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The Friendship Frisson

I like to call it a frisson in friendship, not even something important enough to merit beginning with capitals and being preceded with a ‘the’. It’s that elusive sense that you can’t quite catch. If it had tangible form, it would be the thing that you seem to catch from the corner of your eye but when you look for it, it isn’t there. It only turns up when you don’t expect it and the minute you begin to think about it, it turns into something else or vanishes altogether.

Say there’s this friend you have. For simplicity, let’s assume this friend is of the opposite sex (though I think the frisson happens with same-sex friendships too, sexual orientation notwithstanding). You’re comfortable with each other, if you think about it, which you probably don’t do much; that’s part of the comfort level. Then it sneaks up on you.

Like a faint whiff that came up on you as memory first (because the memory-center is very close to the olfactory sense center in the brain, so smells trigger off instant memories). You can’t quite smell it just yet, even if you really strain your nostrils. But it is there, unmistakeably. The next time you notice it even more, perhaps because the last time threw you off a bit.

“四種男與女的吻 Four kinds of kisses between men and ...

“四種男與女的吻 Four kinds of kisses between men and women” #BW #Life / SML.20130116.Montage.20091001.10D.55055.P1.L1.BW.SML.20091220.7D.01633.P1.L1.SQ.BW.SML.20100202.7D.02686.L1.C45.BW.SML.20091129.SD850IS.03537.P1.L1.SQ.BW (Photo credit: See-ming Lee 李思明 SML)

It’s not insignificant enough for you to ignore. It’s there, the slight tremble that runs through you when they – your friend, you have to remind yourself – say your name. Or the tingling warmth in your cheeks that you’re aware will turn into a blush if you don’t clamp down on it by saying something very intelligent – and all because they paid you a compliment.

It’s also not big enough to be able to tell what it is – sexual, romantic, both or neither. All you know is that it’s there. You see your friend in a new light. Then you start noticing them noticing you. Wondering if they feel those things too. Deducing perhaps that they don’t. But then, recalling a funny look in their eyes a few months ago. Then remembering that the two of you didn’t speak for about a month after that. But that was because they were out of town. Wasn’t it? You’re thinking about it. It’s that frisson that’s making you think all this.

I think the frisson happens in all male-female friendships at some point of time. Perhaps even all male-female relationships. It’s a sudden crystal-sharp awareness of the other person’s sex. Maybe it’s a natural balancing out. If you’re used to seeing each other in a ‘purely platonic’ manner, nature throws at least one such frisson your way where your brain thinks of nothing but the opposite, if only for a brief minute.

If you’ve been very close for a long time, it can be confusing. If one or both of you are in committed relationships to other people, it can be destabilizing too. I think it sometimes happens as a result of loneliness, horniness or one person going through a difficult time and the other one being there for them. Many of us tend to desperately attach onto the person that’s good to us, during tough times.

The frisson may not be harmless. It’s probably what causes cheating in relationships that are going through rough patches. But it is also probably where longtime friendships that turn into love, begin. Frissons aren’t always permanent or reciprocated at the same time. I think it at least adds a little spice and flavour to an already nice relationship – friendship. And like most other things to do with human emotion, they can be managed with cool heads and communication. Or perhaps not, a frisson is probably the one thing I wouldn’t want to discuss with a friend that I otherwise talk to about everything, precisely because conversation could make it bigger than it actually is.

Well, who knows? The frisson defies definition.

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Doppelganger

What are you supposed to think when you come across pictures of a former crush and discover that he married a girl who looks just like you? 🙂

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XXFactored Aug2011: Relationship Anarchy, Divorced Friends, Crushes & Glorious Singledom

August saw XX Factor introducing its very first guest-writer, TheSingleMarriedMan. I’ve been asking him to write a guest post for ages but he only recently consented. He’s newly single (after a longterm relationship) and is bringing his own brand of humour, cynicism & wisdom to XX Factor. I’ve also been on the lookout for alternate voices, male or female for this space. The battle of the sexes, relationships, dating & love are too big for just one person to talk about, don’t you think? If you or someone you know is interested in being one of the voices of XX Factor, do write in to me at ideasmithy at gmail dot com. And until then, here’s what we were looking at in August:

  • Indian Relationships: A State Of Anarchy‘: In this age of limitless social interaction, are we also setting ourselves up to relationship predators? (via Yahoo!RealBeauty)
  • Tips for women on dealing with a male friend in the throes of divorce (via TheSingleMarriedMan)
  • You’re never too old for a crush! (via Yahoo!RealBeauty)
  • Socially Obliged‘: A passionate viewpoint on being single & the way society may be heading (via Facebook)
  • Would you want women-only subway cars to stop sexual harassment?‘: An angle on street harassment – should women have to be segregated on public transport for protection? The question is raised by a US citizen for the US but the discussion holds valid everywhere, even ‘safe’ Mumbai with its ladies’ compartment. (via TheFrisky)

The SmartyPants Fetish

I have a new crush. This is Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory. Of course I’ve read everything that Wikipedia has to say about him, about the series, about what a breakout character is and what ‘experts’ have surmised about his supposed autistic tendencies.

Now this doesn’t really feel either new or unusual to me. One of my earliest crushes after all, was Jupiter Jones of The Three Investigators. Jupe ‘Baby Fatso’ was a short, stocky know-it-all and strangely devoid of the inadequacies that plague teenage boys. Awesomeness.

I’ve sought to explain this earlier as an Elektra syndrome for men in spectacles. I’ve thought at length about the merit of intelligence as a key point on the list of appealing male attributes. I’ve referred to intellectual stimulation, personal growth and entertainment all in one.

I have even contemplating writing a short story, a romance set in a bookshop. Yes, of course I know it’s a great place to check out books..and umm, their readers.

And now I come upon this site. I actually chanced on an article that talked about why this blog might appeal to women. And then I turned up at the blog itself. To my surprise, relief and mirth, Hot Guys Reading Books is just that. Candid shots of men who are reading. I’m clicking through the archives as I wait for this post to save.

And I’m given to wondering – do I need to explain why I like what I do? Have you ever asked a guy why he prefers blondes? Or within the Indian context, women with long hair? Does anyone seek to understand the various fetishes and quirks that different men find appealing?

I knew a guy who only liked Alpha females. And another one who would never date a woman unless she was Fair n’ Lovely. How about the one that was promptly turned off by women who sat on bikes astride when they were wearing salwar-kameezes? He thought it looked sluttish. Well, there’s no accounting for tastes. And there’s no reason to, I think.

Which is why I’m not going to explain my geekboy obsessions. There’s a world of reading men for me to check up on! (This one I particularly like. It’s funny and smart all in one. Oh okay, I’ll stop thinking and go back to looking!)

The Beta Male

I have a crush on a married man.

I’ve had enough of crushes by now to deal with them with placidity. The reason I stopped to think about this one, is that the guy in question is so different from the kind of man I’m usually attracted to.

He isn’t abnormally brilliant, isn’t a fanatic super-achiever, is not drop-dead gorgeous. He has a normal job, not-too-different ideas on books, music, movies and politics. He has some friends, is neither a loner nor a social butterfly. He loves his wife without being a slave to her and is fun enough on his own. He’s the kind of guy that it’s easy to be friends with, whether you’re a guy or a girl. He isn’t Mr.Gorgeous, not a Bad Boy or even a Pedigreed Pup. He’s just a regular guy with a regular life. While I wouldn’t go so far to call him ordinary (no one is really, when you get to know them), prima facie there’s nothing supremely extraordinary about him. In short, he’s just not an Alpha Male. Let’s call him the Beta Male.

It was Hyde who gave me this phrase while explaining the concept to me. He said that most women today were dazzled by the flashier, more visible men who invariably hurt them. And they paid no heed to the Beta Male who could be just as intelligent, charming and caring as they wanted but just wasn’t as easy to notice. Well those weren’t his exact words but I think that was the gist of it. Correct me if I’m wrong please, sir…and thank you for a great idea, it has taken me a year to understand the gravity of it.

Now coming back, I find that this is the sort of man I most likely would have overlooked (probably still do). I don’t think I’ve ever been the bitchy sort, deliberately snubbing people but well….by my own admission, indifference is the worst sort of treatment. The Beta Male is someone who has taken a few knocks and understands what it is to fail. It also makes him a little easier on other people’s flaws and also not obsessed with being Superlative, even at the cost of other people’s emotions. The Beta Male has a world bigger than himself…and hey, it’s actually quite a nice place. I know… I’ve been friends with some Beta Males and yes, they really are great people. I have seen them make mistakes, I’ve watched them fail, I’ve known them to be human beings.

