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Inherited Relationships

Compartmentalization is the one thing that goes out of the window when you get into a relationship. I think that’s what most of us struggle the most with. We’ve spent most of our adolescent and adult lives learning to organize the world around us in a certain way. Then someone comes along with their own set of rules and structure. Merging these two is never going to be an easy prospect.

Relationships to me, are like the baby plants in my window garden. They need nurturing, a lot of daily incremental effort. At some point of time, they can be left to their own devices but really, that takes a long, long time to come. Also you can’t grow a plant overnight by pouring twenty buckets of water on it and then forgetting about it for the next month or so. Every drop must be measured, every word pondered.

In a single state, every new person is like a seed and it is up to each of us to decide how and where we’re going to fit that person into the structure of our lives. But when you’re in a relationship, all of a sudden, you’re handed down a legacy of people. Friends, classmates, family, ex-es, colleagues, all kinds of people. You don’t have a personal history with them but you’re given an encapsulated bulletin of their background, which is really only a recap of your partner’s history with them. You don’t often have a choice of where to fit them into your lives. In some cases, you may not even have a place in your life for such a person.

For example, I’m an only child. I’m completely unfamiliar with the concept of siblinghood, having only seen it from the outside as it were. The finer nuances of brother-sister, twins, older-younger, same-sex-siblings etc are things I strain to discern from what I see of my friends. I’m completely unsure about how to behave with the siblings of my partner. The casualness of friendship may not be taken for granted with them but the strictures of family must be in place. It’s not as formal as a parental relationship, not as markedly opposed as an ex- and not as casual as a friendship. Respect, trust and liking all need to be established, proven and earned. And there’s no roadmap for this.

Then there is the manifold nature of friendships. Same-sex friendships are close in a way the opposite sex can never quite fathom. The relationship is inherited to some extent (I pity the person who doesn’t get along with the best friend of their partner). On the other hand, it isn’t a same sex friendship any more which brings in a new level of uncertainty. Should one treat the best friend of the beloved on par with one’s friends of the opposite sex? But the joking flirtatious tone needs to be dropped as it seems inappropriate with friend-of-beloved. Can one trust them as much, considering their loyalties necessarily must be to your partner first and foremost?

Opposite sex friendships take on an entirely different sense of diabolical. Should I like her simply because he likes her too? In fact, is that possible? Can he ever like my buddy knowing that the man was around for me at a time when we didn’t know each other? Even after you get past the jealousy bit, how do you recreate the friendship when clearly you are not the same person as your other half? Opposite sex friendships are very different from same sex friendships. I’m going to shoot down the theory that two women cannot be friends, on the premise that I have a number of close women friends. But can two women who care for the same man (albeit in different ways) form a friendship? Extend that question to two men who care about the same woman too. It should be possible, in theory. And yet, do we really see it happening?

As if being in a relationship isn’t complicated enough, dealing with the inheritance of people just makes life a helluva lot more complex.

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

A version is posted on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

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To Marry Or Not To Marry, That Is The Question

Recently a friend explained why he doesn’t believe in the institution of marriage. He can’t stand the political dynamics that are natural to any family, the complication of multiple opinions and agendas and the excessive rituals. I can’t say I agree. I know there is a common notion (further popularized by pop culture) that women are programmed to love the idea of marriage, due to the paraphernalia of weddings. But those aren’t my reasons for believing in marriage.

First of all, I distinguish the wedding from the marriage. The wedding is the formalization, the ceremony that symbolizes that two people are henceforth bound together, socially and legally. Customs may vary but this is the fundamental purpose of every single wedding ceremony conducted over the world. It is a ritual and like all other rituals, it only has as much significance as the people carrying it out, attach to it. It is true that no paper or custom can ensure or create a fulfilling union between two people. That has to be built by the two people in question, bit by agonizing, confusing, wearying bit.

Let’s look at marriage itself, beyond the rituals, beyond the superficialities of sindoor and rings. It is the meeting and combining of two people’s lives. It is the merging of assets, of tangible ones like money & possessions and of intangibles like career, eating habits, lifestyle choices etc.

