp on ants, kick animals or break plants. It’s shallow pleasure, humiliating someone who doesn’t know they’re being insulted – akin to kids making faces behind the backs of adults. Anyone who gets off on that, has never really tasted the pleasure of owning a moment.
If you’ve ever been cheated on, remember they saw you as bigger, better and felt that they did not really deserve you. And of course they didn’t. We all deserve big lives, huge joys and the right to reach for them openly.
Recently, I went out with someone who had just come off a long-term relationship. 20 year long term. First love, one and only forever and forever long term.
One of the frequently mouthed platitudes of my 20s was to avoid a recently heartbroken man. Another was steer clear of the one and only type. But well, if my 30s were about throwing all expectations into the garbage and breaking my own rules, maybe the 40s are about re-examining everything I’ve ever held important (inherited, learned and hearsay) through actual experience. So I went out with him.
The first thing he brought up when we became acquainted was his divorce. I asked if I might ask him a bit more about that (because make no mistakes, respect first and consent always). He agreed. My only questions were whether the divorce had been finalised and if so, when. Just from having lived four decades as a human, I know there’s no bigger emotional minefield than an unresolved romantic relationship. Especially when it’s marriage since families, society and the law collude to make this as complicated and painful as possible.
Our conversations thereafter were delightful. Perhaps I was just savouring the feeling of coming off a two year long hiatus but this time without the fears of my 20s, nor the acid-washed feelings of my post abusive engagement 30s. 40 seems like a decent place to proceed cautiously but optimistically.
So how was it? Let me call this a lovely ten day vacation doing things that I either couldn’t afford to or was too busy or scared to in my teens and twenties. Likewise for him. Rather abruptly (presumably because he’s unused to the rituals of consideration that any adult interaction should have), he said we needed to stop spending so much time with each other. When I asked what that meant, he didn’t seem to have an answer. And that was that. He did come at me, aggressively seeking experiences. And if nothing else, he learnt firsthand what it was to ghost somebody.
For my part, I decided not to rush into an immediate reaction of rage. After all, this is not the first time a man has chickened out of his emotions or gone back on his words. It’s not even the first time I’ve been ghosted. What would be the point of 40 if I reacted to it in the same way as I did in my 20s or 30s? So I waited. I found myself more disappointed than hurt, and even so in that distasteful way of someone hungry biting into what turns out to be stale papads.
By the time he called (as I knew he eventually would – those who run the fastest are the ones who run back soonest), I felt very little attachment to him. I realised later, it was only attachment to a clean-ish ending which his half-baked ‘less time spent’ statement wasn’t. I realised a long time ago that if you feel the need for closure, you most certainly aren’t going to get it because relationships that leave that acidic empty feeling in you are indicative of people who would rather escape than be authentic. Closure is your own problem. With this experience I realised that maybe closure doesn’t have to be a clean ending. Closure is when I decide I’m done. And I’ve needed to get to 40 to be able to say that can be when the other person is still waiting for an answer or still has feelings or there are injustices not yet punished. Closure is simply when I say ENOUGH.
And that was that. Now for a new chapter.
This piece is a writing experiment. Tell me what you think.
They pause in the middle of the restaurant. Then he walks off towards the toilets and she chooses a seat. She sits on one side, checks her phone camera then moves to the other side. By the time he returns, she has settled in, a perfect picture. They smile at each other seconds before he even reaches the table.
The movie they’ve just watched was about gay conversion therapy. They start to talk about it, her words an eager jumble, his glances more considered. Abruptly, she picks up the menu. When the waiter comes, he places the order.
She looks slightly older but that could just be their clothes. His body language is more reticent, quiet, filling up his side. While hers, like her words flutter all over the small space she occupies. “I knew this happened but to see it depicted, I mean..” She shudders. Their order, peri-peri fries arrive and they munch on them with equal delicacy.
He takes pictures of her and she poses, laughing, smiling, looking. But when the camera is put away, he smiles and she responds with equal vigour. She asks him a question.
He tells her about coming out. She listens thinking about her own coming out memories, only no one ever calls them that. There are so many coming out conversations that each of us participates in. Statements of our identity, spoken like guilty confessions, asking for acceptance, bursting from us only when we can’t contain them inside any more. This is who I am. That is what I want. This is what I’m good at. That is where I want to live. This is how I breathe best. That feels like the best choice for me. Please accept. Please understand. Please look at me. Please see me. Please still love me.
I watch them exit. He lifts a crumpled piece of paper in one hand. She stops him, palm on shoulder. He stops mid-step. She takes the paper from him. Still talking, he hands it to her. Still listening, she straightens it out and tucks it away in her wallet, the movie ticket.
How sweet, I think. But who do they they’re fooling? Couples like these only exist in rom-coms.