Quite a drastic difference from the men I’ve dated. No wonder I see boyfriends and male friends as two separate species! They are Alpha Males and Beta Males respectively.

I allow myself a brief moment of regret while I reflect on the fact that if I had been a tad wiser in the choices of my heart I might have been a happier, much less cynical person in love today. A lot of my Beta Male friends are married, some of my girlfriends married Beta Males after having dated the Alpha Males. Is that what maturity is about? Learning to discern the gilt from what truly is precious? In that case, I salute you, women of wisdom greater than mine…and finally the hitherto unsung Beta Male. You are a better human being than I have ever been. I’ve been a trophy collector, no better than my boyfriends.

There are times when I think that your bad choices come back to haunt you. And then again, it would seem like the good choices that you never made hang around to make you realize just what an idiot you yourself are. Ah, Tantalus, you live on in each of us, everyday!

A crush

He passes her; she flashes an almost-not-there glance

Like she’s thinking deeply, unaware of staring

He watches her surreptitiously….hoping she won’t notice. Hoping she will.

She does. That’s why she doesn’t turn around and smile. Perhaps she will.

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She doesn’t ponder over how silly she’s being.

Crushes are to be enjoyed, not agonized over.

Loss of appetite

Saw her today, after over three months
She’s plumper
Longish hair falling over her face
She’s about as appealing as a browned, over-ripe fruit now

I don’t find her attractive anymore
Suddenly I empathise with the male habit
of falling abruptly in and out of love with a body

My brief bi-curious flirtation is over.

Crush

My 14-year old cousin thinks the Indian Idol, Abhijeet Sawant ‘has nice eyes’. She has his album carefully tucked away between her best clothes. And she thinks the contestants of Fame Gurukul are soooo lucky because one of them got to sing a duet with him.

Ah….it is beginning! My kid sister is having her very first crush. She asks me “What’s that?” and sets me off on a trail of memories.

I don’t even remember my first crush. It was that long ago (and that many ago!) Was it that young executive on my dad’s team who pulled me onto the dance floor during the office party? Or was it the prankster of the gang, two classes ahead of me? Maybe it was that cute, new instructor who taught us about computers in school. Or perhaps it was one of the class studs, who threw a vague grin in my general direction once in a way.

It is an odd experience to meet someone you’ve had a crush on, some years later. Especially those hormone-laden, angsty, “Oh my god, he’s looking at me, I could die” ones. I met one of the aforementioned men at a wedding and he’s turned out pretty distinguished and intellectual….one of the few crushes I’m not mortified to admit to! On the other hand, there’s the fat, balding ‘looks like a soon-to-be-grandpa’ who is what remains after an over-indulged adolescence in booze and partying. And there was the guy who gaped and said, “Don’t we know each other? You were so-and-so’s friend, aren’t you?”….No, buster, I was the one who was too tomboyish for you to spare a glance…hehe, revenge is sweet.

When my vanity comes to the surface is when I whole-heartedly enjoy being a woman. When a guy who wouldn’t have given me a single look (let alone a second one), in my younger days, stops dead in his tracks and gapes….I know there is divine justice.

But I digress….that is the here and today. I wonder how anyone could think that ‘Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play’. Au contraire, today it seems like a simplistic pastime…yesterday was where the agony, the dreams, the hoping and yearning and fantasy lived.

Maybe because I was such a bookworm as a kid, several of my crushes were fictitious. Somehow I don’t find that funny at all. I spent so much time among my books, they seemed much more real and tangible than the world around me. One of my favorite male characters was Jupiter Jones, the leader of The Three Investigators series. To date, I think that idea colours my preferences….so many of the men I’ve been drawn to have been stocky, intelligent, logical and obsessed with being taken seriously (which is an apt description of JJ).

Of course there have been all those numerous film stars, music icons, models…..I’m rather pained when I watch their interviews and see the big gap that lies between a pretty face and an intelligent mind. My first reaction is “What was I thinking?” But well…I just wasn’t thinking, was I? A crush is meant to be enjoyed, not taken seriously.

Keep it simple and keep him at a distance and don’t give yourself time to discover that he’s just another idiot of a man. Love may be a four-letter word for me but I think I’ll have crushes for the rest of my life.

* A version is posted to Yahoo! Real Beauty.

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