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The Work First, Fun Later 30-Something Guys

I’ve noticed a pattern in the last few men I’ve dated, echoed also in some of my male friends of similar age. They open with WORK FIRST. They’re managers, they’re artists, they’re performers, they’re entrepreneurs, they’re chefs and architects and engineers. They’re all about how what they’re doing is priority, how it’s super important and how it will always justify standing you up, keeping you in limbo and more.

Don’t get me wrong. I like ambition and drive. I enjoy focus. And these are not bad men. I can see they genuinely believe what they’re saying. They also all come with transformation stories of how they used to be XYZ and how they’re trying to be better men.

It’s just that I’ve lived this life more than a decade ago. And even back then, I didn’t have the option of prioritising one over the other. I had to be good at work. I had to fit beauty, grooming and hygiene standards. I had to be a dutiful daughter, niece, granddaughter. I had to be the razor-sharp brain, the fire-in-belly corporate shark. I had to be marriageable material. And I had to be the fun, sexy date and eventually the prize girlfriend who listened and challenged but never competed. I’ve had three major careers and several boyfriends. I couldn’t have done all that without ambition or focus.

I realised yesterday that 20-something men are commitment-phobic for different reasons from 30-something men. Men in their 20s saw women and dating as fun. It was theirs for the taking, they were out of the strictures of college and their targets were being pressured to please men (with a view of landing a husband). They saw women as a buffet. Why settle on just one when there were so many up for the grabs and when they could walk away leaving behind what they didn’t feel like continuing on their plates?

30-something men in contrast, have usually gone through a few relationships, maybe even a marriage or live-in or two. They’ve been called to account to pay bills, to answer to bosses and investors and clients. And more recently feminism has them worrying about #MeToo, about alimony payments, about pregnancy scares. It’s suddenly hit them that relationships are work, that women won’t stay mute objects and that inconvenient things will happen if they just stumble around in the blind pursuit of fun. Work in contrast is single-minded. It’s easier to chase the tangibility of career goals than live in the amorphous, ego-defeating world of human relating. So it is Work First, Fun Later.

Image by 【中文ID】愚木混株 【Instagram】cdd20 from Pixabay

They still think they get to pick one thing to do at a time and the world waits patiently till they’ve figured out whether they want to do it and how to do it. And they’re refusing to acknowledge that relationships, sex and dating were always going to involve work, hard work. The work of undoing years of brutish callousness, the work of learning to listen and care about the wishes of another person, the work of remembering that they are not the center of the universe and living with the reality that nobody, absolutely nobody has to care about them.

I can see some of them realise this in flashes and then it’s like the realisation is too big and scary to cope with. So back they go to Work First, not from pure passion but because it feels like a safer refuge than a world that demands a lot and promises nothing.

I’m trying but I’m finding it very hard to feel empathy for this man. After all ‘demands a lot and promises nothing’ has described this very man my entire life. My generation of women, we’ve lived this life for more than a decade and are reaching a point of asking whether men are worth it. We’ve also survived divorces, live-ins. And we’ve done it while juggling bully in-laws, the glass ceiling and the violent face of the male ego. So umm, yawn.

Yes, there is the fact that younger women are turning adults. And the slightly sharp 30-something man realises that all he has to do is turn his sights towards the younger woman. While the younger women today are woke-r and slightly better equipped to question patriarchy, the fact is, it’s still going to take years for them to develop the kind of resilience and strength to challenge exploitation. So on to another decade of today’s 30-something men finding a different base of prey while telling themselves they’re ‘adulting’ with their careers.

None of this has much to do with ambition or focus. And it’s got everything to do with avoiding responsibilities, a trait that isn’t particularly conducive to either ambition or focus. It’s anybody’s guess what kind of work this breed of man turns out while managing to blunder through another decade of women.

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Not Child’s Play: What Toys Have To Do With Relationships

There’s all this talk about ‘boys and their toys’. But you know, we girls loved our childhood companions too. What’s more, in a typically female psycho-babble-loving way, we see patterns in our toy mania. Maybe we’re back in the playground, but with a heart instead of a doll and slightly bigger boys this time. If our relationships are a reflection of the games we’re used to playing, maybe the people we date, are images of our favorite toys. Who then are we, by the toys we play with?

Life in plastic, it’s fantastic!

Some little girls play with plastic dolls. Some of them grow up and play with plastic cards and the styrofoam men who own them. Sugar daddies abound for the PYTs (Pretty Young Things) who never got over their addiction to plastic. These are the women for whom life in La-la-Land is just fiddle-dee-dee, isn’t it darling?