Models: Ramya Pandyan & Anmol Karnik
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COUPLES YOU SEE IN ROM-COMS They pause in the middle of the restaurant. Then he walks off towards the toilets and she chooses a seat. She sits on one side, checks her phone camera then moves to the other side. By the time he returns, she has settled in, a perfect picture. They smile at each other seconds before he even reaches the table. The movie they've just watched was about gay conversion therapy. They start to talk about it, her words an eager jumble, his glances more considered. Abruptly, she picks up the menu. When the waiter comes, he places the order. She looks slightly older but that could just be their clothes. His body language is more reticent, quiet, filling up his side. While hers, like her words flutter all over the small space she occupies. "I knew this happened but to see it depicted, I mean.." She shudders. Their order, peri-peri fries arrive and they munch on them with equal delicacy. He takes pictures of her and she poses, laughing, smiling, looking. But when the camera is put away, he smiles and she responds with equal vigour. She asks him a question. He tells her about coming out. She listens thinking about her own coming out memories, only no one ever calls them that. There are so many coming out conversations that each of us participates in. Statements of our identity, spoken like guilty confessions, asking for acceptance, bursting from us only when we can't contain them inside any more. This is who I am. That is what I want. This is what I'm good at. That is where I want to live. This is how I breathe best. That feels like the best choice for me. Please accept. Please understand. Please look at me. Please see me. Please still love me. I watch them exit. He lifts a crumpled piece of paper in one hand. She stops him, palm on shoulder. He stops mid-step. She takes the paper from him. Still talking, he hands it to her. Still listening, she straightens it out and tucks it away in her wallet, the movie ticket. How sweet, I think. But who do they they're fooling? Couples like these only exist in rom-coms. Models: @ideasmithy & @anmolkarnik #theideasmithy
I met him at an event I was hosting. The growing crowds and reactions told me I was doing well. It was welcome respite from the morning’s fight, a common occurrence in the horror story I was living inside.
I was aware of him through the whole day, even as I juggled conversations and thoughts, feeling the headiness of a juggler who knows she’s good at it. He stayed in the corner of my vision, never intrusive, his questions informing the direction of my talk and my secret thrill at being understood powering me on. Then he stopped mid-question and said, “Sorry, I feel like I’m monopolizing your time.” That’s when I realised I wasn’t humming a solo.
When the event ended, I turned my back, willing myself down from the day’s high, steeling myself to return to hell. I turned again when I thought everyone had left. He hadn’t. He was moving to the exit, very deliberately not looking at me. He paused and said, “I feel like an Irish coffee. Do you feel like having Irish coffee?” That is the moment I want to pause. It contains so many layers. The climax of the day’s dance with words and looks. The culmination of things felt and not yet named. The promise of…well, just promise.
I saw him recently, our first interaction in many years. He’s married and a father. He looks happy. Still does. They all do.
It doesn’t bring me comfort or insight to think about how things are meant to be. I focus on the thought that something nice existed for one proming moment. That someone saw the possibility of attraction in my wit, my ideas and my personality rather than in what I could do for them or how I could make them look. It’s nice.
Are you wondering what happened back then? I told him, “No. I have to get back to my boyfriend.” And I went back to a man who hit me, abused me and told me it was all my fault. I didn’t succumb to temptation. I did The Right Thing. I always do because I never want to look back in regret. The thing is, I don’t know if doing the right thing and avoiding regret have anything to do with each other.
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REGRETTING DOING THE RIGHT THING I met him at an event I was hosting. The growing crowds and reactions told me I was doing well. It was welcome respite from the morning's fight, a common occurance in the horror story I was living inside. I was aware of him through the whole day, even as I juggled conversations and thoughts, feeling the headiness of a juggler who knows she's good at it. He stayed in the corner of my vision, never intrusive, his questions informing the direction of my talk and my secret thrill at being understood powering me on. Then he stopped mid-question and said, "Sorry, I feel like I'm monopolizing your time." That's when I realised I wasn't humming a solo. When the event ended, I turned my back, willing myself down from the day's high, steeling myself to return to hell. I turned again when I thought everyone had left. He hadn't. He was moving to the exit, very deliberately not looking at me. He paused and said, "I feel like an Irish coffee. Do you feel like having Irish coffee?" That is the moment I want to pause. It contains so many layers. The climax of the day's dance with words and looks. The culmination of things felt and not yet named. The promise of…well, just promise. I saw him recently, our first interaction in many years. He's married and a father. He looks happy. Still does. They all do. It doesn't bring me comfort or insight to think about how things are meant to be. I focus on the thought that something nice existed for one proming moment. That someone saw the possibility of attraction in my wit, my ideas and my personality rather than in what I could do for them or how I could make them look. It's nice. Are you wondering what happened back then? I told him, "No. I have to get back to my boyfriend." And I went back to a man who hit me, abused me and told me it was all my fault. I didn't succumb to temptation. I did The Right Thing. I always do because I never want to look back in regret. The thing is, I don't know if doing the right thing and avoiding regret have anything to do with each other. #theideasmithy #blog #regret #regrets #choice #cheating #relationships #attraction #dating #flirting #blackandwhite #bw
January was an interesting experience, as regards matters of the heart. Interesting, I say, as a way of deflecting the bad-taste-in-mouth feelings that came up. In December I found myself catching the feels for someone I’d known casually for awhile and not given that much thought to. That is not so long ago but given that I was coming out of a dry spell, anything in the range of attraction-affection felt big and intense. I’ve spent most of these weeks trying to discern what is, what I’m feeling and where this goes. It’s important for me to correctly understand what I’m feeling and act accordingly rather than vomit it out in a tantrum and hope for the world to make sense of it.