Take the most basic human action of eating. Everyone does it. It’s difficult enough to decide on one meal to be shared by two people (eating place, seating, cuisine, taste, spice, vegetarian/non-vegetarian etc). How much more complicated it would be to repeat this for the rest of the two people’s lives? Multiply that several thousandfold for every other aspect of life above food.

This alone tells me that the only sensible way to start is to do it in an organized manner. Marriage signifies just that, with several of the supposedly meaningless rituals providing a framework for two people to undertake this arduous venture. I’d say that’s a template at best and can (and should) be customized to the couple’s requirements.

Considering what a massive undertaking this is, it’s only prudent to account for issues and breakdowns. I think it’s a fool’s errand to go starry-eyed into something as big as a lifelong relationship and assume blithely that everything will work out in a ‘happily ever after’ way. Marriages are not always happy. Unions are not guaranteed to work. Compatibility may not last. While a relationship should only be undertaken with the hopes of it working, the possibility that it may not should also be borne in mind.

What then of two lives that were joint together (or at least attempted to)? The division of those aforementioned assets is yet another complicated exercise, one that often consumes the people involved, completely and leaves everyone dissatisfied. There’s no easy way to unite or to end emotional involvement; that bit is always going to be bloody. It seems wise to at least sort of the relatively easier things like possessions and even that’s not easy. A formal ritual strikes me as the process that can be closed most cleanly. If at this juncture, the law must be brought in as an impartial third party, it is only fair to have it be a party to the union right at the start, which is the legal wedding ritual.

Personally, I may have the temerity to go against society and the strength to survive a messy breakdown, outside the structure of marriage. However, I cannot guarantee the same for my children. It doesn’t feel fair for me to thrust my life’s choices and their consequences onto my children, even before they choose it for themselves. Society still isn’t easy on the children of a single parent, especially an unmarried one, never mind an unmarried mother. Whether I ever have children or not is immaterial. This is far too important for me to overlook what might be even a remote possibility.

I won’t (and haven’t) run around desperately in search of a partner to sucker him into the grand party of a wedding. I’ve lived a reasonably happy single life for many years. However, if I decide to build a lifelong relationship with a man, marriage is the only way I’d consider going about it.

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A version of this article is posted at Yahoo! Real Beauty.

The Truth About Attraction Of The Opposites

You know the phrase ‘opposites attract‘? What nobody tells you is whether they ever end up happily ever after.

Enter Exhibit A: One human male who is (by his own admission) best epitomized in pop culture by Shrek. Reclusive by nature, irreverent in attitude.

Exhibit B: One human female (Me! Me! Me!) that you are well-acquainted with so we’ll save the metaphors for another day. Naturally sociable, fervent by nature.

Put these two together. Pour in a bottle of opinionatedness, stir in equal parts of intelligence and independence. And what do we have?

No, don’t go awww. Some of our conversations (?) would stop you dead in your tracks. Sample this. After the Babri Masjid case verdict was delivered, we argued for 3 hours! Not that either of us was part of the judiciary. Huh, when did that ever stop anybody from having an opinion? Or in our case, two opinions?

Yesterday ‘words’ were exchanged for over an hour over….the Mumbai Marathon. No, neither of us plans to participate. And uh, this, uh, conversation took place around midnight. On a working day.

These were the more ‘intelligent’ things that it seemed we could admit to arguing over. How about exercise regimes, career moves, housing accommodation? How about Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, street food, social structures, other people, recreational activities? If there’s a way to have two opinions over something, there’ll be three. And that’s just counting one of us. If there’s no way on earth something can be argued, believe you me, we’ll find a way. *Groan* Sometimes our conversations only end when we’re both too croaky-voiced to yell anymore.

Yesterday after our marathon debate (yes, pun intended), he concluded,

We haven’t learnt to disagree properly. Yet.

