Category Archives: Times, they are a-changing
Known and tested social structures that are changing due to the gender stereotypes breakdown.
It’s housekeeping time in the relationships corner of my life. I find myself going through this periodically. I unfriend people on Facebook that I don’t even remember ever interacting with. I withdraw from groups and communities that I do not find myself engaged with. And hardest but most important of all, I draw boundaries with people who have drifted into my life.
I live a very porous life most of the time. For the past seven years, I’ve been sharing so much of life online. My work is inextricably linked to the other things in my life. And I’m an active part of the large creative-intellectual tribe both online and offline. All of these mean that boundaries are constantly being dissolved and frequently, new ground is broken where no structures exist. I hate labels, after all.
But the downside of this is that I find myself frequently sapped by the world around me. People presume too much. People give too little back. Situations spiral out of control. And everything crashes as I scream ENOUGH! I bounce back from these pretty quickly and usually back to a life that has very few of its original inhabitants still standing, the rest swept away in the outburst or shellshocked. I’ve done it enough of times and now I know this is not something I need to be ashamed of. It still is tiring, though. The alternative is to live the kind of cloistered, rigid life that would suffocate me before anyone else.
In the past week, I have exploded at this completely awful person. And that is the only way I am able to think of him. If he had shown just a bit more spine, things would have been different. But maybe I also only got as much as I believed I could get. I was glad he didn’t hit me or abuse me. Those are really low standards to hold a human relationship to and I know better now. I ask more from relationships and people now. If a person needs so much game-playing to acknowledge that they like me, maybe that’s not going to turn out great and I deserve better. Equals do not play games; they have conversations.
We know that men are socialised to take and take and take and never give back. And as women, we have been socialised to give, give, give and never question. We are now learning to identify this earlier, call it out and hopefully start teaching the next generation of men to not be so parasitic in nature. But what makes us think men are the only parasites? There is a new breed of Alpha women who think they have to be like men to succeed and that includes being self-centered, manipulative and toxic. They give their admiration quickly and voluminously. They shout it out from the tops of buildings. And they crash spectacularly. Then they lash out. Viciously.
One of them (who in the past, has woken me up at 2 in the morning to discuss her relationship, in whose support I have judged and turned my back on people who didn’t do a thing to me) told me,
“Oh I didn’t notice what was happening to you (right before her eyes). I have problems. I’m selfish. And I didn’t know we were ghosting each other’s exes.”
Her words sliced through me. Was I being selfish? Was I being needy? Was my problem (getting attacked) that trivial? I realised she was doing exactly what my abusive ex did – gaslighting me.
Another one’s callousness cost me a paying project for no fault of mine. She did not apologise. She sounded annoyed when I called her out on it. She said I should ‘understand’ because I run Alphabet Sambar. When I told her no one had ever lost work because of me, she threw out,
“You’re just so perfect, aren’t you?”
She did the other thing my abusive ex did. Reeked resentment and rage at my successes and tried to make me apologise for her shortcomings. It wasn’t even the first time she had done so and I had forgiven her for it.
I had a sudden realisation. Both these women remind me of this other person I cut out last year. I felt the same vague unease each time they announced to the world that they were ‘such good friends’ with me. I winced each time they parrotted out speeches about my strength, my style, my personality and my writing/poetry. I know now what this is.
I was not their friend. I was a trophy. There is an insidious kind of label that I’ve been unable to avoid because I didn’t recognise it as a label. That’s the ‘I WANT TO BE HER’ label. This label marks me off as a benchmark or trophy but not a human being. This is not normal appreciation I’m talking about. It’s an onslaught of starry-eyed compliments that are being heaped in the hope that I will like the giver. It’s trading flattery for validation. And worst of all, it absolves the other person from the responsibility of being an equal – a friend.
I know this now because of two things. One, I do have actual friends who express their appreciation of me but also treat me as an equal. They call me out when I’m being stupid or weak. They joke with me. They step up when I need them. They do not resent my needs. They do not react violently at my imperfections. And finally, they never throw my achievements back at me. And two, if these women remind me of the abusive men in my life, then what they’re doing is not friendship any more than what those men had for me was love.
I finally realised I enable all of these. I allow people to seep in. I allow people to call me friend (what a hateful term it has become, to cover all manner of sins) without thinking about whether our bond is that strong or that equal. I have not yet learnt how to gently put deflect such forced labels. I do not want to hurt the people who attempt to hang it on me; they do it from a deep hungry need and a misguided sense that I can satiate that need. But I cannot allow myself to be preyed on by the endless, one-sided neediness. I want to be able to give boundlessly but only to people who do the same back. I want fulfiling two-way relationships, not a fan club. Maybe I can learn how to deal with these women the way I learnt to deal with those men.
