Category Archives: Unholy Matrimony
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
After he broke my iPod (and it was almost comical since he had to smash it several times and jump on it to break), and his own, he bought me a new one. This despite my never wanting to see one again. Why would I? His music taunted my lack of intelligence and I was too terrified to listen to music I used to like. He waited six months, not allowing me to buy him an iPod, not buying himself one, carrying the badge of the denied genius. Sharp at month 6, he bought one and paraded it around defiantly as if I had kept him from it. Six months, he told me proudly, six months I had decided I would go without an iPod. Six months where he taunted my lack of taste in music and when he didn’t, the empty iPod he bought me sneered. So precise and calculated.
I come from a tradition of music, of training and performing. But I have never owned a music player after that. I have since, won back my right to listen to music I like, even as I indulge this only sparingly. There are too many echoes of hatred and violence in anything I listen to.
His music was music, his self-flagellation was greatness. Mine was just shallow, stupid, worthless. And yet, he’s barely my worst offender when it comes to music. My sexual predator guitar teacher from age 11 and violent, abusive fan-boyfriend (from “Your singing drew me out of my quiz and I just had to come talk to the girl on stage.” to “You are so black and ugly, a guy would only be with you because you look easy.”) from age 22 lead this gaslighting, dangerous ex-fiance of mine.
But I will never forgive the wounds he scratched on my faith in idealistic people, my empathy for abuse/violence sufferers. I will never forgive him for turning me into the demons in his head and me into a monster. And in this, there is its own kind of music. You thought your music was angry?
This was triggered by the book ‘When I Hit You’ by Meena Kandasamy. Notably by a section where her violent abuser shuts down her poetry writing as vindiction but justifies his own poetry as self-flagellation. Just like my ex and the iPods.
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I was watching Sex and The City (the first movie). This story with all its flaws and shortcomings, served as a reference point for my early feminism and navigating gender politics and relationships. I saw the film when it first released in 2008 with the mild boredom and indulgent disdain of someone who knows she has outgrown an early affection. I saw the movie a few times again in the later years but it was tainted by my opinion of the second film. I swore off, relegating Carrie (whom I never liked that much) into the bin of my cringeworthy-taste-in-my-younger-years bin. All I saw was the whitewashing, the self-absorption and the deep flaws in the central character. But today, today I saw her pain. And it brought back my own.
My wedding ended, quite the same way as Carrie Bradshaw’s. After years of toiling and struggling and stiff-upper-lipping, just when I was ready to believe that I was getting my dreams, it shattered. It was abrupt, cruel and deeply humiliating. And it ground me down in a way that I couldn’t ever imagine I’d be ground down. It has been over four years since that happened.
The first thing that struck me, stung me, was the fact that Carrie Bradshaw had a rock-solid fortress of her friends that she could retreat into and let herself shatter. I did not have that. I had a family that took me back, yes. I have lived with feeling immense gratitude for that. After all, I am part of a culture where daughters are killed by their own parents, in the womb, at birth and even as adults to protect their honour. My family did not do that. But they do not think that a ‘relationship’ is the same thing as a marriage. They believe a breakup is a silly, minor thing, not to be compared to the devastation of divorce. I do not blame them. They’ve gone far beyond what their generation and our culture has taught them.
But my friends and everyone else around me? That’s a whole well of pain. Time and again, over four years I’ve heard various versions of,
“Who cares about him? Forget him.”
“But you are a strong woman. Get over it.”
“Snap out. You’ve got a great life ahead of you. Live it.”
I have been shamed for being upset. I have been judged for wanting to hide. My anguish has been brushed aside in favour of shopping expeditions, party plans. And I’ve been logicked to prove that I must not feel anything.
I am so angry.
Last week I spoke to Xion after several months. And he told me he would always be grateful to my ex for pointing out that I cared about him. Am I supposed to applaud my ex for pointing out the obvious? Is he to be deified for ‘not saying anything bad’ about me? I didn’t cheat on him. I did not gaslight him, abuse him. I did not curb his friendships, his art. I did not ask for dowry. How does his behaviour get compared with mine, when our provocations have been so different?
For my own sanity, I’m learning to walk away from the terrible relationship that I fell into and struggled and sank in. But I have not been able to get past the profound sense of betrayal I feel from people who were around me then and should have been my support. Why not? After all, I’ve been there for each of them. I’ve not thrown ‘tough love’ at them. I’ve not tried to jolly them out of their breakups, their familial problems, their health issues, just because it’s inconvenient to me. I’ve listened, been as gentle as possible. Why do I not deserve the same?
And what is this ‘Strong Woman’ business? My ex threw it at me all the time as a way to shrug off any responsibility towards treating me nicely, being on my side in front of the world or even doing his share. This tells me that the people I thought were my friends, are not different. It’s not convenient to them, to have me down and out.
Four months after my ex threw me out, without warning, without even the courtesy of an explanation, I was on my feet. I had a job. I went and made new friends, found new interests. I didn’t go to pieces or burst into tears at the drop of a hat. A year later, the pain started to ooze out as I watched my ex exploit what he put me through, into a glorification exercise for himself. I crumbled and tried in vain to patch the leaks, with Landmark Forum, with new friendships, with Tinder, anything. And still, my friends said,
“This is so undignified. Get over it.”
“You are so negative. Look at him, he doesn’t even care. Why are you wasting your time?”
Last year, my insides just collapsed and all that was left was a hollow darkness. I lost my way, lost myself, just lost track of what light looked like. Reema and Adi stood by me, wading into the muck of my emotional gutters and carrying me out when they could.
I ran into my ex unexpectedly last month. It was strange. I didn’t feel a thing. The person in my memories, the monster who ravaged my universe, has nothing to do with the person who walks around by the same name. It was heartening. My ticket out. Validation of the thought I’ve clung to since 2012 that I would not, will not let this horrible experience become my identity. I refuse to settle into the label of the jilted woman, the abuse survivor, the damaged abla nari.
So it was a shock when I found myself reduced to tears today, watching an old, not-even-that-good movie. Reema lit a candle inside my crying. She told me it was okay to feel pain. She told me that this wasn’t about wanting to get back with a bad ex; it was about processing grief. And she said, that takes its own time.
We are in a culture that only allows for grief processing in certain circumstances and for specific situations. If I had been married and my spouse had died, I would have been allowed to grieve for years. If I had let myself descend into fits of crying, into broken fear, I would have been petted and cared for. But because I refused to let this defeat me, because I took it head-on, the people around me decided that my pain was not worthy of their compassion. Adi says most people find other people’s pain inconvenient and that makes them behave like douches.
Well. I’ve spent the day crying, then speaking to Reema, then putting my cupboard in order, speaking to Adi, doing my chores, doing my work, speaking to Reema, eating an icecream, speaking to Adi. I am still walking, still writing. A little compassion did not hurt either of them to give but it took me a long way.
I suddenly feel no guilt, no doubt anymore about letting go of pretty much everyone from my past. My pre-2012 world let me down, very badly. I deserve better – people who can stand through my pain as well as my joyful affections. And people who do not punish me for breaking down suddenly.
Pain, it demands to be felt. And there really is no sane way to grieve. I’m just glad it’s finally happening. There will be a morning after that and perhaps that one will have more kindness.
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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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