Grrr. Now I’m angry because he thought of it before me. But to salvage my flagging ticker (remember the scene from Pyaar ke side-effects?), here’s my thought.

I’m confident, bold, assertive and articulate. Okay, fine, immodest as well. I know, I can be overwhelming. It takes a very specific kind of person to get along with me. Someone who won’t be shaken or let me run over them. He’s as much of that as it gets.

He’s the world’s most infuriatingly stubborn stick-in-the-mud. It would take a vital force of nature to shake him out of his point of view and swim along in the flow of life. Heh, you looking at me? I got that in bucketfuls, baby. Barrels of it. Talk about an irresistible force meeting an immovable object!

I was grouching about this to my friend A (who is one half of a nice, well-behaved, placid-looking couple).

I’m sure everyone thinks we are horrible, fighting all the time!

He laughed and said,

No, you seem like a sweet couple that bickers a lot.

The other day I bent over to pick up a book from a below-eye-level shelf at the store. When I straightened up, I groaned and by way of explanation, offered,

“Backache. I must have slept on it wrong.”

“Ooff…idiot.”

was his succinct reply. Well, that’s actually romantic in Mr.Everyday parlance.

I suppose I should just shrug and accept an indelible fact. We are never going to stop bickering. We’ll probably be one of those couples that fences with walking sticks, in our old age. And then whoever falls first will be helped up by the other and set to rest. It won’t be me. (This is my blog, after all!) Uh huh.

🙂 I can barely wait.

Caveat Temptor: Boyfriend Beware!

If true love is finding that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life, Mr.Everyday is doing a damn fine job of it! Now that we’ve wiped the stardust out of our eyes and reality is setting in, the hitherto charming differences are starting to wear thin.

I knew I was a sociable person but the reality of just what a big, crowded, noisy, busy life I have is becoming clear to me only now. He has what might be described as a regular Joe lifestyle and what in comparison to mine, seems like citizenry to Coventry. He goes to work, he pays his bills, he occasionally catches up with an old friend for a movie or ‘the boys’ (exactly one-two-three of them) for a night of inebriation. Never forgetting the boy’s toy, his XBox that fulfils the function of his absorbing, fulfiling hobby. I on the other hand, have a running tally of multiple books being read, a constant tickertape-like stream of output and input to the social media, people I ‘do coffee with’, ‘grab lunch with’, ‘catch a brunch with’, ‘take tea with’, ‘have dinner with’, party with, hang out with, chat up and cosy up with.

I have a busy life, he has a quiet one. But that’s not even the start of the problem. I (rather successfully, if I say so myself) juggle these sometimes conflicting priorities and engagements in my life by careful planning and balancing. I love Outlook (ask anyone who’s worked with me), keep my phone calendar synched to the various plays, movies, meets, luncheons, dinners, calls, gatherings, concerts and events that compete for my time. I figure out places to meet that will suit the parties and purpose involved and also be convenient and accessible. I may be organized but I’m not boring. I milk the 60 seconds worth of my distance run to full capacity. Above all, this is my life and I love it.

He, on the other hand, ‘likes to take it as it comes’. Oh, how I hate that phrase! It scores right up there on the hatelist with ‘going with the flow’, ‘keeping it flexible’ and ‘not over-thinking things‘. It makes me grrrrrrrrrritttt my teeth and growl like an angered wild cat.  Tiny wisps of smoke start to curl out of my nostrils and flames leap out of my ears. It goes against everything I believe in, everything I stand for, everything I am.

I gave it a shot, I genuinely did. As with everything else I do, I conscientiously strove to live outside plans and schedules and organization. The result of that was that this is the sixth weekend that a much-awaited Pune trip has failed to happen. Calls have not been returned. Movieclub screenings have been missed. People have been kept waiting or hanging for days on end and proposed lunches & dinners have still not happened. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the time but it makes me shudder to think of how much more could have been done. Just think of how it could have been better (and I know it could have been done)! More comfortably, less stressfully, at lower costs, for longer time, better seats, more movies, tastier food.