Once again, equals do not play games; they have conversations. Whether those games start with trading insults or excessive compliments, I guess they’re still games.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
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?
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —— — —— —
Welcome again to the Dating Guide! I feel like it’s time to bring it back. This time perhaps as Dating Thirty-Plus? Or perhaps, The Dating Millenial Part 2? Never mind the nomenclature. It has changed.
I’m dating again after the better part of a decade. Most of these years were wasted in a relationship, engagement and the aftermath of the break-up. A year or two before that was frittered away waiting for the world’s systems (social and technological) to catch up with my (and now, I realise many of my generation’s) needs. Some of the time since the break-up has been spent healing and relearning trust, humour and strength, all essential skills for the single person setting out to find a match.
What do we find here? The dating landscape of the noughties decade is acknowledged today (bravo, bravo India, we finally feel able to admit to it). Human relationships and their creation have gone digital (once again, cheers). We now have a clear picture drawn in line strokes. Black and white.
At one end, we find that matrimonial sites are now acceptable and mainstream. After all, our mums are today’s biggest Skype and Whatsapp users. So it’s possible to find Higher-educated, Attractive, Family loving, Travel-enjoying, Horoscope-matched, Career-aligned, Well-Recommended matches at the tap of a button.
Simultaneously, jostling for screenspace with the aforementioned are services that let you Swipe Right for Hells No, Swipe Up for In Your Dreams, Swipe Down for Sexchat But No Meeting and Swipe Left for Your Place or Mine?
Which side do I pick? Umm, neither. I spent my 20s deeply uncomfortable with the chauvinism of wedding rituals, protesting the patriarchial hold on relationships and being shocked by the gender disparities in the law about these. Marriage? Uh, wait a minute please. I now have names for those niggling worries. I have proof of terrible idea for these outdated social systems. And now justifiably, I’m freaked out by anyone whose life goal is to get married and approachs it with the same one-minded zeal as chasing a professional deadline. So, no thank you ShubhShaadi, TurantVivah, JeevanSaathiya. I think it takes a lot more than a matched horoscope, profile, three templatised messages and one conversation to guarantee a happy marriage. I don’t know what guarantees one to be fair, but these are definitely not enough.
At the other end is the icy-chillness of the space (ironically) named for fire-related paraphrenalia. I don’t get hookups, I don’t want hookups and I’m too old to lose my self-esteem over that. In my opinion, it takes far more effort to have only sex-no strings attached than to try and build a relationship. I’d rather stay home with a good book, my feet dry in this horrible weather and my body clean of all the nasty things that doing the nasty with someone you don’t quite know could acquire.
I don’t believe I’m an exception or a misnomer. I am looking for meaningful relationships. Someone I can laugh with and talk about important things with. I want to feel cherished and desired, but not in the flashy, Instagrammable romantic gesture way. I want to care about how someone’s day was rather than critique and optimise their itenerary. I think these are the stuff of life itself and just like life, don’t follow rigid schedules and previously agreed upon boundaries. I want a connection, not the Terms & Conditions document of Tinder nor the 30 year merger plan of Shaadi.
I want to think that this is true of most human beings because how can it not be? This is the driving need of every generation for centuries. I know that there is an entire generation of Indians just like myself. I think perhaps the ones venturing out into the digital space are just louder and even they are probably being cautious. It’s easier to navigate a straight line drawing; much harder to explore the grey that relationship-building is, especially if one has been bruised in the past.
It makes the dating game as tricky as it has always been. When I connect with a person, how do I say please don’t treat me like a piece of meat because I won’t treat you that way but also please don’t think I’m your Manic Pixie Dream Girl answer to all your problems just stop and breathe and give me a chance to be me and you a chance to be you and let’s see if maybe you and I could have a conversation and a walk together and see where that goes?
No, there’s no easy way to say all that. The Tinder types have lost interest at ‘please’ itself (rudeness is considered cool, isn’t it?). The Shaadi sort has lost their hearts because the English is correctly spelt.
Sigh. Patience. Maybe the next decade will be better for the grey zone of those looking for love.