Touch ME not, touch MINE not!

How about those annoying, prissy kids that mum was always wishing we would become? The one who always put his toys away in order, the one whose dolls were always nicely dressed and neatly arranged. You hated her didn’t you? I did too. Especially since she wouldn’t let me get my grubby fingers anywhere near her precious beauties. Come to think of it, she didn’t do much more than stare at them in her perfect dollcase either. She had a fairytale marriage, complete with Snow White style wedding gown to Mr.Ken doll. Presumably she and her darling boy toy do nothing more than look at each other in absolute adoration and live happily ever after.

My lovely monster, my cuddly creepy-crawly

I was delighted to find a series of monster-doll stuffed toys and started a collection. Besides a stuffed Hunchback of Notre-Dame, I also collected a green Frankenstein, a lady-bird sandbag, an outrageously plumed rooster, a green dinosaur with red spikes and an owl with a graduation hat. My favorite doll (that I still have) had an unruly lock of hair carved into the top of its head and all otherwise, it was bald. Ergo, my tastes run to imperfect objects …and flawed men.

I want the one she wants!

Then there’s the girl who seems to want just the guys you want. He’s ‘just someone’ until he becomes SOMEONE to you. Then he’s the one she’ll want. She would be the kid who always wants the toy that the other kid has.

The trophy-winner

Everyone knows the kid who always wants the biggest, prettiest, bestest toy that there is. This isn’t greed, it’s ambition. They usually get them, don’t they or they just won’t play with anyone or anything else. We are in the age of a woman getting anything and everything she wants, after all. This is the woman who’ll turn her nose at the plebs and hold out for the trophiest of trophies only.

The collector

I remember one weird childhood conversation. Comparing notes like all little girls besotted with an abnormally shaped piece of plastic called Barbie, I asked the girl who sat next to me in class,

“I’m making a new dress for my doll. Do you have a Barbie?”

She sniffed and replied,

“Only three! But my mama won’t get me more!!!!!!!”

Of course that was the ‘I have more than you!’ kid. Know someone who is the female equivalent of a bed-post notcher? Bingo. She grew up and collected boyfriends instead.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

This is a revised version of an older post titled ‘Toys and Boys’. A version of this is posted at at Yahoo! Real Beauty.

Everyone Wants To Get Into My Wallet!

Late one night as I was driving down the city, I looked up at a huge billboard of Sushmita Sen, an advertisement for Kiah jewellery, which said,

You are the occasion
You are the celebration

I told him,

I really love that ad!

He smiled and said,

You would. It celebrates you, after all.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Earlier in the month, I wrote about my first experience with luxuriant self-indulgence, the retail therapy way. I wear my diamonds with pride, a pride that comes not exactly from their aesthetic value but from the knowledge that I earned the power to buy them for myself.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

A few years ago, I wrote about the Superwoman. I don’t know whether to be happy or not that it’s turning out to be prophetic. Take a minute to think about my words..

I am the center of a marketing model titled “High income single decision maker”
I am the brief given to fashion houses when they design the new Prada suit
I am described as ‘Joan of Arc meets Helen of Troy’

We are indeed, the hot new consumer demographic. Urban women, financially self-sufficient with all the trappings of our successful professional status – the need for new status symbols combined with the ability to pay for them.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Our parents’ generation saw the upsurge of women at work and all the initial beginnings like the glass ceiling, women bosses et al. Our generation in contrast is the one that gets to enjoy it (and be taken advantage of). We’re prominent for our purchasing power and marketers have been quick to pick up on the need for our own set of status symbols and paraphernalia. I speak as the target group of a woman who earns and has the independence to spend. I also speak as a marketing professional, seeing the other side of it, so to speak.

Successful men who earn well have been well tapped into as a market and are induced to spend on everything from their own selves (personal gadgets, cars), social settings (restaurants, pubs, sports activities) and all sorts of dating-related paraphernalia (presents for women, tokens of what makes them an ‘ideal partner’). What do their opposite numbers in our sex have?

We have shoes, clothes, bags, accessories, jewelery, make-up and personal grooming services. If the men-targeted products homed in on the traditional masculine need to be macho and an alpha male, we are being targeted for our vanity and need to be ‘the babe’.

Of course, the more complicated dynamics of women actually competing with each other in these stakes is well played out. What else do you think Bhala uski saadi meri saadi se safed kaisi is?