The good parts of these weeks were feeling desired and attractive. That was really, really good. That’s possibly why it took me some time to realise they weren’t real feelings and that I had inadvertently fallen into somebody else’s game, a game that I had no part in.
There’s no easy way to say this. I’ve written four drafts and all of them are rubbish so I’ll just say it. There’s a guy and there’s a girl. The guy calls her a good friend. The girl calls him a variety of things, depending on who is being spoken to and whether or not he is in the room (ranging from ‘jaanoo’ to well, stories about how he farts in her face when he wakes up next to her in the morning). The guy talks about how exclusivity is a patriarchal concept, how he is the constant in the lives of his friends-with-benefits (who purportedly have partners that are not constant for them). The girl says she knows he sleeps with other people but at least he tells her about it which is better than her last guy. The guy strings her along with “Later”, “Not now” while he’s on dates with others. The girl marks her territory by showing up at the restaurants where he’s on dates.
And why this is a game is because of what happens after. Girl and guy ride off together, often with the hapless date in tow. Sometimes in place of a date, it’s a damsel-in-distress to assuage the guy’s saviour complex. Only said damsels are just needy enough to be allowed mild PDA but never given the status of an actual object of affection. Once the date/damsel-in-distress/Jealousy Object has been discarded or dropped off, guy and girl ride off into the moonshine they’ve built together. Happily ever after.
I realise why I was so ‘confused’ as I described it all these weeks. I do not like being an object of any kind. I am not a fucking dildo for someone else’s messed up headgames. I’m not a sex toy to make somebody else’s fucked up relationship interesting. I do not like being used. I do not fight territory battles over people because people are not property. I’d like to say I don’t play games in relationships but that would be naive so I’ll just say this is not the game I play. Not the jealousy game, no.
I’ve been Sex Object a lot of times. I’ve buckled under the burdens of Affection Object (wherein man showers all his gawdawful poetry/singing and assumes his role is done with the hard work of building a relationship, managing the in-law people and the emotional labour of the relationship falls to me). And now I’m realising I’ve also occasionally been the Jealousy Object. This is the prop that (usually) men use to make the woman they’re with, feel bad about herself so (presumably) she won’t think to leave them.
This is the behaviour exhibited by numerous ex-boyfriends who’ve never been that nice to me but make sure to tell their current partners about how slim I am (body-shaming is the first play in the book of a Jealousy Game player). I’ve also been the ‘She’s more successful than you’ prop’ and the ‘So much cooler than you’ thing on account of my recent stage career.
I have never liked it. It’s a horrible thing to do a person and no, it doesn’t not feel like a compliment to me. Firstly, it is not a compliment to me to be used to make another woman feel bad. Secondly, there is nothing complimentary about using me as an object to incite some feeling in a relationship with someone else. That’s no better than a picture in Playboy that a man might use mentally to get off, were he not feeling that attracted to his partner.
Not that the girl’s behaviour is anything I want to feel empathy over. The feminist in me shies away from outright shaming but honestly, settling for someone who behaves badly is just a bad idea. What’s more, this willingness to play along and assert territoriality in desperate ways weakens things for all women. And finally and most important to me, it is directly disrespectful to me. I don’t care how badly you’ve been treated before or how weak you are or how much you care about him — none of these will ever be good enough reason for you to use me.
Ugh, I am utterly disgusted by both people’s behaviour, no matter how objectively I try to look at it. As some kind of poor consolation prize, I guess I’m lucky I got out with not too much harm done and at least with a post to boot.
Argh will it ever stop, this discovering of how fucky-ass fuccbois (and their complicit females) can be?
P.S. – Here’s another worthy piece of content that came to be because of the above experience.