Finally, I threw a volcanic fit. Yes, I’m not one of those genteel ladies who can ‘air their grievances’ and the man was made aware of it.

The thing is, I realized that most people tend to live in a certain way, driven by their own temperament and the demands of their lives. There may be some merit to being spontaneous. But I think many times that is just used to excuse laziness and an unwillingness to take responsibility for some admittedly boring activities.

Being organized is not a hobby. I don’t go into raptures over the perfectly sorted out filing system. Lists don’t give me orgasms. Bullet points are not my favorite accessories. But these things make my life easier; they really do. There is no way on earth I would have managed to sustain an active writing output, a very demanding career, a large social life and a family life without being organized about these things. And these habits stay. It deeply troubles me when things are not clear. And I am not compulsive about it. I know life is unpredictable and there is much that we don’t have control over. But the purpose of an organizing system is to make chaos more manageable. I’m not as bothered by a plan that didn’t work as I am by the thought that a plan wasn’t even made.

The trouble is, this works just fine for oneself. I have managed to be an organized person even while living with one rather messy person and working with several chaotic wrecks. In some cases, I have been able to influence (or indeed, bully) them into following my systems. In other cases, I’ve taken care of what I could and ignored the occasional stray sock that lands on my chair or looseleaf papers scattered close to my table.

But how do you interweave your life with someone whose fabric is a different consistency and indeed, not even woven? There are common friends, social occasions to be attended together and ‘together time’ which has to be planned factoring in two different schedules and now, different ways of being. The last time I spoke to Adi, we estimated the most convenient times for our phone conversations, based on his schedule and mine but also his girlfriend’s and my boyfriend’s. On the other hand, Mr.Everyday’s modus operandi goes along the lines of,

“Yeah, we could catch that movie. X was saying he wanted to see that movie too. Don’t worry….I’ll go again with him.”

I feel not just murderous but like Velma Kelly in Chicago, singing,

It was a murder but not a crime
I didn’t do it
But if I done it,
how could you tell me that I was wrong!!??

Can chaos and order make peace?

I have a new relationship adage to add to the thousands of platitudes we’ve been fed over the years (and none of which are working right now, dammit!).

Few people die of a volcanic eruption or a plane crash. In most cases, it’s the tiny damn things that are going to kill us. So fug the differences in age, background, upbringing and language. I think we’re going to spend a long time fighting over the damn calendar.

And then he looks at me with that shy smile and says,

People like you make the world run. People like me make it interesting to run. Besides, there’s no one else I’d rather be miserable with.

…and even my diatribe, my rant, my tall declarations are silenced. For the time being. 😉

The Differences Make It Fun

How similar do people have to be to get along? How different can they be?

He is a loner, doesn’t like too much attention and prefers minimalism. I’m the original social butterfly, I thrive on company and drama is my style.

On the surface, our interests seem to match. But scratch that and we uncover big differences. He likes literature, thinks Shakespeare had the groove and enjoys Charles Dickens. I’ve never actually read any Bard originals (yes, kill me) and I couldn’t decide if Oliver Twist or David Copperfield was the most depressing thing I’d ever read (then I read Thomas Hardy who won hands-down). I love pop culture, the flash and dazzle, the kitsch and even the fleeting impressions it barely leaves on our psyche. He has a mild disdain for anything not deep or meaningful.

I read him a bit of my novel. He listened carefully, offered his thoughts and then admitted quite truthfully that it wasn’t his thing. That stung but only in the way that it stings that my best friend doesn’t read my blog or that my dad is never very impressed by anything I do. It’s a sting at best but it doesn’t really hurt. Not really.

To my great surprise, he doesn’t feel very passionately about writing and literature even though I know that he can write (well) and does appreciate the fineness of literature. It seemed quite inconceivable to me that someone who knew this world could fail to be deeply moved by it.