The more expensive products are obviously affordable only to a certain type of woman – she has a career, she’s ambitious and wants to be respected for her intelligence, she doesn’t want to stand in anyone’s shadow, she has a personality of her own. And hence diamonds, super-expensive shoes and clothes come with the messages that they respect your individuality, celebrate your independence and will take Visa as well as American Express.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

I was invited to the premier showing of the big Hollywood release of Confessions of a Shopaholic. I saw the movie with a group of girlfriends and all of us identified with the heroine. We would, she’s based on us after all. While the movie is meant to be a really light-hearted comedy, it points to something deeper.
I got to wondering about the phenomenon of shopaholism. Is it a reality that we’re likely to be facing very soon? All manner of excess is driven towards filling a need that hasn’t been satisfied earlier. So women who binge are thought to be unconsciously compensating for a lack of affection in their lives. What unmet need are we trying to plug with this excessive buying?

Becky Bloomwood in the movie nails it on the head when she explains her addiction,

Because when I shop, it feels so pretty, so nice, so good! And then it doesn’t so I have to shop even more!

True to all successful marketing strategies, this one also gives us a taste of what we like and then leaves us begging for more. Shinier hair! Higher heels! Bigger (and smaller) bags! Cooler sunglasses! Brighter make-up! Lotions, creams, gels, powders, liquid liners, sticks, brushes, concealers, colorants, rinses, crayons, cakes, gloss, sequins, beads, rhinestones, denim, silk, linen, velvet….the list never ends.

So for all our gloss and gorgeousness, we are nothing more than the product of a very successful marketing program designed to relieve us our newly-minted paychecks. ‘Fabulous’ is the bait they use to lure us in and the looming bill at the end of the month is the hook.

It used to be about too many people wanting to get into my pants.
Now everyone wants to get into my wallet!!

Superwoman

I am the only kid on the tree in pigtails
I am rejection & peer pressure superimposed on intelligence & expectations
I am the daughter who will one day be the ‘man of the house’

I am the big attitude-no boyfriends Alanis Morisette of the peer group
I am the feminist preaching to ‘the boys’ in between hanging out with them.
I am the second lead in an ‘all-male’ rock band.

I am the token female candidate in a job selection group discussion
I am one of two women at a client meeting, six months later
I am the slender figure balancing a laptop, files and a mobile phone and refusing a seat on the bus.

I am a solitary memo marked “Dear Madam” atop of a pile of “Dear Sir” notes
I am one who knows which detergent brand sells highest but not which cleans best
I am a woman who hates cooking and is proud of the fact

I am the one publications write about when they describe the new work ethic
I am the inspiration for a new wave of soap operas and talk shows
I am the author of a scathing article on fairness creams

I am the center of a marketing model titled “High income single decision maker”
I am the brief given to fashion houses when they design the new Prada suit
I am described as ‘Joan of Arc meets Helen of Troy’

I am a social butterfly, the party animal, the cool lady who always leaves alone
I am a modern day Cinderella looking for a perfect foot to fit her shoe…and none ever do
I am the last of my friends to get married but mine is the grandest wedding of all

I am an overflowing inbox of memos, bills and ads after my 2-day honeymoon
I am the ‘expert cook in 10 days’ since I am always the best
I am the 5 am alarm for the milkman, the 10 am board meeting, the working lunch and the home cooked gourmet dinner on my first anniversary

I am a romantic SMS keyed in surreptitiously at a meeting
I am two daily planners to be co-ordinated for any family function
I am performance anxiety, loneliness, guilt, fear and ambition all masquerading as PMS

I am the ‘equal half’ of a DINK
I am the face that receives a slap for being better
And only sometimes, am I the fist that hits back

I am the luggage with a tag from every single metro in the world
I am the signature on the exclusive gold card
I am a posh address that is more a museum than a home

I am the employee code on a maternity leave application tacked to the bottom of a report
I am the voice on a conference call from home to 2 countries
I am the emergency Ceasarean operation due to hypertension

I am the lovely lady at the end of the day while my mom is mom to my kids too
I am the signature on a delivery receipt for a dollhouse and an encyclopedia set
And on a resignation letter that speaks of ‘time for family’ and not a word about sacrifices

I am music lessons, art classes, camps, sports teams and tuitions after school
I am the good manners, language fluency, social etiquette and grades all at 7
I am the hands that dress the star of the show in a kindergarten play
As also the signature on a report card that says “Shows aptitude for figures. Is very quiet and withdrawn”
I am the mother of a brilliant, talented 3-foot stressed know-it-all
….…..the wife of a resentful, guilt-wracked escapist
…….…the lover of a ‘new-age’ sensitive weakling
and the owner of a picture perfect 40 going on 25 face

I am the compartmentalized fragments of what was born a human being
And lives as ..and will one day die as…..Superwoman

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A version of this post appears on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

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