*Images courtesy David Castillo Dominicio and sattva on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —— — —— —
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.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
There is a new breed of people out there and they are a helluva lot better to be around than the others. They are the 30-something war veterans of relationships. They are divorcees. They’ve lived in without marriage and borne the backlash from family, landlords, friends and service people. They’ve been engaged and sent out wedding invitations only to have to retract and learn to say something no one in their families had to say.
“It’s over. I’m sorry. No, umm, it didn’t work out. No, there’s no wedding. Sorry.”
It used to just be me and one or two of the other local urban legends (“There was something wrong with him always”, “She was always a fightercock”, “He must have cheated”, “She must have had something going on with the neighbor”). Now I’m losing count of the number of people starting to drift into this group.
We are different. Our battle scars don’t just define us. They’ve made it necessary for us to shape lives that have no references. We are the generation of Indians that had limited career choices imposed on us. We are the ones who began speaking English earlier, went abroad earlier, dressed ‘like MTV and Hollywood and don’t you know that is not our culture??’. We celebrated Valentine’s Day and got into political trouble for it. Then we succumbed to arranged marriage or love marriages with twenty thousand rituals borrowed from Bollywood and ageing family matriarchs/patriarchs. We sank or swam in the open sexuality of new media which swept away the prudish touch-only-spouse-and-only-in-private attitudes we had been brought up with.
The compromises we made in our twenties, were supposed to be our prodigal returns from the rebellion of our satellite TV/internet bedecked 90s adolescence. Things were supposed to turn out fine. We were not prepared for dowry disguised as expensive rituals paid for by the girl’s family. We didn’t expect to have to compete with pornography or gaming, for our partners’ attention. We didn’t think we’d need to decide between dual-career-no-marriage or single-career-resentful-marriage. We didn’t forsee that mismatched libidos and opposed political views would enter our kitchens, our bedrooms and our relationships.
And we are dealing with who we are becoming in the dealing of these things. We are so different.
Yesterday I asked out to dinner a woman I had met a couple of times. “Just you and me?” she asked. “Well, why not?” I replied. We talked about mothers who called if it crossed 11PM and we weren’t home. We spoke of bitchy colleagues making our lives miserable when they heard about this. We discussed unsatisfactory exes and what made a woman good in bed and why this should mean we had to do things we didn’t want to. We brought up menstrual cups and younger men and how wonderful it was to have a conversation with someone who used the word ‘schism’ casually and correctly. And then we clinked our Cosmopolitans (what a throwback!) and went home.
Last week I met a man who once wore the tag of ‘boyfriend’ and has always brought along an air of fresh cologne and protective warmth to our friendship. Right now he’s walking around under a cloud of messy divorce and alimony induced gloom. I hugged him. He shrugged and told me,
“I’m looking at it as the price for my freedom.”
I hugged him again. I understood and I know he knew I understood. Only someone who’s been in that war will ever understand all the nuance in his statement. Then we went out to the shops. He helped me pick out a new pair of shoes. I stood with him while he smoked an only-during-bad-times-cigarette. And we enjoyed our meal more than the hundreds we’ve shared in the past decade. Because, who knows what poison might infect his system or mine soon?
Yet another friend has climbed his painful way out of that abyss, quit his corporate job and gone off to chase a longtime dream. Last year I asked him out. He didn’t say yes. He didn’t say no. Now, he may never return from the place he has moved to. But he sends me photographs of his life there. We both know something that people who aren’t like us, do. There is relating and that goes way beyond relationships. It took divorce and abuse and alimony and broken engagements to learn that.
We’ve seen too much to believe that rituals are romantic. We’ve borne too much to pretend that families always know what’s best for us. We’ve been through enough and more that something deeper in us, even the least aggressive of us, has sat up and said, “Enough.” It’s the amiable friend who remarried and didn’t invite anyone because he was done with the tamasha. It’s the ‘good wife’ who shed her burqa for a high-low dress and finally got herself a business card telling the world about the business she had run for six years. It’s the quiet colleague who moved to another city to start a bar and live with two bachelor friends.
This for me is the new India. It didn’t have to live through Independence or Emergency or most of the big wars. But it has had to make its way through outdated social rituals, oppressive familial references and being thrust into a volatile international economy that it was not prepared for. It has been on Shaadi.com as well as Tinder. And guess what, it hasn’t crashed as yet.
There are more of us and we are all around you. You’re related to us. You’re dating us. You’re working with us. You’re falling in love with us. You’re living next door to us and borrowing daal from us. You’re sharing parking space and theatre seats with us. You’re asking us for advice on what to wear, which college to go to and if we’ll give you a reference at your next job. You’re selling to us. We are not the others anymore. Many of us are the ones making pathbreaking choices and while they’re not comfortable, the generation after us looks up to us because we’re displaying the rebellion they’re losing in their twenties.