But then we got to music and it started to make sense. I’ve been singing since I was 4, had classical training and guitar lessons and even performed on stage. But it has never been anything more than a pleasant hobby, one I really can do with or without. It doesn’t even rank as highly as art on my list. He, on the other hand, is deeply devoted, nearly fanatical about music. Hip-hop to be precise, a genre that I never understood or (in all fairness) paid much attention to. But it surrounds him where he goes, on his phone and his computer, plugged into his ears whenever he’s waiting for me and in most of his conversational references.

I watched him perform earlier this week, freestyle rapping at a musical Open Mic. Even if this genre is new to me, I can appreciate the gift of spontaneous performance, the ability to hold the audience in the palm of one’s hand. He’s good, very good and that’s something even I can tell. I was terribly proud of him, thrilled at the applause that followed his act and struck by that slightly lovesick thought of,

That’s who I’m with? How did I ever get so lucky?!

He finished, bowed and turned around. A number of people rushed up to him to speak and suddenly, right there, was my Mr.Everyday, shy all at once and unsure about how to handle the bright spotlight. He’s a performer all right but off-stage, he’s just a regular, sweet guy with no fancy airs about him. It was both a sobering and a sweet insight.

He slid into the booth beside me, clearly thankful as the crowd’s attention shifted to the next performer. Then he talked about his performance for a bit and I listened. And we watched the other musicians. Towards the end of the night, he leaned over and said,

“I just realised that you like me, the person much more than you like me, the performer. I like that.”

I found a great guy, I did. Someone who sees both himself and me, beyond our professions and talents and makes it possible for this relationship to be between two real people instead of a competition.

To come back to my original thought, I guess I now understand what people mean when they say they are grateful for their differences. His non-starry-eyedness about my dreams and talents gives me perspective and keeps me grounded and (hopefully) I do the same for him. We have different worlds that we each rule but we walk alone in them. And when we meet, we form something together, that belongs to both of us equally. I never realized sharing could be so much fun.

Mr.Everyday

I’ve thought and thought about how and what to do with this post. I actually have another draft but it doesn’t feel right. So I’ll do what I’ve always done with this blog – be honest.

The dilemma is something I did figure would come up someday, in fact I rather hoped it would. What happens to all my male-bashing, my dudette/chick schizophrenia, my girlie fascinations and my single gal rants when I’m not single anymore? Now’s when we get to find out. Yes, you read that right.

I’ve never written about him, either literally (reporting a conversation, incident or experience) or metaphorically (slotting into the character types I’ve painstakingly organized men into). He’s new to me and to this blog.

He’s smart and educated but he’s not a Pedigreed Pup. He’s a bit of a breakaway but not exactly a Bad Boy. He’s not a Male Slut or a Metrosexual Man. He’s a regular guy with his own funny quirks and irritating habits and surprises. I’m going to call him Mr.Everyday.

He’s really the kind of guy you might pass on the street or sit a few seats away from, in a show. Indeed, I very nearly missed him myself on some of these very occasions. It took one unplanned and spectacular conversation to crystallize an everyday guy into someone special, somebody I’d overstep a few boundaries to get to know, someone who might be worth a few risks. Someone I’d like to know, to be with, every single day.

He challenges my assumptions about men, about relationships and about life in general. He makes me laugh and he makes me think. He argues with me, agrees with me, is indifferent to some things I’m passionate about and points me towards things I never noticed before. He is a friend. And more. He’s the comfort of daily rituals with the tiny surprising discoveries of life each day. That’s why he’s my Mr.Everyday.

So this then, is the new man in my life and this is the new me. I was cooling off on the male-bashing theme anyway. Maybe it’s time to hold up a white flag in the battle of the sexes. A time for some fun and a little love.

Until the next post,
Not A Single Gal Anymore

The Attack Of The Company-Snatchers

My world is being attacked! Biological warfare move over, this is the attack of a different sort of infection. Several of my friends have succumbed to its threat and as I speak, more are going down the same way. Such is the devastating power of Cupiditis.