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THE DIMMER I thought you were intelligent his tone matches the sudden darkness that falls as I scramble for clarity, fumble to see I'm confused, I say and as the lights come back on, I know I've said something wrong We were building a conversation on vulnerability and feelings, never the easiest building blocks And he has stopped building, ceased contributing Did he ever contribute? But… I thought you were intelligent, he reiterates, His critical look pinpointing my unshed tears and I swallow, tears, feelings, doubts, me This is how we begin orchestrated self harm, cutting away pieces of ourselves that he doesn't deem right editing our emotions like hanging threads on a neckline that must only show soft curves and empathy for his feelings He fiddles with the switches and it's clear again All's right, he's right and the messes don't show I thought you were intelligent But you're not being very intelligent right now I smell the acrid odour of things that char without flames And this is how we allow men to determine our self-worth with their scales of control their measures of self-interest disguised as logic This is how we barter away pieces of our souls for one scrap of validation, a morsel of attention I thought you were intelligent But you're not being very intelligent right now And the darkness is now inside me And the gas vapours don't hurt my eyes any more It's still and it's peaceful As my eyes adjust, so do my breaths Clarity can come in a dark room and battered lungs can still adapt to poisoned air As I watch him fumble in my direction, I hear myself say Dim the gaslights I will burn on. #theideasmithy #blog #relationships #menandwomen #men #women #gaslighting #abuse #emotionalmanipulation #emotions #emotional #genderpolitics #toxic #conversations #toxicrelationships
I’m like Sleeping Beauty in that I’ve been dead for most purposes, except for two years, not a hundred. An entirely consuming set of relationships and work projects burnt through me and left me in nothingness. And now I feel ready to awaken or be reborn. I say reborn, because everything feels fresh and new, like I can become a different person, find a different model of relationships, build a different career. This isn’t the first of its kind in my life. I have had many careers after all, and I’ve been many different people with all the relationships that have passed through my life.
Early this year, I waded into the possibility of a romantic liaison. It was great. Exciting, dramatic, fun, unexpected and always, a little terrifying. He didn’t want what I wanted. I felt myself standing on the precipice of endless, burning painful emotion and it felt so familiar, I almost didn’t recognise it for the bad pattern I’ve lived through my whole life. Somewhere dimly I knew I was ingesting something that had proved to be bad for me in earlier times and I choked, sputtering, asking for time and space to think it through. I didn’t get it and that reminded me of another time in my life. In the middle of the most corrosive, damning relationship of my life, I still fought for clarity in my mind and I suggested a specific framework of space to him, that would take out all the pressures that kept us in that status quo. He flat out refused and in frantic aggression shut it down with what sounded like a threat – that we’d break up if I did that. It ended with every form of torture, abuse and humiliation that he could exact on me. I still think if we had done as I’d suggested, he and I might at least have stayed friends, respectful of each other instead of these poisoned factions.
This time, I know better. I know I am right, even if I’m not able to articulate it in the cold-logic/intellectual arguments that characterise my romances. If I must act in undignified, messy, ‘overemotional’ ways, I will. And that’s what I did. I got sarcastic, I wept and I crashed. It allowed me to put that distance and space. And then I ran away to Pune.
Perhaps this was the person to take the chance on, that I did on the wrong people in the past. But this doesn’t feel like the right time now. I realised my love life has been driven by FOMO (fear of missing out). They have been flinch reactions to the fear that I can see an emotional range that the other cannot and that I must carry us till they’re able to.
A friend said something about a specific situation (with someone else) that made sense to me:
“I think you’re crediting him with a lot more emotional depth and intelligence than he’s shown in all these years.”
And I realised the truism in ‘Not my circus’. This always felt like a cold thing but it is really not. There are the indulgences that one can extend, the minor adjustments one is willing to make. But one really cannot and should not attempt to fill in the thinking (intellectual or emotion) that the other person is supposed to do. That’s only a relationship with myself if I do that.
I’ve gotten into the habit of struggling, really suffering through this situation. I had to remind myself that I find it relatively easy to free myself of habits, especially those that don’t serve me. It helped to be in Pune, a place that always clears my head. I moped a bit, slept a little too much at the wrong times, binge-watched Netflix, spoke a little much or too little to the wrong people and overslept the morning I was to return. And then I picked myself up and got onto that bus back. On the way, I looked at myself in that wonderful thing called the selfie camera and I realised I’d be okay.
The weekend was better. I started with a performance. I know the way to shake a habit is not to avoid it but to look it square in the eye. So I brought my story of Custody to stage. A friend accompanied me and then cooked me lunch. Another friend picked us up and we spent an evening together.
Somewhere along the way, we got to optimising my social media feed. Emotions and what’s happening in my heart will always lace the things I do and it’s best I let them instead of drawing artificial walls there. In the examining of the images that make up the last 6 years of my life, I found myself able to say this doesn’t matter any more, this must be removed, that can be put away without clinging. And 24 hours later, I have a cleaner feed and a lighter heart.
I am constantly coming of age, it’s true. And here, it begins again.