Divorce is not an evil word anymore. Living in is not a sin punishable by death. Sex is not a bad word. Virginity is not a prize. Men are not freer than women. Women do not make better parents. In-laws are not the same as parents. Big weddings are nothing more than expensive PR campaigns. Older people are just older people, not wiser people. Rituals do not ensure happiness. Intelligent people are not sorted-out people. An IIT or an IIM degree does not guarantee a good spouse or even a good life.
It’s time you revised your myths.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
Last month I had a conversation with a friend I was meeting after a long time. My failed engagement came up. It would, of course, it’s one of the biggest things to happen to me in the past ten years. The good thing is it’s not THE biggest thing, only one of the big ones. Others have been quitting my job, writing two books and a column, going freelance, losing a grandparent and an uncle, getting a business partner, being an entrepreneur, changing professional streams, becoming a spoken word performer and moving houses thrice.
I talked about all the things that I thought might have gone wrong. Then he asked me something that stopped me midway through food as well as through the “I’m okay” trajectory I seem to have been on since the breakup. He said,
“All these warning signs. Why did you go through with it? Why did you stay with him?”
I sputtered at first and said, what what warning signs? I can’t see them. But I know what he sees as warning signs. An abusive childhood. A product of a broken marriage. Dysfunctional relationships with the family. The angry activism. No, I’m still not seeing it. These are not a person’s fault. Would it be fair for me to walk away from someone because these things had happened to them?
Yet, after everything I experienced, I often wonder whether this relationship was my punishment for being empathetic, for wanting to look beyond a person’s past and family and love them for who they were. It’s convenient to say that it’s not. But I’m left with a broken relationship with someone who doesn’t have the capacity for respect, let alone trust or love. And none of that is my fault, so why should I be bearing the social stigma, not to mention the humiliation and heartache of this?
Then there’s the other side of it. Let’s say I start heeding the ‘warning signs’. Where shall we draw the line on what comprises these? A person who has had many relationships before? A manipulative parent? (Hah! Find me one Indian with ‘family values’ who doesn’t have this). How about a fluctuating career graph? Well, I’ll need to blacklist myself then.
Suddenly, I’m finding a lot of people in my age-generation are getting divorced. They were living the ideal dream of my generation. This is the breed of people that emerged into adulthood in the millenium, grabbed up the professional avenues that the internet, IT, offshoring & mobile telephony offered and married in their mid-20s. A lot of them had been ‘average’ or even underachievers but the millenium brought new promises in the form of foreign shores, multinational employment, early entrepreneurship etc. It brought its own problems too — displacement, several culture shock, stress, opportunities and motivation to cheat. So, I’m not actually that surprised at this happening.
Many of them are friends and there’s even an old boyfriend or two in there. Suddenly, there’s a new pool of people available to me for friendship, relationships and more. I say friendship too because this group of people just like their more traditional counterparts sunk their lives and time within their marriages, leaving no room for other interests and associations. But they’re all citizens of the world and they’re surviving the shocks in a multitude of ways. One has reverted to the bachelor lifestyle, sharing ‘a pad’ 90s Friends style with two flatmates. Another has gone on a rampage of the classical wildchild sort with red hair and serial hookups. In addition to these so-called vices though, they’re also starting up new ventures, quitting deadend jobs, taking off on solo trips, signing up for marathons and rallies. The flash-and dazzle has not gone out of my generation yet.
A part of me is heaving a sigh of relief at this happening. Obviously, I’m not happy that something like divorce is happening at an individual level to people I know. But I feel a little less alone in my own unconventional choices. I have people around me who suddenly understand that relationships are not bedrocks of reliability and that life is too short to waste on one company or profession.
In addition, the twenty-somethings I’ve been dating for years are starting to feel like a compromise I’m not required to make anymore. There is nothing wrong with them. But they’re working towards goals that are not mine, struggling with life choices that I’ve experienced enough to know they’re not important. I cannot impose my lessons on them. These are experiences one must live through and be shaped by, on one’s own. But people who’ve faced these the same times as I have, they’re coming back into the space of being available and accessible.
We’re a new kind of people with our own never before seen problems and challenges. We’re having to redefine who we are, let alone what relationships and other people mean to us. Now, what are the ‘warning signs’ I’ll need in order to navigate these people with care? I can only tell you after I’ve been down the road and put down the markers for the ones who come after.