What can make a seemingly normal, well-balanced, logical and loyal person turn into a zombie? The girlfriend/boyfriend strain, once in the system, acts like a potentially fatal disease. At first the victim is quarantined so contact is cut off, quite abruptly. He or she surfaces a short while later, to deliver the news of the infection. After that, it’s a downhill journey. He or she is never heard from again.

That’s unless the strain causes an allergy (also called ‘a fight’) wherein the victim surfaces again, asking for your support, which you’re obliged (by the rules of friendship) to provide. Unfortunately for you, in several such cases, clearing up the allergy means the strain is free to continue its onslaught on your friendship.

I think I can safely say a declaration of a relationship is the death-knoll for friendship. Goodbye, wonderful friend, buddy of the times, comrade in life’s journey. This is the end for us.

In the past year alone, I’ve sustained the loss of five friends to this deadly disease (one of them, twice to different viruses). And it’s beginning to bother me.

It’s come to a state where friendship appears to be a transient, unpredictable thing. There’s no telling who will drop out and when. It’s also exhausting to have to keep replenishing one’s circle of friends after the old ones all succumb. Once they’re gone, they’re gone and entry into their infected ranks is only permitted to fellow-victims, that is similarly coupled-up people.

It makes me wonder, has the significant other become a passport to human company? And should I be thinking about getting one simply so I can be assured of being included in get-togethers, cliques and indeed, having a social life at all? And if not, what are the options for a terminally single person (that’s ‘single till death’)? Give in or die alone. It’s the Attack Of The Company-Snatchers.

What Do We Look For In A Partner?

I heard something interesting in a recent Twitter conversation on dating:

adityab@ideasmithy I think men & women actively look for vulnerability in partners. After all, why would we need another person otherwise?

Really? I don’t mean that sarcastically, I mean really, really, REALLY? That isn’t true of me. Honest, it’s not.

I know I’ve always looked for only one thing in all my men. It’s not easy to find which may explain the high turbulence in my love-life and I’ve made plenty, plenty, way too many mistakes. But what I’ve looked for has never changed. It has always been – STRENGTH.

Strength isn’t a simple word or quality at all. After all, how do you define strength? It is the physical aspect of it of course which encompasses massive force, stamina, endurance, staying power and pain tolerance. Speaking of which, it is interesting to note that men score better than women on the first two while women seem to outrun men on the last two. A man may be able to pick a motorbike or even a car up, he may smash a wall with his fists but a woman will outlast him on situations of sustained pressure and well, a dentist’s appointment. 🙂

Coming back, it may have been the obvious thing for me to be drawn to huge Arnold Schwarzennegar types but I actually wasn’t. Well, perhaps the extra chubbiness around all the men I knew back in my early days may have been just that. Okay, end of pop-Freud.

But I was always drawn to a guy who was ‘the most’ in something or the other. The flashiest dude, the most mysterious one, the superbly brilliant guy (and so what if he was a geek with the social skills of cheese). In my mind, each of these extremes required a certain force of character, a certain solidness of mind. That is something I have always and will continue to respect and admire.

I am looking for a man who is his own master and who isn’t afraid of anything. Well, the last one should not be as impossible as it sounds. If you are not afraid to be yourself, believe you me, you’ll not be afraid of much else. I’m looking for a man just like that. Vulnerability doesn’t come into the equation then. At least, as most of us understand it, it is usually displayed as a fear of something, a weakness of a sort. That takes a man down in my eyes. Even stubbornness (which going contra to some of the personality types I outlined earlier) since an illogical attachment to any point of view is just juvenile and weak too.

Okay to come back, I’m still wondering – are other people really looking for partners who exhibit the same fears as them? Or who lack in something that they themselves are good at? Considered from that point of view, perhaps I look for strong men to complement how weak I really feel. How’s that for honest? Hmm, it’s not a nice realisation to know that I’m just as guilty of the ‘a strong man to protect me’ syndrome as most of my sex.

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A version is posted on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

Well, every day you learn. Thanks, Aditya for the tweet that set me thinking!

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